Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) spoke with UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg to discuss developments in Yemen. (File/Wikipedia and Twitter/@EUinYemen)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) spoke with UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg to discuss developments in Yemen. (File/Wikipedia and Twitter/@EUinYemen)
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Updated 19 October 2021

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
  • The US secretary of state congratulates UN envoy to Yemen on his new role during call

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated that resolving the conflict in Yemen remains a top US foreign policy priority.
His comments came during a phone call with the newly-appointed UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg.
Blinken congratulated Grundberg, who was appointed in August to replace Martin Griffiths, on his new role, the State Department said in a statement.
During the call, they “discussed efforts to engage all parties without preconditions and secure a cease-fire, address urgent humanitarian priorities, restart the political process in Yemen, and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.”

Blinken also welcomed collaboration on the common goal of reaching an “inclusive, durable solution” to end the conflict in Yemen and bringing relief to Yemenis, the statement added.
On Monday, Grundberg ended a visit to Oman, where he met with Omani officials, Houthi representatives, and representatives of the international community about reaching a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Yemen.

 


President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
Updated 5 sec ago

President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.


Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant
Updated 4 min 40 sec ago

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

DUBAI: Oman, UAE and Egypt joined a series of countries worldwide who banned direct flights from seven African countries temporarily in response to the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

Starting from Nov. 28, directs flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini would be blocked and a range of measures would be introduced for any travellers arriving from such countries via indirect flights, whether for transit or otherwise. 


Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

A Sudanese anti-coup protester chants slogans during a demonstration in the
A Sudanese anti-coup protester chants slogans during a demonstration in the "Street 40" of the capital's twin city of Omdurman on November 25, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 27 November 2021

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

A Sudanese anti-coup protester chants slogans during a demonstration in the "Street 40" of the capital's twin city of Omdurman on November 25, 2021. (AFP)
  • Several high profile politicians remain in custody

CAIRO: Sudan’s former minister of cabinet affairs Khalid Omer Yousif was released from detention along with others less than a day after beginning a hunger strike, the country’s information ministry said in a statement early on Saturday.
An army takeover on Oct. 25 halted a power sharing deal between the military and civilians from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, and a number of ministers and top civilian officials were detained.
Also released on Saturday were former Khartoum State governor Ayman Nimir and anti-corruption taskforce member Maher Abouljokh.
Several high profile politicians remain in custody.
Yousif and others had began the hunger strike, according to the Sudanese Congress Party, to protest their continued detention despite the signing of a deal between military leaders and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok which provided for the release of all civilian detainees.
Several other prominent civilian politicians and activists had been released on Monday and Friday.
Protests calling for the military to exit politics and be held to account for the deaths of civilian protesters have continued https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/hundreds-sudanese-protest-against-deal-between-pm-hamdok-military-2021-11-25 since the announcement of the deal between military leaders and Hamdok.
A call has been issued for more mass rallies on Sunday.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said late on Friday that 63 people had been injured during the dispersal of protests on Thursday, including one by gunshot wound in the city of Bahri.


Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital
Updated 27 November 2021

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

Arab coalition carries out airstrikes on locations in Yemeni capital

RIYADH: Operational objectives of airstrikes on locations in Yemen’s capital had been achieved, the Arab coalition said early Saturday.

Recently, the coalition has been striking Houthi militia assets in the city in an effort to degrade the Iran-backed group’s capabilities to launch attacks toward Saudi Arabia.

The coalition said they had hit drone workshops and weapons depots in the Dhahan neighborhood and warned civilians from crowding around the targeted areas.

On Friday, the coalition release satellite images of the aftermath of airstrikes on Houthi camps in the presidential palace.

“We have taken preventative measures to spare civilians and civilian objects from collateral damage,” the statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said. “The operation was conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and its customary rules.”

The Arab coalition said on Monday that the Houthi militia in Yemen have turned Sanaa airport into a military base for experiments and cross-border attacks.

Video footage released by the coalition showed the Iran-backed Houthis carrying out training exercises on UN planes, with the intent of testing a missile air system, Saudi state TV reported.

Last week, coalition airstrikes took out a secret hideout in Sanaa housing experts belonging to the Iran Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia is targeted by the militia nearly daily using explosive drones, which are often easily destroyed by the Kingdom’s air defenses.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition has been fighting to restore legitimacy to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, after Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.


How olive trees came to symbolize Palestinian national identity

How olive trees came to symbolize Palestinian national identity
Updated 27 November 2021

How olive trees came to symbolize Palestinian national identity

How olive trees came to symbolize Palestinian national identity
  • The trees feature prominently in Palestinian art and literature as symbols of steadfastness amid a life of displacement 
  • Since the West Bank olive harvest began on Oct. 12, observers say settlers have attacked farmers and uprooted trees regularly

AMMAN: Few things encapsulate the Palestinian identity quite like the humble olive tree. It roots an entire nation to a land and livelihood lost to occupation, while serving as a potent symbol of resistance against the territorial encroachment of illegal settlements.

In the balmy Mediterranean climate of the Levant, olive trees have for centuries provided a steady source of income from the sale of their fruit and the silky, golden oil derived from it.

To this day, between 80,000 and 100,000 families in the Palestinian territories rely on olives and their oil as primary or secondary sources of income. The industry accounts for about 70 percent of local fruit production and contributes about 14 percent to the local economy.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that these hardy trees feature so prominently in Palestinian art and literature, even in the far-flung diaspora, as symbols of rootedness in an age of displacement, self-sufficiency in times of hardship, and peace in periods of war.

Olive trees provide Palestinians with a vital part of their diet, but have also become a symbol of hope and unity. (Supplied)

“It represents the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, who are able to live under difficult circumstances,” Sliman Mansour, a Palestinian painter in Jerusalem whose art has long focused on the theme of land, told Arab News.

“In the same way that the trees can survive and have deep roots in their land so, too, do the Palestinian people.”

Mahmoud Darwish, the celebrated Palestinian poet who died in 2008, sprinkled his works with references to olives. In his 1964 poetry collection “Leaves of the Olive Tree,” he wrote: “Olive is an evergreen tree; Olive will stay evergreen; Like a shield for the universe.”

Such is the economic and symbolic power of the olive tree in Palestinian national life that the rural communities that have tended these crops for generations are routinely targeted by illegal settlers attempting to denude families of their land and living.

Since the olive harvest began on Oct. 12 this year, observers in the West Bank have reported Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian villages on an almost daily basis, beating farmers, spraying crops with chemicals and uprooting olive trees by the hundreds.

FASTFACTS

* The land around the Sea of Galilee was once the world’s most important olive region.

* The area was the site of the earliest olive cultivation, dating back to 5,000 B.C.

* Southern Spain and southeastern Italy are now the biggest olive-oil-producing regions.

Such violence and vandalism is nothing new. The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 9,300 trees were destroyed in the West Bank between Aug. 2020 and Aug. 2021 alone, compounding the already damaging effects of climate change.

“For years, the ICRC has observed a seasonal peak in violence by Israeli settlers residing in certain settlements and outposts in the West Bank toward Palestinian farmers and their property in the period leading up to the olive-harvest season, as well as during the harvest season itself in October and November,” Els Debuf, head of the ICRC’s mission in Jerusalem, said recently.

“Farmers also experience acts of harassment and violence that aim at preventing a successful harvest, not to mention the destruction of farming equipment, or the uprooting and burning of olive trees.”

According to independent observers appointed by the UN, the violence attributed to Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank has worsened in recent months amid “an atmosphere of impunity.”

In response to these attacks, Palestinian farmers have been forced to plant about 10,000 new olive trees in the West Bank each year to prevent the region’s 5,000-year-old industry from dying out.

The humble plant continues to have a special place in the hearts of the Palestinian people and their quest for statehood. (Supplied)

Nabil Anani, a celebrated Palestinian painter, ceramicist and sculptor, believes the olive tree is a powerful national symbol that must be protected at all costs.

“For me it is both a national and artistic symbol; it reflects the nature and beauty of Palestine,” Anani, who is considered one of the founders of contemporary Palestinian art, told Arab News. “Our traditions, culture, poems and songs are often centered around the tree.”

To the west of Ramallah, the administrative heart of the Palestine government, Anani said the hillsides bristle with olive trees as far as the eye can see.

“They cover entire mountains and it is one of the most pleasant views that anyone can observe,” he added.

INNUMBERS

* 48% - Proportion of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza devoted to olive trees.

* 70% - Share of total fruit production in Palestine provided by olives

* 14% - Contribution of olives to the Palestinian economy.

* 93% - Proportion of the olive harvest used to make olive oil.

The late Fadwa Touqan, one of the most respected female poets in Palestinian literature, saw olive trees as symbols of unity with nature and of hope for the renewal and rebirth of Palestine.

In a 1993 poem, she wrote: “The roots of the olive tree are from my soil and they are always fresh; Its lights are emitted from my heart and it is inspired; Until my creator filled my nerve, root and body; So, he got up while shaking its leaves due to maturity created within him.”

More than just a source of income and artistic inspiration, however, olives also form a vital part of the Palestinian diet and culinary culture. Pickled olives feature in breakfasts, lunches and dinners, providing significant nutritional health benefits.

Olive oil, meanwhile, is used in scores of recipes, the most popular of which is zaatar w zeit: fluffy flatbread dipped in oil and then dabbed liberally in a thyme-based powder that includes sesame seeds and spices.

Beyond the dinner table, olive oil historically has had many other uses: As a source of fuel in oil lamps, a natural treatment for dry hair, nails and skin, and even as an insecticide.

Sliman Mansour, a Palestinian painter in Jerusalem whose art has long focused on the theme of land. (Supplied)

It is not only the fruit and its oil that the olive tree contributes to the cultural and economic life of Palestine. Olive pits, the hard stones in the center of the fruit, have long been repurposed to make strings of prayer beads used by Muslims and Christians alike.

As for the leaves and branches of the trees, they are trimmed during the harvest season to be used as feed for sheep and goats, while the broad canopy of the olive grove provides animals and their shepherds with welcome shade from the relentless afternoon sun.

The wood of felled trees has also been widely used in the carving of religious icons as far back as the 16th century, and as a source of firewood before the modern profusion of gas. In fact, the glassmakers of Hebron, who are famed for their stained glass, continue to use charcoal derived from olive trees to fire their kilns.

While the quantifiably beneficial uses of the olive tree are many, perhaps what is even more valuable to Palestinians is the inspiration it has provided to poets, painters and prophets down the ages, not to mention the special place it continues to occupy in their culture and quest for statehood.

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Twitter: @daoudkuttab