Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition
Israeli police wrestle down a man during a Bedouin protest in the southern Israeli village of Sawe Al-Atrash in the Negev Desert. The demo was against a controversial afforestation project. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition

Desert tree planting sows discord within Israel’s coalition
  • Bedouin accuse Israeli courts of enabling expropriations as part of a campaign of disenfranchisement

SAWE AL-ATRASH, Israel: Government-sponsored tree planting in an Israeli desert has set off violent protests by Bedouin Arabs who see the forestation as discriminatory encroachment by the state, sowing discord within Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ethnically mixed coalition.

Coming days before the Jewish arbor festival of Tu Bishvat, the drive to turn the sandy expanses of the southern Negev green hails back to Israel’s founding pioneer narratives.

But the nomadic Bedouin claim private ownership over nationalized land being zoned and accuse Israeli courts of enabling expropriations as part of a campaign of disenfranchisement that has kept many of their community in off-the-grid breeze-block encampments.

The diggers rolled this year despite an appeal by Mansour Abbas, a Bennett coalition partner from Israel’s Arab minority, for a deferral “while we work on a decent plan that would grant Bedouin citizens honorable lives and livelihoods.”

“A tree is not more important than a person,” he tweeted.

Authorities have said the flattening of the dunes and planting of trees is necessary for conservation and modernization.

At the Negev village of Sawe Al-Atrash, Bedouin scuffled with riot police on Wednesday after a night in which authorities said protesters blocked roads, stoned motorists and forced a train to halt by piling rocks on its tracks.

Mansour’s United Arab List party was boycotting parliamentary votes, a coalition spokesman said.

If sustained, that could deny Bennett his razor-thin majority and bolster the Jewish-nationalist opposition.

Asked how far UAL was willing to go, party lawmaker Iman Khatib Yassin said: “All the way.”

“We came into this partnership hoping to find partners who understand that Arab citizens of the country have a basic right and deserve basic rights on their lands,” she told Kan radio, while stopping short of any threat to quit the coalition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, urged a halt to the contested forestation.

Despite successive governments’ pledges of equitable Negev investment, “the Bedouin problem has been forsaken,” he said in a statement.

The religious-rightist Bennett did not comment. His ideologically kindred housing minister, Zev Elkin, saw no need to heed such calls. “These are state lands,” Elkin told 103 FM radio.

Some protesters on Tuesday evening hurled stones at vehicles on a highway near Beersheba, blocked the railway line and torched a vehicle. Police said two officers were wounded in the violence and local media reported at least 18 people arrested.

The government announced a compromise in which it would complete the day’s planting and launch negotiations on Thursday. Authorities withdrew heavy machinery from the area as the tensions appeared to ease.

The Bedouin are part of Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up some 20 percent of the country’s population.

They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face discrimination. Arab citizens of Israel have close family ties to the Palestinians and largely identify with their cause.


Arab League convenes to discuss Houthi aggression on UAE

Arab League convenes to discuss Houthi aggression on UAE
Updated 23 January 2022

Arab League convenes to discuss Houthi aggression on UAE

Arab League convenes to discuss Houthi aggression on UAE

DUBAI: The Arab League held a meeting Sunday to discuss the Houthi militia’s latest attack on the United Arab Emirates, calling for a decisive stance towards the militia attacks against the emirates and Saudi Arabia.   

The Arab League statement described the Houthi “terrorist attacks” as a flagrant violation” that are aimed at “disrupting regional peace.” 

Last week, drones launched from Yemen struck Abu Dhabi’s airport and three separate fuel tankers, killing three people and wounding seven.

The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, strongly condemned the attack on civilian areas and facilities in the UAE, stressing that the League stands with its member state in the face of these violations, which work to destabilize the security and stability of the region.

The diplomatic adviser to the President of the UAE, Anwar Gargash, stressed that his country will not hesitate to defend its sovereignty and national security, and it has the legal and moral right to respond and prevent any aggression on its territory.

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US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters
Updated 23 January 2022

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters
  • The interdictions were just the latest in the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the grinding conflict in Yemen

DUBAI: The US Navy announced Sunday it seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertilizer used to make explosives that was caught last year smuggling weapons to Yemen. The British royal navy said it confiscated 1,041 kilograms (2,295 pounds) of illegal drugs in the same waters.

The interdictions were just the latest in the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the grinding conflict in Yemen and ongoing drug trafficking in the region.

The US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said its guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and patrol ships halted and searched the sailboat, a stateless fishing dhow, that was sailing from Iran on a well-worn maritime arms smuggling route to war-ravaged Yemen last Tuesday. US forces found 40 tons of urea fertilizer, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board.

Authorities said the vessel had been previously seized off the coast of Somalia and found last year to be loaded with thousands of assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other weapons. UN experts say weapons with such technical characteristics likely come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels. The Navy turned over the vessel, cargo and Yemeni crew to Yemen’s coast guard earlier this week.

Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into the country's poorly controlled ports over years of conflict. Since 2015, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for control of the nation. Iran says it politically supports the rebels but denies arming them, despite evidence to the contrary.

The smuggled weapons have helped the Houthis gain an edge against the Saudi-led coalition in the seven-year war. Violence has drastically escalated over the past week amid stalled international attempts at brokering peace. Following a deadly drone attack claimed by the rebels on Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Officials also revealed Sunday that a British royal navy vessel had seized a large quantity of illegal drugs valued at some $26 million from a boat sailing through the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 15.

The HMS Montrose confiscated 663 kilograms (1,461 pounds) of heroin, 87 kilograms (191 pounds) of methamphetamine and 291 kilograms (641 pounds) of hashish and marijuana, the joint maritime task force said in a statement.


Seoul says it paid Iran’s delinquent UN dues to restore vote

Seoul says it paid Iran’s delinquent UN dues to restore vote
Updated 23 January 2022

Seoul says it paid Iran’s delinquent UN dues to restore vote

Seoul says it paid Iran’s delinquent UN dues to restore vote
  • Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment
  • The ministry said it expected Iran’s voting rights to be restored immediately after their suspension earlier this month for delinquent dues

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Using Iranian bank funds freed from American sanctions, South Korea has paid Iran’s $18 million in delinquent dues owed to the United Nations, Seoul said Sunday. The step was apparently approved by Washington to restore Tehran’s suspended voting rights at the world body.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Seoul had paid the sum using Iranian assets frozen in the country after consulting with the United States Treasury — a potential signal of flexibility amid floundering nuclear negotiations.
The ministry said it expected Iran’s voting rights to be restored immediately after their suspension earlier this month for delinquent dues.
The funds had been impounded at a Korean bank under sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump after he withdrew the US from Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers. The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control must grant a license for these transactions under the American banking sanctions imposed on Iran. The Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the unfrozen funds.
The Biden administration wants to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Diplomats are now engaged in delicate negotiations to revive the accord in Vienna, although a breakthrough remains elusive as Iran abandons every limitation the deal imposed on its nuclear enrichment. The country now enriches a small amount of to 60 percent purity — a short, technical step away from weapons grade levels — and spins far more advanced centrifuges than allowed.
Under the United Nations Charter, a nation that owes the previous two full years’ worth of dues loses its voting rights at the General Assembly.
A letter from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated earlier this month revealed that Iran was among several delinquent countries on that list, which also includes Venezuela and Sudan. The General Assembly can make exceptions to the rule, determining that some countries face circumstances “beyond the control of the member.”
According to the secretary-general’s letter, Iran needed to pay a minimum of $18.4 million to restore its voting rights.
Iran also lost its voting rights in January of last year, prompting Tehran to lash out at the US for imposing crushing sanctions that froze billions of dollars in Iranian funds in banks around the world. Tehran regained voting rights last June after making the minimum payment on its dues.
Iran over the past few years has pressured Seoul to release about $7 billion in revenues from oil sales that remain frozen in South Korean banks since the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Iran.
The frozen funds hang in the balance as diplomats struggle to revive the nuclear deal. Senior South Korean diplomats including Choi Jong Kun, the first vice foreign minister, flew to Vienna this month to discuss the fate of the assets with their Iranian counterparts.


Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing
Updated 22 January 2022

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing
  • Defense Ministry spokesman said navy divers rescued 21 people on Thursday night and 7 were still missing
  • Local media reported that a 10-year-old girl was among those who died

TUNIS: Four people died after a boat carrying Europe-bound migrants on the Mediterranean Sea sank off Tunisia’s coast, the Tunisian Defense Ministry said Friday.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri said navy divers rescued 21 people on Thursday night and seven were still missing. The boat was heading to Italy, Zekri said.
Local media reported that a 10-year-old girl was among those who died.
Survivors told authorities that the boat had left the island of Kerkennah, near the port city of Sfax, carrying 32 Tunisians.
The UN has estimated that 20 percent of about 115,000 migrants who reached Europe by sea last year started the journey from Tunisia. Social unrest has gripped the North African country has for years as the economy worsened and unemployment reached 18 percent.
The central Mediterranean route, which runs from North Africa to southern Italy, is the busiest and deadliest migration route to Europe. People travel from Libya and Tunisia in crowded boats and at the mercy of the smugglers they pay to get them across the sea.
About 60,000 people arrived in Italy by sea last year, and some 1,200 died or disappeared on the journey, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
On Wednesday, an amphibious unit of Tunisia’s navy rescued 23 people from a sinking boat as they left Tunisia for Italy, according to the Tunisian Defense ministry. It said 13 of the passengers were from Mali and 10 were from the Ivory Coast.


Syrian boy to receive four prosthetic limbs in Italy

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
Updated 22 January 2022

Syrian boy to receive four prosthetic limbs in Italy

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
  • 6-figure donation will send 6-year-old born with no limbs to world-class clinic
  • Condition believed to have been caused by Assad regime gas attack during mother’s pregnancy

LONDON: A Syrian child born with no limbs after his mother endured a gas attack during her pregnancy is set to receive four prosthetic replacements in Italy following a charity campaign.

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna.

“It will be a complicated job, but we aim to allow Mustafa to live an autonomous life,” said Gregorio Teti, technical director of the center that has worked with Alex Zanardi, the Formula One driver who lost his legs in a crash. 

Al-Nazzar’s mother was pregnant when the Syrian regime dropped gas bombs on Idlib province in 2016. The event has been linked to the boy’s condition.

Like so many others caught up in the regime’s oppression and the ongoing conflict, the family fled to Turkey, where Al-Nazzar was photographed being held in the air by his father, who lost a leg following a bomb attack. 

The famous photo captures their beaming smiles despite the suffering they have both endured.

The photographer was honored by the Siena International Photo Awards, which diverted the world’s eyes to the photo, inspiring the organizers of the prize to launch a charity appeal for Al-Nazzar.

“We feared that after the attention to the photo died down, the boy would get no help,” said Luca Venturi, the prize founder.

The Italian government has assisted with visas to bring the whole family to Italy, including Al-Nazzar’s two younger sisters. The Catholic Church has offered the family an apartment. 

Teti said Al-Nazzar’s new limbs could be adjusted to work thanks to small movements the boy makes in his shoulders and torso, which will require lengthy training sessions. 

Venturi said: “As he grows he will need to change limbs, while translators will be needed until the family can learn Italian. We are aiming to get to €400,000 raised.”

Al-Nazzar’s father told Italian media: “Mustafa is really happy, he has said he will finally be able to walk, hug me and go to school on his own.”