Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends
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Updated 22 May 2021

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends

Key Palestine questions stay unresolved as Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza ends
  • Amid Israeli bombardment, Hamas is thought to have retained a significant missile arsenal
  • Abraham Accords between some Arab states and Israel likely to come under heightened scrutiny

DUBAI: As an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect early on Friday morning, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were again left surveying the devastation wrought by 11 days of intense air and artillery bombardment.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lamented the “senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction,” adding that the hostilities had caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, which he described as “hell on earth” for children.

Even so, there is widespread relief that the conflict, in which at least 232 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed, has ended after less than two weeks — compared with the seven weeks of the 2014 ground incursion which left more than 2,000 dead — and that the latest hostilities, for the most part, did not spread into the West Bank.




Palestinian artist Bilal Khaled draws on an unexploded device in Gaza City on May 20, 2021. (AFP)

In both the West Bank and Gaza, political and diplomatic processes are deadlocked. In April, President Mahmoud Abbas postponed legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories. Most observers believe he did so for fear that Hamas would win. Abbas was elected in 2005 but has ruled by decree for more than a decade since his last mandate expired.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since shortly after the last elections in 2006. It has steadfastly refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Both its political and military arms are categorized as a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

“The peace camp needs to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Taufiq Rahim, a senior fellow in international security at the New America think tank, told Arab News. “Too many in Israel view calm as peace when, in reality, it is simply a state of prolonged injustice for Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, the status of East Jerusalem remains unresolved, and Israel’s settlement of the West Bank — which it captured along with the Gaza Strip in 1967 — continues.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, says it is clear that Israeli settlers instigated the most recent outbreak of violence, which started in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

“The government of Israel could have controlled it, but apparently encouraged it,” he told Arab News. “This is consistent with patterns of aggression that we have seen over the past seven years of clashes.”




Hamas' political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh addresses supporters in Qatar in May, 2021. (AFP)

Other experts highlighted the fact that Palestinian protests and discontent spread to Arab neighborhoods inside Israel. Fighting broke out in Israeli and Arab towns including Jaffa, Ramleh and Lod, in the course of which Palestinian and Hamas flags were raised and synagogues and hospitals attacked.

Those towns and others, such as Haifa, Nazareth and Acre, have sizeable Arab populations — the descendants of those who stayed inside the so-called Green Line when the state of Israel was created in 1948. Many have Israeli citizenship and the right to vote in Israeli elections.

“This crisis has brought the conflict back to its roots, which are in the dispossession of the refugees in 1948,” Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told Arab News. “Protests on this scale inside Israel have not been seen (before), even during the second intifada.”

That uprising gripped much of the Gaza Strip and West Bank from 2000 to 2005, during which time there were only sporadic incidents of violence in these towns. In 2021 that changed.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was forced to declare a state of emergency in Lod, the first time such powers have been invoked in a town inside Israel since 1966, according to Israeli media.

Illustrating the complexity of the situation, in one incident the clashes seemed in part to have been provoked by the death of an Arab man and his child after a rocket fired by Hamas from inside Gaza destroyed his car.

Hamas — which has widespread support throughout the Palestinian territories — remains in a combative mood.

“The whole world should know that our hands are on the trigger and we will continue to grow the capabilities of this resistance,” a Hamas spokesman told Reuters shortly before the ceasefire.

The scale of those capabilities has come as a surprise to many. Analysts speaking to Arab News highlighted the group’s apparently large arsenal of missiles and drones and, perhaps, fabrication capabilities created with Iranian help as major developments.

Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Hamas is estimated to have fired more than 4,300 missiles into southern and central Israel, a far more intensive barrage than in the 2014 conflict and heavier than Hezbollah’s bombardment from Lebanon during the 2006 war.

Israeli officials said that 90 percent of the incoming volleys were intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system, but believe that thousands more missiles still remain in the Hamas arsenal. The Iron Dome system, which has been deployed since 2011 and maintained by US funding of $1.6 billion, was used in previous conflicts, but Hamas had never fired so many rockets simultaneously.

The Israeli military (IDF) said that as many as one in seven of the missiles fired by Hamas landed inside Gaza itself and accused Hamas of indiscriminate targeting of civilians there and inside Israel.




This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows a closer view of a burning storage tank in Ashkelon Southern Israel on May 12, 2021. (AFP)

“The attacks (by Hamas) in Gaza by themselves have revealed a level of preparation that exceeded expectations in terms of the quantity and quality of missiles, with respect to their range, ability to head deep into Israel territory, and the variety of the weapons on hand, such as drones,” Riad Kahwaji, a UAE-based defense analyst, told Arab News. “All of these make the latest round of violence unique.”

In the longer term, the status of the Abraham Accords — a major agreement signed by Israel, the UAE and the US in August last year — is likely to come under scrutiny. Shortly after the deal was signed, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco also recognized Israel formally.

The UAE has gone on to sign a series of investment agreements with Israel and opened direct air links. Both Israel and the UAE have opened embassies in their respective countries.




Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an emergency meeting of the Fatah Central Committee and the PLO Executive Committee in the occupied West Bank City of Ramallah, on May 12, 2021. (AFP)

Critics of Hamas and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran say that the group amassed its missile arsenal and initiated the fighting specifically to undermine the Abraham Accords, which all of them view as a threat. Bassem Eid, a human rights activist, has said Hamas sought to exploit a local dispute in East Jerusalem in order to undermine the Abraham Accords.

There is certainly no denying that the 11 days of fighting were a testing time for the accord.

“The hope and the fanfare surrounding the signing of the agreement petered out with the smoke from Gaza,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, a former professor of politics at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi. “The conflict, far from re-establishing Israel’s (strength), exposed its vulnerabilities.”




Onlookers gather around charred vehicles hit by rockets launched by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on the border with the Palestinian coastal enclave on May 16, 2021. (AFP)

Going forward, he believes the US, Europe, and the GCC countries can assist in improving Palestinian lives in the Occupied Territories and within Israel. “More investment to provide jobs, rebuilding the infrastructure, and improvement of the health and educational systems, among other things, will help to create the conditions for a negotiated settlement,” he told Arab News.

According to New America’s Rahim, while Israel has developed deeper relationships in the Arab world, public opinion in the US is likely to be critical, given the apparent shift in the sentiments of politicians and the wider population there.

The reality of the situation is that there is a vacuum in new leadership in both Israel and Palestine, with radicals on both sides being the only actors visible on the horizon at present, he told Arab News.

“There needs to be new leaders in both Palestine and Israel who can imagine coexistence rather than conflict as a potential future.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
Updated 30 min 10 sec ago

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
  • UK inquest found Abbas Khan was unlawfully killed in regime prison
  • Karim Al-Jian: ‘Someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives’

LONDON: A newly qualified Syrian-born British doctor has had an emotional meeting with the siblings of the deceased British surgeon who inspired him to enter the field.
Karim Al-Jian, 24, who was born in Aleppo but raised in Britain, recently met with the brother and sister of Dr. Abbas Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon from London who was killed in a Syrian prison after he left the safety of his home to care for victims in the war-torn nation.


Al-Jian posted a photo of himself with a portrait of Khan with the caption: “In 2012 British surgeon Abbas Khan went to Aleppo, Syria to treat wounded civilians. He was consequently tortured and murdered by the Syrian regime. His story touched many, including a … boy from Aleppo who wanted to be like Dr. Khan. Today that boy graduated a doctor.”

Khan’s sister Sara, 31, asked Twitter users to locate Al-Jian. “This is so touching it has brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “I would like to send him a message if possible.”

The BBC organized a meeting between the new medic and Khan’s family. Sara told Al-Jian: “It is inspiring the fact that you dedicated your medical career to Abbas. I cannot explain to you how touched my family and I are. It was so beautiful to read it.”

The deceased doctor’s brother Shah, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon, has said he will keep in touch with Al-Jian to give him advice about his career path. Al-Jian intends to share the same specialism as the Khan brothers.

Al-Jian said when he was a teenager, he saw the news of Khan’s sacrifice, which inspired him to turn to medical training.

On his graduation and eight years after the surgeon’s death, Al-Jian paid tribute to Khan on social media, posing with his portrait while donning his academic robes.
Khan traveled to Syria via Turkey to lend his expertise by assisting the victims of bombed hospitals, which were being regularly targeted by regime forces.
He was arrested and jailed for over a year in a regime-controlled prison. In December 2013, he was found hanging in his cell. He was 32. A British inquest in 2014 concluded that he had been unlawfully killed.
Al-Jian said Khan’s story had an enormous impact on him, and he shared in the pain and suffering that he saw.

“That someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives was astounding to me. He put the lives of others before himself,” said Al-Jian. “I really felt that his mother’s pain was the pain of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.”

Living in northern England at the time, Al-Jian was awarded a place to study on the country’s south coast at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He graduated last month after five years. 


Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
Updated 03 August 2021

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
  • The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital
  • HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials

BEIRUT: A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday concluded there was strong evidence to suggest some Lebanese officials knew about and tacitly accepted the lethal risks posed by ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port before the fatal blast there on Aug. 4 last year.
The explosion, caused by the chemicals stored unsafely at the port for years, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The report by the international rights watchdog contained over 700 pages of findings and documents. Its investigation also concluded there was evidence that multiple Lebanese authorities were criminally negligent under Lebanese law.
HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials including the president, the caretaker prime minister and the head of the country’s state security.
The investigation trailed events from 2014 onwards after the shipment was brought to Beirut port and tracked repeated warnings of danger to various official bodies.
“Evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” the report said.
It called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast and on foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on officials.
A Lebanese investigation into the blast, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has stalled. Politicians and senior security officials are yet to be questioned and requests to lift their immunity have been hindered.
The HRW report said President Michel Aoun, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the director general of state security Tony Saliba and other former ministers wanted for questioning by judge Bitar, had failed to take action to protect the general public despite having been informed of the risks.
Reuters sought comment on the report’s findings from Aoun, Diab and Saliba. The presidential palace offered no comment. There was no immediate response from Diab and Saliba.
Aoun said on Friday he was ready to testify and that no one was above the law.
A document seen by Reuters that was sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the security risk posed by the chemicals stored at the port and that they could destroy the capital.


Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
Updated 03 August 2021

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
  • New Iran president Ebrahim Raisi: Government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader officially endorsed his hard-line protégé as the nation’s next president on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi. The new president’s ascension comes at a sensitive time for Iran and the wider Middle East.
Iran is reeling from crushing US sanctions that have devastated the economy, led to the crash of the Iranian riyal and hit ordinary Iranians hard.
In his speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Raisi, a former judiciary chief, to “empower the country’s poor people and improve the national currency.”
Doubts about an imminent return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, have become a dark cloud dangling over the incoming hard-line administration.
The collapse of the nuclear agreement after former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord three years ago doomed the relatively moderate administration of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen his popularity plummet. Rouhani sat stone-faced throughout the endorsement ceremony.
Last week, Khamenei delivered a harsh rebuke of the West, blaming the delay of the nuclear deal’s revival on America’s “stubborn” negotiating stance. While repeating his usual anti-West rhetoric on Tuesday about Iran’s “enemies” seeking to sway public opinion, Khamenei struck a milder tone during the endorsement. He focused on Iran’s mounting domestic issues, praising Raisi’s anti-corruption campaign and asking him to encourage local production.
“The nation needs competent, effective and brave management,” Khamenei said.
Without commenting on the stalled nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Raisi stressed he would “pursue the removal of oppressive sanctions” in order to salvage the crippled economy.
“We will not (tie) the people’s dining tables and the economy to the will of the foreigners,” he said. Raisi won a landslide victory in the June election, which saw the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. He will take the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony Thursday before parliament.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the landmark nuclear accord and lift sanctions if Iran moves back into compliance with the agreement.
But escalating tensions in the Middle East now risk complicating the diplomatic choreography. The West has blamed Iran for a drone attack last week that struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. Iran has denied involvement in the incident, which marks the first-known fatal assault after a yearslong shadow war targeting commercial shipping in the region.


UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
Updated 5 min 28 sec ago

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
  • Tunisia has plunged into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced her concerns about the political turmoil in Tunisia in a phonecall with the foreign minister, and offered her assistance if required, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi called the high commissioner for human rights after President Kais Saied seized power on July 25 following violent demonstrations against the government.
“It’s a worrying situation. We are following really closely and we know the challenges the country is facing,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for Bachelet’s office, told reporters in Geneva.
“What we hope is that all the achievements toward democratic reform that they have been doing over the last 10 years can be maintained and preserved, and that there’s no regression in any way.”
Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.
But many Tunisians are angered at a political class seen as obsessed with power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of the poor, amid high unemployment and spiralling prices.
In a surprise move, Saied sacked prime minister Hichem Mechichi late last month and suspended parliament for 30 days. He ordered a graft crackdown targeting 460 businessmen and an investigation into alleged illegal funding of political parties.
The move plunged Tunisia into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections.
Hurtado said former Chilean president Bachelet told Jerandi “that we are here to support them — we have an office on the ground in Tunisia — and we are closely following the situation and we are there to help, should they ask for it.
“We are concerned at what is happening but we trust that the authorities have the capacity to deal with it,” Hurtado added.
“But we are open to any request that they might have for help.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that the country may be over the peak of the latest wave but the government must still speed up inoculations.
“The epidemiological data are going in the right direction,” WHO representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand told a press conference.
“We have the feeling that the peak of the epidemic may have passed.”
But with vaccines in short supply, overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of oxygen and the highly contagious Delta variant rampaging through the country’s 12 million population mean the risk of a health disaster remains, the WHO warned.
The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases, and the impact of family gatherings during a recent religious holiday was hard to evaluate but could set back progress made, Souteyrand said.
“The challenge is to speed up the vaccination campaign,” he said.
The country had “in 10 days received around seven million vaccine doses and will receive perhaps two or three million more” soon, he said.
The WHO has also provided 400 oxygen concentrators and four oxygen generators to Tunisia.
Since the shock move late last month, Saied has established a coronavirus crisis unit, supervised by a high-level military official, to help manage the country’s outbreak.
Souteyrand said that “relations between the WHO and the health ministry have not been affected by the political crisis.”
The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions.
Authorities have also announced a vaccination drive across the country on Sunday for Tunisians aged over 40.
Over the past seven days, the North African country has registered the worst official Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 10.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP tally based on officially reported data shows.
On the other hand, Tunisia shares its coronavirus data more transparently than many other countries, the WHO said.


Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall
Updated 03 August 2021

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall
  • By increasing water releases, Syria would share the damage and losses between the two sides, Hamdani said

DUBAI: Iraq called on Syria to increase water releases to compensate for the lack of rainfall and high temperatures that have caused a shortfall in revenues, Iraq’s state media reported on Monday.

The Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani said he “held a closed-circuit televised meeting with the Syrian Minister of Water Resources, Tammam Raad, to review the measures taken regarding the signed accord during Al-Hamdani's visit to Syria”

Last month, both countries signed a joint agreement to exchange data related to the imports of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers “periodically and in emergency situations."
The pact also includes the creation of technical committees and the unification of positions regarding the quantities of water received at the Turkish-Syrian border. 

Syria expressed willingness to attend joint meetings with Iraq and Turkey, Hamdani said, adding that the Syrian side's agreement is a development in the field of joint cooperation in the water file.”

By increasing water releases, Syria would share the damage and losses between the two sides, Hamdani said, adding that the meeting emphasized the need to continue coordination and joint cooperation with regard to training, studies and exchange of data.

Syria will participate in the research center to be established in Iraq, according to Hamdani.