Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest
Loss of grain production comes as the North African country struggles with food importation costs driven higher by the war in Ukraine. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 June 2022

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest

Heatwave and fires damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest
  • Some farmers are harvesting grain early for fear of losing all their 2022 production to fires

TUNIS: A heatwave and fires are badly damaging Tunisia’s grain harvest, leading the farmers union to forecast that output will fall well short of government hopes.

Loss of grain production comes as the North African country struggles with food importation costs driven higher by the war in Ukraine.

Agriculture Minister Mhamoud Elyess Hamza this month forecast the 2022 grain harvest would reach 1.8 million tons, up 10 percent on last year’s.

But farmers union official Mohamed Rejaibia, pointing to fires that began raging over much of the country last month, said that was no longer possible.

“The grain harvest will not be more than 1.4 million tons,” said Rejaibia, a member of the union’s executive office. “Some of it will be lost to fires and some perhaps during collection.”

The union and experts say the crop also is suffering direct damage from high temperatures, which have already reached 47 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) this summer and are forecast to go as high as 49 Celsius. Moreover, the heatwave could hinder agricultural workers in collecting the harvest.

Tunisia has been counting on a big crop to reduce grain imports amid a national financial crisis that is exacerbated by the war. Higher prices of imported food and energy will cost the budget $1.7 billion this year, says the government, which subsidises such supplies.

The country has aimed for self-sufficiency this year in production of durum wheat, the main grain that it produces.

Some farmers are harvesting grain early, accepting smaller crops for fear of losing all their 2022 production to fires.

“Usually we begin the harvest season in July, but this year we started on June 18,” said farmer Abderraouf Arfaoui in Krib, a northern town. “We are afraid of fires. We must watch our land day and night.”

“We must harvest without waiting, even if that reduces the quantity and quality of the wheat, and when we finish the harvest we must watch our haystacks, too.”

President Kais Saied said this month that the grain crop this year would be a target for criminal gangs, which particularly planned to steal product of good quality.

Protecting the crop was a matter of national security, he said.


Turkiye’s Erdogan signals Finland’s NATO bid may be considered over Sweden

Turkiye’s Erdogan signals Finland’s NATO bid may be considered over Sweden
Updated 10 sec ago

Turkiye’s Erdogan signals Finland’s NATO bid may be considered over Sweden

Turkiye’s Erdogan signals Finland’s NATO bid may be considered over Sweden
ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Sunday that Ankara may agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm.
“We may deliver Finland a different message (on their NATO application) and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did,” Erdogan said in a televised speech aired on Sunday.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and need all member countries’ approval to join. Turkiye and Hungary are yet to ratify the Nordic countries’ membership.
Turkiye says Sweden, in particular, harbors what Ankara says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
“We gave Sweden a list of 120 persons and told them to extradite those terrorists in their country. If you don’t extradite them, then sorry about that,” Erdogan said, referring to Turkiye’s agreement with Sweden and Finland last June over their NATO application.
Turkiye suspended NATO talks with Sweden and Finland last week after a protest in Stockholm in which a far-right politician burned a copy of the Qur’an.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country wanted to restore NATO dialogue with Turkiye, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday it was meaningless to restart talks.
Cavusoglu also said there was “no offer to evaluate Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership separately.”

Israeli retaliation amounts to collective punishment illegal under international law, rights groups say

Israeli retaliation amounts to collective punishment illegal under international law, rights groups say
Updated 1 min 34 sec ago

Israeli retaliation amounts to collective punishment illegal under international law, rights groups say

Israeli retaliation amounts to collective punishment illegal under international law, rights groups say
  • Settlers continue assaults in West Bank under watch of occupation forces, burning houses and cars 
  • 24-year-old Palestinian injured in Jenin on Thursday dies 

RAMALLAH: Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations have criticized punitive measures taken by the Israeli government against Palestinians as fears grow of escalation after the deadliest unrest for years in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Multiple Palestinians have been arrested after seven people were killed and five others wounded in two separate shootings in Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday.

Various groups said the Israeli action amounted to collective punishment and is illegal under international law.

The Palestinian Authority also condemned Israel’s actions, calling it collective punishment.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the arrests a gross violation of international law and the Geneva Convention, adding that the collective punishment as an extension of the occupation policy aimed at removing the Palestinian presence from Jerusalem.

Shawan Jabarin, director of Al-Haq Palestinian Human Rights organization, told Arab News: “These collective punishments are war crimes that the Israeli government takes against the Palestinians, as it punishes people who have nothing to do with those who carry out attacks against the Israeli occupiers.
 
“The one who carried out the attack was killed, so why should his family be punished? And why, if a Palestinian act against the Israelis, (will) the entire society will be punished,” he added.
 
Taysir Khaled, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, held the Israeli government fully responsible for the deterioration of conditions and massacres perpetrated by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories.
 
He added that the decision of the Israeli Cabinet to distribute more weapons to settlers in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, and to call on the occupation police to take up arms, constituted a green light for Jewish terrorist organizations — which take settlements and outposts as safe havens under the protection of the occupation army — to commit more crimes.

Jessica Montel, director of the Israeli HaMoked human rights organization, said that members of Israel’s Cabinet were threatening a range of measures, all of which constituted collective punishment against innocent people solely because they are related to the man who perpetrated the deadly attack on Friday night.

Israel’s new government is actively working to undermine jurists’ authority and the judiciary's independence, Montel told Arab News, further eroding the possibility of defending Palestinians’ human rights. 

In what is believed to be an act of revenge for the recent attacks in Jerusalem, Israeli settlers assaulted Palestinians and their properties on Saturday evening across the occupied territories, official Palestinian sources confirmed on Sunday.

The settlers launched attacks against dozens of Palestinian targets from the north to the south of the West Bank, which resulted in burning a house in the village of Turmusaya, northeast of Ramallah, in addition to nine vehicles, as well cutting down trees, smashing cars, wounding civilians with stones, and spraying them with pepper gas.

Villagers in Turmusaya reported that several settlers closed a street in the town and set fire to a car, which then spread to the nearby house.

Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors settler activity for the Palestinian authorities, said 144 reports of attacks by settlers were recorded from 6 p.m. on Jan. 28 to 2:30 a.m on Jan. 29 across the West Bank.
 
Daghlas said Israeli settlers destroyed 120 vehicles, burned six cars in Majdal Bani Fadel, and attacked 22 shops in Hawara, as well as several roads and junctions in the West Bank.
 
He said that what distinguished these attacks from previous attacks was the large number of settlers engaged in them, with some attacking groups consisting of up to 60 people.
 
Daghlas said the violence on Saturday was characterized by its ferocity, and in one incident, a Palestinian car was set on fire with the owner inside it.
 
He claimed that the Israel Defense Forces were present near some of the attacks but did not prevent them.
  
Younes Arar, head of the International Relations Unit of the Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission of the PA, told Arab News that the pace of settler attacks increased this week after the right-wing Israeli government came to power at the end of December.
 
According to Moataz Bisharat, the official in charge of settlement affairs in Tubas, a group of settlers closed the Ain Al-Hilweh junction and attacked vehicles with stones.
 
Settlers also destroyed vegetable stands near the entrance to the villages of Ein Al-Bayda and Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley.
 
The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health also announced the death of 24-year-old Omar Al-Saadi on Sunday after he was shot by the IDF last Thursday in Jenin.
 
Nine citizens, including an elderly woman, were killed last Thursday by IDF fire in Jenin. More than 20 civilians were injured, three of whom were left in serious condition.


Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iranian factory: US official

Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iranian factory: US official
Updated 10 min 21 sec ago

Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iranian factory: US official

Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iranian factory: US official
  • The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear activity and its supply of arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine

DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Israel appears to have been behind an overnight drone attack on a military factory in Iran, a US official said on Sunday.
Iran claimed to have intercepted drones that struck a military industry target near the central city of Isfahan, and said there were no casualties or serious damage.
The extent of damage could not be independently ascertained. Iranian state media released footage showing a flash in the sky and emergency vehicles at the scene.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military declined to comment. Arch-foe Israel has long said it is willing to strike Iranian targets if diplomacy fails to curb Tehran’s nuclear or missile programs, but it has a policy of withholding comment on specific incidents.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said no US military forces were involved in strikes in Iran, but declined to comment further.
That US officials were pointing to an Israeli role in the attack was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources. One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters it did appear that Israel was involved. Several other US officials declined to comment, beyond saying that Washington played no role.
Tehran did not formally ascribe blame for what Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called a “cowardly” attack aimed at creating “insecurity” in Iran. But state TV broadcast comments by a lawmaker, Hossein Mirzaie, saying there was “strong speculation” Israel was behind it.
The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear activity and its supply of arms — including long-range “suicide drones” — for Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as months of anti-government demonstrations at home.
The extent of the damage could not be independently confirmed. Iran’s Defense Ministry said the explosion caused only minor damage and no casualties.
“Such actions will not impact our experts’ determination to progress in our peaceful nuclear work,” Amirabdollahian told reporters in televised remarks.
An Israeli strike on Iran would be the first under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he returned to office last month at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israeli history.
In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky linked the incident directly to the war there.
“Explosive night in Iran,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. “Did warn you.”
Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says they were sent before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Moscow denies its forces use Iranian drones in Ukraine, although many have been shot down and recovered there.
“Minor damage”
“Around 23:30 (2000 GMT) on Saturday night, an unsuccessful attack was carried out using micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) on one of the ministry’s workshop sites,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement carried by state TV.
It said one drone was shot down “and the other two were caught in defense traps and blew up. It caused only minor damage to the roof of a workshop building. There were no casualties.”
A military official in the region said given the location of the strike in central Iran and the size of the drones, it was likely that the attack was staged from within Iran’s borders.
Separately, IRNA reported early on Sunday a massive fire at a motor oil factory in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It later said oil leakage caused that blaze, citing a local official.
Iran has accused Israel in the past of planning attacks using agents inside Iranian territory. In July, Tehran said it had arrested a sabotage team made up of Kurdish militants working for Israel who planned to blow up a “sensitive” defense industry center in Isfahan.
Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which Iran accuses Israel of sabotaging in 2021. There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial sites in recent years.
Talks between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal have stalled since September. Under the pact, abandoned by Washington in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, Tehran agreed to limit nuclear work in return for easing of sanctions.
Iran’s clerical rulers have also faced internal turmoil in recent months, with a crackdown on widespread anti-establishment demonstrations spurred by the death in custody of a woman held for allegedly violating its strict Islamic dress code.


Blinken makes Middle East trip amid rising Israel-Palestine violence

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (AP)
Updated 46 min 44 sec ago

Blinken makes Middle East trip amid rising Israel-Palestine violence

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (AP)
  • Blinken will repeat US calls for calm and emphasize Washington’s support for a two-state solution
  • On Sunday, Blinken met with Egyptian youth leaders at the American University in Cairo

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Egypt on Sunday at the start of a three-day visit to the Middle East as violence flares between Israelis and Palestinians, and with Iran and Ukraine high on the agenda.
Blinken heads on Monday to Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government has stirred concern at home and abroad over the future of Israel’s secular values, fraying relations with the Arab population and deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people in an attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday, the worst attack on Israelis in the Jerusalem area since 2008. On Thursday, Israeli forces killed seven gunmen and two civilians in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, the deadliest raid there in years.
In talks with the new Israeli administration, which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand West Bank settlements, Blinken will repeat US calls for calm and emphasize Washington’s support for a two-state solution, although US officials admit peace talks are not likely soon.
Blinken will also travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu’s government has proposed a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary that would strengthen political control over the appointment of judges while weakening the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn laws or strike down government action.
Demonstrations
The proposals have triggered big demonstrations against what protesters see as the undermining of judicial independence.
“It’s clearly a measure of the vibrancy of the democracy that this has been contested so clearly up and down across segments of Israeli society,” said Barbara Leaf, the top State Department official for the Middle East, briefing reporters ahead of the trip. Blinken will hear from people inside and outside of government on the reforms, she added.
Leaf said the visit would also build on earlier efforts to restore relations between Israel and Arab nations through the Negev Forum, which takes in areas such as economic cooperation and tourism, but does not include the Palestinians.
Russia’s 11-month-old war in Ukraine will also be on the agenda. Ukraine, which has received great quantities of military equipment from the United States and Europe, has pressed Israel in vain to provide systems to shoot down drones, including those supplied by Israel’s regional adversary Iran.
While it has condemned the Russian invasion, Israel has limited its assistance to humanitarian aid and protective gear, citing a desire for continued cooperation with Moscow over Syria and to ensure the wellbeing of Russia’s Jews.
The diplomats will also discuss US efforts to revive the stalled 2015 deal between big powers and Iran, opposed by Israel, that lifted international sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
On Sunday, Blinken met with Egyptian youth leaders at the American University in Cairo, and told reporters he wanted to strengthen Washington’s “strategic partnership” with Egypt.
Blinken will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday, and discuss issues such as Sudan’s stuttering transition to democracy and elections in Libya, the State Department said.


Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement
Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.