UN launches $95m urgent aid appeal for Gaza repairs

A Palestinian boy from Zawaraa family walks near their makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021. Picture taken May 23, 2021. (Reuters)
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A Palestinian boy from Zawaraa family walks near their makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021. Picture taken May 23, 2021. (Reuters)
A Palestinian flag flies as the ruins of houses, which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, are seen, in Gaza Strip, May 25, 2021. Picture taken May 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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A Palestinian flag flies as the ruins of houses, which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, are seen, in Gaza Strip, May 25, 2021. Picture taken May 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 May 2021

UN launches $95m urgent aid appeal for Gaza repairs

A Palestinian flag flies as the ruins of houses, which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, are seen, in Gaza Strip, May 25, 2021. Picture taken May 25, 2021. (Reuters)
  • With relative calm restored in Gaza, Middle East peace envoy says international community must not go back to ‘business as usual’
  • UNRWA chief tells critics who think they can ‘erase the Palestinian refugee issue’ by undermining his agency they ‘are fooling themselves’

NEW YORK: The UN launched an emergency appeal on Thursday to raise $95 million of funding for urgent humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, along with repairs to key infrastructure damaged by Israeli attacks this month.

The conflict has left 800,000 Palestinians without access to clean water. More than 1,000 housing units were destroyed, along with 58 schools and 285 other buildings.

Urging international donors to give generously, Lynn Hastings, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Gaza, said the money will be used to buy food and medicine and carry out repairs as quickly as possible. It will also help to treat the injured and provide psychosocial support in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, she added.

Asked for an assurance that funds would not be diverted to Hamas, Hastings said the UN has a highly efficient monitoring system in place, and work to improve it continues with authorities on both sides.

Meanwhile, during a meeting of the Security Council, Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, commended Egypt, Qatar and the US for their “instrumental” efforts to end the latest round of violence.

“The sustained attention of the international community provided crucial momentum to ceasefire efforts at decisive moments,” he said.

As the international focus shifts from emergency mode during the conflict to assessing the damage in the aftermath, Wennesland said that “our approach cannot be business as usual and we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Stressing the need for all parties to return to the negotiating table, he added: “Only through negotiations that end the occupation and create a viable two-state solution on the basis of UN resolutions, international law and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, can we hope to bring a definitive end to these senseless and costly cycles of violence.”

According to UN figures, this month’s hostilities claimed the lives of more than 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 13 Israelis, nine of whom were civilians, including two children.

Israeli airstrikes forced more than 70,000 Gazans to seek refuge in schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). However the agency was criticized by Israel’s representative to the UN, who accused it of twisting the facts and engaging in anti-Israel propaganda.

Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA’s commissioner-general, defended the work of the agency and its advocacy for Palestine refugees who “derive their status and rights from international law.”

Speaking from its headquarters in East Jerusalem, he warned that “those who believe that by undermining the reputation and the legitimacy of the agency they can somehow erase the Palestinian refugee issue, are fooling themselves.

He added: “To erase or ignore their history is not only discriminatory, it is based on misinformation and the denial of established facts. By seeking to weaken the UNRWA, those who attack it only weaken the prospect for peace.”

Echoing Wennesland’s comments, Lazzarini said that any response to the latest fighting that is limited to humanitarian assistance will do nothing to prevent the next round of hostilities.

He therefore called for the recovery phase to be accompanied by a proper political process aimed at lifting the blockade on people, goods and trade, “swiftly” bringing to justice the perpetrators of violations of international law, halting forced evictions and demolitions, fully funding reconstruction efforts and scaling up the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

“No one has asked to remain a refugee seven decades later,” said Lazzarini. “Every Palestinian refugee I meet wants a normal life (without) fear and discrimination. Like all people, they have an equal right to the enjoyment of their human rights, in accordance with international law.

“We must ensure that a sense of normality and stability remains in the lives of Palestinian refugees through a strong UNRWA.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council that her country is determined to continue its “quiet, intensive, relentless” diplomatic efforts to ensure the current calm holds.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently announced $38 million of funding from Washington to support humanitarian efforts in the West Bank and Gaza, including $33 million for the UNRWA.

Thomas-Greenfield called on the international community to support such efforts to assist the most vulnerable people, and vowed to work closely with the Palestinian authority to achieve this.


El-Alamein International Airport prepares to receive more international flights

A handout picture released on March 1, 2018, shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) attending the inauguration of the
A handout picture released on March 1, 2018, shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) attending the inauguration of the "New El Alamein" city in western Egypt. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 13 sec ago

El-Alamein International Airport prepares to receive more international flights

A handout picture released on March 1, 2018, shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) attending the inauguration of the "New El Alamein" city in western Egypt. (AFP)
  • The North Coast project contains a large number of tourist resorts with distinctive coastal villages and charming Egyptian beaches

CAIRO: Days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inspection tour in New Alamein, a city in the northwest of the country, Minister of Civil Aviation Mohamed Manar has spoken of the need to prepare El-Alamein International Airport to receive more flights.

This came during his tour of the airport, which serves the North Coast region and New Alamein, and is considered one of the important regional airports.

During the tour, Manar inspected the travel and arrival halls, passport counters, baggage belts, the control tower and the airstrip, and was told of the readiness of the equipment for ground services.

He was also briefed about the application of security measures, as well as the implementation of preventive measures to ensure the safety of passengers and airport workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The minister said that Egypt’s political leadership attached great importance to the New Alamein (project), which will provide many investment opportunities.

The North Coast project contains a large number of tourist resorts with distinctive coastal villages and charming Egyptian beaches.

The Egyptian president has spoken of the need to prepare to receive more trips to activate internal and external tourist numbers.

New Alamein is the second major project implemented by the Egypt’s Ministry of Housing after the New Administrative Capital project, with the target population for 2030 being about 4 million people.

New Alamein has witnessed the implementation of a number of residential and service projects, including the beach towers project: 15 towers are to be finished in the first phase, and eight towers in the second.

 


Air traffic between Russia, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh to resume in August

Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh are two of Egypt’s major tourst destinations. (Reuters/File)
Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh are two of Egypt’s major tourst destinations. (Reuters/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

Air traffic between Russia, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh to resume in August

Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh are two of Egypt’s major tourst destinations. (Reuters/File)
  • Air traffic between Egypt and Russia was suspended in 2015 after a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai following a terrorist act

CAIRO: The Russian Embassy in Egypt has announced the resumption of Russian air traffic to the cities of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh in August, after a hiatus of nearly six years.
The embassy said in a statement on its official Facebook page that on July 23 representatives of the Russian government’s Anti-Coronavirus Operations Center met to consider the resumption of flights between Russia and the Egyptian cities of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, and decided to restart air traffic on Aug. 9.
The embassy said that the return of travel would be at a rate of five flights a week from Moscow to Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh.
The embassy also confirmed that the decision to increase the number of flights to Egyptian resorts would depend on the outcome of the Russian delegation’s visit to Egypt to assess the latest situation.
Air traffic between Egypt and Russia was suspended in 2015 after a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai following a terrorist act.
Air traffic between Russia and Cairo Airport resumed in 2018, while charter flights from Russia to Egyptian tourist resorts continued to be suspended until a set of safety requirements requested by Russia were implemented.
“In general, we are ready to receive Russian tourists in Egypt, with any numbers and trips, whether in Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada or the rest of the Egyptian tourist resorts. Stakeholders from tour operators and owners of private airlines should try to free themselves from bureaucratic restrictions and the lobby that works against their interests,” a source at the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation said.


Tunisia’s president sacks prime minister, freezes parliament

Tunisia’s president sacks prime minister, freezes parliament
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisia’s president sacks prime minister, freezes parliament

Tunisia’s president sacks prime minister, freezes parliament
  • Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister
  • He also suspended the immunity of members of parliament

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president said on Sunday he was dismissing the prime minister and freezing parliament in a major escalation of political feuding in the democratic country following protests in several cities.
President Kais Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister, prompting the biggest challenge yet to a 2014 constitution that split powers between president, prime minister and parliament.
“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” he said in a statement carried on state media.
“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons... and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
Saied has been enmeshed in political disputes with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi for over a year, as the country grapples with an economic crisis, a looming fiscal crunch and a flailing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said in his statement that his actions were in line with the constitution, and also suspended the immunity of members of parliament.
Saied and the parliament were both elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government.


Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

General Sirwan Barzani being interviewed by Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (Screengrab)
General Sirwan Barzani being interviewed by Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (Screengrab)
Updated 25 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: ‘More Western military support needed to head off terror groups’ in Iraq, says Peshmerga Gen. Sirwan Barzani

General Sirwan Barzani being interviewed by Frank Kane on Frankly Speaking. (Screengrab)
  • Barzani commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh
  • Barzani spoke of Saudi humanitarian aid and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy 

DUBAI: The US and other Western coalition members should increase their ground forces in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to head off the threat of a resurgent terror campaign in the region, one of the main fighters against Daesh and Iran-backed militias told Arab News.

General Sirwan Barzani, who commands a key unit of the Kurdish Peshmerga armed forces in northern Iraq, said: “The troops on the ground have been fighting against Daesh, but it was not easy and not so possible to defeat this terrorist group without the support of the coalition, especially the leader of the coalition, the US, and also the rest of the countries, the European countries.

“I think the administration of President Biden has to send more forces to Iraq.”

 

Barzani, who commanded Kurdish troops in the bitter battles of 2015 and 2016 to regain territory lost to Daesh, made his plea for more Western military assistance on “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video interviews with leading policymakers in the region. 

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Barzani — a member of one of the leading families of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a prominent businessman through his ownership of Korek Telecom — also spoke of Kurdish independence aspirations, the incursions of Turkey’s Kurdish militant group PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, the humanitarian assistance his people receive from Saudi Arabia and the challenges of diversifying Kurdistan’s oil-dependent economy.

But Barzani’s appeal for more US and other Western troops — in the face of President Biden’s apparent determination to end America’s “forever wars” in the region — was a key feature, underlining Kurdish concerns that the threat from Daesh was still the “biggest threat” to the whole of Iraq.

“Daesh is starting to reorganize themselves again; the militants are very active and almost every day they launch terror attacks against civilian targets, military or security services. There is an attack from Daesh there almost every day.

General Sirwan Barzani

“I’m responsible for Sector Six south and southwest of (Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital) Irbil. We have a permanent Daesh presence in those mountains. We are facing this problem every day and we have a permanent Daesh presence there.

“Even with all these operations, cooperating with the coalition, also with the Iraqi army, the fighters are still there. Daesh is not defeated like Al-Qaeda. Daesh is there still and without the support of the coalition, the group will become stronger and stronger,” he said.

Barzani called for renewed Western military support for the Peshmerga, which he said was not receiving any budgetary assistance from Baghdad to counter Daesh or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

 

 

Recent drone attacks on Irbil International Airport were claimed by Iran-backed militias against forces deemed to be pro-US in the region, he said, underlining the need for more defense assistance.

“The most important thing they have to do is to just give us as Peshmerga some new technology. For example, we don’t have any drones. Even technologies like night-vision or thermal cameras and defensive weapons — we still don’t have them. All the end users (for such equipment) are meant to be from Baghdad and, unfortunately, not from here (Irbil),” Barzani said.

He believes the Biden administration’s decision to end military operations in Afghanistan would have only limited repercussions for Iraq.

 

 

“I think it is different. You cannot compare Afghanistan and Iraq. The stability of Iraq is the stability of the Middle East and, of course, everybody knows that all of the world is looking for stability in the Middle East for many reasons, especially economic reasons,” he said.

Instability is also being fostered by the presence of large numbers of members of the PKK, the militant political organization that has been fighting for equal rights and autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish population since 1984.

“The problem here is they are inside our region in Kurdistan. They’re making it an unstable area. They didn’t go back to the border because of this fight between the PKK and the Turkish military. Unfortunately, they provide an excuse for the Turkish army to come in. Almost every month they have a new position inside our region. It’s not acceptable and what the PKK is doing now is not good for the region,” Bargain said.

The KRG organized a referendum in 2017 that showed an overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurdistan’s population was in favor of independence from Baghdad, but the result was not recognized by the Iraqi government and moves towards full independence had to be shelved.

“Unfortunately, what happened in Iraq was that nobody heeded the constitution and everybody started with sanctions. Even when we were fighting against Daesh, we were under sanctions from the federal government.

“Those reasons pushed us to go in for the referendum and to have our own state and independence. It was our right, of course, and it was legal, but because of the situation we postponed it,” he said, but added: “It (independence) is the dream of any Kurd.”

The Kurdish economy is heavily dependent on oil from the northern regions of Iraq, but this too has faced challenges because of squabbles over revenue with Baghdad. Barzani said that it was important for any economy to reduce reliance on oil products, and the KRG has put in place a strategy to do so. 

 

“It’s a risky thing to depend on oil only because nobody, no country can depend only on one resource or one revenue stream. So, especially in Kurdistan, even the KRG is launching reforms so as to not depend on oil, to diversify the economy. It is most important,” he said.

Barzani cited some alternative revenue streams for the region, notably agriculture, solar power and other technologies, but he singled out the potential of tourism.

“For Kurdistan we have many things, but the tourism side is very important. We have a very nice region geographically and weather-wise. What’s more, there is security for the economy and businesses. Thanks to the Peshmerga and our people, we have very good security in this region,” he said.

 

Barzani founded Korek Telecom in 2000, which has grown to become one of the leading corporate groups in Iraq despite the destruction inflicted by the Daesh occupation on large parts of the region.

Kurdistan also faces other challenges in terms of investment required in power supplies and telecoms infrastructure, he said.

Barzani added that he had been watching developments in Saudi Arabia and its Vision 2030 strategy to reduce reliance on oil revenues, which he said was a “great move.”

He also highlighted the strength of relations between the Kurdish region and Saudi Arabia. “There is a good relation with Saudi Arabia for sure. They are supporting many of our internally displaced persons and refugees here,” he said.

“There is a historical relationship with Saudi Arabia, and we continue to have very good relations with them.”

 

Barzani maintained that for Kurdistan, economic development and the opportunity to create a “peaceful oasis” would continue to depend on maintaining regional security in the face of multiple threats.

“Security is more important than anything else,” he said.

______________________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Egyptian president directs the restoration of Al-Bayt shrines

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP file photo)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 27 min 34 sec ago

Egyptian president directs the restoration of Al-Bayt shrines

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP file photo)
  • El-Sisi directed the establishment of a new central headquarters of international organizations in the diplomatic district

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has directed the restoration of the shrines of the Al-Bayt family, especially the tombs of Sayyida Nafisa, Sayyida Zainab and Imam Hussein bin Ali.
The Egyptian presidency said that El-Sisi met with the head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, Ihab El-Far, and discussed the restoration of the interior halls of mosques and their sophisticated architectural decorations.
The restorations will be in keeping with the historical pedigree of the sites. The development of the surrounding roads, squares and other facilities will also match the heritage of the shrines.
The Al-Ashraf Syndicate — descendants of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate family — thanked El-Sisi for his directives to develop the shrines of the Al-Bayt mosques.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The restorations will be in keeping with the historical pedigree of the sites.

• The development of the surrounding roads, squares and other facilities will also match the heritage of the shrines.

“President El-Sisi’s interest in developing the shrines and mosques of Al-Bayt confirms his constant keenness to develop Egypt’s civilized Islamic front … and we will see valuable architectural masterpieces after completing their restoration and development,” the statement said.
El-Sisi also directed the establishment of a new central headquarters of international organizations in the diplomatic district. In a meeting to discuss the new location, participants covered the development of the diplomatic quarter in accordance with the UN, and how it would adhere to international architectural standards.
Elsewhere, Jehan Abd El-Moneim, deputy governor of Cairo for the southern region, confirmed that the development of the Sayyida Ruqayya shrine has been completed.