Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

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Updated 24 June 2021

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict
  • Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, worked for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance
  • Thompson started speaking with a Lebanese co-conspirator with Hezbollah ties in 2017 and later developed romantic feelings for him

CHICAGO: Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan said the US needs to return to the role of being an “honest broker” if there is to be peace between Palestinians and Israelis during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday.

Pocan said America needs to redirect more than $50 billion used to fund the war in Afghanistan now that the last US troops are departing the country 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A diehard supporter of Israel, having participated in many tours of the country sponsored by pro-Israel organizations, Pocan said he broadened his understanding of the conflict and sympathies when he visited Palestinian areas to see the real challenges they face.

Pocan said the US should continue to support Israel, providing help for programs like the Iron Dome missile defense system, but must also recognize the suffering of Palestinian civilians, and that illegal Israeli settlements are a part of the conflict.

 

“If we can get back to that point where we are seen as an honest broker by everyone, we can then use that influence of the US to try to bring about peace,” Pocan said.

“That doesn’t mean dictating solutions because it has to be decided in the region, but it does mean we can help bring people together and that is the role that the US can best do.”

Pocan, of Wisconsin’s second congressional district, said he is encouraged by the recent ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, and believes the Palestinians need to hold elections. He explained people can still support Israel while criticizing the policies of the government, such as the expansion and building of new settlements.

“Seeing a broader perspective of the same very small region really made me realize that if you are ever going to have peace in the region, you have to treat everyone with respect and dignity,” Pocan said, adding he supports the broader issue of human rights for all.

“You have to have some fairness and rules, and you have to have a different attitude than I think we currently have in the region, or else you will never … achieve a peaceful solution.”

Pocan said there is a need for the US government to play a more neutral role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, to address the concerns of both sides fairly.

 

“What we need to do as a country is to get back to a position, and certainly in the last four years we were not in that position, of being able to bring sides together to try to negotiate peace. Every time there is a new illegal settlement you’re going to make it harder to get to peace. For everyone who professes to want a two-state solution that often says we are going to go back to this 1967 map with land swaps, if you have more illegal settlements, one you are displacing more Palestinians, but two you are going to have a harder time to get to that map to work for everyone,” Pocan said.

“But then, when you see the treatment, when you see a road with a giant (line) down the middle with one side for Israelis to drive on and the other side Palestinian … I think you look at these things and see a lot of things that are happening that will not lead to a peaceful solution. What I found, and I have said over and over again, (is) the vast, vast majority of people in both Palestine and Israel want peace.”

Pocan said that one “fundamental problem” is that the Gaza Strip is “basically an outdoor prison” which is controlled by Israel with 98 percent of the water undrinkable, and the majority of people living on food assistance from the UN. Members of the US Congress have not been permitted to enter Gaza during the past decade, he complained.

American taxpayers, who provide more than $3.8 billion in assistance to Israel every year, need to see and hear about the challenges that face Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.

 

“Anywhere else, we would be having (an) outcry like we do in Yemen and other countries that have similar situations and yet this is a normal practice in the region, but it is anything but normal,” Pocan said.

“Most people don’t know about it. They hear about bombs coming in from Gaza and they hear about Israel responding with bombs. But what they don’t hear are some of the other specificities that are going on on the ground that, I think if people knew about — and people are watching closer, because of the black Lives Matter movement — I think people are seeing that if you treat people inhumanely you are going to have a bad outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is in the US, it’s in Colombia, it’s in Yemen or it’s in Palestine and Israel. We just have to use human rights as a real high measuring tool that we expect human rights and dignity for everyone as an absolute minimum standard.”

Pocan said he supports Israel on many fronts, including providing funding and technology for the Iron Dome which was built to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. But Pocan also said that with the Iron Dome protecting Israelis, there is no need for widespread retaliation.

 

“If a missile does come or a rocket does come from Gaza and you take it out in the air, no one has been injured and there is no need for additional retaliation. The problem is right now in what we just saw when there is missiles from Gaza, they used our support with the Iron Dome but then they also sent 20 times the number of missiles and displaced a hundred thousand people and killed dozens of children and hundreds of people. That isn’t the intention of de-escalation,” Pocan said.

“So, when I call things out like that I am supportive of something that is a core part of the defense that they have, that the US gives, but I also expect it to be used in the manner we intended. And if it is not then it is appropriate to call out the misuse.”

Pocan said that peace can only be achieved if both sides want peace and if the US resume its former role as “an honest broker” in dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Pocan also called for a “smarter use” of American funding to address the needs of the American people. Noting the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, the more than $50 billion used to support the US presence in Afghanistan should be “redirected” to address issues such as healthcare, jobs and climate change.

He said the money should be redirected towards “things that are … a real threat to the country,” such as responding to the coronavirus disease pandemic, which he called the “biggest threat the US has faced” since 2019.

“We spend too much on the Pentagon, period,” Pocan argued. He said former President Donald Trump increased the US defense budget by 20 percent without allowing an audit or oversight of spending, adding “there is obviously a lot of waste and fraud.”

Pocan was speaking on “The Ray Hanania Radio” show on the US Arab Radio Network, which is sponsored by Arab News. The show is broadcast live every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit and on WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C.

All of the show’s interviews are podcast and available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
Updated 14 min 1 sec ago

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
  • ‘Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words’

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis returned to work full-time on Wednesday following a colon operation, urging the international community to help a struggling Lebanon.
The 84-year-old took time to bless children and pose for selfies in the Vatican at the weekly general audience one month to the day after the delicate operation, which saw him hospitalized for over a week.
“Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words,” Francis said.
Lebanon was Wednesday marking a year since a cataclysmic explosion ravaged Beirut, killing at least 214 people in its worst peace-time disaster, when the country’s economy was already in tatters.
The spiralling economic crisis has been branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century. Lebanon has also had to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis said he hoped an international conference co-hosted by France and the UN on the day of the anniversary to raise humanitarian aid proves “productive.”
According to the Vatican News portal, the general audience marked the resumption of normal activities for the pope, who underwent planned surgery for inflammation of the colon at Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital on July 4.
Francis, who had previously been in fairly good health, had been taking it easy since the operation although he led the Sunday Angelus prayers both from hospital and from the Vatican window on his return.


As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply
Updated 04 August 2021

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply
  • Traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices
  • Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic

KAIROUAN, Tunisia: As Tunisia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, demand for life-saving oxygen has grown higher than the supply, leaving patients desperate and family members angry at the government as they say they are forced to find oxygen on their own.
As the misery grows, traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices. The profitable enterprise that is growing online has prompted citizens to call on authorities for intervention.
“I was subjected to various types of blackmailing. People were trading and brokering with everything. Believe me, with everything,” said Abdou Mzoughi, 43, whose nearly 80-year-old mother died June 26 from COVID-19 after he spent six days trying, but failing, to get the lifesaving oxygen treatment she needed.
“We were looking for a bed with oxygen in any hospital,” he said. He couldn’t even find her a place in a field hospital, or obtain a larger oxygen concentrator for at-home treatment.
The pandemic comes as the nation in North Africa — the only success story of the Arab Spring of a decade ago — finds itself beset by overlapping political and economic crises. Last month President Kais Saied fired the prime minister, froze the parliament and took on executive powers in what he says is a bid to save the country. He began ruling by decree after nationwide protests over the nation’s deteriorating social and economic situation — topped by the raging coronavirus epidemic.
Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and has had among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. More than 20,000 Tunisians have died so far, and the vaccination rate remains low.
Mzoughi said the market price of oxygen has more than doubled as demand grows in Kairouan, an ancient desert city that is considered among the holiest in Islam and is recognized by UNESCO for its rich architectural heritage. It is also one of the poorest cities in Tunisia.
Renting an oxygen concentrator can now cost up to $200 a week — an amount that Mzoughi roughly makes in a month with a steady job in the regional office of an online newspaper.
Now he visits his mother’s grave daily and describes still being in a state of shock over her death.
Private hospitals and clinics are also witnessing unprecedented pressure and intense demand for resuscitation and oxygen beds. That has caused a shortage of liquid oxygen in hospital tanks, and prompted the health authorities to request supplies from Algeria to enhance its strategic stock and avoid interruption in health units.
It has also led to the use of spare oxygen bottles, or the transfer of some patients to other hospitals.
Authorities have now ordered private clinics to contribute oxygen until there is a return to the normal oxygen supply pattern.
Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic. Now, the North African nation consumes 10 times the amount, between 230,000 to 240,000 liters of oxygen per day. Meanwhile, it’s production capacity is only at 100,000 liters per day, according to the Ministry of Health.
An especially moving video posted in mid-July on social media showed a man described as an official of Mateur Hospital, in the north, collapsing in tears because there was no oxygen for his patients. The video, posted by a Tunisian journalist, made the rounds at home and was widely picked up by French media.
However, the ministry denies claims that the health system in Tunisia is collapsing, saying it has received adequate aid from Arab and European countries, including oxygen machines, vaccines and field hospitals.


One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media
Updated 04 August 2021

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

BEIRUT: One person died and three were injured when a fire broke out on a military bus in a heavily fortified army compound in Damascus early on Wednesday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
One source at the site of the explosion suggested an electrical fault had set the petrol tank on fire, the agency reported.
The explosion happened in the bus while it was near the entrance of a heavily fortified Republican Guards housing compound in the west of the Syrian capital, SANA said.
Another source with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said at least five military personnel were killed and 11 other personnel were wounded in the blast.
Blasts in Damascus have been rare since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of rebel enclaves around the city.
Ten years into Syria’s conflict, President Bashar al-Assad has survived the insurgency which started with peaceful protests in March 2011.
He now holds sway over most of the country, helped by Russia’s military presence and Iran’s Shi’ite militias.
There have been several attacks this year on army vehicles in eastern Syria by suspected Daesh militants who still operate in the sprawling desert area. 


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”