No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an enhanced honor cordon for Gantz at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on June 3, 2021. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an enhanced honor cordon for Gantz at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on June 3, 2021. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
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Updated 04 June 2021

No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US

No ‘provoking’: Israeli defense minister vows quieter tone with US
  • Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat”, Gantz tells US leadership
  • Urges US to ensure that any deal "effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons”

ARLINGTON, US: Israel’s visiting defense minister said Thursday that it will stay engaged as the US tries to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, sidestepping what’s long been an area of open disagreement between the United States and the now-jeopardized government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benny Gantz told reporters before a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Iran’s nuclear program and other actions were an “existential threat” to Israel. “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the United States,” Israel and other countries, Gantz said.
But on a visit that came as an opposition coalition back home tries to end Netanyahu’s 12 years in power, Gantz — unlike Netanyahu — stopped short of openly opposing the Biden administration’s efforts to get the United States back into a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Sitting across a table from his US counterpart at the Pentagon, Gantz said, “Our dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons.”
“Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself,” Gantz added.
The Israeli official made clear the change in tone was purposeful. “We will continue this important strategic dialogue in private discussion ... only, not in the media in a provoking way,” he said, calling for “open dialogue behind closed doors.” It echoed Biden’s own embrace of what the administration has called quiet diplomacy when dealing with Israel.
Netanyahu’s years-long fight to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal — struck during the Obama administration in 2015, but rejected by President Donald Trump after his election — included Netanyahu denouncing it to a 2015 joint session of the US Congress as a “very bad deal.”
Netanyahu has continued that open opposition in recent days, saying a deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy” and that the fight against that was worth any “friction with our great friend the United States.”
Biden has pressed for a return to the nuclear deal as the best way to keep Iran from building up what it says is a civilian nuclear program, and to calm a flashpoint in the Middle East. European negotiators expressed some optimism this week as they closed the latest round of talks in Vienna on getting the US and Iran back in the deal.
Gantz also met with national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Gantz is part of the coalition pushing to unseat Netanyahu, and he is expected to remain in his post as defense minister if the government changes.
His meetings Thursday underscored US security commitments to Israel as that country weathers its greatest domestic political upheaval in years and the aftermath of last month’s war with Hamas militants in Gaza.
Gantz said he would lay out for administration officials a “complete plan” for a diplomatic end to hostilities with the Palestinians. He gave no details.
A key aim of Gantz’s visit to Washington was believed to be securing US funding to help restock Israel’s Iron Dome, a sophisticated missile defense system that smacked down many of the rockets Hamas militants fired toward Israel last month. More than 260 people were killed, the vast majority Palestinians, in an 11-day war in which Israel struck targets in Hamas-ruled Gaza with hundreds of airstrikes while Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, touring Israel this week in a show of support after the latest Gaza war, said he expected Israelis to seek up to $1 billion from the US for Iron Dome, including for restocking the system’s interception missiles.
US officials made no immediate announcements on funding. Austin noted Biden “has expressed his full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which saved so many lives.”
“We are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself,” Austin added.
The US partnership in Israel’s Iron Dome has wide bipartisan support in Congress, as does overall US support for Israel’s defense, a tenet of US foreign policy for decades. Last month’s war, however — the fiercest Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014 — has exposed a rift in Biden’s Democratic Party. Progressives and some others demanded a cease-fire by Israel as well as Hamas as Palestinian deaths grew in the crowded Gaza Strip.
Blinken told reporters before meeting with Gantz that Americans also were talking to him about getting aid in to Gaza to help rebuild housing and services damaged and destroyed in the fighting, in addition to discussing Israeli security.


More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East
Updated 6 sec ago

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East
  • It is the latest in a series of unprecedented nearly back-to-back sandstorms this year that have bewildered residents and raised alarm among experts
  • Geoarchaeologist Jaafar Jotheri: ‘Its a region-wide issue but each country has a different degree of vulnerability and weakness’
BAGHDAD: A sandstorm blanketed parts of the Middle East on Monday, including Iraq, Syria and Iran, sending people to hospitals and disrupting flights in some places.
It was the latest in a series of unprecedented nearly back-to-back sandstorms this year that have bewildered residents and raised alarm among experts and officials, who blame climate change and poor governmental regulations.
From Riyadh to Tehran, bright orange skies and a thick veil of grit signaled yet another stormy day Monday. Sandstorms are typical in late spring and summer, spurred by seasonal winds. But this year they have occurred nearly every week in Iraq since March.
Iraqi authorities declared the day a national holiday, urging government workers and residents to stay home in anticipation of the 10th storm to hit the country in the last two months. The Health Ministry stockpiled cannisters of oxygen at facilities in hard-hit areas, according to a statement.
The storms have sent thousands to hospitals and resulted in at least one death in Iraq and three in Syria’s east.
“Its a region-wide issue but each country has a different degree of vulnerability and weakness,” said Jaafar Jotheri, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Al-Qadisiyah in Baghdad.
In Syria, medical departments were put on alert as the sandstorm hit the eastern province of Deir Ezzor that borders Iraq, Syrian state TV said. Earlier this month, a similar storm in the region left at least three people dead and hundreds were hospitalized with breathing problems.
Dr. Bashar Shouaybi, head of the Health Ministry’s office in Deir Ezzor, told state TV that hospitals were prepared and ambulances were on standby. He said they have acquired an additional 850 oxygen tanks and medicine needed to deal with patients who have asthma.
Severe sandstorms have also blanketed parts of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia this month.
For the second time this month, Kuwait International Airport suspended all flights Monday because of the dust. Video showed largely empty streets with poor visibility.
Saudi Arabia’s meteorological association reported that visibility would drop to zero on the roads in Riyadh, the capital, this week. Officials warned drivers to go slowly. Emergency rooms in the city were flooded with 1,285 patients this month complaining they couldn’t breathe properly.
Iran last week shut down schools and government offices in the capital of Tehran over a sandstorm that swept the country. It hit hardest in the nation’s southwest desert region of Khuzestan, where over 800 people sought treatment for breathing difficulties. Dozens of flights out of western Iran were canceled or delayed.
Blame over the dust storms and heavy air pollution has mounted, with a prominent environmental expert telling local media that climate change, drought and government mismanagement of water resources are responsible for the increase in sandstorms. Iran has drained its wetlands for farming — a common practice known to produce dust in the region.
Alireza Shariat, the head of an association of Iranian water engineers, told Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency last month that he expected extensive dust storms to become an “annual springtime phenomenon” in a way Iran has never seen before.
In Iraq, desertification exacerbated by record-low rainfall is adding to the intensity of storms, said Jotheri, the geoarchaeologist. In a low-lying country with plenty of desert regions, the impact is almost double, he said.
“Because of 17 years of mismanagement of water and urbanization, Iraq lost more than two thirds of its green cover,” he said. “That is why Iraqis are complaining more than their neighbors about the sandstorms in their areas.”

Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 50 sec ago

Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Attacks on government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada, and Hajjah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s army has said that the Iran-backed Houthis have violated a UN-brokered truce more than 4,276 times since day one by mobilizing fighters and launching drone and missile attacks on government troops, even as the militia indicated its acceptance of its renewal.

The truce, which is the longest since the war began, came into effect on April 2 and has led to reduced violence and deaths across the country, the UN said.

But the Yemeni army said the Houthis continued to gather heavy artillery, military vehicles, and fighters outside the strategic city of Marib, had attacked government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada, and Hajjah, and created new military outposts.

“The Houthis are challenging the truce and international resolutions. They have not adhered to the truce,” Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, an army spokesperson, told Arab News on Monday.  

The Houthi violations come as the UN’s Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg pushes the government and militia to extend the truce and put into place its unfulfilled components, including opening roads in Taiz and other provinces.

On Sunday, the head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi Al-Mashat, said the movement would accept an extension of the truce with its opponents, boosting hopes of stopping hostilities across the country for another two or three months.

“We affirm that we are not against extending the truce, but what is not possible is the acceptance of any truce in which the suffering of our people continues,” the Houthi leader said.

In Aden, the head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, also expressed his support on Saturday for current efforts by international mediators to extend the truce.

At the same time, activists and rights groups intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to highlight the grave consequences of the Houthi siege on thousands of Taiz residents.

The Abductees Mothers’ Association, an umbrella group for relatives of those abducted in Yemen, said Sunday that checkpoints manned by the Houthis outside Taiz had seized 417 people seeking to enter or leave the city since the beginning of the war.

The Houthis have laid a siege on Yemen’s third-largest city since early 2015 after failing to seize control of it due to strong resistance from troops and local fighters.

The Houthis barred people from driving through the main roads, deployed snipers, and planted landmines, forcing people into using dangerous and unpaved roads.  

“Civilians in #Taiz are forced to use alternative long, narrow, winding, and unsafe routes, which caused a lot of accidents that killed and injured hundreds of victims,” tweeted the American Center for Justice, a rights group established by Yemeni activists. It added that Houthi snipers indiscriminately gunned down civilians while they carried out their everyday activities.

“Most of the children sniped by Houthi snipers were targeted while fetching water, grazing the sheep, playing near their homes, or returning from schools,” the organization said.


Lebanese authorities begin removing barriers around parliament after elections

Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 12 sec ago

Lebanese authorities begin removing barriers around parliament after elections

Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
  • New MPs call for restrictions to be eased before first session of the house

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities on Monday began removing concrete barriers around the country’s parliament building after the election of former protesters as MPs.

The security measures had been put in place at the outbreak of massive anti-government protests in 2019. They are to be relaxed following the election of a dozen reformist newcomers to the 128-member legislature, including some who had taken part in the protest movement.

Some of the new MPs had called for the restrictions to be eased before they attended the first session of the new parliament.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi attended the start of the work yesterday afternoon.

The clearing will be completed before the next parliament session is held, a statement from House Speaker Nabih Berri’s office said.

The move comes after the election of 15 MPs from the Forces of Change group, which was demonstrating in the streets around parliament, in addition to a number of independent MPs.

Beirut MP Ibrahim Mneimneh, from the Forces of Change, said: “There is no need for the barriers placed around the people’s house because it is for the people. They are needless barriers.”

He said that the measures decided by Berri were the result of the traditional ruling forces realizing “the decline of their popularity, so they decided to respond to the popular demands.”

MP Waddah Sadiq, a former protester, said the fences around parliament are a separation wall. “Today, parliament represents the people who demand change, so they decided to ease the procedures,” Sadiq sad.

Sadiq said that the economic and living crises “are increasing, and people may turn to a state of rejection again. We need the pressure to address them.”

He said that the previous government did not take any effective handling measures.

The plan approved by the government included neither recovery nor economy, said the MP. “Therefore, we are entering a difficult phase and we will be on the side of the people.”

MP Elias Jarada, an ophthalmologist from the southern town of Ibl Al-Saqi, called the "doctor of the poor," said that “the parliament is the house of the people, and there are no fences that can separate the representatives of the nation and the citizens.”

He said that all the barriers that prevent people from entering Nejmeh Square must be removed before the MPs are invited to any session.

Ali Hamdan, the media adviser to the parliamentary speaker, told Arab News that “these measures are not an indication of excessive confidence. Rather, elections were held and the results have brought representatives of the protesters to parliament.”

He said: “These people represent part of the street, and you may call them a movement, an uprising or a change.”

He said the speaker had decided to take a step to reduce security measures, but they “will not be completely lifted around the parliament.”

He said that some in Lebanon still feared security setbacks.

“There are successive crises, including the customs dollar and the rise in telecom prices, and we witnessed what happened in Greece and Cyprus.”

The area around the building had been transformed by concrete walls that blocked all the roads leading to Nejmeh Square.

Hotels in the area closed as a result of the damages they suffered from each wave of popular protests targeting parliament since Oct. 17, 2019.

Institutions, companies and shops all moved out of the area after it became difficult to reach them. The area turned into a ghost town as a result of power outages and the absence of people.

Parliament meetings there were suspended after the explosion of the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, which damaged the building.

The parliament moved its meetings temporarily to the UNESCO Palace, which is on the western-south edge of the capital.

While the temporary location provided a spacious hall, comfortable seats and social distancing as required during the pandemic, it did not provide electronic voting for deputies or the electronic list for the attendance of deputies.

Bechara Asmar, head of General Labor Union, said he was concerned about “the continuation of sterile debates while crises become more complex.”


‘Only the Lebanese can help Lebanon,’ Saudi finance minister tells Davos

‘Only the Lebanese can help Lebanon,’ Saudi finance minister tells Davos
Updated 23 May 2022

‘Only the Lebanese can help Lebanon,’ Saudi finance minister tells Davos

‘Only the Lebanese can help Lebanon,’ Saudi finance minister tells Davos

DAVOS: Only Lebanese citizens can help their country, Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum.

Responding to a question by Arab News regarding the outlook of Lebanon following the elections, Al-Jadaan said that Saudi Arabia wants to see the best for the country, but that others cannot act for Lebanon.

 

 

The Lebanese public last week cast their ballots in the country’s general election, with Hezbollah and its allies suffering a blow to their majority.

The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty.

“We really care about Lebanese people,” Al-Jadaan said, adding: “We want to see the best for Lebanon but then we can’t act as Lebanese — it is the Lebanese who need to act.

“As and when we see a serious government that is going to take care of the people of Lebanon, we will act. We have been (acting) historically and there is no reason why we wouldn’t come to support.”

Ties between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have been strained amid growing illegal drug and captagon smuggling attempts from Beirut into the Kingdom.

Hezbollah is known to have primary control of captagon production and smuggling in the region, which it uses to finance its operations.

Last year, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and a host of other GCC countries, severed diplomatic ties with Lebanon over Hezbollah’s dominance of the country and its government.

Since then, relations have improved, with Gulf diplomatic missions reopening in Beirut.


Emir says Qatar is ready to contribute to every effort to mediate between Russia and Ukraine

Emir says Qatar is ready to contribute to every effort to mediate between Russia and Ukraine
Updated 23 May 2022

Emir says Qatar is ready to contribute to every effort to mediate between Russia and Ukraine

Emir says Qatar is ready to contribute to every effort to mediate between Russia and Ukraine
  • Sheikh Tamim criticized governments for double standards on value of people based on religion and race
  • Emir hit out at what he called unprecedented attacks on Qatar becoming first Arab country to host FIFA World Cup

LONDON: Qatar’s emir said on Monday that he is ready to contribute to every international and regional effort to find an immediate peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine.
Addressing the World Economic Forum taking place in Davos, Switzerland, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said that solving disputes through aggression is on the rise, and that he is in touch with all parties concerned in the Ukrainian crisis.
“We should never give up trying to bring parties together. As long as we believe our efforts could save even a single life, our attempts to mediate will be worth it,” the emir said.
He expressed sympathy with the millions of people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict regardless of their race and religion.
“We consider the value of each European life to be just as precious as someone from our region.
“We stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent refugees who are victims of this European war, and the victims of all other wars taking place right now — victims of every race, nationality and religion. I want us to help all of them.”
Sheikh Tamim also highlighted the suffering of the Palestinian people “who have been occupied for decades with no relief in sight.
“As we rightly apply laser focus to finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis, I hope we can equally give as much attention and effort to resolving all those forgotten or ignored conflicts.
“The most clear example is in Palestine which has been an open wound since the establishment of the United Nations. The escalation in illegal settlement aggression has been relentless, and the same goes for the continued attacks against the Palestinian people” Sheikh Tamim said.
To applause from the audience, the emir paid tribute to veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed in Jenin while covering Israeli raids on a refugee camp in the West Bank on May 11.
“Shireen was covering the suffering of the Palestinian people for decades and our hearts are broken. Her death was just as horrific as the seven journalists killed in Ukraine since March this year, 18 other journalists killed in Palestine since 2000, and many other journalists killed in the line of duty in Iraq, Syria and Yemen,” he said.
The emir criticized governments for displaying double standards on the value of people based on their religion, region or race.
“In the 21st century we should not tolerate these aggressions, and we should not accept a world where governments have double standards about the value of people based on their religion, region or race,” he said.
He also hit out at what he called unprecedented attacks on Qatar becoming the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup.
“For decades now, the Middle East has suffered from discrimination,” he said.
“And I have found that such discrimination is largely based on people not knowing us, and in some cases, refusing to get to know us. Even today, there are still people who cannot accept the idea, that an Arab-Muslim country would host a tournament like the World Cup.
“These individuals, including many in positions of influence, have launched attacks, at a pace never seen before,” he said.