CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received a phone call from his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades to discuss regional issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.
El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s “pride” in the “distinguished cooperation” with Cyprus, “and the positive development it is witnessing.”
He stressed Egypt’s aspiration to promote various aspects of that cooperation — especially in the security, military, energy and economic levels — in a way that contributes to achieving the interests of the two friendly peoples.
They also discussed ways of coordinating efforts with Egypt as a leading partner of the EU in terms of combating terrorism, extremist ideology and illegal immigration.
Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie
Updated 15 August 2022
TEHRAN, Iran: An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the attack.
The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, come over two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.
However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran.
“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.
His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.
The award-winning author for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”
Freedom of speech does not justify Rushdie's insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said.
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.
Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid
The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank
Updated 15 August 2022
JERUSALEM: Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man who attempted to stab officers during a raid in east Jerusalem on Monday, police said.
The officers were conducting a search for illegal weapons in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, the police said. When officers approached the home, the man, armed with a knife, tried to stab them. They fired on the suspect and he was later pronounced dead, police said. Palestinian media identified the man as Mohammed Al-Shaham.
The incident came a day after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a bus outside Jerusalem’s Old City, wounding eight, among them US citizens.
The US State Department condemned the Jerusalem attack late on Sunday, and said at least five of the victims were American citizens. “We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that was reached last week ended three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza that saw at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 militants, killed.
A day after the cease-fire halted the worst round of Gaza fighting in more than a year, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and wounded dozens in a shootout that erupted during an arrest raid in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.
Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire
Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke
Updated 15 August 2022
CAIRO: Funerals were held in two Cairo churches Sunday evening for 41 victims of a fire that ripped through a Coptic Christian church during mass, forcing worshippers to jump out of windows.
The blaze, blamed on an electrical fault, hit the Abu Sifin church in densely populated Imbaba, a working class district west of the Nile River, part of Giza governorate in greater Cairo.
Hundreds gathered to pay their respects in and around the two Giza churches where clergymen prayed for the victims, according to AFP correspondents.
Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached for the coffins, including that of a priest at the church, Father Abdel-Messih Bekhit.
The Egyptian Coptic Church and the health ministry reported 41 dead and 14 injured in the blaze before emergency services brought it under control.
Witnesses to the fire Sunday morning described people rushing into the multi-story house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million Muslim-majority population.
“Everyone was carrying kids out of the building,” said Ahmed Reda Baioumy, who lives next to the church. “But the fire was getting bigger and you could only go in once or you would asphyxiate.”
Another witness, Sayed Tawfik, told AFP that “some threw themselves out of windows to escape the fire.” He pointed to a car bearing dents “left by a person who is now lying in the hospital with a broken arm and back.”
A resident of the area, Mina Masry, said emergency services were slow in responding. Ambulances took “over an hour to arrive” and fire trucks “nearly an hour, though their station is five minutes away.”
“If the ambulances had come on time, they could have rescued people,” Masry added.
A statement from the public prosecutor’s office indicated that asphyxiation caused the deaths, as there were “no visible injuries.”
The interior ministry said “forensic evidence revealed that the blaze broke out in an air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the church building” which also houses social services.
Father Farid Fahmy, of another nearby church, told AFP a short circuit caused the fire.
“The power was out and they were using a generator,” he said. “When the power came back, it caused an overload.”
In the morning, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on his Facebook page that he had “mobilized all state services” in response. He later said he had “presented his condolences by phone” to Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
He also directed the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to “take over the reconstruction and renovation” of the church, the presidency said in a statement.
Christian communities often complain that reconstruction of churches after devastating fires is marked by long delays and bureaucratic hurdles.
Giza’s governor ordered “urgent aid of 50,000 pounds (around $2,600) for the families of the deceased and 10,000 pounds for the injured.”
The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s foremost Muslim institution, expressed his condolences for “the tragic accident” and affirmed “the readiness of Al-Azhar hospitals to receive the injured.”
A statement from the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions live in informal settlements.
Baioumy, the neighbor, told AFP that firefighters were hampered by the church’s location “on a very narrow street.”
Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
The Coptic minority has endured attacks and complained of discrimination in the north African country, the Arab world’s most populous.
Copts have been targeted in deadly attacks by Islamist militants, particularly after El-Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes burnt down.
Copts also complain they have been left out of key state positions and they have deplored restrictive legislation for the construction and renovation of churches.
El-Sisi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas mass every year, in February appointed the first ever Coptic judge to head the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest.
Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
Cell members said they received money from the militia, training from the Iranians
The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of weapons
Updated 14 August 2022
JEDDAH: A newly busted smuggling cell loyal to the Houthis in Yemen has given more information about Iran’s routes and techniques for transporting weapons and added more evidence of its military support to the militia, Yemeni officials have said.
The Yemeni government’s Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units on the country’s western coast, released a video on Saturday showing confessions from four members of a Houthi cell who were involved in smuggling Iranian weapons into Houthi-controlled areas.
The Joint Forces said they had recently busted Houthi cells along the western coast involved in smuggling weapons, espionage, and targeting military and security officials in Yemen.
The four men have been smuggling weapons from Iran to Yemen for the past five years.
Cell leader Ali Mohammed Halhali is still at large, the Joint Forces said, and vowed to release more videos of other Houthi smugglers and operatives in the coming days.
Based on the confessions, the Yemeni smugglers usually sailed from different coastal cities such as Sheher in the southeastern province of Hadramout and Al-Ghaydah in the eastern province of Mahra.
They met another group of Yemeni smugglers at a location in the Gulf of Oman, where they transported Iranian weapons from their boats before moving to a transit point in Somalia.
Later, another group of smugglers would take the same shipment to Yemen.
Some boats docked at Houthi-controlled areas in the Red Sea, while other weapon-laden vessels entered government-controlled areas in the Arabian Sea or the Red Sea.
Cell member Ibrahim Omer Hassan Akad said he and several smugglers sailed from Sheher to the Gulf of Oman, where they met other smugglers carrying weapons from Iran.
The smugglers later headed to the Somali port of Berbera, where they delivered the shipment to other Yemeni smugglers who took the goods to Yemen.
After successfully delivering the weapons, Akad would embark on another trip using the same routes through Sheher, the Gulf of Oman, and the Somali coast.
During one of his trips, he and other smugglers were asked to sail to Iran where they received weapons directly from the Iranians and handed them to other Yemenis.
Akad said that he had also smuggled fuel and fertilizer to the Houthis through some Somali ports.
The other smugglers, Mustafa Ahmed Gadad, Ali Mohammed Halhali, and Hussein Yahiya Futaini, said the Houthis gave some of them YER1.5 million ($5,994) for each voyage and that they were captured by the US navy in 2018 while transporting weapons from Iran to Yemen.
The US confiscated the weapons and handed the smugglers to authorities in Aden, who later released them.
The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of Iranian weapons and said they received smuggling training from the Iranians.
Yemeni government officials, journalists, and activists called for the Iranians to be punished for undermining peace in Yemen by arming the militia, arguing that the Houthis’ smuggling of weapons showed they were preparing for war.
Yemeni journalist Hassan Ghaleb said the confessions contradicted the Houthis’ claims that they manufactured missiles, drones, and other weapons in Yemen and refuted their denial of receiving military support from Iran.
“Smuggling is the most important source that the Houthis rely on to obtain various weapons, especially guided missiles, drones, and Iranian military technology,” Ghaleb said.
Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities
Lapid accelerates ‘colonization’ of Palestinian land to win more votes in coming election, West Bank official says
Updated 14 August 2022
RAMALLAH: Senior Palestinian official sources have accused the Israeli government of speeding up settlement activities in the West Bank to harvest the votes of right-wing parties in the lead-up to Israeli parliamentary elections on Nov. 1.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s caretaker government has stepped up plans to colonize Palestinian land and build hundreds of other settlement units, they said.
Ghassan Daglas, director of settlement affairs in the northern West Bank affiliated with the Palestinian Presidency Office, told Arab News: “It is clear that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid believes that his access to power and the success of his party in the upcoming elections comes at the expense of confiscating Palestinian land and blood.”
“From a war on Gaza to murder in Nablus . . . to the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the approval of the establishment of settlements . . . we do not know what his next steps will be in this direction.”
Daglas said that Lapid had accelerated the implementation of settlement plans due to the approaching Israeli elections.
“After the Israeli leaders classified the settlements between a strategic settlement and an isolated one, their policy has now become to build a settlement between each settlement and to encircle the Palestinian cities and isolate them with a settlement belt that extends geographically and cuts off their geographical contiguity,” he said.
Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, has increased dramatically under the recently dissolved Israeli coalition government and reached 62 percent compared to the previous Benjamin Netanyahu leadership.
Settlement activity across the West Bank flourished during former US President Donald Trump’s time in power, even though it was considered illegal under international law and threatened the two-state solution for Palestinians to establish an independent state based on the 1967 borders.
The Israeli settlement in the Palestinian Territories is a program approved by all Israeli governments, as they look forward to reaching 1 million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by 2025.
The current number is 650,000 in the West Bank and 150,000 in East Jerusalem, living in 160 settlements and 126 outposts on a built-up area that constitutes 1.6 percent of the total area of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
On Saturday, the National Office for Defending the Land and Resisting Settlements said that Israeli authorities recently approved a plan to establish a new settlement on 259 dunums of Palestinian land belonging to the town of Deir Istiya in the Salfit governorate.
The plan calls for the establishment of 381 settlement units in the new settlement and public buildings, open areas and streets to connect the new settlement with its outer perimeter, the National Office said in a report.
The new settlement is located in the middle of the settlements of “Revava” to the east and “Kiryat Netiavim” to the west. This indicates the intention of the occupation authorities to create a new settlement bloc that includes the three settlements in addition to the industrial settlement of “Burkan” in the south.
Salfit governorate, a population of 70,000 distributed among 19 localities, has experienced the expansion of settlements projects in the region since 1975, with extension plans focusing on linking the Palestinian coast to the Jordan Valley.
The strategic location of the governorate has made it a target for the Israeli occupation, which confiscated large areas of land with 24 settlement blocs surrounding Salfit — the largest of which is the “Ariel” settlement, inhabited by about 25,000 settlers.
It is the second-largest settlement in the West Bank after the settlement of “Maalem Adumim” on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The towns and villages of Salfit governorate are undergoing hardship due to the practices of the occupation.
The Palesinians’ plight is made worse by escalation of the settlement rate, the racial isolation wall, and the environmental pollution resulting from the settlements’ waste, especially industrial areas, and the theft of agricultural land, groundwater sources, and obliteration of its historical and religious features, the report said.
It added that the occupation authorities were also accelerating the building of more settlement units in the Palestinian lands in Jordan Valley.
All indications confirm the existence of a new Israeli plan to promote and support settlements in the northern Jordan Valley as part of efforts to expel residents, implementing “a clear policy of ethnic cleansing and looting and stealing more lands and areas, especially in the village of Al-Farisiyah,” the report said.
According to sources from the National Office, the Israeli settlement committee has been harassing the residents of the village for more than a month, in addition to bulldozing the surrounding mountains and putting up advertisements for a project to establish a university for settlers, in addition to vital facilities such as parks and areas.
The Israeli army provides support to settlers, bulldozers destroy features of the mountains near Al-Farsiyah, and move the material to residential areas and close to their homes, the sources said.