Lebanon needs to show that Hezbollah can change behavior, Bahrain minister says

Lebanon needs to show that Hezbollah can change behavior, Bahrain minister says
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani (R) talks to his Brazilian counterpart Carlos Alberto França during the inauguration of the Brazilian embassy in the Bahraini capital Manama, on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 November 2021

Lebanon needs to show that Hezbollah can change behavior, Bahrain minister says

Lebanon needs to show that Hezbollah can change behavior, Bahrain minister says

DUBAI: Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al Zayani, said on Saturday that Lebanon needs to demonstrate that its powerful Iran-allied Hezbollah movement can change its behavior to mend a rift with Gulf Arab states.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, triggered by a minister’s critical comments about the war in Yemen that prompted Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys.
Concerned about Hezbollah’s growing influence, Gulf states — traditional aid donors to Lebanon — have been withholding support to the country which is suffering a deep economic crisis.
“We (can) extend support and try to find solutions in the future, but once it is demonstrated that Hezbollah can be changing its behavior,” Zayani told the IISS Manama Dialogue security forum in Bahrain.
Riyadh, locked in a regional rivalry with Iran, has said its measures last month against Lebanon, including an import ban, were not only in response to the minister’s remarks, but were also to demonstrate unease over Hezbollah’s “domination” of Lebanese politics.
Lebanon’s newly appointed information minister George Kordahi said his remarks were made in an interview before he joined the cabinet and has refused to apologize or step down. Hezbollah’s leader has supported him in the diplomatic row and rejected calls for his resignation.


Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge
Updated 12 sec ago

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge

Algerian minister calls for vaccination amid virus surge
  • Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant

ALGIERS: Algeria’s health minister on Tuesday urged people to get vaccinated and save hospitals from collapse as the North African nation faces a surge of COVID-19 infections.

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant and the highly contagious omicron variant, which now accounts for 60 percent of COVID-19 infections.

On Monday, health officials reported a daily record of 2,215 cases and 13 deaths.

“I urge you to get vaccinated and break the chain of infections which risk bringing our health institutions to their knees,” Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said at a media conference in the capital, Algiers. “For now, the hospitals’ staff are managing. The question is, how long can they hold on?”

Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, according to studies. omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

The inoculation rate in Algeria remains low. Less than a quarter of the population has had even one vaccine dose despite the government’s robust vaccination campaign in state media and on social networks that includes pro-vaccine posts from famous Algerian actors, singers, athletes and influencers.

Algeria has a stock of vaccines that can largely ensure coverage of vaccination needs for two years, the minister said. Overall, only 13 percent of Algeria’s 45 million inhabitants, have been inoculated, the minister said. Of eligible adults, only 29 percent have received two vaccine doses, he said.

In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused.

The pass is also required for anyone entering or leaving Algeria, as well as for entering sports facilities, cinemas, theaters, museums, town halls and other sites like hammams — bath houses that are popular across the region.

Official figures show Algeria has seen 6,508 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, but even members of the government’s scientific committee admit the real figure is much higher. Out of fears of being blamed for getting the virus, some Algerians keep their infections secret, which then puts others at risk.


Vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter Abu Dhabi: Authorities

Vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter Abu Dhabi: Authorities
Updated 8 min 10 sec ago

Vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter Abu Dhabi: Authorities

Vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter Abu Dhabi: Authorities
  • The emirate has clarified that all citizens and residents seeking entry must now show proof of a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated

DUBAI: Authorities in the UAE have published new information about the capital’s entry requirements, saying that unlike residents and citizens, vaccinated tourists do not need to show proof of a booster shot to cross into Abu Dhabi.

The tourism-specific change comes as confusion swirls around entry rules for Abu Dhabi, which has taken a more stringent approach to containing the coronavirus than its freewheeling neighbor, Dubai.

The pandemic has prompted Abu Dhabi to erect a hard border with Dubai, forcing all drivers to come to a halt for vaccination and virus checks on what once had been a wide, empty highway before the pandemic struck.

The emirate has clarified that all citizens and residents seeking entry must now show proof of a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated and maintain a “green status” on the government health app.


Iraq’s top court upholds reelection of parliament speaker

Iraq’s top court upholds reelection of parliament speaker
Updated 16 min 52 sec ago

Iraq’s top court upholds reelection of parliament speaker

Iraq’s top court upholds reelection of parliament speaker
  • Hours later, rockets fall some 500 meters from Al-Halbussi’s home in an attack ‘that sought to target him’

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s top court has confirmed the reelection of Mohammed Al-Halbussi as parliament speaker, following appeals against its conduct, paving the way toward the formation of a new government.

Hours later, rockets fell some 500 meters from Al-Halbussi’s home in the Gurma district of Anbar province, in what a security source told AFP was an attack that sought to target him.

Two lawmakers had appealed Al-Halbussi’s reelection as speaker, a position historically reserved for Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, during parliament’s opening session earlier in January which was overshadowed by disputes between rival blocs from the Shiite majority.

“The Federal Supreme Court rejected the appeal of two MPs who demanded the annulment of the inaugural session of parliament on Jan. 9,” in which Al-Halbussi was reelected, said presiding judge Jassim Mohammed Aboud.

The ruling will allow the resumption of parliament sessions, and along with them deliberations over the selection of a new president, who will in turn choose the next prime minister, to be approved by the legislature.

Lawmakers have until Feb. 8 to elect a president — a post historically allocated to a Kurd.

But negotiations between parties and coalitions seeking to form a parliamentary majority have been marked by tensions, particularly between key Shiite currents seeking to exert their influence.

Both the Coordination Framework and another bloc formed by firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr claim to have the majority needed to elect a president.

The legislature opened earlier this month to furious arguments between the rival factions.

Amid the debate, Mahmud Al-Mashhadani — the oldest member of parliament who was therefore chairing the opening session — was taken ill and rushed to hospital.

When the session resumed an hour later, lawmakers reelected Al-Halbussi of the Sunni Taqadom party as speaker.

Appeals against the speaker’s reelection were filed by Mashhadani and another MP, Bassem Khachan.

After Wednesday’s rocket attack, two wounded children were “taken to hospital in Gurma,” Iraqi police said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Several grenade attacks have in recent days targeted political figures from parties that could team up with Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr to form a parliamentary coalition in the wake of Iraq’s October legislative elections.

Sadr, whose bloc took the largest share of seats, is seeking to build a coalition bringing together Taqadom — Al-Halbussi’s party — a second Sunni party and a Kurdish grouping.


Third Libya minister detained for corruption

Third Libya minister detained for corruption
Updated 27 min 51 sec ago

Third Libya minister detained for corruption

Third Libya minister detained for corruption
  • The government of interim Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibeh did not immediately comment on the detentions

TRIPOLI: Libya’s health minister and his deputy have been detained as part of a corruption probe, prosecutors said on Wednesday, the third detention of a Cabinet member in recent weeks.

Ali Zenati and his deputy were held for questioning over suspected “imports of oxygen concentrators at 10 times the market value,” which may amount to “noncompliance with regulations related to public contracts,” said a prosecution statement.

The ministry had signed contracts with a company founded in August last year “despite it lacking ... the necessary experience to carry out the agreed tasks,” it added.

The government of interim Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibeh did not immediately comment on the detentions.

Libya has been mired in perpetual crisis since the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and corruption is rife throughout state institutions.

Zenati’s detention comes after prosecutors questioned Culture Minister Mabrouka Touki in late December over a contract for maintenance works on ministry buildings which had already been refurbished.

That came a week and a half after Libya’s Education Minister Moussa Al-Megarief was arrested as part of an inquiry into a lack of schoolbooks.

Al-Megarief remains in detention, while Touki was held for a few days then released, although she remains under investigation.


At an illegally built West Bank outpost, Israeli settlers flaunt their power

At an illegally built West Bank outpost, Israeli settlers flaunt their power
Updated 38 min 22 sec ago

At an illegally built West Bank outpost, Israeli settlers flaunt their power

At an illegally built West Bank outpost, Israeli settlers flaunt their power
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a former settler leader and is opposed to Palestinian statehood

BURQA, West Bank: The Jewish settlement of Homesh, built on privately owned Palestinian land deep inside the occupied West Bank, was dismantled in 2005 and cannot be rebuilt. At least, that’s what Israeli law says.

But when a group of settlers drove up to the site last week, they were waved through army checkpoints that were closed to Palestinian vehicles and arrived at a cluster of tents on the windy hilltop. There, dozens of settlers were studying in a makeshift yeshiva, or religious school.

Empty wine bottles and bags of trash stood out for collection, the remains of a holiday feast attended by hundreds of settlers the night before and documented on social media.

The settlers’ ability to maintain a presence at Homesh, guarded by a detachment of Israeli soldiers, is a vivid display of the power of the settler movement nearly 55 years after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

Their strength has also been on display in a wave of attacks against Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in recent months, many in plain view of Israeli soldiers, who appear unable or unwilling to stop them, despite Israeli officials’ promises to maintain law and order. The worst of the violence has been linked to hard-line settler outposts like Homesh.

That Israeli authorities have not cleared Homesh — which under Israeli law is blatantly illegal — makes it nearly impossible to imagine the removal of any of Israel’s 130 officially authorized settlements as part of any future peace deal. Nearly 500,000 settlers now live in those settlements, as well as dozens of unauthorized outposts like Homesh.

BACKGROUND

The settlers’ ability to maintain a presence at Homesh, guarded by a detachment of Israeli soldiers, is a vivid display of the power of the settler movement nearly 55 years after Israel captured the West Bank.

The Palestinians view the settlements as the main obstacle to any two-state solution to the century-old conflict, and most countries view them as a violation of international law. But in an increasingly hawkish Israel, the settlers enjoy wide support.

“We are privileged, thank God, to live here and study Torah, and we shall continue to do so with God’s help,” said Rabbi Menachem Ben Shachar, a teacher at the yeshiva.

“The people of Israel need to hold onto Homesh, to study Torah here and in every other place in the Land of Israel,” he said, using a biblical term for what is today Israel and the West Bank.

Israel dismantled the settlement in 2005 as part of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the law prohibits Israeli citizens from entering the area. Israel’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that the land belongs to Palestinians from the nearby village of Burqa.

But the settlers have repeatedly returned, setting up tents and other structures on the foundations of former homes, now overgrown with weeds.

The army has demolished the structures on several occasions, but more often tolerates their presence.

The Jan. 16 party was just the latest in a series of marches, political rallies and other gatherings held at the site over the years, some attended by Israeli lawmakers.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it did not approve the event and took steps to prevent civilians from reaching the area, including setting up checkpoints.

The settlers appear to have walked around them. The military refused to discuss the larger issues around Homesh, and a government spokeswoman refused to comment.

The killing of a yeshiva student by a Palestinian gunman near the outpost last month has become a rallying cry for the settlers, who say evacuating Homesh now would amount to appeasing terrorism. But the survival of the outpost after 16 years is rooted in a deeper shift in Israel that makes it nearly impossible to rein in even the settlers’ most brazen activities.

Israel’s parliament is dominated by parties that support the settlers. The current government, a fragile coalition reliant on factions from across the political spectrum, knows that any major confrontation with the settlers could spell its demise. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a former settler leader and is opposed to Palestinian statehood.

The consequences are felt by Palestinians in Burqa and surrounding villages.