Palestinians ‘victims of political divisions’; Gazans watch West Bank polls with confusion

Polls opened in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday in a rare democratic exercise following a decade and a half of delays to Palestinian elections. (AFP)
Polls opened in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday in a rare democratic exercise following a decade and a half of delays to Palestinian elections. (AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2022

Palestinians ‘victims of political divisions’; Gazans watch West Bank polls with confusion

Polls opened in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday in a rare democratic exercise following a decade and a half of delays to Palestinian elections. (AFP)
  • “Politics controls all the details of our lives; they don’t want our voice to appear, they don’t want us to say no, they look at us as sheep. We don’t have an opinion, they choose for us who rules us and controls us.” Al-Masarai told Arab News

GAZA: Hani Al-Masarai turned up the volume when the presenter on a local radio station in Gaza started talking about the municipal elections in the West Bank.

As a guest from Nablus was asked about the local elections, Al-Masarai, 32, who works as a barber, asked, “Why do we not have elections in Gaza?”

The second phase of local elections took place in the West Bank on Saturday, They included 50 cities and villages, including major cities, amid competition between the electoral lists affiliated with the Palestinian factions and independents, without the participation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Politics controls all the details of our lives, they don’t want our voice to appear, they don’t want us to say no, they look at us as sheep. We don’t have an opinion, they choose for us who rules us and controls us.” Al-Masarai told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• Divisions between Palestinian leaders have deprived the people of Gaza the right to vote for 16 years.

• Fatah and Hamas have more than once agreed to organize the elections, but each time they have been canceled for different reasons.

He has never taken part in any elections in Gaza — he has only watched elections on television when they take place in other parts of the world.

“The last elections in Gaza were in 2006, and at the time, I was about 16 years old and did not have the right to vote. I have waited for a long time for the day I can go to the elections, but unfortunately, this has not happened,” he said.

Fatah and Hamas have more than once agreed to organize the legislative and local elections, but each time they have been canceled for different reasons. Most recently the legislative elections were canceled last May — President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel prevented them from being held in Jerusalem.

Rawan Yunis, 44, is upset that she cannot exercise her right to vote — that Palestinians are exercising their right in the West Bank but not in Gaza.

“We are victims of division. No one looks at us as normal citizens. We have the right to choose who represents us. Each party holds the other party responsible, and in the end there are no elections,” she said.

Rawan has voted twice in elections, the first time in 2005 when Abbas was elected, and then in 2006 for the Legislative Council elections.

“I look at my children and wonder what their future will be without democracy. Democracy gives the citizen the power to influence public policies.”

Hamas has appointed municipal councils in the Gaza Strip every few years without elections since it took control in 2007.

Ahmed Al-Rabai, 73, is not interested in the local elections taking place in the West Bank. “This is an unnecessary political play.”

Sitting in his house with some of his neighbors, he said: “We don’t want elections, we want freedom for our children, we want a decent life. Elections are a game for politicians. Whoever has money and power wins the elections.

“We voted in the elections before that more than once. What happens is, every time an election takes place, the worst comes. Everyone we elected, whether from Hamas or Fatah, tightened their grip on the people, and made us poorer.”


Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
Updated 11 sec ago

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime
  • In 2011 Iranian operatives had similarly plotted to kill (then Saudi ambassador) Adel Al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.
  • Latest DoJ revelation of IRGC plot to target Bolton and Pompeo exposes Tehran’s long history of overseas terror

QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: For the past year, unbeknown to the citizens of Washington D.C., an assassin had allegedly been stalking the streets of the US capital searching for a prime target: A former high-ranking American official whose killing would shake the world and serve as a symbol of vengeance against the West.

This alleged plan was revealed to have been foiled when, on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice officially charged an Iranian citizen with plotting to kill John Bolton, a senior national security adviser under both the Bush and Trump administrations.

Shahram Poursafi was charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.

The FBi announcement of ‘wanted’ sharham Poursafi. (AFP)

According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Poursafi attempted to hire criminals in the US to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland for $300,000. On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi contacted a confidential source.

The FBI said that Poursafi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the US. He was acting on behalf of the Quds Force, an elite arm of the IRGC. Poursafi remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.


BIO

Name: Shahram Poursafi

Place of birth: Iran

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1976

Affiliation: Quds Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Criminal charges: Material support to terrorism, attempted murder-for-hire of high-ranking US official

Status: At large


Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, has strenuously denied that the Iranian government planned to assassinate Bolton, calling the accusations “baseless.” But the regime’s long history of targeting critics and dissidents abroad belies its protestation of innocence.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Tehran has carried out assassinations and attacks on Iranian dissidents and foreign officials worldwide. Which is why for Iranian affairs expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, the revelation of the most recent plot comes as no surprise.

“Iran has been following this strategy for decades,” Al-Sulami, founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh, told Arab News. “More than two dozen successful assassination operations have been carried out by the Iranian regime across the globe.”

Since 1979, individuals believed to be linked to the Iranian government have carried out attacks against dissidents and opposition figures in more than a dozen countries, including, France, the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Albania, Thailand, Denmark and Turkey. Individuals linked to the Iranian government have also hijacked aircraft and bombed government offices as well as military installations around the world.

“Worldwide threat assessments from the US intelligence community have for years warned that Iran is trying to develop networks inside the US for such operations,” Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News.

“These operations are shocking, but not surprising. There’s a long history dating back to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution,” he said, citing the assassination of Iranian exile and former press attache to the Iranian embassy in the US, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, in Maryland in 1980.

IRANIAN PLOTSIN NUMBERS

21 Targeted Iranian dissidents.

21 Directed at Western or Arab targets.

19 Aimed against Israelis or Jews.

Brodsky pointed out that in 2011, the US Justice Department charged two Iranian citizens, one of whom was a commander in the Quds Force, with planning a murder-for-hire targeting the then Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

FBI investigations revealed that money had been wired to Iranian US dual national Mansour Arbabsiar, one of the potential assassins, from a known Quds Force bank account, and that the fee for the assassination was $1.5 million.

The 2011 criminal complaint from the Justice Department said that “the Quds Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”

Eric Holder, US attorney general at the time, added: “The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives.”

Ultimately, the plot, which involved the hiring of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Al-Jubeir — now the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs — failed due to poor planning and the use of unskilled operatives. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used car salesman in Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013.

“Iran has, beyond any reasonable doubt, sponsored international terrorism,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“They do so through their agents and proxy army, creating chaos in the region and beyond. They are now a threat not only to the region, but to the US as well by attacking US missions and army bases.”

Such attacks blamed on Iran are not just limited to political figures. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist, was the target of a kidnapping plot in July of last year. Just last month, a man with a loaded AK-47 rifle was arrested outside her home in New York City.

Brodsky says that in the plot against Alinejad, instead of the elite international Quds Force, Iranian intelligence operatives were directly involved.

“Not just the IRGC Quds Force has attempted operations to harm American citizens on US soil. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has also undertaken those operations,” he said. “That shows that we have different parts of the Iranian system all trying to penetrate the US, and that’s definitely a cause for concern.”

Sources close to Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, told CNN that Bolton was not the only target of the most recent Iranian plot. Pompeo was reportedly one of two individuals whom Poursafi had sought to assassinate through a third party, with the price tag for Pompeo’s death being $1 million.

Iran’s plots against US officials and citizens have come in the wake of the Jan. 1, 2020, strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. After the incident, Iranian political and military officials vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death.

However, according to Al-Sulami, the regime completely failed in terms of taking revenge, denting its image among followers in the region and beyond.

“Soleimani is not a replaceable military commander in terms of managing the IRGC’s militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; he is a big loss for the management of Iran’s regional file,” Al-Sulami told Arab News, adding that Iran resorted to carrying out assassinations when its propaganda failed to convince Iranians and Iran-backed militias that it had avenged Soleimani’s death.

In January, two years after the killing of Soleimani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to exact vengeance on those responsible if then US President Donald Trump was not put on trial for ordering the strike.

Pompeo was serving as secretary of state at the time of Soleimani’s killing, and Bolton had pushed for both regime change in Iran and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Al-Shehri says the latest revelation begs the question of how US-Iranian relations will be affected, if at all. “Since Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and approved seizing the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the US has treated Iran as one of the most extreme, irrational and dangerous governments in the world,” he told Arab News.

After the attempt on Bolton and Pompeo’s lives, he asks, “will the US still allow Iran to continue its enrichment program? Will they allow Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities.”

With the uncovering of the alleged plot, political commentators took to social media to criticize the Biden’s administration’s approach to relations with Iran.

“Intent to murder a former senior US official is not enough to dissuade this administration from negotiating with Iran,” tweeted Simone Ledeen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

Reacting on Twitter, Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, said: “It is clear that the Iranian regime will spare no cost to kill (Mike Pompeo). The smoking gun that the Biden administration apparently requires to push back on Iran must not be a mass-casualty event with our former secretary of state at the center.”

Analysts caution that the perception of a lack of serious consequences may be behind Iran’s bold attempts to assassinate dissidents and enemies abroad. Brodsky says that for Iran, the potential rewards associated with assassinating a top US official far outweigh the risks, partially due to the lack of perceived consequences from the US.

“On the policy level toward the Iranian regime, the US is saying there will be severe consequences when there is an attack on US officials. What about an attempted attack? This was an attempted attack on a former US national security adviser and secretary of state. That’s explosive,” he said.

“So if there isn’t a consequence when there’s an attempted attack, it’s not going to break the cycle and change the Iranians’ calculation.”

Looking to the future, Al-Sulami said, “The Iranian political system will continue targeting other countries in the region and beyond, as well as officials from the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, unless the political and security negotiations, and engagements with Tehran, address this belligerent and terrorist behavior.

“If not, Iran will continue with its policy of assassinations targeting US and Arab officials.”

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Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

Hamas ‘wins with Israel but  loses with Palestinians’: Analysts
Updated 14 min 19 sec ago

Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

Hamas ‘wins with Israel but  loses with Palestinians’: Analysts
  • Group ‘showed self-restraint in recent Gaza clashes, avoided prolonged war’

AMMAN: Long after the dust of the latest attack on Gaza has settled, the Hamas movement — the predominant power in the Gaza Strip — has yet to overcome the political fallout of its refusal to join fellow Islamic Jihad in retaliation against Israel.

Leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told Arab News that Hamas failed to consider the arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin Bassam Saadi a national threat requiring a military response from the Gaza Strip.

“But it seems Hamas did see the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer Al-Jabari as a threat requiring a military response, but only a limited one. Yet even in response to the latter, Hamas held its guns while allowing Islamic Jihad to defend itself and bear the brunt of the Israeli war machine.”

Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “wise, but it might cost it some popular support.”

Comments by Palestinian political activists and social media were not as kind to the Hamas movement, which has often attacked other figures and groups for their silence.

They compared the passive Hamas position to how the Ramallah leadership has behaved in order to protect some of the benefits of governing.

Jamal Dajani, former communications director of the Palestinian Prime Ministry, told Arab News that Hamas understood that the new Israeli leadership initiated the attack on Gaza for political gain.

“Hamas did not bite the bait and showed self-restraint avoiding a prolonged war causing more death and destruction,” he said.

Shikaki believes that both Egypt and Israel will value Hamas’ behavior and will reward the movement by providing greater economic facilities, allowing it to consolidate control over the Gaza Strip.

“Israel will hope that this will provide Hamas with the means to exert greater leverage over Islamic Jihad and ensure a long-term quietness,” said Shikaki.

BACKGROUND

Khalil Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, said that Hamas’ decision was wise, but it might cost it some popular support.

“Ultimately, those in Israel who call for direct Israel-Hamas dialogue, particularly with the Israeli security sector, will gain more points and use this episode to prove that Hamas is not bound by ideology alone and that it is a pragmatic organization with whom Israel can make long-term deals.

“Internally, however, Islamic Jihad-Hamas relations might become tense. Hamas-Palestinian Authority relations might also worsen, as greater Hamas control over Gaza might create conditions in which the Ramallah leadership loses any prospects for a return to control the strip any time soon,” said Shikaki.

Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow with the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that Hamas was always interested in showing itself to be the “real” resistance to Israeli occupation when the Fatah-led Palestinian government was standing by in escalations of violence, such as during May 2021.

“The latest bombardment by Israel in Gaza forced Hamas to stay on the sidelines not wanting to cause economic fallout that would invariably result in access restrictions.

“But if Hamas’ popularity has been based on it being the real resistance, particularly when Al-Aqsa is involved, keeping quiet during the march of hundreds of Israeli right-wing activists on the Haram Al-Sharif for the ‘temple’ destruction commemoration was not a good look for the organization.”

But Samar Muhareb, an Amman-based civil society activist and a close watcher of the Palestinian issue, took a different view.

Muhareb, executive director of the Amman-based Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, said that what was important was to look at the gains of the resistance by Islamic Jihad.

She told Arab News that the cycle of violence in Gaza had been frustrating.

“Despite all the disappointments and losses, the resistance in Gaza came out with tangible accomplishments on the ground that will lead to change if Israel continues in its madness within the fragile ceasefire.”

By looking at the economic benefits, Ofer Salzberg, Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “more economic than ideological.”

He added: “Hamas choosing to stay out of the fighting provided a tailwind to the dominant recommendation of Israel’s defense officialdom: To strengthen the Gazan economy despite Hamas’ rule in order to defer wars.”


US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa
Updated 12 August 2022

US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa
  • Tim Lenderking’s regional tour is part of the intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster the peace process
  • He is also expected to rally support and funding for UN efforts to tackle the threat posed by the derelict Safer oil tanker, amid fears of an ecological disaster in the Red Sea

LONDON: The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began a tour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman on Aug. 11, and members of his team have traveled to Jordan, as part of intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster peace efforts.

“The special envoy and his team will focus on helping to meaningfully expand benefits of the truce to all Yemenis and pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and an inclusive, durable Yemeni-led resolution to the conflict,” the State Department said.

Lenderking will also discuss recent instability in Shabwa and the need for a return to calm after fighting intensified in the oil-rich, eastern province, and highlight the need for additional financial assistance for the Yemeni people.

“The United States has already provided over $1 billion in humanitarian aid this year alone, bringing our total contribution to the humanitarian response in Yemen to nearly $5 billion since the crisis began eight years ago,” the State Department said.

“We urge donors both to give generously and to make previous pledges immediately available for the sake of the people of Yemen.”

The head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, on Wednesday announced moves designed to quickly end sedition in Shabwa and hold to account those responsible.

He added that “the strife that occurred in Shabwa confirms the importance of rallying around the state,” according to a report by the official Yemeni news agency, Saba.

Lenderking is also expected to continue to rally support for UN efforts to raise awareness of the threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, and funding to address it. The vessel, which is moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, holds more than 1.1 million barrels of oil and has had little or no maintenance carried out since the civil war began in late 2014. As a result, its condition has deteriorated to the point where there are fears of a major ecological disaster.

“With about $14 million unfunded and a UN-Houthi agreement to offload the oil to a temporary vessel, we are the closest we have ever been to addressing the threat posed by this derelict tanker,” Lenderking said.

“An oil spill would exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, cause severe environmental damage, and impact global shipping and other economic activity.”

Meanwhile, the EU said it is very concerned about the recent violence in Shabwa and the reported loss of lives.

“The EU welcomes the efforts of President Rashad Al-Alimi and the PLC to deescalate the situation (in) Yemen,” it said.


UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability
Updated 12 August 2022

UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability
  • High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said a ‘climate of impunity’ is driving endless cycles of violence
  • So far this year 37 Palestinian children have been killed, including 19 during the intense fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad last weekend

NEW YORK: The UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, on Thursday expressed alarm at the “unconscionable” number of Palestinian children who have been killed or injured this year, and called for all incidents to be thoroughly investigated.

The figures soared last weekend during intense fighting between Israeli authorities and the Islamic Jihad group, and subsequent Israeli enforcement operations in the West Bank.

In the past week alone, 19 Palestinian children were killed in the Occupied Territories, raising the death toll since the start of the year to 37.

“Inflicting hurt on any child during the course of conflict is deeply disturbing, and the killing and maiming of so many children this year is unconscionable,” said Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.

A number of Israeli military strikes hit “prima facie civilian objects,” she added, resulting in deaths and damage to infrastructure.

“International humanitarian law is clear,” she said. “Launching an attack which may be expected to incidentally kill or injure civilians, or damage civilian objects, in disproportionate manner to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited. Such attacks must stop.”

Bachelet also highlighted the violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups who “launched hundreds of rockets and mortars in indiscriminate attacks, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects in Israel as well as in Gaza.”

According to Israeli authorities, 70 Israelis were injured during the fighting.

While the ceasefire that halted the latest violent escalation in Gaza is holding, tensions remain extremely high in the West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed and 90 injured on Aug. 9 by shots fired by Israeli forces.

Among the fatalities was a 16-year-old boy shot by Israeli soldiers during an arrest raid in Nablus, which also left 76 people injured. Another 16-year-old boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron after some Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks at them.

“The widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli forces in law enforcement operations across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2022 has led to an alarming increase in Palestinian fatalities,” Bachelet said.

So far this year, 74 Palestinians have been killed, many as a result of the use of lethal force by Israeli authorities in a manner described by the UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Territories as a violation of international human rights law.

Bachelet called for “prompt, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations” into all incidents in which any person is killed or injured.

“An almost total lack of accountability persists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, whether for violations of international humanitarian law by all parties in hostilities in Gaza, or for recurring Israeli violations of international human rights law and the law of occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including incidents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force,” she said.

“This climate of impunity, along with the long-standing violations, drives the cycle of violence and the recurrence of violations.

“The situation in Palestine is extremely fragile. The utmost restraint is necessary to prevent further bloodshed, including by ensuring that firearms are used strictly in compliance with international standards.”


Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, US says

Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, US says
Updated 12 August 2022

Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, US says

Russian officials trained in Iran as part of drone deal, US says

WASHINGTON: Russian officials trained in Iran in recent weeks as part of an agreement on the transfer of drones between the two countries, the US State Department said on Thursday.
US officials said last month that Washington had information that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones, including some that are weapons capable, and that Russian officials had visited Iran to view attack-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The claim raised concerns that Iran, which has supplied drones to its allies in the Middle East, was now giving support to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Iran’s foreign minister at the time denied the claim, including in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.
US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a phone briefing on Thursday that Russian officials had conducted training on drones in Iran “in the last several weeks.”
The United States would “vigorously enforce” its sanctions on both Russian and Iranian weapons trading, he said. The transfers of drones between the two countries was “potentially sanctionable under numerous authorities,” Patel said.
“We remain incredibly concerned about Iran’s use and proliferation of UAVs. They have been used to attack US forces, our partners in the region, and international shipping entities,” Patel said.