UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
Stephanie Williams will lead mediation efforts in Libya. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 07 December 2021

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation

UN chief names US diplomat to run Libya mediation
  • Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed US diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead mediation efforts in Libya after his special envoy quit just weeks ahead of planned elections in the war-torn country.

UN special envoy on Libya, Jan Kubis, is due to step down on Friday. Guterres had informally suggested veteran British diplomat Nicholas Kay as a replacement, but Russia said it would not support Kay, according to diplomats. The 15-member UN Security Council, operating by consensus, must approve a new appointment.

Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval. Williams was the acting special envoy on Libya after Ghassan Salame quit in March 2020 because of stress and before Kubis was approved in January 2021.

Kubis, who has been based in Geneva, said last month there was a need for the head envoy to be based in Libya's capital Tripoli and he resigned to "to create conditions for this".

Williams "will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks - political, security and economic - and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In October last year, the two major sides in Libya's civil war - the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army - agreed a ceasefire.

A UN political forum last year demanded parliamentary and presidential elections take place on Dec. 24 as part of a roadmap to end the war. However, disputes over the planned vote threaten to derail the peace process.

A first-round presidential vote is set for Dec. 24 and the parliamentary election has been delayed to January or February. However, rules for the elections have not yet been agreed. 


UN adopts resolution against Holocaust denial

UN adopts resolution against Holocaust denial
Updated 7 sec ago

UN adopts resolution against Holocaust denial

UN adopts resolution against Holocaust denial
UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding resolution calling on all member states to fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, especially on social media.
The Israeli-proposed text was developed with the help of Germany and co-sponsored by several dozen of the 193 states that make up the United Nations.
Iran, however, expressed opposition to the resolution, stating that Tehran dissociated itself from the text.
The resolution “rejects and condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part,” according to the text.
The Holocaust saw the genocide of six million European Jews between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazis and their supporters.
The text “commends” countries that preserve sites of former Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, execution sites and prisons during the Holocaust.
It also urges UN members to develop educational programs “to help to prevent future acts of genocide” and calls on states and social media companies to “take active measures to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.”
In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, welcomed the “historic resolution,” which had been negotiated for several months.
The text “for the first time, gives a clear definition of Holocaust denial, calls on countries to take steps in the fight against anti-Semitism,” and demands for social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to fight the “hateful content” on their platforms.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, in a joint statement welcomed the resolution, which they said served as proof that the international community “speaks with one voice” on the subject.
A resolution in 2005 designated January 27 as an international day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, additionally welcomed the passage of the resolution.
“Holocaust distortion is so dangerous because, quite plainly, it misrepresents essential facts of history in order to legitimize past and present misdeeds,” said its director Dani Dayan.
“The Holocaust carries substantial relevance for many vital contemporary issues. Denying and distorting the uniqueness and unprecedented aspects of events is not only detrimental to the memory of the Holocaust but to that of other atrocities and genocides as well,” he added.

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker
Updated 20 January 2022

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker
  • Malik Faisal Akram said he was “bombed up” and equipped with “every ammunition” as he talked to his brother Saturday from inside Congregation Beth Israel in Dallas
  • Gulbar Akram urged his brother to lay down his weapons and return to his children alive

LONDON: A British man who held four people hostage in a Texas synagogue ranted against Jews and American wars in countries like Afghanistan.
This happened as his brother pleaded with him to give up and free the captives, a recording of the conversation shows.
In the expletive-filled recording posted on the website of The Jewish Chronicle, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram said he was “bombed up” and equipped with “every ammunition” as he talked to his brother Saturday from inside Congregation Beth Israel in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville.
Gulbar Akram urged his brother to lay down his weapons and return to his children alive.
“You don’t need to do this. Why are you doing this?” he said. “Just pack it in. You’ll do a bit of time, and then you’ll get out.”
“These guys you’ve got there, they’re innocent people, man,” he said.
In response, Akram became increasingly agitated and said he hoped US authorities would take notice of the Jewish hostages and agree to his demand that they release Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of trying to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Akram said he had prayed about the attack for two years. He said he was ready to become a martyr and that his children shouldn’t cry at his funeral.
“I promised my brother when I watched him on his deathbed that I’d go down as a martyr,” he said at one point. One of his younger brothers, who contracted COVID-19, died a few months ago.
“I’ve come to die, G, OK?″ the hostage-taker told his brother. “I’ve prayed to Allah for two years for this ... I’m coming back in a body bag.”
Saturday’s 10-hour standoff at the synagogue ended after the last hostage ran out of the synagogue and an FBI SWAT team rushed in. Akram was killed, though authorities have declined to say who shot him.
In a webinar Thursday hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency understands that such acts are terrifying to the entire Jewish community.
“This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional. It was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country,” Wray said.
The FBI continues to search phones and other devices as it investigates why Akram targeted this particular synagogue, Wray said.
The Chronicle said the recording was part of a longer 11 1/2-minute recording that it obtained from a “security source.” The Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the authenticity of the recording, but experts believe it to be genuine.
Meanwhile, British police said Thursday that they have arrested two people in connection with the hostage-taking.
Counter Terrorism Police North West said one man was arrested Thursday in Birmingham and another in Manchester. They were being held for questioning and have not been charged.
The police did not disclose details about the two people. British police do not release names and details of detainees until they are charged.
On Sunday, police arrested two British teenagers in Manchester as part of the investigation. The teens were Akram’s sons, two US law enforcement officials told AP. They were later released without charge.
Malik Faisal Akram was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”
He entered the United States on a tourist visa about two weeks earlier and spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the synagogue attack.
The FBI has called the incident “a terrorism-related matter” targeting the Jewish community.
British media, including the Guardian and the BBC, have reported that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020. But authorities concluded that he posed no danger, and the investigation was closed.
The White House said Tuesday that Akram had been checked against US law enforcement databases before entering the country but raised no red flags.


France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
Updated 20 January 2022

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
  • Implementation of a "vaccine pass" starting Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues would allow an easing of tighter rules
  • In a second stage, nightclubs that have been shut since December will be allowed to reopen on February 16

PARIS: France will begin a gradual lifting of Covid restrictions from February 2 amid “encouraging signs” that the wave of infections due to the omicron variant is ebbing, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday.
Even though authorities registered a record 464,769 new daily cases on Tuesday, Castex said the implementation of a “vaccine pass” starting Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues would allow an easing of tighter rules imposed since December.
In a first step, the audience capacity limits for concert halls, sporting matches and other events — 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outdoors — will be ended from February 2.
Working from home will also no longer be mandatory for eligible employees, and face masks will not be required outside, Castex told a press conference alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.
“We are a bit more confident in saying we can relax some of these constraints and let people return to life as normal as possible,” Veran said.
Previously, the health pass could also be obtained with a recent negative Covid test, a possibility the government ended in its bid to convince more people to get Covid jabs — Castex said 93 percent of French adults now had at least one dose.
“Since the announcement of the vaccine pass, one million French people have gotten vaccinated. That’s good, but it’s not enough,” he said, adding that booster shots would be extended to children aged 12 to 17 starting Monday.
In a second stage, nightclubs that have been shut since December will be allowed to reopen on February 16, and standing areas will again be authorized for concerts and sporting events as well as bars.
Eating and drinking will again be allowed in stadiums, movie theaters and public transport on that date.
Castex also said he hoped to be able to ease face mask rules for children in schools after winter vacation breaks in late February.
Some 17,000 classes are currently shut across France after students or staff caught the virus, and parents must get a series of tests for exposed children before they are allowed to return.
The highly contagious omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections, but the number of Covid patients in intensive care has been falling since early January, to around 3,850 people currently.
“We have seen that incidence rates are still rising, but we also know that the omicron variant results in fewer serious cases than the Delta variant,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said earlier Thursday.
“There are hopes the omicron wave could peak soon,” he added.
Castex insisted that studies have shown omicron to be less dangerous than other virus variants, which have prompted several governments worldwide to pull back on restrictions.
The British government said Wednesday that most restrictions would be lifted starting next week, including the requirement for a Covid pass proving vaccination to enter public venues, citing data that showed infections had peaked.
Spain’s government is also pushing to begin treating Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu — though Castex warned against underestimating the threat from the virus.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also insisted this week that the pandemic was “nowhere near over,” warning that new variants were still likely to emerge.


Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
Updated 20 January 2022

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
  • Israeli Army Radio said Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv
  • Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel, has repeatedly called for end to occupation of Palestinian territories

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Thursday denied reports by Israeli media that officials from the two countries had recently held meetings in Tel Aviv.

Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel and has repeatedly called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 war.

Israel’s Army Radio reported on Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv to discuss strategies related to the coronavirus pandemic but gave no details about when the meeting had taken place.

Addressing a virtual press conference, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said: “What we can emphasize here is that there was no interaction between officials of the two countries, because we do not have diplomatic relations.”

He pointed out that despite the lack of formal ties, people-to-people interactions had taken place, including Indonesian pilgrims visiting religious sites in Jerusalem.

“But between governments, let me emphasize there are no formal interactions,” he added. “Please differentiate things that are official in nature and business relations or people-to-people, which are out of the government’s hands.”

Faizasyah said Indonesia’s stance on the Palestinian issue remained unchanged and its government was actively working “for Palestinian independence under the frame of a two-state solution.”

Last year, the Israeli ambassador to Singapore said Tel Aviv would be willing to work toward establishing ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim-majority nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei — in the wake of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco agreeing to normalize relations with Israel under US-brokered deals.

During a visit to Jakarta last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Indonesian officials the possibility of normalization, a move Indonesia said it had declined to take.

“Indonesia’s foreign minister conveyed Indonesia’s consistent position toward Palestine, in which Indonesia will always stand with Palestine in the struggle for justice and independence,” Faizasyah said at the time.


Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
Updated 20 January 2022

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
  • Partition in 1947 following India’s independence from Britain triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history
  • Brothers Sikka and Sadiq Khan, who remained on opposite sides of India-Pakistan border, were reunited last week

PHULEWALA: In August 1947, as British India was being partitioned into two independent states, Sikka Khan’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village — which became the Indian part of Punjab — and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which became part of Pakistan. 

Just two-years-old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. The family was to be reunited soon. The parents only wanted to wait until it was safe for the toddler to travel. 

But the promise of being together again was cut short by a bloody orgy of violence and communal rioting that marred one of the biggest forced migrations in history. Following the partition in 1947, about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, fearing discrimination and violence, swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives. 

It was in these circumstances that Sikka and Sadiq lost their father, mother — who committed suicide when she found out about her husband's death — and the bond that was only restored last week. 

“I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Jan. 10.

Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. After the partition, the site found itself on the Pakistani side of the hastily drawn-up border.

The brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict.

“It was an emotional moment for us, and I could not believe that I was meeting my brother and his family,” Sikka told Arab News in Phulewala village, where he has remained since 1947. 

“Life has given me the opportunity to reunite with my brother and I don’t want to live without him,” he said. “I need the company of my brother more than ever before. I want to live the rest of my life with my elder brother.”

They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka. 

The YouTuber and the doctor helped the brothers meet virtually.

“The brothers for the first time saw each other over a video call two years ago,” Singh told Arab News. “Since then, they have remained in touch with each other through WhatsApp.” 

They have been talking to each other at least 15 minutes every day, but it took them two years to meet in person as even the visa-free Kartarpur corridor was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until late last year.   

“The opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November last year allowed us the opportunity to organize the meeting between the brothers,” Singh said. 

When he arrived in Kartarpur on Jan. 10, Sikka, who does not have his own family, was accompanied by a dozen villagers from Phulewala. 

“For me, my village has been family,” he said, as he chatted to Sadiq through a video call. “Now I want to go to Pakistan and live with my elder brother for some time. I hope the Pakistani government gives me a visa.” 

Sadiq, too, wants to go to his birthplace.   

“I want to meet Sikka in his village,” he said during the video call with his brother. “We want to live together and make up for the time we have lost.”