Netanyahu in poll lead as Israel heads for new election

Netanyahu in poll lead as Israel heads for new election
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by Likud party members as he attends a preliminary reading at the Israeli parliament of a bill to dissolve the parliament. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Netanyahu in poll lead as Israel heads for new election

Netanyahu in poll lead as Israel heads for new election
  • Knesset votes to dissolve itself after fragile coalition collapses, vote scheduled for late autumn

JEDDAH: Disgraced former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surged into an opinion poll lead on Wednesday as Israel moved closer to its fifth election in less than four years.

The Knesset voted unanimously to dissolve itself in preliminary legislation that will be finalized next week, after which Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will take over from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as head of an interim government.

A new election became inevitable when Bennett said his fragile eight-party coalition was no longer tenable.

The vote is likely to take place in late autumn, when Netanyahu aims to break his own record and win a sixth term in office.

Four new surveys had his right-wing Likud party and its nationalist and ultra-religious parties leading the polls, but still short of a governing majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Their political rivals have vowed to prevent a return to power by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.

The governing coalition is already pushing legislation that will bar a person under criminal indictment from heading a government, though it is unlikely that they have enough votes to enact it.

“Netanyahu knows that if Israel remains a liberal democracy he will not be able to cancel his trial,” Lapid said on Wednesday.

“Our mission is to ensure these people don’t take power, and not to let them crush Israel’s democracy.”

Netanyahu said his trial was a “leftist witch-hunt” and Muslim Arab members of the governing coalition were “supporters of terrorism.”


UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting
Updated 24 sec ago

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting
USA: The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the situation in Gaza, where a truce is holding between Islamic Jihad militants and Israel after three days of deadly conflict.
China, which holds the presidency of the Security Council in August, announced the emergency meeting on Saturday, with Ambassador Zhang Jun expressing his concern over Gaza’s worst fighting since an 11-day war last year.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called Monday for the council to place “full accountability” on Islamic Jihad, accusing the Iran-backed group of using Gazans as “human shields.
“There must be one outcome and one outcome only, to condemn the (Islamic Jihad) for its double war crimes while placing the full accountability ... for the murder of innocent Palestinians on the shoulder of the radical terror group,” he said at a press briefing.
“They fire rockets at Israeli civilians while using Gazans as human shields. This is a double war crime,” he said.
Israel had since Friday launched a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, leading the militants to fire over a thousand rockets in retaliation, according to the Israeli army.
An Egypt-brokered cease-fire reached late Sunday ended the intense fighting that killed 44 people, including 15 children, and wounded 360 in the enclave according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Both sides have reserved the right to respond if the cease-fire is violated.
The Security Council’s consultations will take place on Monday afternoon in New York. No statement is expected after the meeting, several diplomatic sources have said.

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners
Updated 59 min 26 sec ago

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners
  • Focuses on various aspects of Qatar’s history, heritage, attractions, and experiences

DOHA: Qatar Tourism has launched a new interactive online training program to improve its global travel t partners’ knowledge of the country’s diverse offerings, and provide them with accredited qualifications, Qatar News Agency reported. 

The Qatar Specialist Program is part of Qatar’s comprehensive plan to transform the country into a world-class tourist destination. 

The program uses cutting-edge digital learning technologies to provide partners with the knowledge and tools they need to effectively promote and sell Qatar internationally.

“The Qatar Specialist Program is another step towards supporting the global travel trade industry in working alongside Qatar Tourism to help drive significant growth in annual international visitor arrivals and welcoming six million visitors a year by 2030,” Qatar Tourism’s International Markets chief Philip Dickinson said. 

The program focuses on various aspects of Qatar’s tourism industry, including history, heritage, attractions, and experiences. 

International partners who complete the entire course will be eligible for exclusive benefits such as insider tips, itineraries, and the most up-to-date information on accommodations and attractions.


Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media
Updated 08 August 2022

Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media

Iran examining EU’s ‘final text’ at nuclear talks: state media
  • Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna

TEHRAN: Iran said Monday it is examining a “final text” presented by the European Union at the negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
“As soon as we received these ideas, we conveyed our initial response and considerations... but naturally, these items require a comprehensive review, and we will convey our additional views and considerations,” state news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
The comments came after a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the EU has tabled the “final” version of the text, negotiations are finished, “and it will not be renegotiated.”
Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna, months after they had stalled.
Iranian sources have suggested an International Atomic Energy Agency probe is a key sticking point in reviving the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
But the European official said: “That has nothing to do with” the JCPOA.
Iran on Sunday said the IAEA should “completely” resolve the issues related to questions over nuclear material at its undeclared sites.
The IAEA’s board of governors adopted a resolution in June, censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three previously undeclared sites.
The Iranian foreign ministry official added on Monday that, during the talks of the past few days, “we shared our positions with the other sides, and relative progress was made in some issues.”
He added that the negotiating team looks to “protecting the rights and interests of the Iranian nation” as well as “ensuring the benefits and guaranteeing the sustainable implementation of the other party’s obligations and preventing the repetition of US illegal behavior.”
The negotiations to revive the deal began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.


Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce
Updated 08 August 2022

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce
  • Jordan’s foreign minister added that the country has received ‘7,000 Yemenis since the start of the armistice’

DUBAI: Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi said on Monday that Amman is ‘committed to continuing its support for Yemen and enhancing its stability.’

Safadi, who spoke in a joint press conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, said Jordan supports the truce in Yemen and ‘roads to Taiz must be opened.’

“A comprehensive agreement must be reached in Yemen in accordance to the Gulf’s references and initiatives,” he said.

Jordan’s foreign minister added that the country has received ‘7,000 Yemenis since the start of the armistice.’

Also speaking at the conference, bin Mubarak accused the Iran-backed Houthis of not abiding by a key element in the UN-brokered truce to reopen roads to the besieged city of Taiz saying the group was “running away” from its commitments.

He said the Houthis ‘imposed’ the war on the country after the militia’s failed uprising, laying a siege on Taiz and its residents for seven years using ‘minefields’.

Bin Mubarak confirmed his government's support to expand the truce into a ‘comprehensive political agreement.’

He said all nations are ‘facing the Iranian project’, which chose Yemen as its station.

Meanwhile, Safadi condemned the recent attacks in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque during the meeting.

‘We are committed to the two-state solution,’ he said.

Bin Mubarak also announced an upcoming visit of Rashad Al-Alimi, the chairman of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, to Jordan.


As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts
Updated 23 min 7 sec ago

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts
  • Trucks passed from Israel through the Kerem Shalom goods crossing to southern Gaza

GAZA: With a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants holding after nearly three days of violence, Gaza’s sole power plant resumed operations Monday as Israel began reopening crossings into the territory.
Israel also lifted security restrictions on southern Israeli communities after the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late Sunday. Fighting abated, and war-weary people in Gaza and Israel were left picking up the pieces after another round of violence — the worst since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year.
Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummeled targets in Gaza while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were militants. Israel said some of the dead were killed by rockets misfired from Gaza. No Israelis were killed.
The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but was contained because Gaza’s ruling Hamas group stayed on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents that bolster Hamas’ control over the coastal strip.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory in 2007. Hamas had a strong incentive to avoid more conflict, which has exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
The outburst of violence in Gaza was a key test for Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who lacks experience leading military operations. He unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job — and may have gained political ground with it.
Israel began to reopen crossings into Gaza for humanitarian needs on Monday and said it would fully open them if calm is maintained. Fuel trucks were seen entering at the main cargo crossing headed for the power plant, which went offline Saturday after Israel closed the crossings into Gaza last week.
That added to misery at the height of summer heat in the territory, which is under a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and suffers from a chronic power crisis that leaves residents with only a few hours of electricity a day.
Life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis was disrupted during the violence. Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted many of the rockets launched at Israel and no significant injuries were reported.
Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, saying there were “concrete threats” of an anti-tank missile attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of another senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank. That arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank to round up suspects following a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israel.
It killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.
Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained strong, despite losing two of its leaders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.
Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow during the fierce offensive. Beyond losing the two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by firing hundreds of rockets.
Israel said some of the deaths in Gaza were caused by errant militant rocket fire, including in the Jebaliya refugee camp, where six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible for the Sunday attack, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by misfired rockets.
The cease-fire deal contained a promise that Egypt would work for the release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no guarantees this would happen. The weekend fighting was also bound to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relations with Hamas.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive was successful and had taken Islamic Jihad’s capabilities back “decades,” citing the loss of the two leaders and hits to the group’s rocket production and firing capabilities, among other blows. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation with the media.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire.
“Over these last 72-hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others throughout the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement Sunday.
In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in the city of Elad in May. The soldiers faced a violent protest during the operation, the military said.
The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Monday on the violence. China, which holds the council presidency this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.
“We underscore our commitment to do all we can toward ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following-up on the Palestinian prisoners file,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward Israel, with about 200 of them landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defenses had intercepted 380 of them, including two fired toward Jerusalem. The military did not specify what happened to the remainder, but they likely fell in open areas or broke up in the air.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.
Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.