With most Gaza homes wrecked by war still in ruins, smiles for the lucky few

With most Gaza homes wrecked by war still in ruins, smiles for the lucky few
Palestinian Zeyad Abu Odah is one of the lucky few whose, homes are being restored. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 January 2022

With most Gaza homes wrecked by war still in ruins, smiles for the lucky few

With most Gaza homes wrecked by war still in ruins, smiles for the lucky few
  • Only 50 of 1,650 homes wrecked in an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel are being restored, leading to frustration among Palestinians

GAZA: Palestinian Zeyad Abu Odah watched with a smile as his four-story house, destroyed in an Israeli air strike in last May’s fierce fighting, was slowly being rebuilt in Gaza’s Beach refugee camp.
He is one of the lucky few. Only 50 of 1,650 homes wrecked in an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel are being restored, leading to frustration among Palestinians at the slow pace of reconstruction eight months after the conflict ended.
“When things started to move, we began to feel better. In six to seven months we will return to our house with our children and families,” Abu Odah, 60, said, as construction workers put the finishing touches to the first floor.
Abu Odah’s extended family of 50 members has been living in four separate homes since the conflict.
Gaza officials estimate that it will take $479 million to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged in the war. Qatar and Egypt have each pledged $500 million for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Hamas militant group.
Naji Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy housing minister, said only $100 million had been made available so far and that, with Qatari funds, reconstruction had begun on 50 of 1,650 destroyed homes. Sarhan cited Israeli pressures, but did not elaborate.
“It is clear the Israeli occupation is exerting political pressure and making obstacles,” he told Reuters.
COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s liaison office to the Palestinians, did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel, which controls the main commercial crossing into Gaza, has said reconstruction would be linked to achieving a deal for the handover of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
But in an apparent bid to lower tensions with the group, it recently allowed more construction materials into Gaza to rebuild homes destroyed or damaged during last year’s war.
Sarhan also pointed at the lack of broader Arab and international support for the reconstruction process beyond Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
“Reconstruction process is slow and doesn’t meet our ambitions,” Sarhan said.
Israeli air strikes partly damaged another 59,000 homes during the conflict, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government. Some homes in Israel were damaged by rockets launched by the Islamist Hamas and by fellow militant groups.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA, which aids two thirds of Gaza’s two million people, has also helped repair the damaged houses of refugees.
Egyptian bulldozers and engineers have begun work in the northern Gaza Strip at the first of three large housing projects funded by Cairo.
Sarhan said the Egyptian “cities” would house nearly 4,000 families. There was no time frame for when construction would finish.
The cities would serve low-income people as well as hardship cases and some of those who had lost their homes in the conflict, he added.


Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
Updated 52 min 21 sec ago

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections
  • The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats

RAMALLAH: The Islamic bloc affiliated with Hamas won the student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, defeating their Fatah rivals in the tightly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs contested 51 seats, while the voter turnout was 78.1 percent. 

Students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the previous day, with both parties’ policies and programs coming in for criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the Palestinian Authority in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and losing elections frequently.

A day before the vote, seven senior student members of the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts told Arab News.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of the university, said that the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “because of the credibility, integrity and democracy at the Birzeit elections.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by employment interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with great integrity.”

He added: “If Hamas wins, the street is supportive and biased toward it. If Fatah wins, this means that the street is with it.”

Daraghmeh said that both Fatah and Hamas make great efforts to win the students’ backing.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse, and show that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and political line,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its inability to organize Palestinian general elections.”

Birzeit elections are held every two years, with about 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no vote in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council consists of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university, and is the only West Bank academic institution that allows Hamas to practice its activities and politics without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s degree programs and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group views the student vote as “an essential indicator” because it highlights the direction of future generations.

“The Birzeit University elections constitute an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the type of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.


Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority
Updated 55 min 44 sec ago

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority
  • The elections saw gains by anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents
  • The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory”

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority in elections but said no single group had taken it, in his first televised speech since Sunday’s elections.
“Unlike the situation in parliament in 2018, no political group can claim a majority,” he said.
Hezbollah and its allies scored 62 seats during Sunday polls, according to a Reuters tally, losing a majority they secured in 2018, when they and their allies won 71 seats.
Hezbollah and its ally Amal held on to all of parliament’s Shiite seats. But some of its oldest allies, including Sunni, Druze and Christian politicians, lost theirs.
The elections saw gains by the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents.
The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory.”
Nasrallah called for “cooperation” between political groups including newcomers, saying the alternative would be “chaos and vacuum.”
The results have left parliament split into several camps, none of which have a majority, raising the prospect of political paralysis and tensions that could delay badly needed reforms to steer Lebanon out of its economic collapse.


Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder
Updated 18 May 2022

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder
  • The defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide
  • A court-ordered psychological assessment found him "responsible for his actions"

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced to death a man accused of the murder last month of a Coptic priest in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, judicial sources said.
The Alexandria court’s ruling is subject to approval by the mufti of the republic.
The sources said the defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide after a court-ordered psychological assessment found him “responsible for his actions.”
Father Arsanios Wadid died of his wounds in hospital after being stabbed on April 7 on Alexandria’s seafront promenade as he accompanied a group of young parishioners.
The assailant was grabbed by passers-by and handed over to police, who detained him in a psychiatric hospital because of doubts over his mental health.
Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up roughly 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of more than 100 million.
The community has long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation.
In February, however, Egypt for the first time swore in a Coptic judge to head its constitutional court.
Copts were targeted in a series of sectarian attacks after the military in 2013 deposed Islamist president Muhammad Mursi. Such attacks focused largely on remote villages in southern Egypt.


Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge
Updated 18 May 2022

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge

Lebanon reformists weigh choices after election surge
  • Analysts have added up MPs to figure out the size of the parliamentary blocs, which are divided between sovereign blocs and pro-Hezbollah groupings

BEIRUT: Newly elected reformist MPs in Lebanon are planning strategies following election breakthroughs that grant them significant sway in the parliamentary balance of power.

Thirteen reformist MPs in Lebanon who entered the legislative race on the values of the 2019 anti-establishment uprising, as well as 21 independent MPs, have entered the newly elected Lebanese Parliament.

Analysts have added up MPs to figure out the size of the parliamentary blocs, which are divided between sovereign blocs and pro-Hezbollah groupings.

Figures show that elected MPs may be positioned within 13 blocs divided into two opposite larger camps, forming the 128-MP Parliament.

The sovereign MPs can be classified based on their previous positions. A total of 68 MPs are opposed to Hezbollah. They include members from the Lebanese Forces Party, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Islamic Group and the Lebanese Phalanges Party, as well as independents and reformists.

Meanwhile, the pro-Hezbollah camp includes the party itself, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Marada Movement, the Tashnaq Party and Al-Ahbash, for a total of about 60 MPs.

There is much speculation about how the new independent MPs will deal with upcoming events, and how they will position themselves on the parliamentary map.

A political observer told Arab News: “We will see the true colors of every MP when topics related to core issues are discussed.”

The observer added: “Will these MPs change their stance regarding Hezbollah’s illegal weapons, although some have avoided addressing this sensitive issue in the past? Will these MPs be able to form a unified bloc that can influence decisions within Parliament, or will they remain independent, each working alone?”

Suleiman Franjieh, head of the Marada Movement and a candidate for the Presidency, appealed to reformist MPs, saying: “Do not place strict conditions on yourselves so that you do not become isolated, because theory is one thing, and practice is another.”

Fouad Siniora, former Lebanon PM, who backed a list in Beirut and whose candidates all failed to reach parliament, said: “Sovereign MPs must develop a correct vision for the future on how to confront Hezbollah’s domination and control in order to restore the Lebanese state.”

He added: “In 2008, the sovereign forces had won 72 seats in parliament, but Hezbollah at that time refused to form a majority government.”

Siniora warned against backing down as the March 14 forces did in 2009, which cost them their power.

A video shared on social media shocked voters in Tripoli and around the country. The elected MP Firas Salloum, who was on the Real Change list with the Islamic Group, was filmed celebrating his victory by dancing to a song supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The video prompted the Islamic Group to issue a statement renouncing Salloum. It said: “He does not represent us as he seemed proud of his affiliation to the criminal tyrant, who blew up the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam Mosques in Tripoli, and killed our people in Syria.”

The statement demanded that Salloum resign “because he does not represent the city and does not resemble its people.”

Reformist MP Elias Jarada said: “Taking the revolution from the street to the Parliament necessitates adopting a policy of reaching out to all for dialogue so that the 17 October revolution becomes a model for dynamic political action. It is important to be realistic because parliament includes groups that represent other categories of the Lebanese people.”

Several reformist MPs rushed to convene with their groups to determine their next steps in Parliament.

Elected reformist MP Ibrahim Mneimneh, whose list won three parliamentary seats in Beirut’s second constituency, said: “The reformist MPs will be the revolutionary voice in parliament. We will not compromise with the criminal regime that destroyed our lives, and we will not compromise in the face of intimidation with weapons, nor over the sale of state assets, the money of depositors, or the path of justice with the Beirut port blast and the explosion in Akkar.”

Leaked news suggested that reformist MP Melhem Khalaf, former head of the Beirut Bar Association who took part in protests against state corruption and helped release detained protesters, could possibly be elected deputy parliament speaker, succeeding Elie Ferzli, who has held the position since 2000, but failed to reach Parliament in the recent elections.

Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is seeking a new term, is reportedly making efforts to win over civil society, and supports having Khalaf as his deputy.

Major challenges await the newly elected house, the first of which is electing a speaker and a deputy speaker, followed by parliamentary consultations to assign someone to form a new government, then electing a new president in September or October after Michel Aoun’s term ends.

There are also significant legislative obligations, within the framework of reforms required by the international community to extricate Lebanon from its worsening economic crisis.


Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa
Updated 18 May 2022

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa
  • Pontiff joins the people of the Emirates in ‘mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership’
  • Head of the Catholic church praises the late leader for promoting religious understanding as contained in the historic Abu Dhabi Document and Zayed Award for Human Fraternity

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has said that he is “saddened” by the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, former president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

In a message, the leader of the Catholic church sent his condolences to newly appointed UAE president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and to the country’s people, invoking “an abundance of divine blessings.”

The Pope expressed his “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of my prayers for his eternal rest.”

“I likewise join the people of the Emirates in mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership in the service of the nation.”

The Catholic leader said he was “particularly grateful for the solicitude shown by His Highness to the Holy See and to the Catholic communities of the Emirates, and for his commitment to the values of dialogue, understanding and solidarity between peoples and religious traditions solemnly proclaimed by the historic Abu Dhabi Document and embodied in the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.”

“May his legacy continue to inspire the efforts of men and women of good will everywhere to persevere in weaving bonds of unity and peace between the members of our one human family,” he added.

Francis also offered prayers for Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as he takes up the responsibilities of the UAE presidency.

“Upon you, the members of your family, and upon all the beloved people of the United Arab Emirates, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.”

Friar Giuseppe Ciutti, an Italian priest who spent time in Iraq, told Arab News that this message from the Pope was “a clear sign of the personal (and) great respect he felt for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.”

“Pope Francis visited Abu Dhabi in 2019; that was the first visit of a Roman Catholic Church (leader) to the Arab Peninsula. During that trip the Pope … promoted values of fraternity, peace, and peaceful coexistence.”

On that visit, Francis paid tribute to the UAE as “a land that is trying to be a model of coexistence, of human brotherhood, and a meeting place among diverse civilizations and cultures.”

“Pope Francis always refers to that trip every time he talks about the progress in interreligious dialogue. His message can be read as a new sign of friendship by the Catholic (church) towards the Arab world,” he said.

The UAE is home to nearly a million Roman Catholics, most of them from the Philippines and India.