Abbas loyalists win top jobs at embattled PLO

In this file photo taken on May 25, 2021, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gives a joint statement with the US secretary of state, at the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on May 25, 2021, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gives a joint statement with the US secretary of state, at the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2022

Abbas loyalists win top jobs at embattled PLO

In this file photo taken on May 25, 2021, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gives a joint statement with the US secretary of state, at the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
  • Mohamed Mustafa, another Abbas supporter who chairs the Palestinian Investment Fund, was selected to take the executive committee seat vacated by Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned in 2020

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestine Liberation Organization named loyalists of Mahmud Abbas to top leadership posts on Monday, with Hussein Al-Sheikh appointed to the organization’s executive committee.
But no decision was made on naming a new PLO secretary general and chief negotiator with Israel, two key posts held by Saeb Erekat, who died in 2020 after contracting coronavirus.
At the end of the rare two-day meeting of the PLO’s central committee, officials said the roles would be filled at a later date.
Ahead of the meeting, analysts had said the 86-year-old Abbas, the PLO’s chairman, was seeking to elevate Sheikh, perhaps to position him as a favored successor to take charge as president of the Palestinian Authority.
Mohamed Mustafa, another Abbas supporter who chairs the Palestinian Investment Fund, was selected to take the executive committee seat vacated by Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned in 2020.
Abbas loyalist Rawhi Fattouh was elected chair of the Palestinian National Council — the PLO’s parliament in exile.
Analysts have said that support for the PLO, an organization founded in 1964 and charged with leading the battle for statehood against Israel, was growing increasingly unpopular among Palestinian people, amid frustration over its failures to hold open elections for key positions.
Addressing PLO executives on Sunday, Abbas pledged commitment to reform, calling it a “continuous process.”
But as the meeting started Sunday demonstrations calling for Abbas’s resignation were held in Ramallah and in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists.
Hamas is not part of the PLO, and has boycotted the organization over its decision to negotiate with Israel.


Morocco’s appeals court sentences 12 more migrants

Morocco’s appeals court sentences 12 more migrants
Updated 6 sec ago

Morocco’s appeals court sentences 12 more migrants

Morocco’s appeals court sentences 12 more migrants
  • The AMDH human rights group said the 12 migrants would be jailed for three years without parole after being prosecuted for “illegal entry onto Moroccan soil” and “violence against law enforcement officers”

RABAT: A Moroccan appeals court has sentenced 12 Sudanese migrants to three years in jail over violence in the run-up to a June 24 border tragedy in which two dozen migrants died, a rights group said.
Around 2,000 people, many of them Sudanese, stormed the frontier on June 24 in an attempt to reach Spanish territory across one of the EU’s two land borders with Africa.
Rights groups have accused both Moroccan and Spanish security forces of responding with excessive force, leaving at least 23 migrants dead, the worst toll in years of such attempted crossings.
The AMDH human rights group said the 12 migrants would be jailed for three years without parole after being prosecuted for “illegal entry onto Moroccan soil” and “violence against law enforcement officers.”
“It’s a very harsh and unexpected sentence, given that they had initially been sentenced to 11 months in prison,” said Omar Naji of AMDH in the border town of Nador.
The June 24 tragedy followed days of clashes between Moroccan security forces in a forest near Melilla where migrants often spend months living rough before attempting to cross the heavily fortified barrier.
Naji said the 12 had been arrested in one of the clashes, six days before the border incident.
Since the tragedy, Morocco has sentenced dozens of migrants to prison terms of up to two and a half years on charges including illegal entry and belonging to criminal gangs.
The Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta have long been a magnet for people fleeing violence and poverty across Africa to seek refuge in Europe.


Iran lead negotiator to meet UN nuclear watchdog chief

Iran lead negotiator to meet UN nuclear watchdog chief
Updated 24 min 36 sec ago

Iran lead negotiator to meet UN nuclear watchdog chief

Iran lead negotiator to meet UN nuclear watchdog chief
  • The UN watchdog said early this month it was ‘not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful’

TEHRAN: The head of Iran’s atomic energy agency said on Saturday he will meet next week the chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, as attempts to revive the country’s nuclear deal stall.
“I will go to Austria to take part in the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, where I will meet with Director General Rafael Grossi,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Eslami told state television.
The Vienna-based IAEA’s annual conference takes place this year from Sept. 26-30.
The UN watchdog said early this month it was “not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”
It has been pressing for answers on the presence of nuclear material at three undeclared sites and the issue led to a resolution that criticized Iran being passed at a June meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.
The three sites represent a key sticking point in negotiations to restore a tattered 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Those negotiations began in Vienna in April 2021 but have repeatedly stalled. The US walked out of the original deal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and re-imposed biting sanctions, provoking Tehran into incrementally stepping back from its nuclear commitments.
Iran has repeatedly said it wants the IAEA to drop its interest in the three sites — a position that the nuclear watchdog says lacks credibility.
“I hope that my talks will put an end ... to the false accusations about certain (nuclear) sites stemming from political pressure and psychological operations exerted against Iran,” Eslami added.
In a speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated his country’s long-held insistence that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

 


Urgent reform of UN needed, says Egypt’s FM Shoukry

Urgent reform of UN needed, says Egypt’s FM Shoukry
Updated 26 min 9 sec ago

Urgent reform of UN needed, says Egypt’s FM Shoukry

Urgent reform of UN needed, says Egypt’s FM Shoukry
  • Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat
  • Egypt is also facing a potential water crisis

NEW YORK CITY: Echoing other developing countries, Egypt’s top diplomat on Saturday implored countries to reform the UN and lamented double standards in how the world’s powerful nations deal with crises and expressed concern about growing national debt incurred during the pandemic.

Speaking at the annual UN Generally Assembly, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also talked about Africa’s food crisis, saying one in every five people on the continent are at risk of hunger.

The pandemic along with the effects of climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have impacted the cost and availability of grain. Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat and had to take out loans to purchase wheat to feed the country’s poor.

Shoukry additionally urged support for poorer countries facing the ravages of climate change. “They are the most deserving of such support,” he said.

Egypt is host and president of the upcoming UN climate change conference, known as COP27.

Egypt, which has a population of over 103 million people, is also facing a potential water crisis from Ethiopia’s controversial mega-dam that is being built on the Blue Nile.

Shoukry said that while Egypt recognizes Ethiopia’s rights to development, Egypt will not let go of its right to the water of the Nile River, which he said has always been a part of the nation’s history.


How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe
Updated 25 min 35 sec ago

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe

How Syrian refugees became a scapegoat for Lebanese’s man-made catastrophe
  • Political discourse has grown increasingly toxic in tandem with deepening socio-economic crisis
  • Hostile narrative may spurred uptick in violence against the more than 852,000 Syrians residing in Lebanon

DUBAI: When Dareen and her family fled to Lebanon in 2014, escaping violence in their home city of Aleppo, northern Syria, she thought their displacement would last a year at most. Eight years on, she and her three children still reside in an informal settlement in Chtaura, near the Syrian border.

Dareen is one of a UN-estimated 852,000 Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon, who have seen their living conditions deteriorate since the onset of their host nation’s financial crisis in late 2019, which has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Amid this economic turmoil, the language of Lebanon’s political discourse has grown increasingly hostile to Syrian refugees, with pundits and ministers alike pushing a narrative that holds displaced households responsible for the country’s hardship and the ongoing strain on public services.

In the hope of easing this perceived “burden” on Lebanon’s crippled economy, the country’s caretaker government, which claims the number of Syrian refugees is closer to 1.5 million, has launched a scheme to repatriate them.

“Eleven years after the start of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon no longer has the capacity to bear this burden, especially under the current circumstances,” Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, told a ceremony in June launching this year’s UN-sponsored Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

“I call on the international community to work with Lebanon to secure the return of Syrian refugees to their country, or else Lebanon will ... work to get Syrians out through legal means and the firm application of Lebanese law.”

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati. (AFP file)

According to the UN, Lebanon has appealed for $3.2 billion to address the ongoing impact of the Syria crisis. Around $9 billion has already been provided in assistance since 2015 through the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.

Mikati’s comments, which amount to a thinly veiled ultimatum to the UN to send more financial assistance, followed similar remarks in May by the acting Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar, who said Lebanon could no longer afford to host such a large refugee population.

According to experts, the causes of Lebanon’s economic problems and its multiple overlapping crises are far more complex than the mere expense of hosting Syrian refugees, for which it receives global assistance.

In August, the World Bank accused Lebanon’s post-civil war leadership of orchestrating “a deliberate depression” by accumulating excessive debt, misusing and misspending commercial bank deposits, and weakening public-service delivery over a 30-year period.

Nevertheless, the experts say, Syrian refugees have become something of a convenient scapegoat to draw blame away from the nation’s embattled political elite.

Syrian refugees are being conveniently blamed for Lebanon's economic troubles. (AFP file)

In July, Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced, said the government plans to begin returning at least 15,000 Syrian refugees per month. Calling the move “a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon,” he insisted it is now safe for refugees to return to Syria.

In a joint meeting with Charafeddine, Hussein Makhlouf, the Syrian regime’s minister of local administration, said “the doors are open for the return of Syrian refugees,” and the government of President Bashar Assad is prepared to facilitate their return.

Lebanon’s repatriation plan has been devised against the backdrop of mounting public resentment and even outright hostility toward Syrian refugees, as Lebanese citizens who are struggling to feed their families demand that the state prioritize their needs over those of perceived outsiders.

“I cannot bear the sight of them anymore,” Maria, a 51-year-old schoolteacher, told Arab News. “We are struggling already, and their presence is making it worse. There is only so much to go around without having to share with outsiders.

For many, the sight of Syrian children wallowing in poverty in refugee camps has become unbearable. (AFP)

“When I see them begging on the streets, when I see them lining up with some form of welfare cards to pay for their goods, I catch myself fighting the urge to scream at them. They are not welcome here. It is our land, our food, our money. They should just go back home already.”

Some pundits and political figures have even claimed that, thanks to cash handouts by aid agencies, Syrian refugees have been getting more assistance than the poorest Lebanese. Such statements have fueled a narrative around Syrian refugees being responsible for the country’s overflowing cup of woe.

Syrian refugees prepare to leave the Lebanese capital, Beirut, for their journey home to Syria on Sept. 4, 2018. (AFP file)

Posting in July on his official Twitter account, Nadim Gemayel, a member of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “For Lebanon, the return of Syrian refugees is not an option, but rather a national necessity. If Syria is not safe for the Syrians to return, then their stay is not safe for the Lebanese, and recent events are proof of that, so either return or return.”

Concerned about the possible impact of this hardening narrative against Syrians, Najat Rushdi, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon, has urged Lebanese public figures to refrain from stoking hostility.

FASTFACTS

9/10 Syrians in Lebanon are living in poverty.

Lebanon plans to deport 15,000 Syrians a month.

Many of the 3.7 million Syrians in Turkey fear being sent back after a shift in Ankara-Damascus ties.

Syrian medical student Faris Muhammad Al Ali recently lost his life in an attack by his peers in Hatay.

The toxic public discourse appears to have resulted in an uptick in violence against Syrians. In June, footage emerged on social media of a Lebanese landowner whipping a group of Syrian boys with a cable.

The boys, who were reportedly hired by the landowner to harvest cherries, can be seen in the footage with potatoes stuffed in their mouths like gags while the landowner beats them and accuses them of stealing.

Even state authorities in Lebanon have been accused of mistreating Syrians. A report published by the human rights monitor Amnesty International in March 2021 included the testimonies of 26 Syrians who claimed they had been tortured by Lebanese authorities, including beatings with metal rods and being held in stress positions.

A Syrian boy clears snow from the entrance of a tent at a refugee camp near Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Jan. 20, 2022. (AFP file)

In early September, Bashar Abdel Saud, a Syrian refugee, was allegedly tortured to death by members of Lebanon’s state security agency. When leaked photos of his badly bruised body appeared on social media, authorities claimed he had confessed to being a member of Daesh. Abdel Saud had been arrested for being in possession of a counterfeit $50 bill.

Despite these concerning incidents, many Syrian refugees say they would prefer to stay in Lebanon than go back home. “The reason I left is still there. Assad is still president,” Abu Faisal, 68, who lives in a camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, told Arab News.

“I would rather die outside from a stranger’s humiliation than die in what I consider home by his torture and humiliation. I would live on a small patch of land isolated from the world and not go back.”

Syrian refugees wait to be evacuated from the southern Lebanese village of Shebaa on April 18, 2018, to return home to their village near Damascus. (AFP)

Some observers suspect Hezbollah, which has long been a prominent supporter of the Assad regime, is actively encouraging harmful social attitudes to pressure Syrian refugees to return home — and thereby burnish the regime’s global image and its labor force.

However, although the intensity of fighting has eased across much of Syria in recent months, human rights monitors say the country is still far from secure, with well-documented cases of returnees being detained, tortured, and even killed by the mistrustful and vengeful regime.

Deprived of their husbands, many Syrian women refugees have to do heavy work to survive. (AFP file)

“My husband remains missing,” Dareen, the Syrian from Aleppo now living as a refugee with her family in Chtaura, told Arab News. “In 2018, he returned to Syria because he had been working on starting a project with a friend of his to make some money. I haven’t heard from him since the second day he was there.

“I was advised by my friends and family to continue my life as if he’s dead. I am certain he was arrested by Syrian henchmen. I would rather think of him as dead than languishing in Assad’s prison slaughterhouses.”

Evidence compiled by human rights monitors indicates returnees are not warmly embraced by the regime but are instead treated like traitors for having left.

“My sister-in-law went back to Syria to check on her sick brother last year,” said Dareen. “She was harassed on the Syrian border. The soldiers called her a traitor for leaving, called her a whore and threatened to rape her. She didn’t even want to come back here. She didn’t want to go through the border again, but she had to.”

Members of the Syrian Organization for the Victims of War (SOVW) display pictures documenting the torture of detainees inside the Assad regime's prisons and detention centers. (AFP)

The UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented at least 3,057 cases of the regime arresting returnees between 2014 and 2021 — of which 203 were women and 244 were children. The majority of those returnees had come from Lebanon.

In light of these threats to the lives and well-being of returnees, aid agencies have repeatedly called on the Lebanese government not to deport refugees and to continue offering them sanctuary.

“Lebanon is obligated not to return or extradite anyone at risk of torture and is bound by the principle of non refoulement in customary international law, as a party to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment,” New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch said in a report in July.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has likewise reminded the Lebanese government of its duty “to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return.”


UAE to host global conference on falconry

UAE to host global conference on falconry
Updated 24 September 2022

UAE to host global conference on falconry

UAE to host global conference on falconry
  • Emirates Falconers Club organizes conference on role of local communities in heritage preservation
  • Event aims to bring together UAE-based experts, researchers and participants to promote sustainable use

ABU DHABI: Emirates Falconers Club hosts on Monday a global conference on the role of indigenous people and local communities in linking intangible cultural heritage and wildlife conservation.
Based on the theme, “Sustainability and Heritage . . . A Reborn Aspiration,” the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center welcomes 24 young falconers (aged 18 to 30), representing 24 countries, to participate in the conference between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, the Emirates News Agency reported.
Emirates Falconers Club is organizing the conference in cooperation with the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey (IAF), UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Chairman of the conference’s higher organizing committee, Majid Ali Al-Mansouri, and secretary-general of Emirates Falconers Club, said that the event aims to bring together UAE-based experts, researchers and participants to promote sustainable use, which plays a pivotal role in preserving the environment.
The seven-day conference will highlight IUCN’s role and establish a link with the UNESCO Commission on Intangible Cultural Heritage to make use of communities’ readiness to support heritage and environment preservation efforts.
Encouraging communications between falconers and indigenous people and local communities, and promoting falconry and correcting misinformation about it, will be among the conference’s main goals.
The event also aims to encourage cultural approaches to restore ecosystems through sustainable use, recognize the role of falconry as an important heritage in local and indigenous communities, as well as the leading role falconers can play in achieving heritage conservation and preservation goals.
The conference will outline the role of the IAF in promoting the legal practice of falconry and focus on conservation portals and student education projects through cooperation with schools, and the International Falconry Festival, highlighting the UAE’s commitment to preserving and promoting falconry around the world.