Palestinian engineers protest in challenge to Abbas’ authority in West Bank

Palestinian police prevent demonstrators from gathering ahead of a planned protest against the Palestinian authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file photo)
Palestinian police prevent demonstrators from gathering ahead of a planned protest against the Palestinian authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 01 August 2022

Palestinian engineers protest in challenge to Abbas’ authority in West Bank

Palestinian engineers protest in challenge to Abbas’ authority in West Bank
  • Syndicate chair Nadia Habash told the sit-in: “We demand that the prime minister come down from his ivory tower to address the masses of engineers demanding their rights”

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Engineers Syndicate has announced the escalation of its protest action, with hundreds of people demonstrating on Monday in front of the Palestinian prime minister's headquarters in Ramallah as ministers met for their weekly Cabinet session.

Protesters are demanding the financial rights of public engineers and seeking a government commitment to implement a financial agreement signed between the two parties last year, syndicate sources told Arab News.

It has demanded the implementation of the Cabinet’s decision, which includes disbursing a bonus to engineers working in the public sector at a rate of 120 percent, similar to employees in the same segment.

It also wants rewards for military engineers and housing allowances for fourth-grade teacher engineers.

Syndicate chair Nadia Habash told the sit-in: “We demand that the prime minister come down from his ivory tower to address the masses of engineers demanding their rights.”

She urged the prime minister to look at “us and address the engineers, talk to them, listen, and respond to their demands.”

She stressed the pursuit of justice and fairness for the engineers and the implementation of the agreement signed with the government in 2014, saying the government was persistent in ignoring their pleas and denying them their rights.

She said the government had filed a court case against the engineers to stop their strikes and repudiate the agreement.

The syndicate embarked on a strike of general engineers throughout last week to pressure the government to respond to its demands.

On July 30, it announced the escalation of its protest action for this week.

As part of a series of strikes and work pauses, which engineers carried out on Sunday, they also stayed away from the workplace and remained at the union’s headquarters.

Permanent engineers were also urged to leave their offices and follow the strike.

The syndicate began escalating its campaign in June, announcing an eight-day strike this month for engineers in the public sector.

Osama Taha, head of the syndicate in Ramallah, told Arab News: “We waited for the government to approve its budget for 2022 and the president's endorsement, but we have a government that does not abide by or implements the agreements that it signs.”

The protest covers 30,000 engineers in the West Bank, 18,000 active members of the syndicate, and 2,000 employees in the public sector from ministries affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.

The escalation of the action coincides with the ongoing month-long protest by 10,500 Palestinian lawyers.

A senior leader in the Fatah Central Committee expressed concern about the widening circle of union protests, which could weaken the status of the Palestinian Authority and paralyze life in the West Bank, especially if other unions such as doctors, pharmacists, and teachers announced a strike and similar protest steps.

“This series of union protests and strikes to demand rights indicates a defect in the relationship between the government and civil society institutions and negatively affects and weakens the image of the Palestinian government,” Ahmed Rafiq Awad, head of the Al-Quds Center for Future Studies at Al-Quds University, told Arab News,

“The frequent and continuation of strikes for a long period leads to job insecurity that weakens the authority's prestige and may lead to paralysis in public life.

“If the government claimed that it does not have financial capabilities, we would have cooperated with it to consider what was agreed upon as a debt to its engineers, which it can fulfill and abide by whenever its financial conditions improve, but it did not respect the agreements with the union and ignored them.”

But he expressed his hope that there would eventually be an agreement between the two sides.

Amid concern about the protests, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh said at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah that the Israeli government's decision to deduct $177 million from Palestinian tax funds was unjust, illegal, and piracy.

“It adds to our financial crisis in another dimension, but it will not deter us from our commitment toward the families of prisoners and martyrs,” he added.

Israel has deducted the value of the salaries that the authority pays to the families of prisoners and martyrs since the end of last December.

Israel’s move has negatively affected the financial conditions of the authority, as it is now paying 80 percent of the salary value of its 170,000 public employees.

 


Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban
Updated 50 min 23 sec ago

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban

Judge fines Lebanese bank heist figure, issues travel ban
  • Sali Hafiz last month broke into a BLOM Bank branch with activists from the Depositors’ Outcry
  • Hafiz was widely celebrated as a hero, and went into hiding for weeks

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge on Thursday fined and issued a six-month travel ban to a woman who stormed her bank with a fake pistol and took her trapped savings to cover her sister’s cancer treatment.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency since 2019, tying up the savings of millions of people. About three-quarters of the population has slipped into poverty as the tiny Mediterranean country’s economy continues to spiral. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar.
Sali Hafiz last month broke into a BLOM Bank branch in Beirut with activists from the Depositors’ Outcry protest group, and stormed into the manager’s office. They forced bank employees to hand over $12,000 and the equivalent of about $1,000 in Lebanese pounds.
Hafiz was widely celebrated as a hero, and went into hiding for weeks.
Her lawyer, Ali Abbas, said that Hafiz turned herself in Wednesday night, and that the bank had pressed charges. Another sister involved in the heist was with Sali.
“The judge decided to let them go on a bail of 1 million pounds each, and a six-month travel ban,” Abbas said in a phone interview from the Justice Palace.
One million Lebanese pounds was once worth over $666, but has since devalued to $25.
Following the incident last month, the Depositors’ Outcry had vowed to support more bank raids, and about a dozen of similar incidents have since occurred.
On Wednesday, Lebanese lawmaker Cynthia Zarazir staged a sit-in at her bank branch with a lawyer, demanding to withdraw $8,500 to cover expenses for a surgery.
These developments have rocked the Lebanese banks, who say they have been unjustly targeted for tiny Mediterranean country’s fiscal crisis. The Association of Banks in Lebanon temporarily closed for a week, before partially reopening last week, citing security concerns.
Lebanon for over two years has been struggling to implement a series of reforms to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and make its battered economy viable again.


Iran airs video with 2 French citizens arrested for spying

Iran airs video with 2 French citizens arrested for spying
Updated 06 October 2022

Iran airs video with 2 French citizens arrested for spying

Iran airs video with 2 French citizens arrested for spying
  • The clips resembled other videos of Tehran has forced prisoners to make
  • Clips are part of what is described as a forthcoming documentary

DUBAI: Iran on Thursday published video showing two French citizens arrested for spying amid ongoing protests roiling the country that Tehran has sought to describe as a foreign plot instead of local anger over the death of a 22-year-old detained by the country’s morality police.
The video released by the state-run IRNA news agency showed two French citizens, Cecile Kohler and Chuck Paris, who are unionists associated with France’s National Federation of Education, Culture and Vocational Training.
The clips resembled other videos of Tehran has forced prisoners to make. In 2020, one report suggested authorities over the last decade had aired at least 355 coerced confessions.
In the clips, Kohler wears a headscarf and purportedly describes herself as an “intelligence and operation agent of French foreign security service.” Paris purportedly says: “Our goals in French foreign security service is put pressure on Iran’s government.”
The clips are part of what is described as a forthcoming documentary to air on Iranian state television.
France did not immediately respond to the release of the video clips. However in May, the French government demanded their release and condemned “these baseless arrests.”
Their visit to Iran coincides with months of protests by teachers for higher wages in the country.
Meanwhile, Iran has been roiled by weeks of protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being detained by the country’s morality police.


US operation using helicopters in Syria kills one: State TV

US operation using helicopters in Syria kills one: State TV
Updated 06 October 2022

US operation using helicopters in Syria kills one: State TV

US operation using helicopters in Syria kills one: State TV
  • It is first such operation in regime-controlled areas, the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said

BEIRUT: A US airborne operation involving multiple helicopters left one person dead in a government-controlled area of Syria’s northeast, Syrian state TV reported Thursday.
It is first such operation in regime-controlled areas, the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said.
“US occupation forces carried out a landing operation using several helicopters in the village of Muluk Saray in the southern countryside of Qamishli and killed one person,” Syria’s state broadcaster said, without elaborating.
The US armed forces’ Central Command (CENTCOM) said it currently has “no information to provide.”
The village targeted by the operation lies 17 kilometers (10 miles) south of the city of Qamishli and is controlled by Syrian regime forces, according to the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights and AFP correspondents.
“It is the first time,” that US forces conduct such an operation in regime-held areas, the Observatory said, without identifying the victim.
Several other people were captured, the monitor said, without providing a figure.
A resident of the village said that three US helicopters carrying troops had landed overnight.
US forces raided a house, killing one person and taking several others captive, the resident told AFP on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“They used loud speakers to call on residents to stay indoors” during the operation, he said.
The resident said the victim is a little-known Syrian from Hassakeh province, who he named as Abu Hayel.
Washington is part of a US-led coalition battling the Daesh group in Syria.
In July, the Pentagon said it killed Syria’s top Daesh extremist in a drone strike in the northern part of the country.
CENTCOM said he had been “one of the top five” leaders of Daesh overall.
The July strike came five months after a nighttime US raid in the town of Atme, which led to the death of the overall Daesh leader, Abu Ibrahim Al-Qurashi.
US officials said Qurashi died when he detonated a bomb to avoid capture.
After losing their last territory following a military onslaught backed by the US-led coalition in March 2019, the remnants of Daesh in Syria mostly retreated into desert hideouts.
They have since used such hideouts to ambush Kurdish-led forces and Syrian government troops while continuing to mount attacks in Iraq.


Israeli ministers to meet on Lebanon maritime deal, but approval pending

Israeli ministers to meet on Lebanon maritime deal, but approval pending
Updated 06 October 2022

Israeli ministers to meet on Lebanon maritime deal, but approval pending

Israeli ministers to meet on Lebanon maritime deal, but approval pending
  • The draft deal has had a mostly warm preliminary reception by the Israeli and Lebanese governments

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top cabinet ministers on Thursday will discuss a prospective US-mediated border demarcation deal with Lebanon addressing a disputed Mediterranean gas field, but were unlikely to take a final vote, Israeli officials said.
The draft deal, which has not been made public, has had a mostly warm preliminary reception by the Israeli and Lebanese governments. But there has also been domestic opposition in both countries, which are technically at war.
Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll said Israel’s security cabinet would meet at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) to discuss the draft.
“The main points of the deal, and the matters we support, will be presented to it,” Roll told Ynet TV, adding that a discussion in the full cabinet, and a parliamentary review at an as-yet undecided level of the Knesset assembly, would follow.
With centrist Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid serving in a caretaker capacity ahead of a Nov. 1 election, the political opposition has demanded Knesset ratification for the deal.
Lapid’s main rival, conservative ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that the deal could surrender Israeli maritime rights and benefit the enemy Lebanese Hezbollah movement. The Lapid government insists Israel’s security will be safeguarded.
Beirut, meanwhile, has balked at Lapid’s assertion that Israel will be paid partial royalties from future Lebanese exploration in the Qana gas prospect. A Lebanese ex-negotiator and some opposition lawmakers have argued that the proposed border demarcation skews too far north, thus favoring Israel.
Israeli security cabinet minister Hili Tropper said Thursday’s forum would receive Lebanese caveats and revision requests through US mediator Amos Hochstein.
“We will discuss them, and if they are significant, I am convinced that we will not accept this deal,” Tropper told Ynet.
Asked if the deal might go through before Israel’s election — a likely boon for Lapid’s campaign — Tropper said: “I can’t answer that. Our goal is to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Clocks are also ticking in Lebanon, which is keen for any sign of relief from a spiralling economic crisis and whose president, Michel Aoun, wants to seal the maritime deal before he steps down at month’s end, according to political sources. 


In an empty kitchen, Yemeni family struggles with hunger

In an empty kitchen, Yemeni family struggles with hunger
Updated 06 October 2022

In an empty kitchen, Yemeni family struggles with hunger

In an empty kitchen, Yemeni family struggles with hunger
  • Eight years of conflict have devastated the economy and left millions of people across Yemen struggling to feed themselves

SANAA: In a bare kitchen in her house in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, Umm Zakaria Al-Sharaabi prepares for a daily challenge — creating a meal out of virtually nothing to feed the 18 people in her extended family.
“Today we have yet to make lunch,” she says, gesturing at an empty stove. In the corner, a bag of bread and a few containers of spices are the only scraps of food to hand. “Every day is like this... We have nothing in the kitchen, we have nothing.”
Eight years of conflict have devastated the economy and left millions of people across Yemen struggling to feed themselves.
A truce agreed in April offered some respite but the United Nations says the number of families who lack adequate food has continued to grow since then. The truce expired on Monday without agreement on another extension.
Umm Zakaria’s mother-in-law Umm Hani, who shares their home in central Sanaa, says before the war they lived modestly but well on her husband’s salary from his job at the education ministry and money she earned as a maid.
“Our situation was okay. I used to work for a family continuously and my son... worked and his brother too.”
“Nowadays, I swear, we can’t afford flour,” Umm Hani says. “Look at the kitchen and everywhere. Even flour, simply flour, we don’t have it. And we don’t have rice...”
“We have a little bread I’ve just brought from the bakery. We’ll eat it with tomato sauce or anything available.”
The Sharaabi household’s struggles are shared across Yemen, both in the main populated areas like Sanaa controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthis, and the rest of the country held by forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition. Both sides have come under international pressure to reach a peace deal.
The United Nations says 19 million people — or 60 percent of the population — are experiencing what it calls acute food insecurity, where shortages put people’s lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.
Aid from donor states meets only half of the country’s need, according to World Food Programme (WFP) which is running the largest operation in Yemen it has ever undertaken anywhere, supplying flour, pulses, oil, sugar and vouchers for food.
Families like the Sharaabis have battled on. Those who could, sold assets or family heirlooms, even parcels of land. Others have been supported by neighbors or relatives overseas.
“The Yemen people’s coping capacity in this time of conflict is enormous,” WFP’s Yemen representative Richard Ragan said. “(They are) doing all the coping things that someone does in a time of crisis. But it’s not easy. I think many people in the country are at a breaking point.”
Although the truce reduced the violence, Ragan said WFP was still building stockpiles and tackling the impact of fuel shortages. “When you are feeding almost 20 million people on a regular basis, it’s very hard to turn that on and off,” he said.
In the second half of the year, the number of people whose food insecurity was deemed an emergency has risen by a quarter to 7.14 million while those “in catastrophe” rose five-fold to 161,000, according to UN estimates.
“The biggest challenge ... is that the inadequacy of the aid compared to the number of those in need continues to increase daily,” said Nabil Al-Qadasi of the Houthi-run School Feeding and Humanitarian Relief Project, which delivers food to 3 million people in 12 of Yemen’s 21 provinces.
In Sanaa’s northern district of Geraf, Amal Hasan and her husband and three children live in a small single room where they moved after their previous rent became too high.
Hasan travels to work as a maid in another part of the capital, spending most of her income on transport and saving just 1,000 to 2,000 riyals ($1.7 to $3.4) each time.
She is looking for a home with affordable rent, but says her day is dominated instead by worry about feeding her family.
“When they finish breakfast I start thinking of where to get them lunch. After that, I worry about dinner. I had never had the chance to think about how to build their future or educate them because we could barely manage to think of their food.”