Jordan welcomes water deal amid fears on refugee, climate crises

The National Water Carrier Project will produce roughly 300 million cubic meters of desalinated water annually in Aqaba. (AFP/File Photo)
The National Water Carrier Project will produce roughly 300 million cubic meters of desalinated water annually in Aqaba. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 02 January 2023

Jordan welcomes water deal amid fears on refugee, climate crises

Jordan welcomes water deal amid fears on refugee, climate crises

AMMAN: Jordan has signed a soft loan agreement with a European lender to help finance a mega $2.5 billion water-carrier project amid persistent shortages made worse by climate breakdown. 

The government agreed to the $213 million loan with the European Investment Bank, which will go towards a total $352 million state contribution to the National Water Carrier Project (Aqaba-Amman Water Desalination and Transport Project).

The EIB loan has coincided with reports that Israel was intending to supply desalinated water to the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan.

An Israeli radio station recently said that the country’s water authority and Mekorot company would begin pumping desalinated water from the Mediterranean Sea, alongside groundwater, to Lake Tiberias through a newly established pipeline.

The report quoted an official as saying that “Israel would be able to solve its water issues for the next 30 years, including providing Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza with this resource.”

A Jordanian official said that the kingdom had “received nothing official from Israel on that.”

The source, who requested anonymity, said: “Israel usually pumps water into Jordan, under the peace deal, from Lake Tiberias and there is nothing special in that. But it would probably be the first time if Israel sends desalinated water from the Mediterranean.”

Described as the “largest infrastructure project” in Jordan’s history, the National Water Carrier Project will provide about 300 million cubic meters of desalinated water annually, conveyed from the port city of Aqaba on the Red Sea northward to the densely populated capital Amman and other cities.

Amman is described as one of the fastest growing cities in the world, with a rapidly increasing population due to refugee influx from crisis-hit neighboring countries.

According to official figures, the population of Amman has increased from 200,000 to four million over the past 50 years due to the refugee influx from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria between 1948 to 2013.

The UNHCR says Jordan remains the second largest refugee host per capita worldwide with roughly 750,000 refugees of 57 different nationalities.

But official figures said that around 1.3 million Syrian refugees live in the resource-poor Jordan with the majority of them living outside the refugee camps.

The government has said that the “dramatic rise in the population growth rate and the impact of the refugee crisis has worsened Jordan’s water woes and placed it below the water poverty line.

According to official estimates, Jordan’s annual water resources were about 90 cubic meters per person, well below the international threshold of 500 cubic meters per person.

Jordan said that the National Water Carrier Project would be based on the “build-operate-transfer system, “and would be ready by 2027.

The project, according to the Ministry of Water, will consist of a seawater withdrawal system, desalination plant based on the southern shore of Aqaba, pumping stations and tanks, and a 450km pipeline.

Jordan is classified as the world’s second-most water-scarce country. The total population in Jordan was estimated at 11.1 million people in 2021 with a growth rate of 1.23 percent, according to official figures.

In October last year, Jordan announced that it had bought an additional 50 million cubic meters of water from Israel outside the framework of the 1994 peace agreement and what it stipulates in water quantities.

Under the 1994 Wadi Araba Peace Treaty, Israel is committed to providing Jordan with 55 million cubic meters of water a year.

In November last year, Jordan, Israel and the UAE signed a declaration of intent to begin deliberations over the feasibility of an energy-for-water project.

The Jordanian government, which faced criticism at home from the parliament, political parties and other civic forces for signing the deal, said that Jordan is to receive 200 million cubic meters of water annually under the project.

International media have reported that a massive solar-energy farm will be built in the Jordanian desert as part of a project to generate clean energy that would be sold to Israel in return for desalinated water.

The EIB loan fell within the European lender’s commitment during a donor conference in March this year, a government statement said, where a total of $1.83 billion was pledged in grants and loans.


Yemeni government boycotts talks with Houthis over denial of access to detained politician

Yemeni government boycotts talks with Houthis over denial of access to detained politician
Updated 12 sec ago

Yemeni government boycotts talks with Houthis over denial of access to detained politician

Yemeni government boycotts talks with Houthis over denial of access to detained politician
  • Negotiators said they will not take part in any further prisoner-swap discussions until the militia allows the family of Mohammed Qahtan to see him
  • The Yemeni politician was forcibly disappeared 8 years ago by the Houthis, who have ignored demands from his family and the international community for his release

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni government negotiators said they will boycott any further UN-mediated negotiations with the Houthis over prisoner exchanges until the militia reveals the whereabouts of detained politician Mohammed Qahtan and allows his family and government officials to visit him.
In a message posted on Twitter, Hadi Haig, head of the government delegation involved in the talks, said: “Our position is clear: We will not participate until this visit takes place. We hope that the (UN) envoy’s office will exert pressure in this regard to advance this file.”
Qahtan, a prominent Yemeni politician, was forcibly disappeared eight years ago by the Houthis, who have ignored repeated demands by the UN Security Council, local and international rights groups, and the politician’s family for his release.
The reluctance of the Houthis to allow relatives to visit him, or disclose his whereabouts, have fueled concerns that he might have died in custody.
During a first round of prisoner-swap negotiations in March, the Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to exchange more than 900 prisoners and grant each other access to prisons in Marib and Sanaa. The two sides were due to reconvene after those visits for a second round of negotiations in the hope of negotiating the release of a larger number of prisoners.
However, members of a government delegation that was due to visit Houthi jails said they were denied permission to see Qahtan. As a result, they canceled their visit and suspended their participation in talks with the militia.
Meanwhile, the Houthis said government “preconditions” had delayed their own delegation’s visit to a government-run prison in the central city of Marib.
The government delegation’s suspension of talks with the Houthis comes as Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, continues to travel between regional capitals in an effort to engage those involved in the conflict in talks to extend the UN-brokered truce and, ultimately, strike a peace deal.
Grundberg’s office said he arrived in Muscat on Monday where he met Omani officials and Houthi senior negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam to “explore ways to advance the progress of ongoing peace efforts.”
The envoy previously visited Riyadh where he met, with the same aim, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber; the ambassadors to Yemen of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China); Rashad Al-Alimi, the head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council; and other leading Yemeni officials.
In an interview with China Global Television Network last week, Grundberg said a lasting cease-fire in Yemen “is conceivable in the near future” but will require a great deal of effort, concessions from the warring factions, and international support.
“I do believe that that is possible but I would not want to say that it is going to be easy,” he added. “It still requires compromises to be made from the parties in order to reach that level of agreement.
“We’re in a position right now where there are ongoing discussions taking place on different levels in support of the UN mediation efforts.”


Tunisian president praises Italian PM for forthright nature

Tunisian president praises Italian PM for forthright nature
Updated 06 June 2023

Tunisian president praises Italian PM for forthright nature

Tunisian president praises Italian PM for forthright nature
  • ‘You are a woman who says out loud what others think in silence,’ Kais Saied told Giorgia Meloni during a two-hour meeting at presidential palace in Tunis
  • The leaders discussed Italy’s efforts is making to facilitate a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $1.9 billion loan to help Tunisia resolve a severe financial crisis

ROME: Tunisian President Kais Saied praised Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for speaking her mind as he welcomed her to the presidential palace in Tunis on Tuesday for talks during her official visit to the North African country.

“I’m very happy to speak to you about our problems; I say it out loud, today, you are a woman who says out loud what others think in silence,” Saied told Meloni at the beginning of a meeting that lasted nearly two hours.

A source in the Italian Prime Minister’s Office told Arab News that the two leaders discussed the efforts Italy is making to facilitate an agreement between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund for a $1.9 billion loan to help the North African country address the severe financial crisis it is facing.

The IMF requires Tunisia’s government to carry out a series of reforms before the loan can be granted. However, Tunisian authorities are asking for a first tranche of funding to be released immediately, with the remainder to be paid as the reforms are implemented.

During last month’s G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Meloni urged the IMF to adopt a “practical” approach to disbursing funds to Tunisia “without preconditions.”

She said on Tuesday: “The loan remains fundamental for a full recovery of the country.” She called for a “concrete approach of the EU so that the support to Tunisia can be increased with a substantial package of financial aid,” and assured Saied she is “ready to come back to Tunis soon with the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.”

Meloni also stressed the historical ties between Italy and Tunisia.

“We are friends and we must cooperate together more and more,” she said. “The stabilization and the growth of democracy in Tunisia are essential for Italy. Together we can reach ambitious goals.”

Meloni also met Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden Romdhane, with whom she discussed financial cooperation and efforts to tackle illegal migration.


US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs

US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs
Updated 06 June 2023

US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs

US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran’s missile, military programs
  • The network conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on over a dozen people and entities in Iran, China and Hong Kong, accusing the procurement network of supporting Iran’s missile and military programs as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said the network conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development, including Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which is under US sanctions.
Among those hit with sanctions was Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani, whom the Treasury accused of coordinating military-related procurements from China for Iranian end-users.
“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.


Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed
Updated 06 June 2023

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed
  • Egypt has said the policeman crossed into Israel while chasing drug smugglers

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to boost cooperation Tuesday after an Egyptian policeman shot dead three Israeli soldiers before being killed, officials said.
El-Sisi received a telephone call from Netanyahu about Saturday’s deadly violence on the normally calm border, the spokesman for the Egyptian president said.
During the conversation, the two leaders stressed “the importance of coordination between the two countries to clarify the circumstances,” he said.
Egypt has said the policeman crossed into Israel while chasing drug smugglers, leading to exchanges of fire with Israeli soldiers.
On Saturday, Netanyahu called the Egyptian shooter a “terrorist” although he has since mostly spoken of the shootings as an “incident.”
El-Sisi offered Netanyahu his “deep condolences,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said.
“The two leaders expressed their commitment to further strengthening peace and security cooperation, which is an essential value for both countries,” it added.
Israel’s border with Egypt has been largely quiet since Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel following the Camp David accords of 1978.
In recent years, there have been exchanges of fire between smugglers and Israeli soldiers stationed along the border.
Questions have been raised about why the Egyptian assailant — reported by Egyptian media to have been a 22-year-old conscript — crossed into Israel and opened fire.
Speaking at the opening of a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his government had sent a “clear message” to Egypt: “We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough.”
On Tuesday, his office said he had “thanked the Egyptian president for... his commitment to an exhaustive and joint investigation of the incident.”


Iran debates new penalties for veil violations

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations
Updated 06 June 2023

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations
  • Women have been required to cover their hair after the Islamic revolution of 1979
  • But a growing number are defying the law and appearing bareheaded in the streets

TEHRAN: An Iranian draft law that would set new penalties for women not wearing a headscarf in public has sparked heated debate within the Islamic republic’s leadership as more women flout the country’s strict dress code.
Since the aftermath of the Islamic revolution of 1979, women have been required to cover their hair and neck in public places, with offenders facing fines or prison terms of up to two months.
But a growing number are defying the law and appearing bareheaded in the streets.
The trend accelerated during the nationwide protests sparked by the September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman arrested for allegedly violating the law.
The protests rocked Iran, provoking a crackdown by authorities that claimed the lives of hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, and saw thousands more arrested.
Iran’s conservatives, who dominate the country’s parliament and leadership, have passionately defended the dress code and believe relaxing rules would begin a process leading to profound shifts in “social norms.”
But with many Iranians demanding change, in May the judiciary and the government proposed a “Support for the Culture of Hijab and Chastity” bill, to “protect society” and “strengthen family life.”
The text proposes increased fines for “any person removing their veil in public places or on the Internet” but withdraws the threat of a prison sentence.
“This bill reduces the removal of the hijab from a felony to a misdemeanour, similar to a traffic violation but with heavier fines,” sociologist Abbas Abdi said.
After Amini’s death and the subsequent protests, society “no longer accepts that we imprison a woman because she does not wear the veil,” he said.
Since the protests, authorities have imposed a series of measures to enforce Iran’s strict dress code, including the closure of businesses whose staff do not conform with the rules and installing cameras in public places to track down offenders.
In recent days, at least three officials have been sacked or arrested for failing to prevent unveiled women from entering historic sites.
Under the proposed law, the text of which has been published in government-affiliated media, offenders will first receive a warning text message from the police.
A second breach will incur fines of between five million and 60 million rials (around $10 to $120), a large sum for many Iranians. The law would also provide for other penalities, including the confiscation of a woman’s vehicle for up to 10 days.
Defending the bill, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei stressed the need to avoid polarizing society, saying he understood the “concerns of believers” supportive of the dress code.
As the bill awaits examination by lawmakers, it faces accusations of not being tough enough from ultra-conservatives, an influential bloc in the current parliament.
Relaxing punishments for violations will see “the expansion of a repugnant phenomenon” by “removing legal barriers” for women not wearing a veil, the ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan said.
Those supporting the law “do not know that the enemy” seeks to “destroy the family as an institution and ultimately, to attack the foundations of the Islamic system” by removing headscarves, the newspaper said.
Social networks and foreign media, particularly television channels broadcasting in Persian, are calling for “social disobedience,” according to some ultra-conservatives.
Within Iran’s leadership “there is no consensus on the hijab,” as some favor repression, while others “believe that other means must be tried,” the sociologist Abdi said.
“The bill satisfies neither the supporters of compulsory hijab nor, of course, the supporters of the freedom to cover up or not.”
A similar situation developed in the 1990s with a law prohibiting the use of satellite dishes, he said.
“It was only implemented for a while before it was dropped.”