Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Palestinian Abdelfattah Abusrour shows his painting at his office in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware
Updated 4 sec ago

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware
  • The New York-based rights group said the software was used against Lama Fakih
  • NSO Group has been mired in controversy following revelations against its spyware
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that one of its senior staff members was targeted last year with spyware designed by the Israeli hacker-for hire company NSO Group.
The New York-based rights group said the software was used against Lama Fakih, the director of its Beirut office who also oversees its crisis response in several countries, including Syria, Myanmar, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and the United States.
NSO Group has been mired in controversy following revelations its spyware was used in several countries against journalists, activists and even US diplomats. The US barred the firm from accessing American technology last year, saying its tools have been used by repressive regimes, and Facebook and Apple have filed lawsuits against NSO over hacks against their products.
NSO Group does not disclose its clients but says it has safeguards in place to ensure its products are only used to target suspected criminals and terrorists. It says it does not have access to the intelligence its clients gather.
Its Pegasus spyware grants full access to a person’s phone, including photos, emails and real-time communications. The targeted person does not have to take any action, such as clicking a link, and would not be able to detect the breach without a sophisticated technical analysis.
NSO Group issued a statement expressing support for an “international regulatory structure” for cyber intelligence tools, but said any calls to suspend their use until one is established would benefit criminals who evade other forms of surveillance. It did not directly address the hacking reported by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch said Fakih, a dual US and Lebanese citizen, was targeted on five occasions between April and August. Apple informed her of the breach on Nov. 24, and forensic analysis by Human Rights Watch confirmed the presence of the software, the group said.
“It is no accident that governments are using spyware to target activists and journalists, the very people who uncover their abusive practices,” Fakih said. “They seem to believe that by doing so, they can consolidate power, muzzle dissent, and protect their manipulation of facts.”

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE
Updated 26 January 2022

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE
  • The visit comes some 16 months after the wealthy UAE broke with decades of Arab consensus and forged diplomatic ties with Israel

JERUSALEM: Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will make a historic visit to the UAE at the end of the month, his office said Tuesday, in the latest high-profile diplomatic trip since the countries normalized ties.
Herzog’s office said the president, who will travel with the first lady, will meet United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the January 30-31 trip.
“We have the privilege of making history by making the first visit of an Israeli president to the United Arab Emirates,” Herzog said in the statement, adding that the countries were “laying the foundations of a new shared future.”
Herzog is also scheduled to meet with the ruler of Dubai and senior government officials, and visit the Dubai Expo, his office said.
The visit comes some 16 months after the wealthy UAE broke with decades of Arab consensus and forged diplomatic ties with Israel.
The move was part of a series of US-brokered deals known as the Abraham Accords, pacts that have angered the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made history last month when he became the first Israeli head of government to visit UAE, in a trip that partly focused on international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, a top Israeli security priority.
Herzog, whose position is largely ceremonial, will be the first Israeli head of state to officially visit the UAE.
He vowed “the bold new partnership” between the countries “will transform the Middle East,” with Israel keen to expand the list of Arab nations that sign on to the Abraham Accords.
The deals were negotiated under former US president Donald Trump but endorsed by President Joe Biden’s administration.
Bahrain and Morocco have also normalized ties with Israel under the accords.
Sudan has agreed to do so but formal diplomatic relations have not emerged amid roiling instability in Khartoum.


Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets
Updated 26 January 2022

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets
  • On Tuesday the coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communications system and weapons depot in Marib

DUBAI: Government forces in Yemen liberated a large swathe of land in the Taiz governorate, after heavy clashes with the Iran-backed Houthis as coalition forces struck more militia sites across the country.

Backed by air cover from the coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled territy and liberated Azla and Khouloud.

Meanwhile, battles continue raging south of the city of Marib between the government-backed forces and the Houthi militia.

Dozens of Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government troops west and south of Marib amid intensifying coalition airstrikes, according to state-owned news agency SABA.

On Tuesday the coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communications system and weapons depot in Marib.


Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House
Updated 26 January 2022

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House
  • The two sides will discuss ‘ensuring the stability of global energy supplies’

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will receive Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad at the White House on Jan. 31, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Biden and the Gulf state leader will discuss security in the Middle East and “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The meeting comes as Washington and its European allies are seeking to shore up energy contingency plans should Russia squeeze supplies due to tensions with the West over Ukraine.
The US and its EU allies accuse Russia of seeking to upend European stability by threatening invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a former Soviet republic striving to join NATO and other Western institutions.
The European Union sources about 40 percent of its supply from Russia, and Washington and its European allies have been scouring global markets for alternative energy sources.
Qatar, a close US ally, has huge gas reserves and is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Psaki said Biden will also thank the emir for Qatar’s support to the United States in safely transporting US citizens, permanent residents and Afghan partners out of Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal last year.
Qatar has played a significant role both in diplomacy and evacuations at the end of nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan.


UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice
Updated 25 January 2022

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice
  • At least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep on Friday by suspected Daesh gunmen

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned “in the strongest terms” a recent terrorist attack in Iraq’s Diyala Province, and called for all “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.
At dawn on Friday, Jan. 21, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep during an attack on their barracks by suspected Daesh gunmen, according to reports citing Iraqi security officials. It happened in the Al-Azim district, a mountainous area more than 70 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.
The Security Council urged all states to actively cooperate with the Iraqi Government in seeking to hold the perpetrators to account, in line with their obligations under international law and the council’s resolutions. It reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
In a joint statement, council members reaffirmed that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
They highlighted the need for all states “to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
Council members also shared “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Iraq, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”