Israeli gov’t and settlers reach deal over West Bank outpost, Palestinians angered

Israeli gov’t and settlers reach deal over West Bank outpost, Palestinians angered
An aerial view shows Givat Eviatar, a new Israeli settler outpost, as smoke from fires lit in the Palestinian village of Beita, drifts above, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (File/REUTERS)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Israeli gov’t and settlers reach deal over West Bank outpost, Palestinians angered

Israeli gov’t and settlers reach deal over West Bank outpost, Palestinians angered
  • Under the agreement, the settlers will leave Givat Eviatar outpost in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
  • Most world powers deem all of the settlements, built on land Israel captured and occupied in 1967, to be illegal

JERUSALEM: Jewish settlers have agreed to quit a remote outpost that has become a flashpoint for clashes with Palestinians who also claim the land, officials said, under a deal aimed at addressing an awkward political test for the new Israeli government.

Under the agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the settlers will leave Givat Eviatar outpost in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But it seemed likely that at least some of the outpost’s new buildings would remain, locked and under military guard, an outcome that is certain to anger Palestinian protesters who demand it be removed.

The hilltop settlement outpost near the Palestinian city of Nablus was established without Israeli government permits in May and is now home to more than 50 settler families.

The Israeli military ordered it to be cleared, presenting an early challenge for the new prime minister. Bennett was once a leader of the settler movement and heads a pro-settler party, putting him at odds with some of his own voter base if the settlers were forcibly evicted.

But his ruling coalition only survives with the support of left-wing and Islamist Arab parties, making sensitive policy decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict difficult.

An official with Israel’s Defense Ministry, which administers the settlements, said the Givat Eviatar families had agreed to leave voluntarily by the weekend.

Troops would stay on and a land survey conducted to determine if a government-backed settlement can be established there, the official told Reuters.

Settler leader Yossi Dagan said the families would leave on Friday under the deal. The structures serving as their homes would be locked, he said, suggesting they would not be dismantled. The Defense Ministry official did not confirm that.

On Wednesday Moussa Hamayel, deputy mayor of the nearby Palestinian village Beita, said: “We will continue our popular activities (protests) until the settlement is removed and our land is returned to us.” Beita’s residents claim ownership of the area on which Givat Eviatar sits.

Most world powers deem all of the settlements, built on land Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 Middle East war, to be illegal. Israel disputes this, citing historical ties to the land on which they sit, and its own security needs.

Israeli soldiers have shot dead five Palestinians during stone-throwing protests since the outpost was set up, Palestinian officials said. The military did not comment on fatalities, but said troops used live fire only as a last resort.


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 07 December 2021

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, accusing them of being connected to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts.

In an action marking the week of the US Summit for Democracy, the Treasury Department said in a statement it was targeting repression and the undermining of democracy, designating individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Iran and deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria, among others.

“Treasury will continue to defend against authoritarianism, promoting accountability for violent repression of people seeking to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington blacklisted two senior Syrian Air Force officers it accused of being responsible for chemical weapon attacks on civilians and three senior officers in Syria's security and intelligence apparatus, according to the statement.

In Iran, the US designated the Special Units of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and Counter-Terror Special Forces, as well as several of their officials, and Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands Iran's hardline Basij militia. Two prisons and a prison director were also blacklisted over events that reportedly took place in them.

Tuesday's action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.


Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)

DOHA: France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he expected nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to resume on Thursday, but after last week he had not been encouraged and feared Iran’s new negotiating was trying to gain time.

“The elements today of the discussion that re-started are not very encouraging because we have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

He said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week, but he hoped things would take a positive turn otherwise it could lead to a “serious situation.”


Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
Updated 07 December 2021

Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
  • It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels

LONDON: An Iranian warship due to launch next year has capsized before leaving its dry dock at Bandar Abbas port, according to a video and imagery published online at the weekend.

Satellite images appeared to confirm that the naval vessel Talayieh, which was going through the final stages of construction before its launch, was lying on its side and partially flooded. It is not clear how the ship had toppled over.

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media.

The Planetscope satellite image, taken on Dec. 4, was tweeted by Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

The photo shows the ship on its side in the same location as where the Talayieh was pictured being built in an image published by Iranian media in August.

Iranian naval officials said the Talayieh would be an “intelligence reconnaissance” vessel specializing in electronic warfare, while also providing assistance to other Iranian ships.  

According to experts, if a ship of the size of the Talayieh lies in the water for an extended period of time, it can lead to a number of issues that would require considerable time and energy to rectify.

It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels. In June, the Kharg — one of Iran’s largest naval vessels — caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman.

In May 2020, 19 naval servicemen died and another 15 were injured when an Iranian warship accidentally opened fire on one of its own support vessels during a training exercise in the same body of water.


Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
Updated 07 December 2021

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
  • Razan Al-Mubarak wants to ‘debunk myth’ that fighting climate change automatically preserves biodiversity
  • She hopes to see more regional cooperation on protection of indigenous wildlife

LONDON: The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to prevent global biodiversity loss, which she said often “plays second fiddle” to the issue of climate change in international agreements.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak said: “Often we link biodiversity and climate change as one and the same … But what’s important for us to understand and recognize is that addressing the issue of climate change won’t necessarily address the issue of biodiversity loss … because the drivers are different.”

She added that the disconnect between addressing climate change, which is caused largely by excess greenhouse gas emissions, and tackling biodiversity loss, which has an array of localized causes, became abundantly clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent — the greatest decrease in 100 years. But if you look at what happened in the biodiversity agenda, it actually increased,” said Al-Mubarak.

This was partly because urban-to-rural population flows increased, but global lockdowns also meant that conservation workers were prevented from carrying out their essential duties that preserve biodiverse systems.

The Zoological Society of London’s Director General Dominic Jermey told participants that a key indicator of global biodiversity change that his organization produces, the Living Planet Index, shows that land use for products such as palm oil or cotton is “one of the critical killers of wildlife.”

Al-Mubarak, who was recently appointed as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said biodiversity, and nature more broadly, are essential to human survival, but the “myth” that addressing climate change will also protect diverse biological systems needs to be “debunked.”

In her home country of the UAE, her work has already proved successful in protecting or rejuvenating ecosystems, while also building relationships with international partners.

One of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s crowning successes was the re-introduction of the scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild, back into its native Saharan habitat, an initiative carried out jointly with Chadian environmental officials, the ZSL and others.

In Europe, too, Al-Mubarak’s team has made inroads to protect endangered species. The UK and the UAE are signatories to the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, an international agreement that protects the migration routes of birds of prey such as falcons.

And Abu Dhabi is host to the only office dedicated to the administration of the UN’s Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

Al-Mubarak said: “What spurred the Raptors MoU between the UK and the UAE is the story of falconry. If you trace the story of falconry and falcon conservation in the UAE context … it was this fantastic bird, the fastest animal on the planet, that spurred the imagination of the leadership of institutions in the UAE to protect it.”

This went “beyond borders,” she added, explaining that their work to protect falcons and other migratory birds now extends to cooperation with Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. 

She said cooperation with the UAE’s neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, could also improve conservation efforts.

Responding to a question by Arab News, she said: “In our region we share species, and we need to be able to share and work on cross-boundary protected areas, which we really haven’t exploited yet. It’s something that we really need to do more of.”

Adding to the point, Jermey said: “Wild animals don’t have passports. It’s news to them that there are borders between countries, and we do need to think in a trans-border, trans-boundary way.”