Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list

Update Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list
Biden focused on his domestic efforts and the fight against COVID-19, but also touched on foreign policy issues. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list

Biden weighs up returning Houthis to US terror list
  • US leader faces criticism over failure to address terrorist violence as he says it is 'not the time to give up' on nuclear talks with Iran

CHICAGO: US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization days after the Iran-backed group killed three people in a drone strike in the UAE.
Marking his first full year in office with a two-hour press conference, Biden focused on his domestic efforts and the fight against COVID-19, but also touched on foreign policy issues, mostly addressing the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and also taking questions on Iran and Yemen.
Weeks after taking office in 2021, Biden officially delisted the Houthi militia as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a designation put in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The US leader has also worked to bring Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.
Asked if he would redesignate the Houthis as a terrorist group, Biden replied: “It’s under consideration.”
Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE.
Biden’s Special Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was sent to the Gulf and London on Wednesday “to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials and other international partners,” according to a statement from US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“The special envoy and his team will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” Price said.
Lenderking will also address “the urgent need to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis.”

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Price quoted UN data released last week that shows 16 million people in Yemen need aid totaling about $3.9 billion.
“It is imperative that donors, especially regional donors, provide additional funding, and that all parties to the conflict take steps to improve humanitarian access and address Yemen’s fuel crisis,” the UN said.
Biden was also asked if he was making progress with Iran in efforts to force the regime to adhere to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal.
“It is not time to give up. There is some progress to be made,” he replied.
However, the lengthy press conference was clearly intended to highlight Biden’s achievements since being sworn in as president one year ago on Jan. 20, 2021.
Political analyst Dalia Al-Aqidi said Biden’s press conference sounded more like a campaign speech, and appeared to be orchestrated to allow him to address his political talking points as Democrats and Republicans prepare for a midterm election battle for control for the House and Senate this year.
“Basically, we just saw the first draft of his presidential campaign pitch, and I expect that America will hear the same speech over and over while the country is suffering from a stalling economy and colossal inflation,” said Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy.
She criticized Biden’s failure to address terrorist violence that resurfaced in Colleyville, Texas, this week when four members of a synagogue were held hostage until the gunman was killed by police.
The US leader confirmed he plans to run for re-election and will keep Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. He also defended his role in the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden initially took questions from 11 reporters, who were on a list he held at the podium. Questions focused on the economy, mounting tensions with Russia over Ukraine, and growing polarization in the US. He acknowledged the need to get out of the White House and “speak directly” to the American people.
Halfway through the press conference, Biden accepted questions from other reporters who were sometimes openly critical of his performance.
The US leader insisted he has made significant progress easing the economic burden caused by the global pandemic, including creating 6 million jobs, reducing unemployment to 3.9 percent and getting 210 million Americans fully vaccinated.
Biden also claimed he is working to bring the country together, and blamed the failure to bridge the nation’s growing divide on Trump, citing private discussions he has had with several Republican senators who say they fear Trump will undermine their re-election if they support Biden’s agenda.


Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity
Updated 13 min 34 sec ago

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity
  • Subcommittee follows up on implementing strategic framework for UN Zero Hunger goal

CAIRO: The Arab League held the region’s eighth meeting of the Subcommittee for Hunger Eradication, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Chaired by Sudan, it focused on implementing “UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger,” which aims to eliminate food insecurity and malnutrition in the region. 

Nada El Agizy, director of sustainable development and international cooperation at the Arab League, said that food security is a top priority for joint Arab action.

She emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts and called for the strengthening of existing partnerships, as well as the formation of new ones, to address the challenges. 

The “Strategic Framework for Zero Hunger in the Arab Region” was launched in February during the fourth Arab Week for Sustainable Development in Cairo.

A UN study in June 2021 warned that hunger in the Arab region was on the rise and threatened the area’s efforts to achieve freedom from it by 2030.

 


Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear

Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear
Updated 7 sec ago

Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear

Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear
  • Countries that had offered sanctuary are devising plans to return displaced households, either voluntarily or by force
  • Human rights monitors say returnees are often harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared

DUBAI: When Amir left his war-ravaged hometown of Homs, western Syria, in 2013, he believed he was heading somewhere that would offer him and his family lasting security and sanctuary from his nation’s grinding civil war.

Packing what few belongings were left unscathed by the regime’s incessant barrel bombing, Amir boarded a bus bound for Lebanon with his sister, Alia, and her toddler, Omar, where the trio settled in a camp in Arsal, Baalbek.

“My brother is a proud man,” Alia told Arab News from her adopted home in Lebanon. “After our parents died under rubble, he took it upon himself to fend for us and to raise my son, Omar.”

In doing so, Amir and his family joined the ranks of millions of Syrians displaced by the civil war — the majority of whom have settled in neighboring Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, while others have struck out for Europe and beyond.

What started in 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding greater civic freedoms quickly escalated into one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, with a death toll now numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Around 13 million people have been displaced by the war. (AFP)

Another 100,000 people have disappeared, likely abducted by security service agents to be tortured and killed in Bashar Assad’s prisons. To date, around 13 million people have been displaced by the war — 5.6 million of them fleeing abroad.

Now, many of those countries that had offered sanctuary have devised plans to return their Syrian guests, either voluntarily or by force, despite warnings from aid agencies and refugees themselves that Syria remains unsafe and blighted by poverty.

Syrian refugees are viewed by the Assad regime and its loyalists as traitors and dissidents. Human rights monitors have identified cases of returnees being harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared.

Nevertheless, countries like Lebanon, Turkiye and Denmark, grappling with their own economic pressures and rising anti-immigrant sentiments, have been upping the ante on Syrians to return home, claiming the civil war is now over.

In 2021, Denmark adopted a “zero asylum-seekers” policy, resulting in many Syrians who had been based there since 2015 having their residency status revoked, while others were removed to deportation facilities.

Struggling to take care of its own native population, the caretaker government of crisis-wracked Lebanon announced its own repatriation plan in October this year, with the aim of sending back 15,000 refugees per month.

The situation in Turkiye is no different, according to reports. Stories have emerged on social media of refugees being forced to sign voluntary return forms.

According to reports from the France-based advocacy group Syrians for Truth and Justice, Syrians dropped off at the Bab Al-Salama border crossing by Turkish authorities are classified as “voluntary returnees,” despite this being a regime-controlled crossing.

Returnees — voluntarily or otherwise — often face harassment, extortion, forced recruitment, torture and arbitrary arrest upon arrival on the regime side, irrespective of their age or gender.

Mazen Hamada, a high-profile activist and torture survivor who has testified about the horrors of Syrian regime prisons, mystified the world when he decided to return to Damascus in 2020.

Hamada, who long spoke of his mental torment following his release and his loneliness in exile, returned to Syria from the Netherlands under an amnesty agreement supposedly guaranteeing his freedom.

However, upon arrival in Damascus in February 2020, Hamada was arrested and has not been seen or heard from since.

Last year, human rights monitor Amnesty International released a report, titled “You’re returning to your death,” which documented serious violations committed by regime intelligence officers against 66 returnees, 13 of whom were children.

Around 100,000 people have disappeared, likely abducted by security service agents to be tortured and killed in Bashar Assad’s prisons. (AFP)

Five returnees had died while in custody, while the fate of 17 remains unknown. Fourteen cases of sexual assault were also recorded — seven of which included rape — perpetrated against five women, a teenage boy, and a five-year-old girl.

Voices for Displaced Syrians, another advocacy group based in Istanbul, published a study in February this year, titled “Is Syria safe for return? Returnees’ perspective,” based on interviews with 300 returnees and internally displaced persons across four governorates.

Their accounts outlined extreme human rights violations, physical and psychological abuses, and a lack of legal protections. Some 41 percent of respondents had returned to Syria voluntarily, while 42 percent said they had returned out of necessity, as a result of poor living conditions in their host country and a longing to reunify with family.

Concerning their treatment upon arrival, 17 percent reported they or a loved one had been arbitrarily arrested, 11 percent spoke of harassment and physical violence inflicted upon them or a family member, and 7 percent chose not to answer.

As for internally displaced persons, 46 percent reported they or a relative had been arrested, 30 percent recounted bodily harm, and 27 percent said they had faced persecution owing to their origins and hometowns. Many also reported difficulties reclaiming private property.

Concerning their treatment upon arrival, 17 percent reported they or a loved one had been arbitrarily arrested, 11 percent spoke of harassment and physical violence inflicted upon them or a family member. (AFP)

Despite the mounting body of evidence suggesting the regime is continuing to target civilians it considers dissidents, several countries are choosing to pursue normalization with Assad, lobbying for his rehabilitation into the Arab fold and reopening their embassies in Damascus.

For the relatives of returnees who have since gone missing, these developments smack of betrayal.

Amir, who eventually returned to Syria voluntarily, appears to have suffered the same fate as the activist Hamada. Tired of living in poverty in Lebanon, far from his extended family, he went back in Oct. 2021. He has not been heard from since.

“Life in Lebanon has become rather unbearable. Amir would return humiliated every time he left the house,” his sister Alia told Arab News.

Having initially lived in a UNHCR-provided tent in Arsal, Amir and his family finally managed to acquire a small one bedroom house near the camps. Alia said it was a constant struggle to scrimp together enough money to pay the rent.

Most refugees are unable to secure consistent employment due to their lack of official papers, which, under normal circumstances, would grant them residency and facilitate a stable income. Amir, like many working age men around him, resorted to hard manual labor.

Those who try to find work in the big cities risk being arrested at Lebanese checkpoints, imprisoned, and deported for staying in the country illegally.

Since Amir’s disappearance, Alia has been forced to make do on a single income cleaning houses.

What started in 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding greater civic freedoms quickly turned into a brutal crackdown by the Bashar Assad regime, and one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. (AFP)

“He couldn’t take it anymore, being spoken to like a little boy by some of his employers and the degrading comments he’d hear at times,” said Alia.

“It happens to me too, but I hold back my tongue. I cannot afford to stand up for myself. He thought he would take his chances and return to Syria in the hope of finding us a place, back to familiarity.”

She says she begged her brother not to leave, aware of the many refugees they knew personally who had been mistreated upon their return to Syria. Some had been held in prison until they made bail, while others had gone missing.

“But he didn’t listen,” said Alia. “It’s been over a year since he left and I haven’t heard from him.”
 


Gulf Air steward dies mid-air after suffering heart attack

Gulf Air steward dies mid-air after suffering heart attack
Updated 28 November 2022

Gulf Air steward dies mid-air after suffering heart attack

Gulf Air steward dies mid-air after suffering heart attack
  • Plane landed in Erbil and was immediately met by medical team
  • Al-Yazidi was pronounced dead on arrival in nearby hospital

LONDON: Air steward Yasser Saleh Al-Yazidi died mid-air after suffering a heart attack on a Gulf Air flight from Bahrain to Paris on Tuesday, Mail Online reported. 

The Airbus A321 was flying at 34,000 feet over Iraq when Al-Yazidi became ill, Erbil International Airport Director Ahmed Hoshyar told Iraqi media.

The pilots were forced to make an emergency landing in Erbil, Kurdistan, so that the crew member could receive medical treatment, Mail Online reported.

When the plane touched down, a medical team immediately transferred Al-Yazidi to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The plane was grounded for nearly four hours in Erbil before continuing on its way to Paris.

In the wake of Al-Yazidi’s death, the Bahrain-owned airline issued a statement.

“The national carrier expresses its deepest condolences to the crew member’s family and loved ones and confirms that the flight resumed to Paris as scheduled,” it read.

“Gulf Air reassures that the safety of its passengers and crew comes at the top of its priorities and thanks the affected flight’s passengers for their patience and understanding.”

Flight attendants with Gulf Air go through an intensive eight-week program in which they are trained in first aid, safety and emergency procedures.

As most commercial flights do not carry specialized medical equipment, however, pilots are generally required to perform an emergency landing if any serious medical issues arise, Mail Online said.

 


Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
Updated 28 November 2022

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
  • Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on ‘fragile assumptions and misconceptions’
  • Abdel Razek: ‘Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization’

CAIRO: The Egyptian Senate has branded a European Parliament resolution criticizing Egypt’s progress on improving its human rights record as being based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions.”

Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek told a House of Representatives plenary session that the decision was unacceptable and went against “international rules and norms.”

The European Parliament resolution highlighted what it described as a lack of improvement in Egypt’s human rights situation including on the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and media freedoms.

Calling for a review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of “very limited progress on its human rights record,” the European Parliament also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of a number of political activists, journalists, lawyers, and social media influencers.”

In a speech, Abdel Razek said: “We all received with displeasure the decision issued by the European Parliament on Nov. 24 regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.”

He accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on, “fragile assumptions and misconceptions and an attempt to claim that it has the authority to evaluate and hold others accountable outside the borders of its members, in violation of international rules and norms.

“Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization. These are issues that no free country, particularly Egypt, will accept,” he added.

In a statement on Friday, the Egyptian Parliament said the resolution, “shows again that the European Parliament insists on adopting an arrogant approach toward Egypt, giving itself the right to use a host of sheer lies to deliver a judgement regarding some recent developments inside Egypt.”

Abdel Razek noted that Egypt had sought to strengthen efforts to improve the lives of its citizens.

He highlighted the Decent Life Initiative as one of the country’s most important projects bringing together the public and private sectors, and civil society, to help boost living standards for Egypt’s neediest groups.

He added that Egypt had launched a national dialogue to identify issues of concern to citizens and had also reactivated the Presidential Pardon Committee which had previously worked to grant amnesty to convicts and reintegrate them into society.

In addition, millions of refugees and asylum seekers had been welcomed to Egypt, Abdel Razek said, adding that efforts to promote and preserve all human rights within the framework of a national vision were ongoing.


Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
Updated 28 November 2022

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
  • 709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country
  • Prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had also been released on bail

TEHRAN: Iran has released more than 700 prisoners after the national team’s World Cup football victory over Wales, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Monday.
It announced that “709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country” following the 2-0 victory on Friday.
Among those are “some arrested during the recent events,” Mizan Online said, making indirect reference to demonstrations which have shaken Iran for more than two months.
It gave no further detail.
The ongoing protests were triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Other Iranian media separately reported that prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had been released on bail after her arrest for having supported the protests.
Two of the most prominent figures detained over the demonstrations — former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and dissident Hossein Ronaghi — were also let out on bail, reports said.
State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that former state television host Mahmoud Shahriari, 63, had been released after two months in prison for “encouraging riots.”
Iran on Friday scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales and breathe new life into its World Cup campaign ahead of a politically charged showdown Tuesday against the United States.
Iran lost its first World Cup match to England, 6-2.
Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk last week said around 14,000 people have been arrested.

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