Iraq-Kurd forum pushes Israel normalisation, Baghdad condemns

Iraq-Kurd forum pushes Israel normalisation, Baghdad condemns
Iraqis attend the conference of peace and reclamation organised by US think-tank Center for Peace Communications (CPC) in Arbil, the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region, on September 24, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2021

Iraq-Kurd forum pushes Israel normalisation, Baghdad condemns

Iraq-Kurd forum pushes Israel normalisation, Baghdad condemns
  • Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state
  • The office of Iraq’s President Barham Saleh, himself a Kurd, joined in the condemnation

IRBIL: More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, called for a normalization of ties with Israel at a conference in autonomous Kurdistan organized by a US think-tank, drawing a chorus of condemnation Saturday from Baghdad.
The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, a historic foe of Israel and where its sworn enemy Iran has a strong influence, the conference was held Friday.
The organizers, the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC), advocates for normalizing relations between Israel and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organizations.
Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad, which has fought in Arab-Israeli wars, does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — last year agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a US-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.
“We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords,” said Sahar Al-Tai, one of the attendees, reading a closing statement in a conference room at a hotel in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil.
“Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel,” she said.
“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call,” added Tai, head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s culture ministry.
However, Iraq’s federal government rejected the conference’s call for normalization in a statement on Saturday and dismissed the gathering as an “illegal meeting.”

The conference “was not representative of the population’s (opinion) and that of residents in Iraqi cities, in whose name these individuals purported to speak,” the statement said.
The office of Iraq’s President Barham Saleh, himself a Kurd, joined in the condemnation.
Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr urged the government to “arrest all the participants,” while Ahmed Assadi, an MP with the ex-paramilitary group Hashed Al-Shaabi, branded them “traitors in the eyes of the law.”
The 300 participants at the conference came from across Iraq, according to CPC founder Joseph Braude, a US citizen of Iraqi Jewish origin.
They included Sunni and Shiite representatives from “six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddin, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon,” extending to tribal chiefs and “intellectuals and writers,” he told AFP by phone.
Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late president Shimon Peres.
“Normalization with Israel is now a necessity,” said Sheikh Rissan Al-Halboussi, an attendee from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the UAE.
Kurdish Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Israel over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalize ties with the Jewish state, which itself backed a 2017 independence referendum in the autonomous region.


Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
Updated 17 October 2021

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM

Unvaccinated government employees to be banned from entering workplace, says Egyptian PM
  • Health minister announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo airport
  • The doses were provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative

CAIRO: Unvaccinated government employees will be banned from entering their workplace, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said, as the health minister spoke of the quantity and variety of jabs available and the expansion of specialist centers administering them.

“It must be ensured that all workers in the administrative authorities of the governorates are vaccinated, and soon any employee who has not been vaccinated will not be allowed to enter, especially with the wide availability of vaccines,” he told a meeting.

He called for awareness campaigns in governorates explaining the importance of vaccines, especially since the Ministry of Health was ready to provide any required quantity during this stage.

“We have 60.5 million doses of vaccines and, by the end of this month, the number of available vaccines will reach 70 million," said Dr. Hala Zayed, who is the minister of health and population. 

She acknowledged the importance of awareness campaigns and in taking the necessary measures to encourage citizens to get jabbed.

She said the number of vaccination centers had been increased and that, in the coming period, they would be established in areas frequented by citizens. These locations would include courts, traffic departments, metro stations, trains, and in front of mosques and churches on Fridays and Sundays.

The centers were for any governorate that requested them and the goal was to vaccinate citizens quickly.

Zayed said Egypt had started manufacturing vaccines and that, starting next week, the manufacturing technology would be transferred from its Chinese partner.

She also announced a second arrival of 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairo International Airport, provided by the US through the global COVAX initiative.

Khaled Megahed, from the ministry, said the Pfizer vaccine had approval for use from both the World Health Organization and the Egyptian Drug Authority.

The shipment of vaccines received would be analyzed in the authority’s laboratories before being distributed to 1,100 vaccination centers.

The first shipment of Pfizer vaccines, also 1.6 million doses, was received last September as part of a series of shipments provided by the US to Egypt.


Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
Updated 17 October 2021

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia

Arab coalition: 165 Houthis killed, 10 military vehicles destroyed in Abedia
  • The US has called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib
  • The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in Abedia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Sunday that 165 Houthis had been killed and ten military vehicles destroyed in operations in Marib’s Abedia district.

The coalition said it had carried out 41 operations targeting Houthis in Abedia and surrounding villages during the last 24 hours.

Abedia is a district in Yemen’s Marib which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23, hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.

The Houthis continue to carry out their terrorist operations against civilians and prevent medical aid from reaching patients in Abedia, the coalition said.

On Saturday, the US called on the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib, and listen to the urgent calls from across Yemen and the international community to bring this conflict to an end and support a UN-led inclusive peace process.

“The Houthis are obstructing movement of people and humanitarian aid, preventing essential services from reaching the 35,000 residents of Abedia,” a US State Department statement said.

“The US urges the Houthis to immediately permit safe passage for civilians, life-saving aid, and the wounded. As the UN stated this week, it stands ready with its partners to provide this much needed assistance to the people of Marib,” the statement added.

The coalition announced on Saturday that it had killed 160 Houthis and destroyed 11 military vehicles in similar operations in Abedia.


Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
Updated 17 October 2021

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy

Syrian constitutional committee agrees to start drafting constitutional reform: UN envoy
  • Syrian government and opposition co-chair meeting for first time, agree to launch process for drafting constitutional reform
  • Pedersen says the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process but will not be able to solve the political crisis itself

BEIRUT: Syria’s government and opposition in the war-torn country have agreed to start drafting constitutional reforms, the UN Syria envoy announced Sunday, a major step after a nine-month hiatus of talks and several fruitless rounds.
UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen didn’t say what was behind the agreement or offer details of what comes next. The drafting sessions formally begin Monday.
Pedersen met Sunday with the co-chairs of a committee which includes figures from fourth-term President Bashar Assad’s government, as well as exiles and civil society representatives. The two sat together for the first time to discuss how to proceed, and plans for the week ahead, Pedersen said.
Thirty representatives divided between the two sides, along with 15 members of civil society, will be meeting with Pedersen in Geneva until Friday.
“I have been negotiating between the parties to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward. I am very pleased to say we have reached such consensus,” Pedersen told reporters, appealing to all parties to maintain the spirit.
“My appeal for the 45 (members) is that we work as we have agreed to, and that we now start the drafting process of the constitutional committee,” he said.
The last round of talks ended in January without progress. Pedersen announced late September an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round. It’s based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” ahead of the meeting, and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.
Syria’s 10-year conflict has killed over 350,000 people and displaced half the country’s pre-war 23 million population, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution.
The 2012 United Nations’ road map to peace in Syria calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with UN-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
After the fifth round of negotiations failed in late January, Pedersen hinted the Syrian government delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
The United States and several Western allies accused Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections to avoid a UN-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council.
In late May, Assad was re-elected in what the government called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term. The West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.
Pedersen said the need for “a genuine intra-Syrian dialogue” was reportedly discussed by Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently in Moscow, “and through this, a genuine process of Syrian political reform.”


Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria
Updated 17 October 2021

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

Jordan says no current plans to operate flights to Syria

CAIRO: Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission said that there are no current plans to operate flights between Jordan and Syria, state news agency PETRA reported on Sunday.
Jordan’s state carrier, Royal Jordanian, said in September it would resume direct flights to Damascus for the first time in nearly a decade, in what would have been the latest step to restore extensive business ties with Syria.

More to follow...


Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
Updated 17 October 2021

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan

Pro-army protesters rally again in tense Sudan
  • Latest developments come after government said it had thwarted a coup attempt on September 21
  • On Friday, Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of pro-military Sudanese protesters rallied for a second day Sunday, aggravating what Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the “worst and most dangerous crisis” of the country’s precarious transition.
The protesters rallying in Khartoum are demanding the dissolution of Sudan’s post-dictatorship interim government, saying it has “failed” them politically and economically.
“The sit-in continues, we will not leave until the government is dismissed,” Ali Askouri, one of the organizers, told AFP.
“We have officially asked the Sovereign Council,” the military-civilian body that oversees the transition, “not to interact with this government anymore,” he added.
The protests come as Sudanese politics reels from divisions among the factions steering the rocky transition from three decades of iron-fisted rule by Omar Al-Bashir.
Bashir was ousted by the army in April 2019 in the face of mass protests driven by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a civilian alliance that became a key plank of the transition.
The latest demonstrations, left undisturbed by security forces, have been organized by a splinter faction of the FFC. Critics allege that these protests are being driven by members of the military and security forces, and involve counter-revolutionary sympathizers with the former regime.
The protesters have converged on the presidential palace where the transitional authorities are based, shouting “One army, one people” and demanding “a military government.”
Poverty stricken Sudan has undergone dramatic changes since the ouster of Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, where a conflict that began in 2003 killed 300,000 people.
The United States removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist in December 2020, eliminating a major hurdle to much-needed aid and investment.
But domestic support for the transitional government has waned in recent months amid a tough package of IMF-backed economic reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound.
The latest developments come after the government said on September 21 it had thwarted a coup attempt which it blamed on both military officers and civilians linked to Bashir’s regime.
On Friday, Hamdok warned that the transition is facing its “worst and most dangerous” crisis.
Hamdok’s Minister of Finance Jibril Ibrahim on Saturday addressed the crowd demanding the resignation of the government.
The mainstream faction of the FFC said the crisis “is engineered by some parties to overthrow the revolutionary forces... paving the way for the return of remnants of the previous regime.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman for the FFC, called the pro-military sit-in “an episode in the scenario of a coup d’etat.”
Its aim, he told AFP, was “to block the road to democracy because the participants in this sit-in are supporters of the former regime and foreign parties whose interests have been affected by the revolution.”
The demonstration heightens tensions ahead of a rival rally planned for Thursday by the opposite side, to demand a full transfer of power to civilians.
Hassan said the FFC organizers aim for “a demonstration of one million people ... to show the world the position of the Sudanese people.”