Ukraine, Iran deal, post-pandemic woes focus of Middle East summits

Special Ukraine, Iran deal, post-pandemic woes focus of Middle East summits
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi (L to R), meeting in Jordan's Red Sea resort of Aqabah on March 25, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2022

Ukraine, Iran deal, post-pandemic woes focus of Middle East summits

Ukraine, Iran deal, post-pandemic woes focus of Middle East summits
  • Blinken travels to the Middle East and North Africa next week as the administration of US President Joe Biden tries to keep allies and partners united in opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine

AMMAN: The Ukraine-Russia conflict, the possibility of an Iran deal in Vienna, and post-pandemic economic worries appear to be the discussion topics for several regional summits.

One is a four-way Iraqi, UAE, Egyptian, and Jordanian summit in Aqaba. Another is a foreign ministerial meeting in Israel with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and there is a three-way summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh to be attended by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Blinken travels to the Middle East and North Africa next week as the administration of US President Joe Biden tries to keep allies and partners united in opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, said the meetings were more about coordination and consultation than producing an agreement or signing a new covenant.

“I think all these parties realize that we are approaching a critical stage due to the Ukrainian-Russia conflict as well as the possibility of a nuclear deal in Vienna,” he told Arab News.

Rantawi said that while all the parties who were meeting were strong US allies, they were unwilling to go as far as the US wanted them to go on the Ukraine war.

The political strategist believed the parties “want to consult and coordinate positions rather than reach a specific agreement.”

Jamil Nimri, a member of the Jordanian Senate and a leading figure in the efforts to create ruling political parties in the country, agreed that Iran and Ukraine were the two key elements during the current high-level consultations.

“What we are seeing is a political movement that is not in the traditional way,” he told Arab News.

The high-level meetings might also be connected to post-pandemic economic difficulties and the fear of disruption in food and energy costs.

Nimri said Egypt was facing economic problems, and that the conflict in Ukraine threatened to affect the supply of wheat from both Russia and Ukraine as well as a sharp rise in energy costs for oil-consuming countries.

Rantawi said food and energy were becoming “part of national security” for many Arab countries, and that the region was on edge and could blow up from a spark from one place or another.

“It is unusual that with all the problems of Ukraine both the US secretary of state and King Abdullah have decided to visit Ramallah,” he said, adding the concern was about reverberations spreading to many countries if things blew up at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“We rarely see the king go to Ramallah or a senior US official visit the occupied Palestinian areas. They all know that the spark from Al-Aqsa could have a domino effect on the region that brings back memories of the Arab Spring.”

The various high-level meetings appear to have a strong Gulf influence, with the UAE leadership present in almost every meeting, reflecting concern about the Iran agreement and the effects of the polarization coming out of Ukraine.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
Updated 18 August 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
  • Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb
  • Palestine Red Crescent: Four Palestinians were shot and one of them was killed

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian in predawn clashes in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday, Palestinian medics said. The Israeli army said he was armed and shooting at soldiers, something the Palestinians denied.
Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine that has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Four Palestinians were shot and one of them, an 18-year-old, was killed, the Palestine Red Crescent said. At least 30 Palestinians were wounded in all.
Later in the day, in a separate development, Israeli security forces raided seven non-governmental organizations in the West Bank, confiscating computers and equipment before sealing off the entrances, Palestinian witnesses and officials said.
This followed a decision by Israel to designate the groups as terrorist organizations, accusing them of funneling donor aid to Palestinian militants, a move that has drawn criticism from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs. The designation was ratified on Wednesday.
Nine European Union states have said they would continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusation.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated Israel’s position that the organizations had operated undercover to serve the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks on Israelis and is on US and EU terrorism blacklists.
“They also assist in raising funds for the terrorist organization via a variety of methods that include forgery and fraud,” Gantz said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, said on Twitter that the “storming of civil work institutions ... is a dangerous escalation and is an attempt to silence the voice of truth and justice.”
“We will appeal to all official international bodies and human rights institutions to intervene immediately to condemn this occupier behavior and place pressure on them to reopen the institutions and to be able to exercise their activities freely,” Sheikh said.


Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. (Social Media)
Updated 18 August 2022

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
  • The video expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested for refusing to wear a headscarf

A video posted online by a group of Iranian female activists supporting a woman, who was arrested for violating Iran’s mandatory hijab rule, has gone viral days after she was seen confessing to the crime allegedly under duress, Radio Farda reported on Wednesday. 

Prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad shared a video online on Aug. 16, in which she and other female activists recited a poem entitled ‘The Confession’ by an anonymous poet. 

 

The poem expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested on June 15 after a video of her arguing with another woman over her refusal to wear a headscarf was posted online. 

Mooniter, the pseudonym of one of the female activists who participated in the video to support Rashno, said the poem was aimed at “raising the voices of women like Sepideh” and “women and people who have been taken hostage in Iran,” according to Radio Farda. 

Rashno was riding a bus in Tehran without a hijab when a stranger took a video of her and threatened to send it to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Radio Farda reported.  

A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. Iranian state television then aired a clip of Rashno’s “confession” on July 30 where she appeared to be in a poor physical state, the report added.

The 28-year-old had allegedly been beaten prior to appearing on TV and was later hospitalized immediately after confessing to breaking the hijab law, according to reports.


Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results
Updated 18 August 2022

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

DUBAI:  Jordan’s Public Security Directorate (PSD) warned individuals against firing guns indiscriminately in celebration of exam results, state news agency Petra has reported.

The celebratory practice of discharging firearms, so-called ‘festive gunfire,’ is a persistent problem in Jordan and has led to serious injury and even fatalities as gravity causes the bullets fired in the air to descend at the same speed, hitting unsuspecting bystanders.

King Abdullah even described the tribal tradition as a “clear violation of the law and an act against the health and safety of society” in his Twitter account.

Estimates show that from 2013 to 2018, between 1,500 and 1,869 people were killed by stray bullets fired in celebration, while the injury rate was far higher.

Authorities have pledged “stricter control over celebratory gunfire and stated that anyone engaging in such conduct will be arrested,” state news agency Petra reported.

Warnings have also been issued against those engaging in serious traffic violations such as unlawful motorcades, hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and reckless driving to celebrate the release of the Tawjihi results.

Tawjihi is the country’s general secondary national examination for all students who plan to continue studying for their undergraduate and graduate degrees in Jordan. Students who pass are awarded the Tawjihi – Jordanian General Secondary School Certificate.

It’s when the exam results are issued that young people celebrate by driving with people leaning out of the windows and people firing guns.

In response the US embassy in Jordan has issued a safety alert highlighting these practices.

“As part of the celebrations expect congested traffic, more aggressive drivers, and celebratory gunfire. The results of the Tawjihi exams are often published with little or no warning.  Last year the results were published in the early morning,” its alert noted.

“US government personnel are advised to exercise caution and to take cover and move away from the area if they observe gunfire,” it added.

The diplomatic post also issued reminders to avoid public gatherings and festivities, increase awareness, review personal security protocols, or contact police authorities in face of immediate danger or threats.


Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison
Updated 18 August 2022

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison

Iranian activists planning to sue govt over COVID-19 response sentenced to prison
  • Iran has had the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 7,488,493 confirmed cases and 143,093 deaths so far, according to data from John Hopkins University

Several Iranian activists who had plans to sue government officials for its poor handling of the COVID-19 outbreak have been jailed, an appeals court in Iran’s capital city has confirmed. 

Known as “health defenders,” the activists were seeking to file legal charges against the government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines’ rollout, Radio Farda reported on Wednesday. 

Iran has had the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 7,488,493 confirmed cases and 143,093 deaths so far, according to data from John Hopkins University. 

Many Iranians also saw Khamenei’s ban on the import of vaccines from the US and Britain as a solely political move that led to thousands of preventable deaths, Radio Farda said. 

Security officers arrested five people in August 2021 for refusing to sign a letter pledging they would not sue Khamenei or other officials over the COVID-19 response, Radio Farda reported. 

Activist Mostafa Nili said the court had confirmed sentences against him and other activists before the group could file a suit against the government. 

The report added that Mehdi Mahmudian was jailed for four years and sentenced to two years of deprivation of media activity, while Arash KEykhosro was facing a jail term of two years and a one-year ban from advocacy and media activities. 

Mohammed Reza Faghihi was sentenced to six-months in prison and Maryam Afrafaraz was given a 995-day jail term. 

During a closed trial, the group was convicted of “colluding to commit crimes against national security,” Radio Farda said.


Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections
Updated 18 August 2022

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections

Kuwait approves measures to ensure transparent elections
  • Cabinet approved adding new precincts to four voting constituencies
  • Resolutions will be forwarded to Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for approval

Voters can use their national IDs to cast their ballot in Kuwait’s upcoming parliamentary elections, state news agency (KUNA) reported.  

The resolution was among new law-decrees of necessity adopted during a cabinet meeting that was held at Seif Palace on Wednesday.

Kuwait’s cabinet approved adding new precincts to four voting constituencies “based on geographic proximity and governorate affiliation,” said Minister of Justice and Minister of State for Integrity Enhancement Jamal Al-Jallawi in a statement to KUNA.

“The new measures aim to ensure transparent and legal elections that truly represent the will of the voters,” said Al-Jallawi.

Earlier this month, Kuwait had formally dissolved the parliament, with the Crown Prince Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah calling for early elections.

The cabinet’s recent resolutions will be forwarded to Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah for approval, KUNA said.