Kurdish Iraqi farmer sprouts online advice, green awareness

Kurdish Iraqi farmer sprouts online advice, green awareness
Azad Mohamad also uses his popular online platform to raise awareness about protecting the environment and the need to support local farmers. (AFP)
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Updated 09 August 2022

Kurdish Iraqi farmer sprouts online advice, green awareness

Kurdish Iraqi farmer sprouts online advice, green awareness
  • With almost half a million Facebook followers, Azad Mohamad posts weekly videos on topics such as protecting fruit trees, dealing with insects and helping people get more from their farms and gardens

HALABJA: Kurdish Iraqi farmer Azad Mohamad has become a social media star by sharing tips on growing fresh fruit and vegetables in the sun-parched country that is highly vulnerable to climate change.

The moustachioed 50-year-old with almost half a million Facebook followers posts weekly videos on topics such as protecting fruit trees, dealing with insects and helping people get more from their farms and gardens.

“They should make you agriculture minister,” one of his fans, Ahmed Hassan, commented on a recent video.

Mohamad also uses his popular online platform to raise awareness about protecting the environment and the need to support local farmers, in his native Kurdistan region and beyond.

“Developed-country farmers have government support and harvesting machines,” said Mohamad.

“Our farmers do everything themselves with their own sweat — and when they lose money at the end of the year, they start over with the same passion and energy.”

He also has a message for authorities in Iraq, which the UN classifies as the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to climate change and where many are mired in poverty despite Iraq’s oil wealth.

“Our land is fertile, and our earth is like gold,” Mohamad said.

Therefore, he said, the government should “focus on agriculture rather than oil, for a sustainable economy.”

From his farm near Halabja, Mohamad squats among grape vines and other plants, wearing traditional Kurdish clothing as a friend uses a mobile phone to film him.

Many of his followers, he said, are not farmers but people who “have transformed their roof into gardens — and that’s a way to better preserve the environment.”

He invites his Facebook followers to post their questions, and says some farmers have sent him videos of their crops, thanking him for his help.

“That makes me very happy,” he said.

In one video, he advises farmers to space their trees out by just two meters instead of four to keep the soil shady and damp, protecting it from the scorching summer heat.

“With desertification, and low rainfall, we must change how we plant trees,” he said.

“Look at these tomatoes,” he added, gesturing at a group of plants. “Because they are in the shade, they are juicy and perfect — whereas these that are in the direct sun have been burned.”

Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region has been spared the worst effects of desertification, water scarcity and drought that have ravaged other parts of the country.

“The region has high rainfall precipitation compared to the rest of Iraq,” said a 2019 study involving UN agencies and the autonomous Kurdistan regional government.

But the report warned that “local agricultural production is in severe competition with foreign goods with largely lower prices” ... “mainly from Turkey and Iran, whose products have flooded Iraqi markets.”

It urged “more investments” to improve irrigation, along with water management to promote sustainability, to ensure the efficient use of resources and “mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Hamid Ismail Abdulrahman, a fellow farmer in Halabja, said low water levels in wells had impacted agricultural development.

Twice a week, the 47-year-old opens his farm to families who can buy “fresh and organic products,” from tomatoes to corn and eggplant.

He said climate change had greatly affected agriculture all over Iraq, though “southern Iraq has the lion’s share of this impact, while in the north the effect is less.”

With Iraq already witnessing record low rainfall and high temperatures in recent years, Mohamad warned that “if the government doesn’t act now and present a concrete plan ... the damage will be done.”

Mohamad has recently opened a small educational area on his farm, and now also receives visits from university students.

He says he hopes his initiatives will have a longer-term impact.

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
Updated 22 sec ago

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
  • Jordan urges Israel to stop provocative actions
  • Arab League condemns violation of international law

RAMALLAH: Tension escalated at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday, with incursions into the area by hundreds of Jewish settlers, under the protection of Israeli police, to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah.

It came as Jewish extremist groups continued calls to be allowed to enter the compound on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Ambassador Haitham Abu Al-Foul, spokesman at the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs, called on Israel to put a stop to the settlers’ activities and respect the sanctity of the compound and the authority of the Jerusalem Awqaf Administration in line with international law.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, home to over 350,000 Palestinians, in 1967, but Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are under Jordanian guardianship.

On Monday morning Israeli police placed a cordon around Al-Aqsa, preventing the entry of young people under the age of 40 and stopping all noon prayers, as around 335 Jews toured the compound.

Five Palestinians were injured by police at the Lion’s Gate, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. They were taken to Al-Makassed Hospital. Worshippers — including women and children — performed noon prayers at the doorsteps of the mosque instead.

Israel imposed a complete closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip crossing late on Sunday afternoon in conjunction with Rosh Hashanah over fears of escalation. The state of alert will continue until the end of the holiday. 

Many Palestinians fear that Israel will introduce a division of use of Al-Aqsa, as happened with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, allowing both faiths access, but closing it to the other during specific holidays.

The Palestinian presidency condemned the escalation at the compound, warning that continuation would lead to potential violence.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian Authority’s presidency, stressed that the Palestinians would not allow Al-Aqsa Mosque to be damaged or desecrated in any way, and would stand against the occupation.

The Palestinians claim the mosque has become a scene of political strife with the approach of the Israeli elections on Nov. 1, with major right-wing Israeli parties competing to win more votes from the right by allowing access to the compound.

The Arab League condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa, holding the Israeli government responsible for igniting the situation.

The spokesman for the league’s secretary-general, Jamal Rushdie, said in a press statement that the storming of Al-Aqsa and the arrest of several Palestinians inside was aimed at imposing a temporal and spatial division in the mosque, changing the existing historical and legal situation.

This continuous policy on the part of the occupying government represents a flagrant violation of international law, and provokes Palestinians and Muslims in general, he added.

Rushdie said that the intensification of incursions ahead of the Jewish holidays adds to the state of tension that already exists in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem.

He said that imposing a siege on Al-Aqsa and arresting those stationed inside it is an unacceptable crime.

Rushdie called on the international community to assume its responsibilities and confront this dangerous Israeli escalation.

Tension is expected to continue until the end of the holidays on Oct. 17.

Israeli authorities issued warnings about the potential for violence in the coming days against Israeli citizens, after announcements made by Fatah and Hamas calling on Palestinians to oppose Israelis approaching Al-Aqsa.

“There is a clear increase in alerts about plans to carry out attacks, and the police are responding to the threat of deploying large forces,” said Israeli Police Commissioner Yacov Shabtai.

Thousands of Israeli police will be deployed at roadblocks, shopping centers and entertainment venues, synagogues and crowded sites across Israel.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper’s website, the Israel Defense Forces currently have at least 25 battalions in the West Bank to enhance security during the Jewish holidays.

Hundreds of IDF members and police are also deployed in the Jerusalem area, as well as inside Old Jerusalem and on the roads leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Fatah called on Palestinians to confront extremist Jewish groups and stop settler incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards, and to prevent them from performing prayers, blowing trumpets, offering sacrifices, or marching.

Hamas, too, called on the Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and inside Israel to stand against the settlers.

“We need the greatest Arab and Islamic support at all levels for the Palestinian people and the holy sites, so that we can protect Jerusalem and defend the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque with all the tools of struggle,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum.

Oman calls during UN address for peace and progress in Yemen and Palestine

Oman calls during UN address for peace and progress in Yemen and Palestine
Updated 34 min 7 sec ago

Oman calls during UN address for peace and progress in Yemen and Palestine

Oman calls during UN address for peace and progress in Yemen and Palestine
  • All parties in Yemen must abide by Gulf Cooperation Initiative, said head of Omani UN delegation Mohammed Al-Hassan as he reaffirmed support for work of UN and US envoys
  • He also reiterated his country’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis, describing it as ‘an urgent need and strategic necessity’

NEW YORK CITY: The head of the Omani delegation to the UN, Mohammed Al-Hassan, told the 77th session of the UN General Assembly on Monday that the sultanate “continues to spare no effort, through constructive cooperation with all parties, to achieve peace in brotherly Yemen.”

He appealed “to all Yemeni parties to come to terms with the painful past and focus on formulating a promising and a better future for the country that would preserve their unity, security and stability.”

Al-Hassan called on those involved in the conflict to abide by the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and all relevant UN resolutions. He added that the sultanate will continue to support the UN and US envoys to the country and appreciates “their endeavors to achieve lasting peace in Yemen through dialogue.”

He called on all Yemeni parties to formulate an approach to peace and the political process in the country that will “safeguard the sovereignty, independence, security and stability of Yemen.”

Oman will “continue to provide all possible facilities and humanitarian assistance to the various Yemeni regions and governorates without exception,” Al-Hassan said, to help end the “suffering of the Yemeni people.”

Shifting his focus to the Palestinian issue, the envoy reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a “two-state solution,” which he described as an “urgent need and a strategic necessity to achieve lasting peace, mutual trust and positive cooperation among all parties in the region.”

Al-Hassan said Oman is also taking an interest in developments in Libya, Syria and Sudan, and is hoping for security and stability in “these brotherly countries.”

Looking further afield, he said that “dialogue and negotiation” efforts must be redoubled as part of moves to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

Turning to climate issues, Al-Hassan wished Egypt success when it hosts COP27, the UN Climate Change Conference, in November.

“Climate change is one of the most prominent issues of our time,” he added. “We are now facing a decisive moment. The world is in a real and difficult situation, a challenge that has wide-ranging effects, be it rising temperatures or catastrophic floods, which are all threatening the food security of many countries.”

Al-Hassan warned that these problems will become more costly to deal with unless the international community unites to address climate change. He said that Oman is launching several initiatives designed to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions by “7 percent by 2030, in accordance with the UN climate agreement.”

He added: “We are moving toward achieving a neutrality of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Al-Hassan highlighted Oman’s green-energy sector and set out the sultanate’s green hydrogen aspirations. Referring to the National Alliance for Hydrogen, he noted that the country’s climate is favorable for the development of green hydrogen technology, with the efforts enhanced by the sultanate’s strategic geographical location.

Oman is currently developing the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, which is scheduled to commence operations in 2028 in Al-Wusta governorate.

Tunisia promises democratic reform in UN address

Tunisia promises democratic reform in UN address
Updated 29 min 15 sec ago

Tunisia promises democratic reform in UN address

Tunisia promises democratic reform in UN address
  • FM Othman Jerandi: ‘This is the will of the people’
  • Solutions to global crises ‘can only be developed through multilateral action’

LONDON:  Tunisia is working on democratic reforms through parliamentary elections in the wake of months of civil unrest, the country’s foreign minister told the UN General Assembly on Monday.

Othman Jerandi said Tunisia’s development goals remain in line with UN ambitions, describing the organization’s agenda as a “ray of hope” for the international community.

A key focus for the country is to restructure debt and create projects that will generate wealth, he added.

“Democracy for Tunisia is a national choice — one that it will not deviate from. We are working on a reform process through parliamentary elections,” said Jerandi.

“This is the will of the people of Tunisia, who are committed to preserving freedom, constitutional rights, rule of law and sovereignty. Tunisia is always on the side of our universal common principles.”

But he warned that amid spiraling global crises — including climate change, migration, food insecurity and natural disasters — each country “has its own challenges, own problems and own characteristics,” and that “one-size-fits-all models” are unfit for purpose.

Jerandi said it is “regrettable that millions of people around the world are being threatened with being left behind because of the imbalance in the international economic system and a lack of solidarity.”

He highlighted the urgency of energy and food crises felt worldwide, saying the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have exacerbated economic woes.

“This is a critical point in our common destiny and history. We must find transformative, radical solutions that allow us to overcome our circumstances and strengthen durability and resilience,” he added.

“Our peoples are watching us and wondering whether the international community will be able to find these transformative solutions, and whether they will show the required political will to overcome these global crises that continue to worsen.”

Jerandi described the process of finding solutions as a constant concern, adding that “at each (UN) session, new issues are added to those that remain.”

He said: “Crises must be addressed from the roots — if not, it is but a temporary solution. We must find new, just solutions as proposed in our common agenda.”

Jerandi listed a series of proposals to the UNGA, saying solutions “can only be developed through multilateral action and in the spirit of solidarity in coordination with the UN.”

He said: “There must be an economic model created that focuses on quality as opposed to the speed of growth — in particular through investment in modern technology and science.” He noted Tunisia’s hosting of a summit on digital development to achieve national goals.

He added: “It is time to move forward on debt management through new approaches. We must adapt the international monetary order and financial systems, which must be based on national specifics and national needs — in particular in developing countries and in Africa.

“These countries have not found the support they expected to overcome challenges and promote growth as well as achieve the (UN) SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

“Peoples must be able to regain the resources that have been stolen from them. Africa must achieve equal partnerships, equality and better development.”

Jerandi spoke about the Palestinian issue, which he said “requires the end of occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

He added: “We must work to overcome disputes through peaceful means, end absurd conflicts and find solutions to just causes.

“We must move beyond analysis and toward actions. Our peoples no longer want to hear empty promises.”

Yemen president vows to open roads in Taiz, achieve peace 

Yemen president vows to open roads in Taiz, achieve peace 
Updated 26 September 2022

Yemen president vows to open roads in Taiz, achieve peace 

Yemen president vows to open roads in Taiz, achieve peace 
  • Al-Alimi says presidential council working collaboratively to address thorny issues such as paying salaries, revitalizing economy
  • Leader promises to visit liberated provinces to launch critical projects 

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, has vowed to use force or peaceful means to relieve the Houthi siege of Taiz, make further concessions to ease the country’s humanitarian crisis, and support any rebellion against the Houthis.

Speaking to Yemenis on the 60th anniversary of September Revolution Day on Sept. 26, the Yemeni leader said that the world is more persuaded than ever that the Houthis cannot bring about peace owing to their persistent resistance to requests to open highways in Taiz, violations of the truce, and military parades.

“The world is now more convinced than ever that this type of people cannot bring peace,” he said, adding that the Houthi oppressive rule and “racist” ideologies would spark a new revolution similar to the one against the imams in northern Yemen on Sept. 26, 1962.

“If there is one place in this era where a revolution is still needed, it is without a doubt our provinces, which are under the coercive authority of Houthi militias — a revolution for equal citizenship and justice, for the future that our people deserve.”

Al-Alimi promised to use the southern city of Aden as a base for assisting popular resistance against the Houthis, while also reiterating that his administration would uphold the cease-fire and cooperate with nonviolent efforts to end the war in Yemen.

“Our faith in you has never wavered, and we are confident that the renewed battle we are waging together will result in a bright future, beginning from the city of Aden and the liberated governorates.”

Houthis have repeatedly refused to end their siege of Taiz or cease their deadly attacks on government-controlled areas and have been mobilizing forces outside key cities since the UN-brokered truce came into effect on April 2.

Roads in Taiz, Al-Alimi said, will be opened by hook or by crook.

Despite Houthi violations of the truce, the Yemeni government allowed commercial flights from Sanaa airport to carry approximately 24,000 people and more than 50 fuel ships carrying over 1 million tons of fuel to enter Hodeidah port. The government also recently approved additional measures to expedite ship arrivals to Houthi territory.

“We will not hesitate to respond to any humanitarian appeal made by our oppressed people in militia-controlled areas,” Al-Alimi said.

Al-Alimi stated that the country’s eight-man presidential council is working collaboratively to address thorny issues such as paying salaries, fixing problems with basic services, and revitalizing the economy, promising to visit liberated provinces to launch critical projects.

“I have told you on numerous occasions that our choice is a success, that we always derive our confidence from your patience and awareness, and that despite the differences, this council is continuing to achieve your aspirations,” he said.

The revolution anniversary on Sunday and Monday sparked a flurry of celebratory activities, primarily in the besieged city of Taiz and the central city of Marib, where people lit torches, held parades in the streets, and raised Yemeni flags on their homes and public institutions. Smaller celebrations were held in Houthi-controlled areas, where people defied the Houthis by lighting fireworks and raising the Yemeni flag.

The Houthis usually pushed people to commemorate their Sept. 21 military coup anniversary and discouraged celebrations of the Sept. 26 revolution. 

The militia abducted dozens of people who were celebrating the anniversary of the revolution in Sanaa, Ibb, and Thamar on Sunday, according to local media reports and social media accounts.

Yemeni observers say that the increasing number of revolution celebrations in Houthi areas is a sign of the public’s growing dissatisfaction with the movement.

“I have never seen people celebrate the Sept. 26 anniversary of the revolution this way, including in Houthi-controlled areas,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News.

“I think it is a message to the Houthis that Yemenis will not accept going back to a theocracy or the version of the imamate that the Houthis are trying to build. It is a statement of resistance to and rejection of the Houthi rule,” she said.  

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget
Updated 26 September 2022

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget

Lebanon retirees scuffle with police near Parliament as MPs approve budget
  • Banks reopen to queues and security service patrols

BEIRUT: Lebanese army retirees scuffled with Parliament guards in Beirut during a rally on Monday amid anger over decimated monthly pay.

Hours after the protest, Parliament passed the 2022 budget, with 63 legislators voting in favor, 37 voting against and six abstaining.

The new budget will calculate customs tax revenue at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar at a time when the black market rate is more than double that at 37,000 pounds to the dollar.

Since the country’s economic meltdown began three years ago, customs tax revenue has been calculated at the official rate of 1,500 pounds to the dollar.

According to the new budget, government expenditures stand at 40.9 trillion pounds ($1.1 billion) at the parallel market rate, while revenue stands at 30 trillion pounds.

The protesters, who appealed to the army chief to listen to their concerns, demanded that their salaries be tripled to account for the loss of purchasing value due to the economic crisis.

A stampede took place earlier as the army and Parliament guards were summoned to tackle the protesters.

The retirees — including military widows — were later able to break the security cordon in the face of what they described as their “military sons.”

Security personnel in charge of protecting Parliament used a tear gas grenade to prevent the protesters from reaching the stairs of the Parliament building.

MP Jamil Al-Sayed, a retired major general, walked out of the plenary session to address the protesters.

He was preceded by MP Cynthia Zarazir, from the Change Representatives bloc, who went out in solidarity with demonstrators.

“This police state is repressing protesters,” the MP shouted as she faced the stampede.

Some protesters sprawled on the ground to prevent attempts to remove them.

A small delegation of protesters, accompanied by Al-Sayed, entered one of the corridors of Parliament.

“The message from the protest has been received, and we don’t want to clash with our military colleagues,” said George Nader, a retired brigadier general.

Caretaker Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Maurice Selim left the Parliament hall to meet retired soldiers in Najma Square.

He told them that it had been decided that salaries would be tripled.

The detailed calculations will be handled by specialized agencies in the Ministry of Finance, the minister said.

MP Sami Gemayel warned that increasing salaries would lead to more currency printing, higher inflation, and consequently, a decrease in purchasing power.

Gemayel called for more focus on carrying out reforms and bringing more US dollars into the country.

Independent MP Michel Moawad described the budget as a “crime against the Lebanese” since it was being discussed without balancing the accounts, which meant a “new escape from accountability.”

MP Ibrahim Kanaan objected to figures sent by the Ministry of Finance for the customs dollar to be based on the exchange rate of the dollar at a value of 15,000 Lebanese pounds.

Director-General of Parliament Financial Affairs Dr. Ahmad Al-Laqis, an academic specializing in budgets and taxes, told Arab News: “It is the least possible budget. It is required by the International Monetary Fund. All objections are for political purposes.”

Al-Laqis added that the budget is only relevant for the remaining three months of the year.

As of next year, there will be general financial regulation, and the solutions required to resolve the economic crisis can be included in the draft 2023 budget as the state sets its economic plan, the official said.

The increase in retired military personnel salaries will be three times the basic salary, and will not include the benefits they receive, Al-Laqis said.

Meanwhile, Lebanese banks, which reopened their doors to customers after a week-long closure, witnessed crowding in front of their doors by employees and military personnel, who flocked to complete transactions and withdrawals.

The Association of Banks has adopted new procedures for receiving customers, including the need for appointments.

Some operations, including cash withdrawals and deposits related to transfers, can be completed through ATM exchange platforms.

Lebanese security services patrolled around bank branches during the reopening.

The banks, which initially resorted to opening a few branches to customers, took strict security measures to prevent a recurrence of the holdups carried out two weeks ago by angry depositors.

Some depositors had used weapons and incendiary devices to threaten employees in order to obtain their dollar deposits, which have been frozen since a decision by the Banque du Liban in 2019.