Arab, Israeli signatories celebrate first anniversary of Abraham Accords

Arab, Israeli signatories celebrate first anniversary of Abraham Accords
This September 15, 2020 photo shows (L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. (AFP)
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Updated 14 September 2021

Arab, Israeli signatories celebrate first anniversary of Abraham Accords

Arab, Israeli signatories celebrate first anniversary of Abraham Accords
  • Four countries — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — agreed in 2020 to normalize their relations with Israel
  • The peace with Israel is a ‘warm peace,’ the UAE’s ambassador to the UN said during event in New York marking the occasion

NEW YORK: UN representatives gathered in New York on Monday to celebrate the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, a series of agreements by several Arab countries to normalize their relations with Israel.

During the event, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, representatives to the UN from the signatory nations hailed the “incredible achievement” of the accords. Dozens of ambassadors and other officials from countries across the Arab world, Europe, and elsewhere also took part in the event, which Arab News attended.

The UAE was the first Arab country to sign up for the accords, which signaled a new era of political, economic and cultural ties between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, told the gathering: “One year ago, at the signing of the accords at the White House, my foreign minister, His Highness Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said: ‘I stand here today to extend the hand of peace and receive the hand of peace.’

“And this extending of hands certainly has been mutual between the countries represented here today. For us, the United Arab Emirates, the peace with Israel has been a warm peace.”

Nusseibeh said that the anticipated new investments, academic partnerships and joint research initiatives resulting from the agreement have already begun, but added: “What we perhaps did not anticipate, and what we have been inspired to witness, is how the creativity and curiosity of our people truly united once the political elements had been removed.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said the accords should be celebrated as an “incredible achievement” between countries with aligned interests. They allow the signatories to “face the larger challenges to the Middle East with a united front,” he added.

“Our peoples are learning each other’s languages and realizing how much the sons of Abraham truly have in common, as they share kosher meals in Manama and Marrakesh,” said Erdan. “I strongly believe that as others in the region see the fruits of our partnership and feel this transformation, they will join our circle of peace.

“Perhaps even the Palestinians, if they see the benefits of our peace and the prosperity it brings, will see these accords as an opportunity, not a threat.”

He also praised the US for its role in facilitating the agreements and hailed the bipartisan support from across the American political spectrum.

The permanent representatives to the UN from Bahrain and Morocco, which followed the UAE’s lead last year and agreed to normalize their relationships with Israel, praised the accords and highlighted the variety of ways in which their economies and cultures have benefited.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the UN, also hailed the anniversary of the agreements, which she said have the full support of President Joe Biden.

“Perhaps what is most remarkable is that we have gone from ink on a page to concrete improvements between countries,” she said, citing in particular the diplomatic and economic advances made by the UAE and Israel.

She thanked all the signatories for “choosing the path of peace,” but also reiterated that the Biden administration continues to firmly support a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I want to be clear, as we continue to pursue normalization between Israel and neighboring countries, we remain committed to a two-state solution,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “We firmly believe Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity and prosperity.”

Sudan followed the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in signing up for the Abraham Accords last year, but the flurry of diplomatic activity in the region subsequently slowed. Many people — including some of the speakers at Monday’s event — have highlighted Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region’s largest and most powerful country, as the most important nation with which Israel must now work to develop ties.

Authorities in the Kingdom have made clear that they support a peace built on the accords, but that any Saudi rapprochement with Israel cannot come at the expense of the Palestinian people.


Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists
Updated 22 September 2021

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists

Turkey’s top Islamic cleric moves center stage, irking secularists
  • Political foes says Ali Erbas’s growing profile is at odds with the Turkish Republic’s secular constitution
ISTANBUL: When President Tayyip Erdogan opened a new court complex this month, Turkey’s senior cleric sealed the ceremony with a Muslim prayer, triggering protests from critics who said his actions contravened the secular constitution.
“Make this wonderful work beneficial and blessed for our nation, my God,” Ali Erbas said in his address, adding that many judges had “worked to bring the justice which (God) ordered.”
Erbas’s appearance at the Sept. 1 ceremony in Ankara, and the wave of opposition criticism over his comments, reflect his rising profile at the head of a state-run religious organization and the growing influence it has attained under Erdogan.
The president, whose ruling AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has overturned decades-old restrictions imposed on religion by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, placing Islam center-stage in political life.
Last year Erbas delivered the first sermon in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia after the Byzantine church-turned-museum was reconverted into a mosque. He did so while clutching a sword, saying this was traditional for preachers in mosques taken by conquest. The church was captured by Ottoman forces in 1453.
His state-run Diyanet organization, or Religious Affairs Directorate, has its own television channel which is recruiting 30 new staff. Its budget, which already matches that of an average ministry, will rise by a quarter next year to 16.1 billion lira ($1.86 billion), government data shows.
Erdogan further endorsed Erbas last week by extending his term at the Diyanet. He was with Erdogan again on Monday in New York, reciting a prayer at the opening of a skyscraper that will house Turkish diplomats based there.
Erdogan’s political foes says Erbas’s growing profile is at odds with the Turkish Republic’s secular constitution, and shows the president is using religion to boost his waning ratings ahead of an election scheduled for 2023.
“It is completely unacceptable for the Religious Affairs Directorate to be used politically by the AKP,” said Bahadir Erdem, deputy chairman of the opposition Iyi Party.
“The reason for Ali Erbas repeatedly making statements that polarize the nation is very clearly the government using religious sensitivities of those whose votes it thinks it can win,” he said.
Apart from the Diyanet’s growing prominence, secularists also fret over a sharp increase in religious ‘Imam Hatip’ schools, a 10 percent rise in mosque numbers in the last decade, the lifting of a ban on Muslim headscarves in state institutions and the taming of Turkey’s powerful military, once a bastion of secularism, all during Erdogan’s rule.
Responding to the criticism over the Diyanet, the presidency shared a picture of Ataturk standing in prayer beside a Muslim cleric at a ceremony outside Turkey’s new parliament 100 years ago, suggesting that even the founder of the secular republic gave space to religion alongside politics.
The secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) accuse Erdogan of deliberately using Erbas to distract public attention from Turkey’s mounting economic woes.
“He has put the Religious Affairs Directorate chairman on the field like a pawn,” CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said.
Turkey’s constitution says the Diyanet must act in line with the principles of secularism, without expressing political views.
Erbas, a former theology professor who took office in 2017, has not addressed the criticism directly but says his role is limited to religious guidance.
“In line with the duty set out in the constitution to ‘enlighten society regarding religion’, our directorate is working to convey to our people in the most correct way the principles of Islam,” he said in a speech last week.
That message does not reassure secularist critics.
Erbas’s frequent presence at Erdogan’s side reveals a “very significant elevation of the role of Sunni Islam in government in Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, a director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The secularist firewall of the 20th century, established by Ataturk and guarded by his successors, that has separated religion and government, and religion and education, has completely collapsed,” he said.
Erbas has courted controversy in the past. Last year his suggestion that homosexuality causes illness triggered a clash between Erdogan’s AKP and Turkey’s lawyers’ associations over freedom of expression.
But he has won support from Erdogan’s nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli.
“Turkey is a Muslim country,” he said. “The allergy against the Islamic religion of those wicked people who have broken off ties with our national and spiritual values is an incurable clinical case.”

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan
Updated 22 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan, Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the kingdom's foreign ministry.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Kuwait also condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan and renewed their support for the Sudanese people.

Egypt, in a statement issued by its foreign ministry, also affirmed support for the transitional Sudanese government and condemned any attempt to obstruct development efforts there.

Sudanese authorities reported a coup attempt on Tuesday by a group of soldiers but said the attempt failed and that the military remains in control. 

It said the plotters were loyal to ousted president Omar Al-Bashir.  


UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places
Updated 22 September 2021

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

DUBAI: The UAE government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in some public places, the country’s health ministry announced Wednesday. 

The decision means it is no longer obligatory to wear masks while exercising outdoors, sitting at the beach, or by the pool.

Individuals driving in a private car alone or with members of the same household will also not be required to wear them.

Masks will also not be required in indoor places such as hair salons when people are alone. 

The decision came after the number of daily Covid-19 cases decreased by 60 per cent in August this year as compared to the same period last year.


Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
Updated 22 September 2021

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
  • The total number of cases seen in Idlib province has more than doubled since the beginning of August
  • Extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible

BEIRUT: Coronavirus cases are surging to the worst levels of the pandemic in a rebel stronghold in Syria — a particularly devastating development in a region where scores of hospitals have been bombed and that doctors and nurses have fled in droves during a decade of war.
The total number of cases seen in Idlib province — an overcrowded enclave with a population of 4 million, many of them internally displaced — has more than doubled since the beginning of August to more than 61,000. In recent weeks, daily new infections have repeatedly shot past 1,500, and authorities reported 34 deaths on Sunday alone — figures that are still believed to be undercounts because many infected people don’t report to authorities.
The situation has become so dire in the northwestern province that rescue workers known as the White Helmets who became famous for digging through the rubble of bombings to find victims now mostly ferry coronavirus patients to the hospital or the dead to burials.
“What is happening is a medical catastrophe,” the Idlib Doctors Syndicate said this week as it issued a plea for support from international aid groups.
Idlib faces all the challenges that places the world over have during the pandemic: Its intensive care units are largely full, there are severe shortages of oxygen and tests, and the vaccination rollout has been slow.
But extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible. Half of its hospitals and health centers have been damaged by bombing, and the health system was close to collapse even before the pandemic. A large number of medical personnel have fled the country seeking safety and opportunities abroad. Tens of thousands of its residents live in crowded tent settlements, where social distancing and even regular hand-washing are all but impossible. And increasing violence in the region is now threatening to make matters worse.
Large parts of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province remain in the hands of Syria’s armed opposition, dominated by radical groups including Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants who have struggled to respond to the outbreak, which intensified in August, apparently driven by the more contagious delta variant and gatherings for the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.
Cases and deaths have also been increasing in recent weeks in government-held areas and those under the control of US-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the east, but the situation appears to be worse in Idlib, though it’s hard to measure the true toll anywhere.
In response, the political arm of the insurgent group that runs Idlib has closed some markets, forced restaurants to serve outdoor meals only, and delayed the opening of schools by a week.
But most residents are daily laborers who could not survive if they stopped working, making full lockdowns impossible.
“If they don’t work, they cannot eat,” said Idlib resident Ahmad Said, who added that most people cannot even afford to buy masks.
What’s more, a population that has suffered through so much already is often too weary to follow restrictions that have tested people even in easier circumstances.
“It is as if people have gotten used to death,” said Salwa Abdul-Rahman, an opposition activist who reports on events in Idlib. “Those who were not killed by regime and Russian airstrikes are being killed now by coronavirus.”
The vaccination campaign meanwhile, has been slow, though the arrival of some 350,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine earlier this month could help. According to the World Health Organization, only about 2.5 percent of Idlib’s population has received at least one shot.
The new virus outbreak also comes amid the most serious increase in violence in Idlib, 18 months after a truce reached between Turkey and Russia who support rival sides in Syria’s conflict brought relative calm. In recent weeks, airstrikes and artillery shelling by government forces have left scores of people dead or wounded.
At Al-Ziraa hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah says there is no sign that the outbreak has reached its peak yet.
But for some Idlib residents, getting infected is the least of their worries.
“We have gone through more difficult situations than coronavirus,” said resident Ali Dalati, walking through a market without wearing a mask. “We are not afraid of coronavirus.”


Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy
Updated 22 September 2021

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

DUBAI: The Iran-backed Houthi militia are unwilling to make peace in Yemen and are actually undermining efforts for hostilities to cease in the conflict-ridden country, a senior Yemeni politician said.

“We’re ready to achieve peace, but the Houthi militia has not yet agreed to do so, it has continued to deliberately undermine peace efforts and proposals, going on fighting. These indicators show they have never been willing to make peace,” Parliament speaker, Sultan Al-Barakani said as he met US envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking to discuss peace initiatives for Yemen.

The Houthis are to blame for blocking peace efforts and initiative and escalating military actions targeting civilians and facilities including Mocha port, state news agency SABA quoted the parliament leader as saying.

Al-Barakani pointed to the recent public execution of nine people, who were accused of being involved in the killing of Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018, as an example of the militia’s crimes against the Yemeni people.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms claimed it had documented 6,476  violations committed by the Houthis against women in more than five years, involving mostly deaths and injuries caused be artillery shelling, as well as mines and other explosive devices detonating.

The rights group also said there had been 770 cases of arrests and kidnapping, 195 cases of enforced disappearance and 70 cases of torture of women in Yemen during the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to June 1, 2021.

It also confirmed cases of torture and degrading treatment against 70 women who were detained in secret and public prisons of the Houthi militia.

This amounted to false charges against their honor, as well as trafficking in their honor – according to what was reported – in the testimonies of some of the released women, the group said, leading to some of them to commit suicide.