Lebanon, Israel agree on US proposal for maritime border demarcation

Update Lebanon, Israel agree on US proposal for maritime border demarcation
A United Nations peacekeeping force vehicle drives on the coastal road of Naqura, the southernmost Lebanese town by the border with Israel. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 October 2022

Lebanon, Israel agree on US proposal for maritime border demarcation

Lebanon, Israel agree on US proposal for maritime border demarcation
  • Deal “preserves Lebanon’s rights to its natural wealth,” presidency says
  • Two countries ‘have reached a historic agreement,’ Israeli PM says

BEIRUT: Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday approved the final version of a US proposal for the maritime border demarcation between the two countries.

The Lebanese presidency said it “considers the final version of this offer satisfactory to Lebanon, especially as it meets the Lebanese demands that have been the focus of a long debate during the past months and required effort and long hours of difficult and complex negotiations.”

It added: “The presidency believes that the final formula preserves Lebanon’s rights to its natural wealth, at an important time for the Lebanese.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: “Lebanon and Israel have reached a historic agreement regarding the demarcation of the maritime borders,” adding that the Israeli Cabinet would meet Wednesday to ratify the agreement.

“The agreement will enhance Israel’s security, inject billions into the Israeli economy, and ensure the stability of our northern borders,” he said.

Lebanon’s Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab, who handled the negotiations with US mediator Amos Hochstein, said the agreement “will secure economic stability in the region.”

The amended draft agreement, which was verbally agreed upon, gives Lebanon the 860 sq. km area delineated by Line 23 — an issue that has been disputed for a decade — as well as revenues from the section that crosses Line 23 from the Qana field to Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

Lebanon has abandoned its demand to hold on to Line 29, which would have given it part of the Karish field, which is now entirely Israel’s.

Former Lebanese MP Fares Souaid told Arab News: “The protection of this agreement rests with the Lebanese army, the constitution and relevant international resolutions 1559, 1701 and 2650. Any attempt by Hezbollah to say that this agreement was reached thanks to its weapons, must be rejected. Hezbollah’s weapons threaten the region and the borders can only be protected by the strength of Lebanese, Arab and international legitimacy.

“The sovereign MPs in parliament should demand to read the agreement and discuss what the point of Hezbollah’s weapons is.”

As Lebanon and Israel approved the agreement, a top-level delegation from TotalEnergies, which will undertake exploration in Lebanese waters, arrived in Beirut for talks with Lebanese officials.

Hochstein visited Paris last month, and in coordination with the French government, discussed with TotalEnergies the issue of financial compensation for Israel from the Qana field, especially as Lebanon refused any direct profit-sharing with its neighbor. As a result, the company will pay compensation from the revenue it obtains from the extracted gas. This matter was mentioned in the US draft proposal for the maritime border demarcation agreement.

Lebanon received the amended draft from Hochstein soon after midnight on Monday, and Bou Saab forwarded it to President Michel Aoun on Tuesday, so that Aoun could conduct the “necessary consultations on this national issue and officially announce Lebanon’s unified national position.”

After his meeting with the president, Bou Saab said: “This agreement secures great economic interests and meets Lebanon’s demands. Contrary to what is rumored, Lebanon achieved its rightful demands, and so did the other party. The atmosphere is very positive, and I can say that we have reached a solution that satisfies both parties.

“Lebanon will get all its rights from the Qana field and Israel can take its compensation from TotalEnergies and not from Lebanon. Lebanon previously signed an agreement with TotalEnergies in 2017. There will be no sharing of gas or wealth between Lebanon and Israel in the Qana field.”

Bou Saab handed over a copy of the draft agreement to Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and said after the meeting: “The unified position gave Lebanon strength, and everyone knows that Lebanon is not in a weak position, especially in these negotiations that preserve our sovereignty and our rights.”

He said the final formula was being studied by Berri and caretaker Premier Najib Mikati, and there would be a unified position for Lebanon.

“We will submit the agreement to the UN. This agreement is not between Lebanon and a country that we do not recognize, but rather with the US.”

Mikati said he hoped the agreement would be concluded as soon as possible and thanked Hochstein for his efforts and for leading the negotiation process with precision, professionalism and patience.

“The unified Lebanese position on this issue and Lebanon’s adherence to its rights and demands led to this positive result,” he said.

Mikati also thanked France “for directly contributing to reaching an agreement and overcoming the obstacles that arose during the indirect negotiations.”

After the TotalEnergies delegation met Mikati and the caretaker energy minister, a source said: “The delegation explained that TotalEnergies will try to quickly bring in the necessary ships and mechanisms to start the work by the beginning of 2023.”

The American Task Force on Lebanon welcomed the agreement that demarcates the exclusive economic zones between the two countries.

“This agreement brings hope to the Lebanese people who have suffered through many months of economic despair and social upheaval; and it reminds the global community of the support still needed by those people to recover and survive through what the World Bank has said is the worst economic disaster since the mid-19th century,” ATFL head Ed Gabriel said.

President Joe Biden told Lebanon President Michel Aoun in a telephone call Tuesday that the country's maritime agreement with Israel should “mark a new chapter for Lebanese people” and that the United States would help to resolve issues that may arise under the deal, the White House said in a statement.


Blinken lands in Cairo for start of Mideast visit

Blinken lands in Cairo for start of Mideast visit
Updated 29 January 2023

Blinken lands in Cairo for start of Mideast visit

Blinken lands in Cairo for start of Mideast visit
  • In his fourth trip to the region, Blinken is expected to use US influence to notch down Israeli-Palestinian tensions after an eruption of violence

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Egypt on Sunday in his fourth trip to the region where he is expected to use US influence to notch down Israeli-Palestinian tensions after an eruption of violence.
Blinken, who will travel Monday and Tuesday to Jerusalem and Ramallah, had long planned the visit to see Israel’s new right-wing government, but the trip takes on a new urgency after some of the worst violence in years.
A Palestinian gunman on Friday killed seven people outside a synagogue in a settler neighborhood of east Jerusalem, and another attack followed on Saturday.
On Thursday, nine people were killed in an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in one of the deadliest such operations in years. Israel said it was targeting Islamic Jihad militants and also hit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire.
Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and call “broadly for steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters as he condemned the “horrific” synagogue attack.
The violence is also likely to figure in talks between Blinken and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, whose country’s traditional role as a Middle East mediator has helped him remain a key US partner despite President Joe Biden’s criticism of his human rights record.
The United States, with its close relationship to Israel, has historically taken a lead on Middle East diplomacy.
But experts questioned whether Blinken could achieve any breakthroughs.
“The absolute best they can do is to keep things stable to avoid another May 2021,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator, referring to more than two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas that ended with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
Ghaith Al-Omari, a former Palestinian official now at The Washington Institute, expected Blinken to repeat traditional US positions rather than break new ground.
“The trip itself is the message,” he said.
“Blinken will ask Abbas to do more but it is not clear what they can do,” he said, referring to the Palestinians.


Blinken’s visit is part of an effort by the Biden administration to engage quickly with Netanyahu, who returned to office in late December leading the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister had a fraught relationship with the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, as Netanyahu openly sides with his Republican adversaries against US diplomacy with Iran.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, visited earlier in January to discuss Iran after Biden’s efforts to restore a 2015 nuclear accord — despised by Netanyahu — effectively died.
“I’ve never seen such an intense flurry of high-level contacts under any administration as you’re watching right now,” said Miller, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The Biden team is looking “to avoid confrontation with Netanyahu,” Miller said, noting the strong support for the Israeli leader among Republicans who now control the House of Representatives.
David Makovsky, also at the Washington Institute, said he also understood that CIA Director Bill Burns has been visiting the region.
“It looks a little like flooding the zone,” he said.
Netanyahu has hailed as a key achievement the normalization of relations in 2020 with the United Arab Emirates, which has moved full speed ahead on developing ties despite public concerns over the new government’s moves.
Blinken is expected on his trip to reiterate US support for a Palestinian state, a prospect that few expect to advance under the new Israeli government.
The State Department said Blinken would also call for the preservation of the status quo at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is holy both to Jews and Muslims.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right ideologue who holds a security post in Netanyahu’s government, in early January defiantly visited the site, which Jews call the Temple Mount.
In Egypt, Blinken is also expected to discuss regional issues such as Libya and Sudan, the State Department said.
Egypt remains one of the top recipients of US military assistance, but the cooperation faces scrutiny from parts of Biden’s Democratic Party due to El-Sisi’s rights record.
Authorities released hundreds of political prisoners last year, but rights groups estimate some 60,000 remain in detention, many facing harsh conditions and overcrowded cells.
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Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement
Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.


Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference
Updated 29 January 2023

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

ALGIERS: Parliamentary committees of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Saturday agreed on the need to digitize the OIC’s work and organize periodic virtual sessions and meetings to enhance its work.

General secretaries unanimously agreed during preparatory meetings for the 17th session of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, which is set to be held in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Sunday.

PUIC Secretary-General Mouhamed Khouraichi Niass renewed his call for setting up a cooperation mechanism between Islamic and international parliaments to strengthen relations in all fields.

Niass expressed his hope to develop a work program to achieve the objectives of the PUIC’s General Assembly and to exchange scientific and practical expertise to upgrade the performance of the General Secretariat.

On Friday, the ninth meeting of the standing committee specialized in cultural and legal affairs and the dialogue of civilizations and religions was held, where members reviewed a number of draft resolutions related to Islamic sanctities in Muslim and non-Islamic countries, especially the protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from threats. 

The committee also dealt with combating religious intolerance and supporting dialogue among civilizations, as well as combating the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia around the world.


Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2023

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize

TUNIS: Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Barely 11 percent of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition groups and ignored by many Tunisians disillusioned with their leaders.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed.
In seven constituencies, not even one candidate bothered to run.
President Kais Saied is pinning his hopes on Sunday’s second round of voting, which will wrap up his sweeping redesign of Tunisian politics that began when he suspended the previous parliament in 2021.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied.
The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Ennahdha party, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
Some Ennahdha officials have been jailed and the party is refusing to take part in the parliamentary elections, and has held repeated protests.
In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50 percent of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats.
In the seven constituencies with no candidate, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March. Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse.
At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices.
Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohammed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
The economy is meanwhile teetering.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18 percent and exceeds 25 percent in the poor regions of the interior of the country, while inflation rate is 10.1 percent.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.

 


Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people
Updated 29 January 2023

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

DUBAI: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran near the border with Turkiye on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 300, state media reported.
The official news agency IRNA reported the toll citing the head of emergency services at the university in the city of Khoy, near the quake’s epicenter.
An emergency official told state TV that it was snowing in some of the affected areas, with freezing temperatures and some power cuts reported.
Major geological faultlines crisscross Iran, which has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.