EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school

A school sign that reads
A school sign that reads "state of Palestine, ministry of education, Ein Samia school," is displayed in the West Bank, northeast of Ramallah, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 15 August 2022

EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school

EU joins protests over Israeli decision to demolish Palestinian Bedouin school
  • Palestinian politician Mustafa Al-Barghouthi told Arab News that Israel does not take the EU seriously

RAMALLAH: Palestinians have expressed anger over an Israeli court decision to demolish a school serving a Palestinian Bedouin community east of Ramallah in the West Bank that was built with EU financial support early this year.

The school was built in mid-January, and served 17 students and children of the Bedouin community from the first to the sixth grade.

More students were expected to attend the school in the coming year. The only other school available to the Bedouin community is 11 km away.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, in cooperation with a Palestinian legal body, succeeded in obtaining a decision from the Israeli court in Jerusalem not to demolish the school for 10 days after the civil administration staff of the Israeli authorities stormed the area and announced its intention to carry out the demolition.

On Aug. 12, representatives, ambassadors and consuls of the EU visited the school to show solidarity with the students and protest against the court’s decision.

Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s representative in Palestine, said: “This is not the first visit in which we meet to protest against the decisions of the occupation. Israel, as the occupying power, must respect the right to education under international law and relevant international conventions, and guarantee the right of Palestinian children to reach their schools easily.”

He described the decision to demolish the school as “illogical,” adding that it is a clear violation of all international obligations and amounts to forced displacement.

Palestinian politician Mustafa Al-Barghouthi told Arab News that Israel does not take the EU seriously.

Barghouthi said that that the circumstances surrounding the school demolition reveal the EU’s double standards over Ukraine and what is happening in Palestine, adding that Israel understands only the language of force, and does not respect human rights or the rights of the Palestinian people.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh affirmed his rejection of the Israeli court decision.

“The Israeli occupation’s decision to demolish the Ein Samiya school comes within the framework of the war on Palestinian identity, and within the framework of frantic attempts to the family education,” he said during the Cabinet session on Monday.

“The halt to the completion of the construction of the Ein Samiya school and the attempts to impose the Israeli curriculum on Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem are two sides of the same coin.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Education also condemned the Israeli court’s decision.  

A ministry spokesman, Sadiq Al-Khaddour, said that the decision aims to displace Palestinians from their lands.

Israel’s targeting of Ein Samiya school is part of an attack on Palestinian national identity and education in all areas, he said.

The ministry said that it is looking at mechanisms to stop the demolition, in cooperation with friends, partners, organizations and international bodies.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities canceled the licenses of six Palestinian private schools in Jerusalem for teaching the Palestinian curriculum instead of the Israeli version.

“We will defend our Palestinian curriculum and the right of our children to education in all regions,” Shtayyeh said.


Probable civilian deaths during British air strikes in Iraq throw doubt on ‘perfect’ war claims

Probable civilian deaths during British air strikes in Iraq throw doubt on ‘perfect’ war claims
Updated 11 sec ago

Probable civilian deaths during British air strikes in Iraq throw doubt on ‘perfect’ war claims

Probable civilian deaths during British air strikes in Iraq throw doubt on ‘perfect’ war claims

LONDON: Civilian deaths as a result of air strikes on Daesh targets in Iraq have been linked to British forces, according to a Guardian investigation released on Tuesday.

Forces in the US-led coalition fighting against Daesh in Iraq have admitted the killings of hundreds of civilians in Iraq in the period after 2014, but Britain’s government and military have long claimed that a “perfect” war was fought, in which no non-combatants or ordinary Iraqis were killed.

However, the report, which was carried out with the watchdog Airwars, concluded that UK forces were probably responsible for civilian deaths in at least six strikes on the city of Mosul in 2016 and 2017.

In the strikes highlighted, the coalition admits the deaths of 26 civilians, and victims of two of the strikes were identified in the report.

A further strike on Jan. 9, 2017 on Mosul, which coalition officials accepted killed two civilians, has been confirmed as a Royal Air Force mission, but British officials deny that the casualties were civilian but rather legitimate militant targets.

British bombing in Iraq as part of the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition efforts against Daesh started in 2014, and in Syria the year after, with more than 4,000 munitions in the two countries, the report concluded.

UK military figures claim 3,052 Daesh militants were killed in Iraq with no civilian deaths, with 1,017 militants killed in Syria with one civilian death, between 2014 and 2020.

“There is no evidence or indication that civilian casualties were caused by strikes in Syria and Iraq,” a Ministry of Defense spokesperson told the Guardian.

“The UK always minimizes the risk of civilian casualties through our rigorous processes and carefully examines a range of evidence to do this, including comprehensive analysis of the mission data for every strike,” the spokesperson said.

However, critics say that the British position is not convincing.

Former military officials have called the claim of no civilian deaths in Iraq “a stretch” and “nonsense,” especially after the 2016 Chilcot report into the UK’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq found that not enough had been done to locate injured or killed non-combatants.

If Britain is forced to accept responsibility for civilian deaths, a law passed in 2021 set a six-year cut-off point for compensation claims for survivors, which leaves those in Iraq and Syria unable to make a claim against the government.


Kuwait, UK hold strategic dialogue in London

Kuwait, UK hold strategic dialogue in London
Updated 22 March 2023

Kuwait, UK hold strategic dialogue in London

Kuwait, UK hold strategic dialogue in London

LONDON: The first session of strategic dialogues between Kuwait and the UK were held in London on Monday with the aim of strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation in several fields, the Kuwait News Agency reported.

The Kuwaiti side was led by Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah while the British side was chaired by James Cleverly, secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs. 

During the session, Cleverly said although the world has witnessed significant changes, Kuwaiti-British relations had grown stronger. He also lauded Kuwait’s well-balanced foreign policy, which focuses on promoting regional security and peace. 

Sheikh Salem and Cleverly discussed the most recent regional and international developments as well as strategies for enhancing international cooperation. They also coordinated on issues such as the situation in occupied Palestinian territories and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Houthi court sentences Yemeni YouTubers to different prison terms

Houthi court sentences Yemeni YouTubers to different prison terms
Updated 22 March 2023

Houthi court sentences Yemeni YouTubers to different prison terms

Houthi court sentences Yemeni YouTubers to different prison terms
  • The four YouTubers were apprehended by the Houthis from various places in Sanaa and at various periods in December and January

AL-MUKALLA: A Houthi-controlled court in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, sentenced four Yemeni YouTubers to different prison sentences on Tuesday and shut down their internet channels after accusing them of inciting the public against the militia, rekindling indignation against the Yemeni militia and their habit of punishing dissidents through courts.

Abdul Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer who defends abductees held in Houthi prisons, said that the Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Sanaa sentenced Ahmad Elaw to three years in prison, Mustafa Al-Mawmari to one and a half years, Ahmed Hajjar to one year, and Hamoud Al-Mesbahi to six months, accusing them of circulating false information to damage national security.

The court ordered the closure of their YouTube channels and a fine of 10 million Yemeni riyals ($1=547 riyals in Houthi-controlled territories). The court also ordered the confiscation of Elaw’s mobile phones, cameras, and bank accounts.

Waddah Qutaish, the YouTubers’ attorney, said on his Facebook page that the judge read out the judgment without providing any grounds or evidence for granting it, calling the sentence “unjust” and intended to stifle free speech, and stating that he has filed an appeal.

The four YouTubers were apprehended by the Houthis from various places in Sanaa and at various periods in December and January.

The Houthis abducted Hajjar, a well-known Yemeni comedian, actor, and YouTuber, as he walked down Al-Zubairi street in Sanaa in December, just days after he appeared in a video criticizing the Houthis for overtaxing people, failing to pay government salaries, corruption, and failing to address aggravating poverty.

The Houthis kidnapped the other three YouTubers in January after they released videos showing support for Hajar, calling for his release, and criticizing the Houthis once more.

Al-Mawmari is the most popular YouTuber with over 2 million YouTube subscribers and tens of thousands of Facebook fans, followed by Elaw with 800,000 YouTube subscribers.

On Monday, Houthi security services released a video of the YouTubers confessing to inciting the public to revolt against the movement, as well as creating fake content and social media accounts, apologizing for criticizing the militia, and blaming “aggression” for the worsening economic situation in Sanaa, referring to the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

The ruling has provoked protests against the Houthis, who have been accused of attempting to muzzle dissenting voices. “Al-Houthi is an unruly gang that utilizes the court as a weapon for repression…and the abolition of individual liberties,” Mohammed Al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni journalist, said on Facebook.

Why Daesh is still not a spent force despite facing terminal decline in Iraq

Why Daesh is still not a spent force despite facing terminal decline in Iraq
Updated 22 March 2023

Why Daesh is still not a spent force despite facing terminal decline in Iraq

Why Daesh is still not a spent force despite facing terminal decline in Iraq
  • Unable to attract new recruits or mount significant attacks, analysts say the group is a spent force in Iraq
  • Western military leaders fear Daesh prisoners held in Syria could pose threat as an ‘army in detention’

IRBIL, KURDISTAN: Having once controlled roughly a third of the country at the height of its power, including several major cities and oilfields, there are now growing signs that what remains of the Daesh terrorist organization in Iraq is in terminal decline.

Unable to attract new recruits to shore up its dwindling numbers, nor able to mount significant offensive operations, the group that had in 2014 proclaimed its own “caliphate” today looks like a spent force — in Iraq at least.

On March 12, Iraqi General Qais Al-Mohamadawi revealed that Daesh has about 500 active militants remaining in the country. However, he stressed that they are confined to remote desert areas and mountains and have lost their “ability to attract new recruits.”

The following day, the US-led coalition tweeted that Daesh networks “remain under intense pressure,” with the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga having “removed from the battlefield at least 55” of the militants in February alone. 

Joel Wing, author of the “Musings on Iraq” blog and who tracks security incidents in Iraq attributed to Daesh, recently wrote that recorded incidents from the start of March are a reminder that Daesh is in its “death throes in Iraq” and “remains barely active in the country.”

Only three incidents were attributed to Daesh in the first week of March, down from eight in the last week of February. Furthermore, since the start of 2023, eight out of nine weeks have witnessed security incidents in the single digits, which Wing says continues a trend that began in 2022, when the majority of weeks saw fewer than ten attacks. 

An Iraqi fighter flashes the sign for victory on top of an armed vehicle in the village of Albu Ajil, Tikrit, on March 8, 2015, during a military operation to regain control of the Tikrit area from Daesh militants. (AFP)

“I don’t see a Daesh revival any time soon,” Wing told Arab News, using another name for Daesh. “They’ve had five years to recover from their defeat in Mosul and all signs point to the group getting weaker, not stronger.”

Mosul is Iraq’s second city and the largest urban center the group annexed into its self-styled caliphate, which, at the height of its power in the mid-2010s, covered about one-third of Iraq and one-third of Syria. 

Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul with the support of the US-led coalition in July 2017 after months of intense fighting. Iraq declared victory over the group the following December. 

Having lost its territorial caliphate, Daesh mounted an insurgency from rural and mountainous redoubts. For years, there were fears that the group had reverted to its pre-2014 status as an insurgent threat and could one day retake significant swathes of territory. 

It now seems that dire prospect is a remote one.

“They haven’t been able to recruit many new Iraqis to their cause,” Wing said. “Their main activities appear to be trying to smuggle members and their families from Syria into Iraq and protecting the rural areas they control. There are hardly any offensive operations and they are completely absent from Iraq’s urban centers.”

And while Daesh could feasibly continue in this state for years to come, since there are few people and a minimal government presence in the areas where they operate, Wing says that they have “little to no effect upon Iraq anymore.”

Michael Knights, the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, sees two different scenarios potentially unfolding. 

“If current trends continue, Daesh is headed in the same direction as Algeria’s terrorist groups — disintegration into criminal gangs, inability to destabilize the country, and occasional terrorist outrages that are easy to quickly forget,” he told Arab News, using another acronym for Daesh. 

“The question is whether — as in 2011-2014 — the Iraqi government will politicize the security forces and adopt a sectarian agenda, thus breathing life back into Daesh,” he said. 

The government of former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki adopted just such an agenda after the US withdrew the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011. Consequently, when Daesh entered Mosul in June 2014, the ISF infamously did not fight, despite having vastly superior numbers. 

The destroyed Al-Nuri mosque in the Old City of Mosul. (AFP)

Daesh invaded northern Iraq in 2014 after gaining a sizable foothold in Syria amid the chaos of that country’s brutal civil war. If the security situation in eastern Syria again deteriorates, there are fears this could reenergize diminished Daesh remnants in Iraq. 

After visiting prisons holding thousands of Daesh militants in northeast Syria earlier this month, General Michael Kurilla, head of the US military’s Central Command, CENTCOM, warned of a “looming threat” posed by these detainees.  

“Between those detained in Syria and Iraq, it is a veritable ‘ISIS army in detention,’” he said in a CENTCOM statement. “If freed, this group would pose a great threat regionally and beyond.”

The Al-Hol camp in eastern Syria also houses tens of thousands of the relatives of alleged Daesh militants, roughly half of whom are Iraqi citizens. 

In January 2022, Daesh detainees in Ghwayran prison in the northeast Syrian city of Hasakah rioted in coordination with an external attempt to free them, igniting 10 days of bitter fighting with Kurdish-led security forces. Daesh reportedly had similar plots for Al-Hol. 

“Sneaking people out of Al-Hol and getting them into Iraq is a major priority because they haven’t been able to bring many new people to their cause in Iraq,” said Wing. “So they’re relying upon getting their current members out of the Syrian camp to try to bolster their numbers, but it hasn’t added to their capabilities at all.”

Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at the risk intelligence company RANE, emphasizes the importance of recalling the context in which Daesh initially emerged to “better understand the conditions that would allow it to return in the future.”

“ISIS emerged in a power vacuum, one first caused by the US invasion of Iraq and then the Syrian civil war that began in 2011,” Bohl told Arab News. “It was best able to grow and exploit local grievances for its radical agenda when its rivals were split and when it was not the focus of a major power, like the US, Turkiye, or Russia.

“Today, Iraq, despite deep political dysfunction and violence, is not nearly as divided as it was during the run-up to the Daesh blitz in 2014 into Iraq. Syria’s civil war has stabilized, leaving little room for them to grow there as well.”

Nevertheless, completely eradicating a group such as Daesh will remain a difficult, if not impossible, task for Iraqi authorities. 

“There will always be online recruitment and localized grievances that can turn into small cells or radicalized individual attackers,” Bohl said. “Iraq’s social contract also remains fractured, and until there is a strong, sustained governing consensus, radicalism of all stripes will find a home there.”

“Between those detained in Syria and Iraq it is a veritable ‘ISIS army in detention,’” said Gen. Michael Kurilla, Commander of US Central Command. (Supplied)

While he believes Syria is the most likely place from which Daesh can make a resurgence in the region, there would first have to be a strategic shift, such as a US withdrawal or some power vacuum caused by Damascus forcibly reestablishing its rule over the area. 

“Under those conditions, it would become possible for Daesh to retake some initiative in that area and use Syria’s northeast to attack Iraq,” he said. 

“However, it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out that Daesh could resurge in Iraq, particularly if political problems there grow so severe that it reignites sectarian war. 

“Under those (more remote) circumstances, Daesh would once again have a shot at restoring territorial control within Iraq, even if Syria remained stable.”

Knights also stresses that any chance of Daesh making a successful resurgence in Iraq depends on Baghdad’s management of its security forces. 

“Syria is like a freezer in which Daesh can hibernate, waiting for it to experience a springtime in Iraq,” he said. “If the Iraqi government mismanages the security file, then a cross-border pollination could start again.”


Egypt hopes to attract 30m tourists by 2028

Egypt hopes to attract 30m tourists by 2028
Updated 21 March 2023

Egypt hopes to attract 30m tourists by 2028

Egypt hopes to attract 30m tourists by 2028
  • 30% rise expected by year-end, to total 15m visitors
  • Untapped market of 272m people globally, says minister

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa hopes the promising rise in tourists this year will translate into a 30 percent increase by the year-end, bringing the total to 15 million.

Issa said there was an increase of 34 percent in the number of tourists over the past two months compared to the same period last year.

He made the remarks during a symposium organized by the Egyptian-Lebanese Businessmen Association titled “Tourism and Industry: Promising Opportunities for Economic Development.”

Issa said the Egyptian government has developed a new national tourism strategy and hopes numbers will double to 30 million by 2028. More effective collaboration is being sought with the private sector and 3,000 operators in the industry that are aligned to five tourism chambers and the Egyptian Tourism Federation. Growth rates are projected at between 25 to 30 percent.

Issa said there are three components for success by 2028: Doubling the capacity available to Egyptian Airlines; boosting services including protecting tourists from harassment and fraud; and improving the investment climate to triple the capacity of hotels and leisure activities.

He said that Egypt has not tapped a huge market, estimated at 272 million tourists globally who want to enjoy the country’s products. Issa said there were positive signs of the country making headway to capture a greater portion of the market, citing the rise in last December’s figures.

He said the government was focusing on 12 specific areas of the market, including the Pyramids Area Development Plan.

Last week, Issa said 11.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2022.

According to data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the number of tourists visiting Egypt increased by 85.4 percent to 4.9 million in the first half of 2022, compared to 2.6 million over the same period in 2021.

There were 8 million tourist from all countries in 2021, up from 3.7 million in 2020, representing a 117.5 percent rise.