Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, flanked by International leaders pose for a family photo during a conference on Libya in Paris Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 12 November 2021

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out

Powers urge Libya to keep poll plan, want mercenaries out
  • Friday’s conference is co-chaired by France, Germany, Italy, Libya, and the United Nations
  • A leading rights group questioned Thursday whether Libyan authorities can hold free and fair elections

PARIS: World powers on Friday told Libya to stick to a plan for holding presidential elections on December 24, adding that foreign mercenaries should also leave and allow the country to turn a page in its history.
French President Emmanuel Macron hosted leaders and diplomats in Paris for an international conference, declaring that Libya was now as a “crossroads” that would determine its future.
The North African country has been mired in civil war since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, with the bloodshed drawing in competing Libyan factions and extremist groups, as well as regional powers.
The presidential vote on December 24 is the core part of a United Nations plan to help restore stability, but the calendar has been under pressure as tensions flare once more between rival camps.
“We urge all Libyan stakeholders and candidates to respect their commitments toward holding elections on 24 December 2021 (and) to accept the results of free, fair and inclusive elections,” the powers said in a statement after the talks.
The scheduling has remained unclear, after Libya’s parliament in early October pushed back legislative elections until January.
“Libya is once again at a crossroads. There have been 10 years of disorder and upheaval in which the international community is not without responsibility,” said Macron.
“The next six weeks will be decisive,” he added.
The world powers also warned that sanctions could be imposed against anyone deemed to be impeding the process.
“We affirm that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition will be held accountable and may be designated” by UN sanctions, their statement said.
Key players attending the meeting included US Vice President Kamala Harris and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, one of Paris’s closest allies in the Middle East.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi were also present. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Russian President Vladimir Putin were conspicuous by their absence.
Libya was represented by transitional presidential council head Mohamed Al-Menfi as well as Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah who said: “Concrete guarantees must be obtained that the election results will be accepted and that those who reject them will be sanctioned.”
Earlier this week, Libya opened registration for election candidates, with speculation mounting over possible presidential bids by eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar or even Qaddafi’s son Seif Al-Islam, both deeply divisive figures.
The conference to endorse a plan for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, with the statement giving “full support for the comprehensive Action Plan for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from the Libyan territory.”
Turkey had sent in troops as well as pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to shore up the Tripoli government.
Observers also accuse Moscow of deploying mercenaries belonging to the Wagner group, which is allegedly controlled by a close ally of Putin.
Pro-Haftar forces said in a statement ahead of the conference that 300 foreign mercenaries fighting on their side would leave the country, “at the request of France.”
The nationality of the fighters was not specified and no timeline was given. The UN estimates that 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters are deployed in Libya.
“The mercenary withdrawal plan must be implemented. Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay,” Macron said, welcoming the announcement that 300 mercenaries would leave as a “first step.”
“This is only the beginning, but it is an essential beginning which finally gives credibility to a process that we have been talking about for too long,” said Macron.
France has faced accusations of backing the pro-Moscow and staunchly secular Haftar but has always insisted it has been fully objective in the conflict.
Merkel commented that Turkey had “reservations” about the process of withdrawing mercenaries.
But she added: “It’s a good thing that we can see a first withdrawal, it will serve as an example. Things have started.”


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
Updated 35 sec ago

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank
RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting
Updated 34 min 2 sec ago

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 06 July 2022

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
  • National task force, 24-hour war room, and multilingual media campaign was key, says health body
  • Free testing and vaccines kept virus at bay

RIYADH: Bahrain’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic was built on active collaboration between various sectors in the Gulf state, according to a new WHO report.

The document titled “Bahrain COVID-19 Case Studies,” highlights the country’s wide-ranging efforts to get the health crisis under control and identifies lessons learned from that response.

The world health body credits strategic partnerships between public and private entities for the positive response.

Bahrain detected its first case of the virus on Feb. 24, 2020, and caseloads have remained relatively low during the pandemic, with only short-lived surges as a result of the delta and omicron variants. The country has lost 1,495 people to the disease since the start of the pandemic, according to the information organization Our World in Data.

The study was presented by Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the health organization’s head for the eastern Mediterranean region.

“I would like to acknowledge the resilience of the health system in Bahrain throughout the pandemic, and its continued provision of essential health services for all, under a framework of accessibility, acceptability, availability, and quality,” Al-Mandhari said.

“This new report provides us with a valuable reminder: Together we can face health emergencies, and together we can build back stronger,” he said in a joint press conference with Jaleela S. Jawad Hasan, the health minister, on Tuesday.

Hasan outlined some of the strategies that had helped to keep the virus in check on the small island kingdom of 1.7 million people.

Even before the first case appeared, Hasan said, Bahrain established a national task force coupled with a round-the-clock war room, featuring representatives from various sectors. A multilingual public media campaign to spread awareness was also introduced.

The report stated that by using its existing health infrastructure, the kingdom “capitalized on and scaled up its existing resources and displayed a level of preparedness and synergy of efforts from both the top down and the bottom up.”

King Hamad’s decision to provide testing and vaccines to the public free of charge was among the positive steps in handling the crisis, stated the authors of the report.

The lessons learned from what the country has achieved provide “invaluable insights into best practices that, shared, will have far-reaching and long-lasting effects beyond Bahrain’s borders,” the report concluded.

Hasan said Bahrain was committed to its cooperation with the WHO to combat the pandemic and achieve global health goals, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 40 active hospitalized cases, 15 of which were critical.

Bahrain removed most COVID-19 restrictions in February, doing away with capacity limits at indoor venues and testing and vaccination requirements for travelers heading to the kingdom.


Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
  • From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony

CAIRO, Egypt: Under the steady hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads through black fabric, creating Qur'anic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, huge pieces of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic structure that is the centerpiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the Hajj annual pilgrimage, which starts this week.

In this file photo taken on April 4, 2021 the keys of the Kaaba (box), Islam's holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and a fragment of the black-clothed Kiswa (wall) which is used to cover the Kaaba, the final one provided by Egypt (in 1961) during the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, are displayed at the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), in the Fustat district of Old Cairo. (AFP)

Othman’s family used to be honored with the task of producing the kiswa.
His family’s creations would be despatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest site in western Saudi Arabia toward which Muslims across the world turn to pray.
Now, Othman keeps the tradition alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, where mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.
The area is historically home to Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, but artisans face growing challenges.

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy (R), whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, supervises as another employee (L) sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Materials, mostly imported, have become expensive, particularly as Egypt faces economic woes and a devalued currency.
Plummeting purchasing power makes high quality hand-crafted goods inaccessible to the average Egyptian, while master craftspeople find it hard to hand down their skills as young people turn to more lucrative jobs.
This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good money in the craft,” Othman sighed, hunched over one of the many tapestries that fill his workshop.
Sheets of black and brown felt are covered in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold.
Every stitch echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924.
“For a whole year, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, using silver thread in a lengthy labor of love.

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony.
Celebrations would mark the processions through cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.
Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the last to supervise a fully Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926.
From 1927, manufacturing began to move to Makkah in the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would fully take over production of the kiswa in 1962.
The family went on to embroider military regalia for Egyptian and foreign dignitaries, including former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“In addition to our work with military rank embroideries, my father started embroidering Qur'anic verses on tapestries,” and then reproducing whole sections of the kiswa.
Clients began flooding in for “exact replicas of the kiswa, down to the last detail.”

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy, whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Though today they offer small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds (about $5), massive customised orders go for several thousand dollars, such as replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Makkah.

But the family has not been immune to the economic turbulence that began with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small businesses and craftsmanship in Egypt.
Since early 2020, they have sold around “two pieces per month,” whereas before they would sell at least one tapestry a day.
Othman worries that a sense of “worldwide austerity” makes business unlikely to bounce back.
Today, there might only be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers authentic, with many artisans leaving the craft for quicker cash flows.
“They can make 200 to 300 pounds a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman said. “They’re not going to sit on a loom breaking their backs all day.”
But still, a century and a half after his great grandfather left his native Turkey and brought the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to techniques learnt as a child when he would duck out of school to watch his father work.
“It’s on us to uphold the craft the same way we learned it, so it’s authentic to the legacy we inherited,” he said.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.