Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan

Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday his country intends to double the amount of settlers living in the occupied Golan Heights with a multimillion-dollar plan. (AP)
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Updated 26 December 2021

Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan

Israel approves plan to double settlers in occupied Golan
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's cabinet voted in favour of the plan that aims to build 7,300 settler homes
  • Around 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with about 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after Israel seized it

GOLAN HEIGHTS: Israel's government on Sunday approved a $317 million plan to double the Jewish settler population in the Golan Heights, 40 years after it annexed the territory captured from Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's cabinet voted in favour of the plan that aims to build 7,300 settler homes in the region over a five-year period, during a meeting held at the Mevo Hama community in the Golan.

It calls for 1 billion Israeli shekels to be spent on housing, infrastructure and other projects with the goal of attracting roughly 23,000 new Jewish settlers to the area, seized during the 1967 Six Day War.

"Our goal today is to double the population of the Golan Heights," the right-wing Bennett said ahead of the meeting.

He was forced to leave the meeting after his 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, putting him into isolation, but a vote on the programme went ahead after a delay.

Around 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with about 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after Israel seized it.

Israel annexed the territory on December 14, 1981, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Former US president Donald Trump, widely viewed as pro-Israeli, granted US recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in 2019.

"The Golan Heights are Israeli. This is self-evident," Bennett said.

"The fact that the Trump administration recognised this, and the fact that the (President Joe) Biden administration has made it clear that there has been no change in this policy, are also important."

Shortly after Biden took office in January, his Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested there were legal questions surrounding Trump's move, which Syria condemned as a "flagrant violation" of its sovereignty.

But Blinken indicated there was no thought of reversing course, especially with the Syrian civil war continuing.

Bennett claimed that after a decade of conflict in Syria, international calls to restore Syrian control of the Golan were muted.

"Every knowledgeable person in the world understands that it is preferable to have Israeli heights that are quiet, flourishing and green as opposed to the alternative," he said.

Bennett leads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition that counts on support from left-wingers.

Some in his cabinet, notably from the dovish Meretz party, have vocally opposed plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory also occupied by Israel since 1967.

Roughly 475,000 settlers now live in the West Bank in communities widely regarded as illegal under international.

Bennett is a the former head of a settler lobbying council who opposes Palestinian statehood.

But he argued that unity on the Golan plan demonstrated that Israeli control of the area was a matter of "national consensus."

"The Golan Heights, the need to strengthen, cultivate and live in it, is certainly a principle that unites everyone here," he said.

Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war, are separated by a de facto border at the Golan Heights.


Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns
Updated 54 min 28 sec ago

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns
  • Yeni Safak newspaper: ‘Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij’
  • The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to carry out a new military incursion on Turkey’s southern borders has triggered speculation about potential targets, with the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat emerging as a primary goal of any operation.
Two days after Erdogan announced the plan, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said on Wednesday preparations had been made for a new operation to expand “safe zones” already set up in northern Syria, with several goals identified.
“Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij,” the paper said.
Turkish control of the towns, which lie on or close to a central stretch of the 911-km-long border with Syria, could extend and deepen its military presence from near the Mediterranean coast along nearly three-quarters of the frontier.
So far, there have been few signs of military movements that preceded Turkey’s last four incursions into northern Syria. Erdogan has said decisions on military operations would be made at a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. Turkey designates both as terrorist organizations.
The YPG has been the main target of several incursions which Turkey has carried out in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land and pushing some 30 km (20 miles) deep into the country.
YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud told Reuters the group took Erdogan’s threats very seriously: “The international coalition, America, and Russia should commit to the pledges that they made to this region. Their presence in our areas must be meaningful, in the sense that it stops the repeated attacks on our people.”
The Yeni Safak newspaper said the most critical target of the latest operation would be Tal Rifaat, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, which it said Kurdish fighters used as a base from which to launch attacks in the Afrin, Azaz and Jarablus areas controlled by Turkey and Ankara-backed Syrian fighters.
Tal Rifaat is located north of Aleppo city and just south of Azaz. An operation there alone would not represent a widening of Turkey’s “safe zones” along the border, but would push its forces deeper into Syria.
Dareen Khalifa, an analyst on Syria at the International Crisis Group, said it was unclear whether Erdogan was talking about an operation in Tal Rifaat or further east, but she highlighted the role of the town.
“Tal Rifaat, if anything, can get him what he wants and it would avoid triggering a huge headache. I don’t think the Americans care about Tal Rifaat,” she said.
Most US forces in northern Syria are based further east.
She said Russia, which has forces deployed in the region, had not been addressing his concerns on militant attacks on Turkish-controlled areas from Tal Rifaat, and that Erdogan has been saying for years that Tal Rifaat needs to be captured.
The predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani was touted as another potential target. The YPG’s defeat of Daesh militants there in 2015 helped turn the tide against the group.
“Kobani represents the value of a global victory in the war against terrorism,” YPG spokesman Mahmoud said. “There’s no doubt that our forces will do what is needed to defend” the area.
The YPG, or People’s Defense Units, are a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition which the United States largely relied on to fight Islamic State.
However, Khalifa played down the prospects of Turkey targeting Kobani.
“I don’t think there’s any interest in getting stuck in Kobani,” she said, pointing to the major demographic changes and reaction that would ensue if the Kurdish population fled.
She said that while United States forces were not in Manbij physically, it is a US zone of influence, so “I expect it to also trigger a US reaction.”
Any attack on Kobani would also risk triggering a strong reaction from Turkey’s Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the country’s population. The Islamic State attack on Kobani in 2014 led to protests in which dozens died in Turkey.
Mithat Sancar, joint head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned about the consequences of Erdogan’s plans for fresh military operations.
“We must all see that this will lead again to a bloody vortex in this region and country,” he told HDP lawmakers.
Erdogan’s talk of a military operation has also raised the stakes in Turkey’s row with NATO partners over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, with Turkey accusing both of harboring people linked to the PKK.
Analysts said the incursion plans reflected his belief that the West would not oppose such operations when it needs Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ bid to join NATO.
Erdogan’s announcement was also aimed at bolstering nationalist support as he gears up for difficult elections next year, analysts said. Cross-border military operations have boosted his poll ratings in the past.


Egypt pledges to help Libya reconstruction

Egypt pledges to help Libya reconstruction
Updated 25 May 2022

Egypt pledges to help Libya reconstruction

Egypt pledges to help Libya reconstruction

CAIRO: The head of the Egypt-based Arab Organization for Industrialization said it will “participate with its various companies and factories in the initiative to rebuild Libya.”

Abdel Moneim Al-Terras added: “The Egyptian state believes in the necessity of carrying out its national duty to support the brothers in Libya.”

He said: “Delegates from the Egyptian government had conducted exploratory visits in Libya … to determine the priority sectors in which Egyptian companies can work, as part of the reconstruction plans.”

Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ali Faraj Al-Qatrani said reconstruction is a priority for his government, which will support all companies wishing to take part.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Syndicate of Engineers signed a cooperation protocol with the Libyan General Syndicate of Engineering Professions.

Tarek Al-Nabarawy, chairman of the Egyptian syndicate, said the protocol includes exchanging experiences.


Egypt, Qatar discuss cooperation in health sector

Egypt, Qatar discuss cooperation in health sector
Updated 25 May 2022

Egypt, Qatar discuss cooperation in health sector

Egypt, Qatar discuss cooperation in health sector

CAIRO: Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s acting minister of health and population, discussed with his Qatari counterpart Hanan Mohamed Al-Kuwari cooperation between the two countries in the health sector.

The meeting was among others held by Abdel Ghaffar on the sidelines of the 75th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

He and Al-Kuwari discussed investment opportunities in Egypt’s health sector through the construction of advanced health facilities on par with international standards, as well as developing and raising the efficiency of medical units, centers and hospitals. They also reviewed achievements in Egypt’s health sector.

Abdel Ghaffar stressed the importance of developing a plan to raise the efficiency of medical cadres working in the health sector in Egypt and Qatar, as well as providing training programs for nursing teams and radiology technicians. He invited Al-Kuwari to visit Egyptian health facilities.


Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict
Updated 25 May 2022

Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict
  • Mevlut Cavusoglu: Two countries agreed to ‘re-energize’ relations in many areas

ISTANBUL: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel will have a “positive impact” for a “peaceful” resolution to the Palestinian conflict.
In a news conference after talks with his Israeli counterpart, Cavusoglu said the two countries agreed to “re-energise” relations in many areas, including resuming talks on civil aviation.


76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia
Updated 25 May 2022

76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

TUNIS: Seventy six people were missing after a crowded boat of migrants sank off Tunisia on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration said, as the numbers risking the dangerous crossing to Europe increase.
The IOM said 24 people had been rescued from the boat, which had departed from the beaches of Zawara in Libya and sank off the coast of Sfax.
In recent months, dozens of people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings from Tunisia and Libya toward Italy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years.