UN chief discusses Western Sahara with Moroccan king

UN chief discusses Western Sahara with Moroccan king
UN chief Antonio Guterres arrives at the UNAOC Global Forum in Morocco’s northern city of Fes. (AFP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

UN chief discusses Western Sahara with Moroccan king

UN chief discusses Western Sahara with Moroccan king

RABAT: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held a rare meeting with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Wednesday, where the pair discussed the disputed Western Sahara region.
The low-intensity conflict in Western Sahara has pitted Morocco against the Sahrawi independence fighters of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, for more than 40 years.
Morocco de facto controls 80 percent of the vast desert region, rich in phosphates and with a long Atlantic coast abutting rich fishing waters.
King Mohammed on Wednesday reaffirmed Morocco’s position that the regional dispute should be settled “within the framework of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom,” according to a royal statement.
The UN confirmed that Guterres and the monarch had discussed “the situation in the region and, in particular, in Western Sahara” on the sidelines of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations held in the Moroccan city of Fez.
The kingdom sees the Western Sahara as its own “southern provinces,” a region it controlled before colonial Spain seized it.
The Polisario Front is calling for a referendum on self-determination, which had been planned when a cease-fire was signed in 1991 but never implemented.
That cease-fire was shattered in November 2020.
In late October, the UN Security Council called on both sides to resume negotiations to allow for a “lasting and mutually acceptable” solution.
Last year, Guterres appointed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as his personal envoy for Western Sahara, in an attempt to revive the stalled peace process.
Mistura has since made several trips to the region, but in his recently published annual report Guterres said he was “deeply concerned about the evolution of the situation.”
Mohammed VI reiterated Wednesday “the support of the kingdom to the efforts of the Secretary-General and his personal envoy,” the royal office said.


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.