Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert

Demonstrators wave a giant Ukrainian national flag during a protest on Feb. 26, 2022, in front of the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Jack Guez / AFP)
Demonstrators wave a giant Ukrainian national flag during a protest on Feb. 26, 2022, in front of the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Jack Guez / AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 February 2022

Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert

Israeli leaders on ‘thin ice’ as they try to maintain neutrality in Russia-Ukraine crisis: Expert
  • ‘Israel has to balance its relations with world powers,’ Hussain Abdul-Hussain tells Arab News
  • Tel Aviv relies on Moscow for access to Syrian airspace, used to target Iranian militias

NEW YORK: Although Israel has rejected a US request to back a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it will likely vote in favor of the measure when it reaches the 193-member UN General Assembly, according to media reports quoting Foreign Ministry officials.

The US had issued an appeal when it sent out the draft: “Vote no, or abstain, if you do not support the (UN) charter and align yourselves with the aggressive and unprovoked actions of Russia. Just as Russia had a choice, so do you.”

Over 80 countries have accepted the US request to co-sponsor the resolution, which was tabled in tandem with temporary UNSC member Albania, and would have condemned Russia in “the strongest possible terms” and demanded the immediate withdrawal of its forces from Ukraine.  

Russia on Friday vetoed the measure with China, India and the UAE abstaining from the vote. The 11 remaining UNSC members voted in favor.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, has asked the UNGA president to organize an emergency session under the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution, which gives the General Assembly the power to call emergency meetings to discuss matters of international peace and security when the UNSC is unable to act due to a lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members: The US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

Although Israel generally follows the lead of the US at the UN, it has at times resisted doing so to avoid upsetting other allies.

Being the only Western democracy that maintains relatively warm relations with both Russia and Ukraine, Israel has so far avoided a stronger stance on Moscow.

Israel is tied to Ukraine on many levels, said Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based non-partisan organization focused on foreign policy and national security.

“First and foremost, 250,000 Jews are estimated to be living in Ukraine. The city of Uman in west Ukraine hosts the shrine of Reb Nachman of Bresolov, one of the founders of the Hassidic movement,” he told Arab News.

“Every year, tens of thousands of Hassidic Jewish pilgrims visit Ukraine’s Uman. President (Volodymyr) Zelensky himself is Jewish. All these ties mean relations between Ukraine and Israel are more than the average relations between two random countries.”

Abdul-Hussain said Israeli ties with Russia, on the other hand, grew after the US Democratic administrations began pivoting away from the Middle East, leaving their allies to “figure out how to manage their affairs.”

He added that with Moscow stepping in to fill the vacuum left by the absence of American leadership in the Syrian crisis, Israel was forced to coordinate with Russia “in order to guarantee that Iranian militias don’t strike root in southern Syria, from where they can threaten the Jewish state.

“Had America been calling the shots in Syria, like it did in Iraq in 1991 when Israel didn’t even respond to Saddam Hussein’s missiles, Israel wouldn’t have been coordinating with the Russians today in its strike on Iranian targets inside Syria.”

Abdul-Hussain added: “Israeli ties with Moscow are based on interests. When Russia felt that Israel issued a cautious statement on its invasion of Ukraine, Russian state media thrashed Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. That’s how tenuous Israeli-Russian relations are.”

The Israeli government on Thursday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid saying it is “a violation of the world order.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refrained from publicly condemning Russia, calling for stronger diplomacy and extending humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

Far from being incidental, any difference in statements between Lapid and Bennett “must have been totally planned and intentional,” said Abdul-Hussain.

“The popular Israeli sentiment is anti-Russian and its leaders understand this. However, Israel has to balance its relations with world powers, especially in the absence of America,” he added.

“They (Lapid and Bennett) are the leaders of a (governing) coalition that’s walking on thin ice, and they tend to coordinate big moves closely.”

If opposition to the Russian war keeps snowballing, Israel will go with the flow with the international community, Abdul-Hussain said.

But, he added, Israel will also make sure “to remain a step behind in order to maintain minimum required relations with Russia, especially over Syria.”


Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 

Lebanon bank siege gunman released 
  • Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein, the Lebanese man who was hailed a hero for taking hostages at gunpoint in a Beirut bank while demanding the release of his frozen funds to pay for his father’s medical treatment, has been released, according to TV news channel Al Arabiya. 

Lebanon’s Attorney General released the man after the bank dropped the lawsuit against him, Al Arabiya TV reported on Tuesday. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. 

Details on charges against him have yet to be released. (AFP)

The man – who held eight employees hostage inside the Federal Bank branch in the capital city – was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 11, after a seven-hour standoff, despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free. 

The 42-year-old surrendered after authorities told his family he would be given $35,000 of his money and would only be held for questioning. The Lebanese central bank had imposed a freeze on all deposits in 2019. 

According to media reports at the time, Al-Sheikh Hussein had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which he said he would use to set himself alight. 

Crowds gathered outside the bank on Thursday to show their support and applauded the man as authorities took him into custody. 
 


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
Updated 1 min 33 sec ago

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court
  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
Updated 5 min 1 sec ago

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued
  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
Updated 51 min 56 sec ago

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks

Egypt, Bahamas hold climate change talks
  • The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held a video conference call with the Bahamas’ Prime Minister Philip Davis on the occasion of the latter hosting a Caribbean meeting on climate change.

They discussed issues of common interest, including Egypt’s hosting of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference in November.

Shoukry discussed Egypt’s preparations for the conference, the most prominent topics on the agenda, and its desire to enhance international climate action.

Davis gave Shoukry the perspective of island nations on climate change and its consequences.

The Bahamas is among the nations forecast to be hit hardest by rising sea levels due to climate change.

Davis said 15 percent of his country’s gross domestic product is threatened by climate change, and 11 percent of Bahamians are threatened by rising sea levels, Reuters reported.


Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer
Updated 16 August 2022

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer

Israel urged to release French-Palestinian human rights lawyer
  • Human Rights Watch: ‘Through Salah Hamouri, Israeli authorities are escalating their all-out assault on Palestinian civil society’
  • ‘Hamouri’s plight embodies the struggle of Palestinian human rights defenders challenging Israel’s apartheid and persecution’

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has called on Israel to release 37-year-old French-Palestinian human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri and reinstate his residency status in his home city of Jerusalem.

Hamouri was arrested on March 7 at his home in East Jerusalem based on secret evidence, and has had no charges brought against him since, HRW said.

His residency was revoked on Oct. 17 last year on grounds of “breach(ing) allegiance” to Israel, and for his alleged association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was accused of “hostile, dangerous and significant activity against the state of Israel.”

HRW said under international law, occupying countries are forbidden from compelling occupied peoples to swear allegiance to them.

Hamouri worked for the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, which was banned by Israel in 2021 less than a week after his arrest, and branded “terrorist” by the authorities. He now faces possible deportation to France.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at HRW, said: “Israeli authorities have detained Salah Hamouri without trial or charges for months, outlawed the human rights group he works for, and revoked his legal status in Jerusalem.

“Hamouri’s plight embodies the struggle of Palestinian human rights defenders challenging Israel’s apartheid and persecution.”

The Israel Defense Forces initially detained Hamouri for three months from March 10 based on secret information about his alleged involvement with the PFLP, and extended the detention on June 6. It is set to expire on Sept. 5, but the detention order can be renewed.

An appeal against his imprisonment lodged by Hamouri was dismissed by an appellate military court on Aug. 4.

No evidence has ever been presented against him, and his incarceration is a violation of his right to freedom of association, HRW said.

In December last year, Hamouri had his health insurance terminated on grounds of having left the country, and because he could no longer prove his residency in East Jerusalem.

In July, Hamouri wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron about his case, which led to him being designated “high security” and transferred out of the Occupied Territories to Hadarim Prison in Israel — another breach of international law.

Addameer says he was shackled, frequently searched and placed in a holding cage while in transit in Ramleh Prison, Israel.

His parents said after his arrest, mobile phones and a laptop were confiscated from Hamouri. In November, Amnesty International confirmed reports by human rights groups that his phone, along with the phones of other Palestinian human rights campaigners, had been hacked using Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus software.

Israeli rights group HaMoked, which is representing Hamouri, said his deportation challenge will be heard in February 2023.

Israel deported his wife, French national Elsa Lefort, in 2016, banning her from returning for 10 years on security grounds.

This separated her from her husband and children, and has prevented her from visiting Hamouri in detention.

He was previously jailed between 2005 and 2011, including three years of pre-trial detention, by a military court in relation to a plot to assassinate the former chief rabbi of Israel — a case that former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said lacked evidence, and which HRW said fell short of acceptable standards of justice. Hamouri was also detained separately by Israel from August 2017 to September 2018.

The day before his arrest earlier this year, he was quoted in Jacobin magazine as saying: “These actions are directed toward one single aim: Forcing me to leave Palestine.”

In April, he filed a criminal complaint in France against NSO Group, and in May he filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against the Israeli government.

Israel held 671 Palestinians in administrative detention at the start of August, according to HaMoked.

HRW called on Israel to end the practice — saying it far exceeds any provision for detention by occupying forces set out in international law — and to stop its campaign against Hamouri.

Shakir said: “Through Salah Hamouri, Israeli authorities are escalating their all-out assault on Palestinian civil society and seeking to set a dangerous precedent that would allow them to more expeditiously force out Palestinians. French authorities should press Israel to stop harassing Hamouri.”