Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace
  • The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki says

NEW YORK: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki criticized US President Joe Biden on Thursday for moving too slowly to reverse all of former President Donald Trump administration’s adverse policies against the Palestinians and not using Washington’s special relationship to pressure Israel to abandon “its rejection of a two-state solution and peace negotiations.”

Malki told the UN Security Council there were hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “would be enough to pave the way for renewed momentum for peace.”

But while the Biden administration reversed several “unlawful and ill-advised” Trump policies, he said it has been slow to act, especially on the US commitment to reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem which would restore Washington’s main diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in the contested city.

After Biden took office a year ago, the Palestinians thought the US “could try to move the Israeli position toward us,” Malki told reporters later.

“But we have seen that the Israeli position has been able to move the American position a little bit toward them — and this is really what troubles us very much.”

The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki said.

“This is an unacceptable stance that should neither be tolerated nor excused and must be reversed.”

Malki said he had “a very open, frank discussion” earlier on Wednesday with US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, including on US-Palestinian relations, the peace process, Palestinian expectations from the US and “what they are trying to do in the near future in order to see things moving forward in the right direction.”

He said the Palestinians are engaging with the US administration about possible ways to eliminate restrictions imposed by Congress on reopening the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

Tor Wennesland, the UN Mideast envoy, told the council that six Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security forces, another died in unclear circumstances, and 249 Palestinians were injured, including 46 children, in the West Bank in he past month.

He said 15 Israelis were injured in attacks by Palestinians.

Malki called on the Security Council to take urgent action to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and save the two-state solution, pointing to Israel’s accelerated settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, confiscation of Palestinian land “and even annexing Palestinian land.”

“Absent this sense of urgency, prepare yourself then to attend the funeral of this solution, with all the consequences of such a death for the lives of millions of people, Palestinians and others,” Malki warned.

“The Palestinian people will survive, but the two-state solution may not,” he said.

“What happens then? Will you convert to advocates of the one-state solution of freedom and equal rights for all between the river and the sea? These would be the only options available then.”

Malki urged support for an international peace conference and echoed Russia’s call for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, EU and Russia — “as soon as possible to mobilize efforts to get out from the current impasse.”

He said the UN, EU and Russia have agreed to a ministerial meeting but “we’re still waiting for the approval of the American side.”

He said the three other Quartet members should convince the US about the importance of a ministerial meeting to move the Middle East peace process forward.

Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, made no mention of the meeting with Malki or the Quartet in her briefing to the council, but she reaffirmed the Biden administration’s “strong support for a two-state solution” and said “this year offers an opportunity to recommit to reaching a political solution to the conflict.”

The US envoy, who visited Israel and the West Bank in November, reiterated that Israel and the Palestinians “are locked in a spiral of distrust.”

“Israelis don’t believe they have a partner for peace, while Palestinians are trapped in despair born of the complete absence of a political horizon,” she said.

To make progress, Thomas-Greenfield said both sides must refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and undercut efforts toward a two-state solution.

That means Israel should refrain from annexing territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions “like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah,” the Jerusalem neighborhood where Israel on Wednesday evicted Palestinian residents from a disputed property and demolished it, and Palestinians should stop inciting violence and compensating individuals imprisoned “for acts of terrorism,” Thomas-Greenfield said.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 8 sec ago

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 35 min 9 sec ago

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.


Lebanon unlikely to comply with Interpol request to hand Carlos Ghosn over to French authorities

Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
Updated 6 min 9 sec ago

Lebanon unlikely to comply with Interpol request to hand Carlos Ghosn over to French authorities

Carlos Ghosn. (Reuters)
  • Red notice received for tycoon as prosecutors investigate millions of dollars in alleged suspect payments

BEIRUT: Lebanon has received an Interpol red notice for the arrest of businessman Carlos Ghosn at France’s request but is unlikely to extradite him, according to a judicial source.

The 68-year-old car industry tycoon, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, fled to Lebanon in December 2019 while awaiting trial in Japan. He had been under house arrest since 2018.

The Lebanese judiciary received the notice on Thursday. It is based on an international arrest warrant issued by the French authorities about a month ago.

A judicial source told Arab News that Lebanon’s prosecutor general, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, received the warrant based on hearings held by a delegation of French judges who visited Lebanon for the first time in June 2021. They listened to Ghosn over the course of four days in regard to a lawsuit filed against him in Paris.

BACKGROUND

The former head of the Nissan-Renault alliance fled to Lebanon in 2019, while out on bail facing financial misconduct charges in Japan.

Ghosn was chairman of Nissan and Mitsubishi and CEO of Renault when he was arrested in 2018 on charges of “not disclosing his full wages and using company funds for personal purposes.”

France accuses him of being responsible for “over €15 million ($15.8 million) in suspicious payments between his Renault-Nissan alliance and activities Ghosn held at the opulent Palace of Versailles, including knowingly using company resources to host a party for personal purposes.”

The source added that Judge Oueidat was expected to refer the Interpol notice to the discriminatory attorney general, Judge Imad Qabalan, who attended the hearings of the French judicial delegation with Ghosn.

Based on the notice, Judge Qabalan may interrogate Ghosn and decide whether he should be arrested, the source said.

“If Judge Qabalan finds Ghosn guilty of any crime, he can request his full file from the French authorities and try him in Lebanon under the Lebanese Penal Code,” the person added.

“In the event that the crimes charged against Ghosn are not mentioned in the penal code, or if they are charges that the Lebanese penal code does not criminalize, he will leave him be.”

The source said that although Lebanon and France had an extradition treaty, Ghosn would be prosecuted in Lebanon as he had Lebanese nationality, adding that Lebanon had banned the executive from traveling.

Lebanon confiscated Ghosn’s passports in 2020 and he has not submitted a request to get them back.

The tycoon made his escape from Japan by hiding in luggage on a private plane that took off from Kansai International Airport. He has been in Lebanon ever since and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

An American father and son helped Ghosn flee Japan. The US handed them over to Japanese authorities and they confessed in a Tokyo court that they had been paid $1.3 million to do so. They face a prison sentence of up to three years.

Meanwhile, Lebanese judicial authorities on Thursday released 72-year-old Ziad Taqi Al-Din, whose name had been linked to lawsuits related to charges of fraud and forgery filed in Paris against former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Taqi Al-Din, who has dual Lebanese and French nationality, was arrested in Beirut in 2020 based on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol. He was later released on bond with a travel ban and his passport was confiscated.

The Lebanese judiciary requested his file from Paris for trial in Beirut, refusing to hand him over to the French judiciary.


Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 May 2022

Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP file photo)
  • Ukraine crisis likely to increase Damascus regime’s dependence on Tehran, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian troops from Syria to bolster its forces in Ukraine may mark a turning point in the Syrian conflict, and lead to a race between Tehran and Ankara to fill the void left by Moscow in the country, leading analysts suggest.  

Russia, Iran and Turkey are guarantor countries of the Astana talks on Syria that aim at brokering a permanent peace deal by bringing warring sides together.

However, Russia has been the balancing force in this trio, preventing the uncontrolled entrenchment of Iranian-backed militia.

But now abandoned Russian bases are believed to have been transferred to Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, while Tehran is expected to send more troops into Syria to fill the gap left by Ukraine-bound Russian military personnel.

In early April, Luna Chebel, a top adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, told the BBC that assistance and expertise from Iranian forces are welcome, hinting at the possibility of Iran having greater sway in Syria.

Iran is believed to have created a new militia, similar to its elite forces, to assume the tasks previously handled by Russian troops. The new force, under the control of Hezbollah and the IRGC, is stockpiling drones, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.

Ankara and Tehran back rival sides in the Syrian conflict, with Iran supporting the Assad regime, while Turkey backs the Syrian opposition.  

Russia’s maritime supply of its forces in Syria has been complicated in recent months by Ankara’s decision under the Montreux Convention to restrict the use of Turkish straits by Russian warships based in the Black Sea.

However, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, research fellow at Al-Sharq Strategic Research, believes Russia is unlikely to give up its presence in Syria.

“Russia has invested a lot in Syria over the years, and there has been a long-standing rivalry between Russia and Iran for influence in Syria. Even if Russia relocates some of its soldiers or withdraws them from Syria, it will not leave the field entirely to Iran,” he told Arab News.  

Cengiz believes that with the Ukraine crisis allowing Iran to fill some of the gaps left by Russia in Syria, it is likely that the conflict will increase the regime’s dependence on Iran.

“After the Ukraine crisis, contacts between Syrian and Iranian officials increased. Recently, Bashar Assad paid a visit to Tehran. He might receive economic assistance from Tehran in the face of a deep economic crisis in Syria,” Cengiz said.

According to Aron Lund, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation think tank, the Ukraine war has upset the balance between Turkey and Russia in Turkey’s favor, which could be consequential for Syria.

“It could end up destabilizing a long-frozen situation, but it won’t necessarily lead to renewed conflict,” he told Arab News.

“Even under pressure in Ukraine, Russia may be able to deter advances by Turkey-backed forces in Syria, and Turkey may still want Russia’s cooperation to secure its own interests,” he added.

Lund believes that both countries could trade concessions and favors in ways that avoid trading territory, or waging war, in Idlib.

“For example, Russia could agree to be more flexible on humanitarian issues, including an upcoming vote in the UN Security Council in July that Turkey really wants to pass. Or Russia could lend support to Turkish cross-border operations against Kurdish forces, which it has previously been reluctant to do,” he said.

Last week, Geir O. Pedersen, UN special envoy for Syria, recently sent invitations to the Syrian regime and opposition for the eighth round of talks starting in late May.

Lund expects new deals regarding the UN-brokered Syrian constitutional committee.

“But renewed fighting in Idlib remains a live risk, either because of a breakdown in the balance or as a way to test the strength and determination of the other side,” he said.

Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, believes that although Turkey and Iran have cooperated in the past against PKK-affiliated groups against a shared threat, this time Iran may recognize the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as a different faction and be open to assuming Russia’s role in negotiation and coordinating between the Assad regime and administrative authorities in northeastern Syria.

“As Iran expands its role in Syria, Turkey will likely seek opportunities to confront Assad regime forces and their partners for expanded territory or trade near Manbij or Tal Rifaat, or even near Ayn Issa, especially as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s previous operations have proven popular and as public support for forced refugee return to Syria has increased,” he told Arab News.

“Assad’s forces still seek to launch another phase of the Idlib operation, and Iran may consider supporting one in the future to destabilize NATO’s southern flank, depending on nuclear negotiations and other factors, but Iran is not prepared to do so at this point,” Ringler said.

However, the current disagreements between Turkey and Iran are not limited to Syria, with disputes over transboundary waters and dam construction further straining bilateral ties.

Turkey’s dam projects on the Tigris and Aras rivers angered Tehran, which fears the schemes could reduce water flow in the Tigris and Euphrates, and pose an environmental threat as shown by recent dust storms.

However Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has said that Ankara is open to any “rational and scientific cooperation” with Iran.

The illegal transit of Afghan refugees to Turkey from its border with Iran has also angered Ankara, which claims that Tehran facilitated the uncontrolled passage.

“Relations between Iran and Turkey have become increasingly strained on a number of files: Dam construction; Ankara’s warming relations with Israel; tensions with Iran-backed militias in Iraq; and now Russia’s shifting of resources from Syria to Ukraine will add further complications,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against a Nuclear Iran.

A new Pentagon report claimed that Iran-backed militias have been coordinating with the PKK for attacking Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

“All of these developments have the potential to shift the balance in Syria given the crowded landscape there. In 2020, Iran’s advisory center in northern Syria issued a warning to Turkish forces that they could be targeted after they retaliated following 33 Turkish soldiers being killed in a Syrian airstrike in Idlib,” Brodsky told Arab News.

As Russia in the past has tried to reduce tensions between Turkey and the Syrian government in the area, Brodsky believes that Moscow’s troop withdrawal could empower the Assad regime as well as Iran in Idlib.

“This is not to say Russia will be completely absent, but if it is shifting resources to contend with Ukraine, that has the potential to scramble the battlefield dynamics in Idlib,” he added.

 


US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
Updated 20 May 2022

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
  • Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in the elections

LONDON: The US on Friday welcomed that parliamentary elections in Lebanon were held on time and without major security incidents, but urged the country's leaders to quickly form a government to resolve the ongoing economic crisis.

Last weekend’s elections led to Hezbollah and its allies losing a parliamentary majority.

“We congratulate the Lebanese people on their participation despite challenging circumstances, we also recognize the important role the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces played in supporting the process and maintaining security,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

“As Lebanon looks ahead, we urge those elected and the country’s political leaders to heed the Lebanese people’s call for change and to work seriously, and with urgency, to take the necessary actions to rescue the economy,” he added.

 

Price said the US was urging the swift formation of a new government able to carry out the “hard work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community.”

After videos surfaced reportedly showing Hezbollah supporters swapping vote ballots, ripping up others and ransacking voting booths in Baalbek, Price voiced the US’ worries.

“We share the concerns raised by our partners in the international community of allegations of vote-buying, clientelism, and reports of intimidation,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet on Friday passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session just before losing decision-making powers, following the election, that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s financial crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in over 150 years.