Yemen truce is step toward broader peace deal: UN envoy Grundberg

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg (C) at Sanaa Airport in the Yemeni capital on June 8. (AFP)
UN special envoy Hans Grundberg (C) at Sanaa Airport in the Yemeni capital on June 8. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2022

Yemen truce is step toward broader peace deal: UN envoy Grundberg

Yemen truce is step toward broader peace deal: UN envoy Grundberg
  • Yemeni conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine
  • Country has been gripped by conflict since the Iran-backed Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014

SANAA: A renewed two-month truce in war-torn Yemen that has given the population a sense of normalization is the first step toward a broader peace settlement, the United Nations special envoy said Friday.
The truce “has delivered some humanitarian respite to the population that is unprecedented in terms of the history of the conflict, and from that point of view, it also provides us with scope and breathing space for engaging on a political settlement,” Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg told AFP in an interview.
“The truce is the first step toward a broader settlement,” he said on the sidelines of the Yemen International Forum in Stockholm, a conference attended by Yemeni political actors, experts and representatives of a host of civil society organizations.
The Yemeni government and Houthi militia agreed earlier this month to extend the truce which went into effect in April and significantly reduced the intensity of fighting in a conflict the UN says has triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine.
The country has been gripped by conflict since the Iran-backed Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a military intervention in support of the beleaguered government the following year.
Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from Sanaa airport to Amman and Cairo and oil tankers have been able to dock in the lifeline port of Hodeida, which is in rebel hands, in an attempt to ease fuel shortages.
“The truce provides us with steps that normalize life in certain small areas for the Yemeni population, and that I think is both important, but also symbolic,” Grundberg said.
“The obvious wish that I have is that this normalization, not only on the airport but on all other issues that we’re engaging on, continues.”
A provision in the truce agreement for the rebels to ease their siege of Yemen’s third-biggest city Taiz has yet to be implemented, and the government has demanded roads to the city be opened.
“We have been engaging in direct negotiations for the last two weeks in Yemen on this issue,” Grundberg said.
He said there had been “steps forward” but provided no time frame for a possible resolution to the issue.
“We have seen both sides coming with proposals to us, wanting to see a solution on the matter,” but “we haven’t reached a solution on the matter yet.”
“Right now we have a proposal on the table that I do hope can deliver.”


Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
  • About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: Moroccan authorities said that five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.
About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence. It said five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.
Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.
Several migrants and police officers were slightly injured, said the spokesperson, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules.
People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.
Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.
Over two days at the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) barrier that surrounds Melilla and nearly 1,000 made it across, according to Spanish authorities.
Friday’s crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.
Morocco loosened its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was viewed as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.
Tensions between the two countries began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, where activists are seeking full independence.


Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Updated 24 June 2022

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
  • Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks

RAMALLAH: Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site which they claim has caused cracks and other damage to the building’s structure.

And Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the city’s Islamic Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs department, has warned that the mosque could be in danger of collapse if the digging continued at its current intensity.

The Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks which officials say has led to cracks appearing and stones being dislodged from walls and ceilings.

Al-Khatib said: “There are dangerous and unknown excavations, and no one knows what they are and what their goals are. We see the removal of large quantities of dust and hear the sounds of digging equipment and the breaking of stones.

“The vibrations led to the fall of several stones from the mosque’s ceilings in the southern prayer halls.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow specialized engineers and technicians from our department to find out what is going on and what is happening, and for a week we have been talking to the Israeli police about these excavations, which are taking place day and night, and they just ignore our request,” he added.

Al-Khatib noted that similar activities had taken place in the past but digging work had been stepped up in recent weeks.

He said: “We are concerned about the tunnels being dug that may lead to the collapse of the Al-Aqsa. So, we informed the Jordanian Royal Court, the Jordanian Ministry of the Islamic Awqaf, the Jordanian ambassador, and most importantly, we appealed to (Jordan’s) King Abdullah, custodian of the holy sites, to intervene in this issue.

“The Islamic Awqaf does not want friction but is deeply concerned about surprises for Al-Aqsa and stability in the region.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow us to repair the wall from which stones came off, and which might be in danger of collapsing, but they refused.

“Neither the Waqf, nor UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) knows what is happening. We are entrusted with Al-Aqsa and carrying out our mission. What is happening is a dangerous matter that worries and frightens us,” Al-Khatib added.

Technical sources in the Islamic Awqaf told Arab News that a committee of engineers and experts affiliated with the department had been set up to look into what was happening and report back to officials.


Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
Updated 24 June 2022

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
  • Palestinian people have the right ‘to establish their independent state,’ president says
  • ‘Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon,’ Ismail Haniyeh, head of group’s political bureau, says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Friday reaffirmed his country’s position on the Palestinian cause during a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the political bureau of Hamas.

Aoun expressed “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all their national territory, with Jerusalem as its capital,” and stressed Palestinian refugees’ right to return home.

“Palestinians’ resistance to occupation is not terrorism,” Aoun said, adding that “no one can imagine Jerusalem without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy sites,” and stressing the need “to preserve Jerusalem, where Christianity, Islam and Judaism meet.”

After the meeting, Haniyeh said: “The Israeli occupation does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem.

“Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon and condemns the Israeli enemy’s attempt to steal from Lebanon’s maritime resources.”

He added that he wished Lebanon “security, stability and more solidarity.”

Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon is his third in two years and coincided with World Refugee Day. On his first visit, he said: “Our missiles will be launched from our land (targeting Israel) and we will not involve Lebanon.”

Raafat Murra, a Hamas official, said Haniyeh’s visit to Beirut “highlights the need to resolve the crisis of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Haniyeh’s office said one of the aims of the trip was “addressing the reality of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon” as well as “consulting and cooperating with the Palestinian factions’ officials, in a way that serves the Palestinian cause.”

A Palestine Liberation Organization official in Lebanon, who chose to remain anonymous, told Arab News that “the PLO and Fatah are not involved with Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon. This visit is part of the special program between Hamas and Hezbollah.”

During his time in Lebanon, Haniyeh also visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah said that “Haniyeh and Nasrallah underlined the importance of cooperation between the Axis of Resistance to serve the central goal, which is concerned with Jerusalem, holy sites and the Palestinian cause.”

The PLO official said that Hezbollah was “trying to solve the problems between Hamas and the Syrian regime.”

Asked about a Hamas announcement that Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon was related to the Palestinian refugee camps, he said the refugees had their own authority — the PLO — and that Lebanon recognized the independent state of Palestine and deals with it to address all issues facing the camps.


Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
Updated 24 June 2022

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life
  • The ministry said both internal and external elements were involved in plans targeting the president
  • An attacker was arrested after injuring two police while targeting a security point outside a Tunis synagogue overnight

TUNIS: Tunisia’s interior ministry said on Friday it had information about serious threats to the life of the president and that it had foiled what it called a separate attack near a synagogue, adding to concerns over a mounting political crisis.
The ministry said both internal and external elements were involved in plans targeting the president. Spokesperson Fadhila Khelifi said in a news conference that “the goal was to undermine Tunisian public security.”
In what the ministry said was a separate incident, an attacker was arrested after injuring two police while targeting a security point outside a Tunis synagogue overnight, a security official said.
President Kais Saied’s opponents accuse him of a coup for seizing most powers last summer to rule by decree and preparing a new constitution that he plans to put to a referendum next month.
Opposition to Saied’s moves has broadened over recent months as nearly all major political parties as well as the powerful labor union have come out against his plans, holding street rallies against him.
However, while critics of the president say his moves have raised concerns over rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy, there has been no widespread crackdown on the opposition.
Saied says his moves are legal and were needed to save Tunisia from years of political paralysis and economic stagnation.
Tunisia has a small Jewish minority and hosts an annual pilgrimage to one of Africa’s oldest synagogues, on the island of Djerba. An Al-Qaeda attack there in 2002 killed 21 visitors.


Jordan’s King Abdullah II backs idea of ‘Middle East NATO’

Jordan’s King Abdullah II backs idea of ‘Middle East NATO’
Updated 24 June 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah II backs idea of ‘Middle East NATO’

Jordan’s King Abdullah II backs idea of ‘Middle East NATO’
  • Alliance could work as long as it has a clear mission statement, king says
  • Could help to address challenges arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Iran’s destabilizing activity in region

LONDON: King Abdullah II of Jordan said he supports the idea of a Middle East military alliance built on the same lines as NATO.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, the king said such a grouping could work with like-minded countries, but stressed its mission statement would need to be clear from the outset.

“I’d like to see more countries in the area come into that mix. I would be one of the first people that would endorse a Middle East NATO,” Abdullah said.

“The mission statement has to be very, very clear. Otherwise, it confuses everybody,” he added.

The king said he already saw his country as a “partner” of NATO, with Jordan having worked closely with the organization and its troops having fought “shoulder to shoulder” with NATO forces in the past.

As well as security and military cooperation, a closer alliance in the Middle East could help to address the challenges arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially with regard to energy and commodity prices, Abdullah said.

“All of us are coming together and saying ‘how can we help each other?’ which is, I think, very unusual for the region,” he said.

“If I’m okay and you’re not, I’m going to end up paying the price. I’m hoping what you’re seeing in 2022 is this new vibe, I guess, in the region to say, ‘how can we connect with each other and work with each other?’”

The king also discussed the destabilizing threat of Iran to the region’s security and the Israel-Palestine crisis, both of which he said had the potential to disrupt development plans in the region.

“If they’re not talking to each other, that creates insecurities and instability in the region that will affect regional projects.

“Nobody wants war, nobody wants conflict,” he said, adding that it remained to be seen whether countries in the region could work toward a vision where “prosperity is the name of the game.”