US remains committed to engagement in the Middle East, says top official

US remains committed to engagement in the Middle East, says top official
US Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf met with Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis as part of her recent trip to the Middle East. (Photo courtesy of US Embassy in Tunisia)
Short Url
Updated 15 September 2022

US remains committed to engagement in the Middle East, says top official

US remains committed to engagement in the Middle East, says top official
  • Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said reaffirming this message was a main focus of her recent tour of the region
  • She said that during visits to Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Palestine she talked with leading officials about a range of local, regional and global issues

WASHINGTON: Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said on Wednesday that a main focus of her recent trip to several Arab countries was to reaffirm American engagement in the Middle East and North Africa.

She added that the aim was to reinforce the regional diplomacy efforts of President Joe Biden and his administration, including the sharing of US priorities, assistance for Washington’s regional partners to resolve conflicts, and a push for economic and political reforms.

Leaf said during a briefing in Washington, attended by the Arab News, that during her tour of Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian West Bank in late August and early September she held talks with leading officials about the deescalation of conflicts and other local, regional and global issues.

In Tunisia, she said she discussed with President Kais Saied the political and economic challenges his country is facing. She stressed to him the US commitment to its partnership with Tunisia in support of democratic values and human rights, and the importance of an inclusive process for political and economic reforms.

Also in Tunisia, Leaf held talks with Mohammed Al-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, and Saddek El-Kaber, governor of Libya’s Central Bank. She said she urged them to support a clear path to democratic national elections, along with economic reforms and transparency.

During her visits to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Leaf said she reiterated Biden’s message during his own trip to the region in July that the “US remains unwavering in its ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and that the US will work … to strengthen the US-Israeli partnership.”

Washington also remains committed to “keeping alive the vision of a two-state solution where Palestinians and Israelis can live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity,” she added. “This means working together collaboratively on economic and security issues and reducing unilateral action.”

Leaf said she also followed up on projects Biden has proposed with the aim of improving the Palestinian economic situation. These include Israeli permission for a 4G cellular service for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and an extension of the opening hours for the Allenby Bridge, which connects the Occupied Territories with Jordan and is the only option for international travel for three million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In addition, Leaf discussed Biden’s proposal for $100 million in US aid to Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem, which is awaiting approval by the US Congress.

It remains unclear, however, how the US will reconcile its vision for two-state solution amid ongoing illegal Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian areas, and Israeli military raids targeting Palestinians. Since its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has built numerous illegal settlements and is in control of Palestinian land, water resources and airwaves.

During her visit to Amman, Leaf met Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister. She said they discussed bilateral relations and the upcoming signing of a seven-year memorandum of understating that will be largest and longest agreement between the two countries.

Jordan currently receives about $1.6 billion in annual economic and military aid from the US, which makes it the second-largest recipient after Israel.

“The US is committed to economic reform in Jordan while strengthening its resilience and stability and security,” Leaf said

She added that the human rights situation in the country, in particular the arrest of journalists and civil rights activists, forms part of continuing bilateral discussions.

Leaf said that in Iraq she met a number of senior officials, academics, civil society activists and entrepreneurs for discussions about the country’s stability, economic progress and political process.

The US considers Iraq a vital partner, she added, and a strategic framework agreement remains key to relations.

“All of our activities, programs and policies are framed to support Iraq’s sovereignty stability and security,” she said.


One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

Updated 11 sec ago

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran

One killed in shooting at Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran
  • The attack led to the death of the head of the security team and injured others
One person was killed and two wounded when a shooter opened fire at a guard post outside Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
“The attacker broke through the guard post, killing the head of security with a Kalashnikov assault rifle,” it said.

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid
Updated 27 January 2023

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

Israel, Gaza fighters trade fire after deadly West Bank raid

JERUSALEM: Gaza militants fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes early Friday as tensions soared following an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman.
It was the deadliest single raid in the territory in over two decades. The flare-up in violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and casts a shadow on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s expected trip to the region next week.
Palestinian militants fired five rockets at Israel, the military said. Three were intercepted, one fell in an open area and another fell short inside Gaza. Israel carried out a series of airstrikes at what it said were militant targets. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Thursday’s deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp was likely to reverberate on Friday as Palestinians gather for weekly Muslim prayers that are often followed by protests. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, had earlier threatened revenge for the raid.
Raising the stakes, the Palestinian Authority said it would halt the ties that its security forces maintain with Israel in a shared effort to contain Islamic militants. Previous threats have been short-lived, in part because of the benefits the authority enjoys from the relationship and also due to US and Israeli pressure to maintain it.
The Palestinian Authority already has limited control over scattered enclaves in the West Bank, and almost none over militant strongholds like the Jenin camp. But the announcement could pave the way for Israel to step up operations it says are needed to prevent attacks.
The Israeli strikes early Friday targeted training sites for Palestinian militant groups, the military said. Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at a Hamas militant base before fighter jets struck it, causing four large explosions.
Air raid sirens went off in southern Israel as the initial two rockets were fired and then again after the airstrikes, when the militants fired the other three rockets.
On Thursday, Israeli forces went on heightened alert as Palestinians filled the streets across the West Bank, chanting in solidarity with Jenin. President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, and in the refugee camp, residents dug a mass grave for the dead.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had decided to cut security coordination in “light of the repeated aggression against our people.” He also said the Palestinians planned to file complaints with the UN Security Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Barbara Leaf, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said the Biden administration was deeply concerned about the situation and that civilian casualties reported in Jenin were “quite regrettable.” But she also said the Palestinian announcement to suspend security ties and to pursue the matter at international organizations was a mistake.
Thursday’s gunbattle that left nine dead and 20 wounded erupted when Israel’s military conducted a rare daytime operation in the Jenin camp that it said was meant to prevent an imminent attack on Israelis. The camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group has a major foothold, has been a focus of near-nightly Israeli arrest raids.
Hamas’ armed wing claimed four of the dead as members, while Islamic Jihad claimed three others. An earlier statement from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militia loosely affiliated with Abbas’ secular Fatah party, claimed one of the dead was a fighter named Izz Al-Din Salahat, but it was unclear if he was among those seven militants.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the 61-year-old woman killed as Magda Obaid, and the Israeli military said it was looking into reports of her death.
The Israeli military circulated aerial video it said was taken during the battle, showing what appeared to be Palestinians on rooftops hurling stones and firebombs on Israeli forces below. At least one Palestinian can be seen opening fire from a rooftop.
Later in the day, Israeli forces fatally shot a 22-year-old and wounded two others, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as Palestinians confronted Israeli troops north of Jerusalem to protest Thursday’s raid. Israel’s paramilitary Border Police said they opened fire on Palestinians who launched fireworks at them from close range.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Israel’s new national security minister, far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who seeks to grant legal immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, posted a video of himself beaming triumphantly and congratulating security forces.
The raid left a trail of destruction in Jenin. A two-story building, apparently the operation’s target, was a charred wreck. The military said it entered the building to detonate explosives.
Palestinian Health Minister May Al-Kaila said paramedics struggled to reach the wounded during the fighting, while Akram Rajoub, the governor of Jenin, said the military prevented emergency workers from evacuating them.
Both accused the military of firing tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke. Video at the hospital showed women carrying children into a corridor.
The military said forces closed roads to aid the operation, which may have complicated rescue efforts, and that tear gas had likely wafted into the hospital from nearby clashes.
The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said Thursday marked the single bloodiest West Bank incursion since 2002, at the height of an intense wave of violence known as the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which left scars still visible in Jenin.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed and saddened” by the violence. Condemnations came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Turkiye, which recently reestablished full diplomatic ties with Israel. Neighboring Jordan, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries also condemned the Israeli raid.
The Islamic Jihad branch in Gaza has repeatedly fought against Israel, most recently in a fierce three-day clash last summer that killed dozens of Palestinians and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Hamas, which seized power from the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 2007, has fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes with Israel.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest in those territories since 2004, according to B’Tselem. So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed. So far this year, not including Thursday, one-third of the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians had ties to armed groups.
Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim those territories for their hoped-for state.
Israel has established dozens of settlements in the West Bank that now house 500,000 people. The Palestinians and much of the international community view settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, even as talks to end the conflict have been moribund for over a decade.


France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee
Updated 27 January 2023

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

France, Iraq sign comprehensive strategic partnership agreement — Elysee

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani on Thursday, the French presidency said, signing a set of strategic agreements meant to boost Iraq’s economic cooperation with the European country.
In the meeting, France and Iraq signed a treaty that seeks to strengthen bilateral relations in anti-corruption, security, renewable energy and culture, the Elysee Palace said on Friday.


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.


Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
Updated 26 January 2023

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.

“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.

The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.

The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.

But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.

Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.

The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.

Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.

But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.

Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.

“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.

But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.