UK to reassess Iran nuclear deal after dual national’s execution

UK to reassess Iran nuclear deal after dual national’s execution
Iran said Saturday it had executed former high-ranking defense ministry official and dual Iranian-British national Alireza Akbari. (File/AP)
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Updated 15 January 2023

UK to reassess Iran nuclear deal after dual national’s execution

UK to reassess Iran nuclear deal after dual national’s execution

LONDON: Britain is reassessing its backing of the Iran nuclear deal after Tehran executed a British Iranian dual national, drawing strong condemnation from Western governments.

Alireza Akbari, 61, was hanged after being convicted of “corruption on earth and harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence.” When or where the execution took place is unknown.

The execution has led to a huge escalation in tensions between the West and Iran, which were already running high over Tehran’s crackdown on protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini and the regime’s military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The UK has been a key player in talks on reviving the nuclear deal, which placed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Senior government sources said that the “landscape” has changed significantly since the negotiation process began and as such Britain is now reviewing its options regarding future involvement in reviving the deal, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

They said the relationship with Tehran has been under pressure in recent months because of the regime’s harsh repression of anti-government protests.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he was “appalled” by the execution.

“This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people,” Sunak said.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly warned that the execution would not go unchallenged, before announcing sanctions on Iran’s prosecutor general to underline Britain’s “disgust.”

Britain said it would summon Tehran’s envoy and in response, Iran summoned the British ambassador to protest against what it described as “unconventional interventions.”

France’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the execution “in the strongest terms” and said that the killing “cannot go unanswered.” President Emmanuel Macron denounced Akbari’s execution as a “heinous and barbaric act.”

Tehran has been accused of using the talks as cover to ramp up work on its nuclear program with a view to obtaining a bomb — a charge that it denies.

Jordan says Israel disavows behavior of top minister over flag of expanded borders

Jordan says Israel disavows behavior of top minister over flag of expanded borders
Updated 11 sec ago

Jordan says Israel disavows behavior of top minister over flag of expanded borders

Jordan says Israel disavows behavior of top minister over flag of expanded borders
AMMAN: Jordan got Israeli assurances that the behavior of a top cabinet minister who spoke at a podium which had a flag showing an expanded Israel that included Jordan did not represent their position, an official source said on Tuesday.
The source also told Reuters that top Israeli officials also conveyed that they rejected Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s move during a speech on Monday and that they respected Jordan’s borders and the peace treaty with Jordan.

Arab League chief, Russian deputy FM discuss regional issues, Ukraine war

Arab League chief, Russian deputy FM discuss regional issues, Ukraine war
Updated 21 March 2023

Arab League chief, Russian deputy FM discuss regional issues, Ukraine war

Arab League chief, Russian deputy FM discuss regional issues, Ukraine war

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday expressed his concerns at mounting violence in the occupied Palestinian territories.

His comments regarding Israeli government actions came during a meeting in Cairo with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

Their discussions also centered around other regional issues and Arab-Russian relations.

Aboul Gheit’s spokesman, Jamal Rushdi, said Bogdanov outlined Moscow’s stance on Syria, Yemen, Libya, and the economic and presidential vacancy crises in Lebanon. Iranian and Turkish policies toward the Arab region were also discussed.

Separately, during his assessment of an Arab strategic report by the Egyptian Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Aboul Gheit said the conflict in Ukraine and rivalries between the US and China were among the most alarming issues since the end of World War II.

“The Arabs are cautious in dealing with the Ukrainian crisis and its effects.

“All of this does not miss China, which is building a large naval power capable of competing with America in the Pacific Ocean and perhaps the world,” he added.

Lebanon fears repercussions of Syrian refugees staying in the country

Lebanon fears repercussions of Syrian refugees staying in the country
Updated 32 min 41 sec ago

Lebanon fears repercussions of Syrian refugees staying in the country

Lebanon fears repercussions of Syrian refugees staying in the country

BEIRUT: Brig. Gen. Elias Baissari, Lebanon’s acting director-general of General Security, on Monday spoke about what he called “a disturbing issue for the state and the Lebanese.”

On the matter of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Baissari stressed that the GS would continue its efforts to organize voluntary and safe trips back to Syria, which it has been doing since 2017. Coordination is also underway with UN High Commissioner for Refugees to resettle the refugees in a third country.

“I hope we can reach quick solutions given the negative repercussions of this issue on Lebanon,” Baissari said.

A few days ago, Hermel Bashir Khoder, the governor of Baalbek, addressed the representative of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon during a meeting held at Dar Al-Fatwa in Baalbek, saying: “You are displaced people, not refugees. This is your legal definition in the Lebanese state, and you have to respect the country that hosts you and respect its laws.”

Khoder added: “This is not a discriminatory stance, but the Lebanese have had enough.”

The coordinator of camps for displaced Syrians in the border town of Arsal, which hosts the largest number of camps in Lebanon, demanded increased contributions for the displaced and held Khoder responsible for their difficult conditions.

Khoder’s angered response to these demands was widely shared on social media and received praise from many Lebanese.

“I, as a governor, occupy one of the highest administrative jobs in the Lebanese state, and my salary is less than what one displaced Syrian in Lebanon gets,” he said. “The benefits that the displaced get are much greater than what the Lebanese employees get.”

The audience applauded Khoder, who objected to accusations that the Lebanese were discriminatory. 

“We are one people in two countries, not one people in one country. The time limit for the displaced has extended to 12 years, and displacement is not forever. We are hurting. You are our brothers, and we will never abandon you, but we have nothing more to offer you. Lebanese wages are way too low and we are carrying all the burden. We are not able to carry more responsibilities on our shoulders.”

Khoder told Arab News: “Not one official concerned with the affairs of Syrian refugees has ever contacted me.

“I simply expressed the pain experienced by every Lebanese, particularly those working in the public sector.”

He also expressed concerns about the issue of infrastructure within refugee camps.

“A foreign NGO asked me to allow it to establish extensions for a sewage network in one of the Bekaa camps. But we cannot accept the establishment of infrastructure in the camps. It may later lead to the construction of rooms instead of tents, and this is out of the question,” he noted.

According to the latest statistics announced in December by retired Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the former director-general of the GS, there are currently 2,80,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, while only 540,000 Syrians have voluntarily returned to their country since 2017.

Over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon “do not wish to return to their country,” Ibrahim said.

A recent field survey conducted by the Deir Al-Ahmar Municipalities in cooperation with a statistical team revealed a significant increase in the percentage of births within the Syrian refugee camps in the region.

The survey included a statistical sample of 655 tents, with the total number of refugees occupying them amounting to 3,728, including 1,782 refugees under the age of 15, which constitutes 48 percent. This is, according to the survey, “much more than Lebanese families.”

The Lebanese state fears that attractive donations from international organizations to refugees have encouraged them to have children, remain in Lebanon and not return for fear of being stripped of international assistance.

The Lebanese government previously estimated that the refugees consume daily 500,000 bundles of bread and 5 million gallons of water. The funds the state has spent on refugees have amounted to $30 billion over the course of 11 years.

The statistical bulletin on the official website of the Ministry of Health indicates that in the year 2021, 100,000 births were recorded in Lebanon, 40 percent of which were Syrians. The statistics do not account for births that take place outside hospitals.

A UNHCR report stated: “In 2021, the vast majority of refugees continued to resort to negative coping strategies to survive, such as begging, borrowing money, not sending their children to school, reducing health expenses, or not paying rent.”

These “privileges” that the Lebanese believe that Syrian refugees enjoy in Lebanon have prompted many Lebanese, with the approaching month of Ramadan, to object to sharing aid with Syrian refugees.

“This year we will give aid to the Lebanese first, and what remains we will give to the Syrians,” a mosque employee told Arab News.

Qatar sends 4,000 World Cup huts to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Qatar sends 4,000 World Cup huts to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria
Updated 21 March 2023

Qatar sends 4,000 World Cup huts to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria

Qatar sends 4,000 World Cup huts to quake-hit Turkiye, Syria
  • Qatar says it had always planned to donate the mobile homes

DOHA: Qatar has sent 4,000 cabins built to house fans at last year’s World Cup to earthquake survivors in Turkiye and Syria, authorities said Monday.

The Associated Press watched as the latest batch of pre-fabricated cabins was loaded onto a cargo ship in the Arabian Gulf. The Qatar Development Fund began shipping cabins last month and says it will send a total of 10,000 to house people displaced by the Feb. 6 earthquake.

Qatar, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, says it had always planned to donate the mobile homes. They were needed to help house some of the 1.4 million fans who descended on the small country during soccer’s biggest tournament late last year.

The brightly colored cabins, each with thin walls, were designed to hold one or two people with twin beds, a nightstand, a small table and chair, air conditioning, a toilet and a shower inside. They went for around $200 a night — $270 with board — offering a budget option for visiting fans.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of Turkiye and Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 52,000 people — the vast majority in Turkiye. More than 200,000 buildings in Turkiye either collapsed or were severely damaged, leaving millions homeless.

Qatar and other wealthy Gulf countries have joined the global effort to send aid to the stricken region.

UNHCR launches Islamic Philanthropy Report with Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at joint event in Dubai

UNHCR launches Islamic Philanthropy Report with Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at joint event in Dubai
Updated 21 March 2023

UNHCR launches Islamic Philanthropy Report with Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at joint event in Dubai

UNHCR launches Islamic Philanthropy Report with Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at joint event in Dubai
  • Agency in partnership for the first time to demonstrate strength of Gulf support

DUBAI: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched its annual Islamic Philanthropy Report for the first time in partnership with the Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair Refugee Education Fund at a joint event in Dubai.

The report details the importance of engaging Islamic philanthropy tools and their increased role in attending to the needs of displaced people globally.

There are now more than 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to the UN. The number is likely to reach 117 million by the end of the year.

Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR’s senior adviser and representative to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, said the Muslim world or Organization of Islamic Cooperation states accounted for more than 50 percent of the caseload of refugees globally. 

According to the OIC, Muslim populations are disproportionately affected by disasters and conflict.

The UN began the Refugee Zakat Fund in 2017 due to an increasing desire by donors and institutions to provide funds to refugees. The fund has helped around 6 million forcibly displaced persons since its inception.

The UNHCR assisted over 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people in 21 countries with zakat and sadaqah contributions in 2022. 

Partners included His Excellency Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah bin Thani Al Thani and Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, in addition to UNHCR’s global Ramadan and winter campaigns, and the Refugee Zakat Fund mobile app.

Zakat, an Islamic financial term, is one of the pillars of Islam. It requires all Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity. Muslims must meet a certain threshold before they can qualify for zakat. Once they do, the amount given is 2.5 percent of an individual’s total savings and wealth.

Over the last 15 years the Middle East has experienced a dramatic flood of refugees and forced migration, particularly due to the wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as those fleeing wars and failed states in Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair, chairman of Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation. (Supplied)

His Excellency Abdulaziz Al-Ghurair, chairman of Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation, said during the event’s keynote speech: “The Middle East and North Africa is facing grave challenges.

“The region has one of the highest unemployment rates globally for youths under 25 and is home to over 16 million refugees and displaced people.

“We cannot ignore this reality around us. If Islamic philanthropy is effectively applied, as it was intended, it will lead to a long-term sustainability that gives the most vulnerable the chance to become financially independent and self-sufficient.”

Al-Ghurair in 2018 launched the Refugee Education Fund which focuses on beneficiaries in Lebanon and Jordan. It provides $32 million to support 20,000 refugees to enroll in secondary, vocational, and tertiary education over three years.

Jordan hosts 760,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. Some 670,000 of those are from Syria, making Jordan the second-largest host of Syrian refugees per capita globally behind Lebanon.

Danah Dajani, director of partnerships and programs at Abdulla Al-Ghurair Foundation, told Arab News: “Prior to the refugee crisis, Jordan and Lebanon faced huge unemployment and poverty so they had a double burden, and we are trying to alleviate this through education, which provides access to jobs and a better life.”

It is increasingly difficult for refugees to gain access to education. According to the UNHCR, 68 percent of school-aged refugee children are enrolled in primary school, 37 percent of refugee youth are enrolled in secondary education, while only 6 percent are in higher education.

Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Access to equitable and quality education is at the heart of the Refugee Education Fund, to enable a better future for refugees across the region.

“With the help of partners like UNHCR, the fund has been able to substantially improve the life chances of more than 60,000 vulnerable youth in Jordan and Lebanon since the launch in 2018.”

This year marks the first time the Islamic Philanthropy Report has been launched in partnership with the Refugee Education Fund.

The report indicates that the Refugee Zakat Fund has enabled UNHCR to support around 6 million refugees and IDPs in 26 countries since it was piloted in 2017.

This figure includes more than 1.5 million refugees and IDPs assisted in 2022.

Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Islamic philanthropy is one of the largest untapped resources for joint humanitarian work.

“This is significant at a time when we are addressing multiple global crises. We need to collaborate and make concerted efforts to ensure giving is efficient and effective.”

There has been an increased recognition over the last five years of the potential for Muslim philanthropy, with the UN calling for innovative methods and new partnerships, such as the Zakat Refugee Fund, to utilize Islamic financial resources to search for solutions.

“Islamic philanthropy itself is as old as Islam,” says Khalifa. “We are only utilizing the tools of Islamic philanthropy that have been tried and tested over the centuries, but it is something new for the UN. We decided to step into this field because we felt that we could add value, because we saw that 50 percent of the caseload of displaced persons were coming from the states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”

Khalifa says the last 10 years have seen no drop in the numbers of people forcibly displaced.

He said: “The trajectory is going up because of conflicts that contribute to 80 percent of the problem worldwide, due to persecution in many places because of human rights abuses, and most recently because of climate issues.

“We are also witnessing a spike in the number of climate displacement persons worldwide, and we hope that individuals and governments and institutions will feel the plight of people in need, especially because some of them are suffering or facing a double crisis at the same time, like the Syrians who are really living in a state of emergency due to the recent earthquake.”

Khalifa added that the UN also covers the expenses of the distribution of the fund from its general budget. Moreover, the money from the fund is distributed in cash.

He added: “We receive a million dollars, we distribute a million dollars, and we report on a million dollars, and we cover everything else, even the bank transfers from other sources.”

UNHCR and the Islamic Development Bank launched the Global Islamic Fund for Refugees at the end of March 2022. The fund is a sustainable and Shariah-compliant resource mobilization instrument that will open new Islamic philanthropy funding in support of millions of forcibly displaced people.

Khalifa said: “Until now, most of our Islamic revenue funding has come from the Gulf.

“Saudi Arabia is one of our largest supporters and donors, particularly through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.”

Al-Ghurair told Arab News: “Philanthropists can help elevate funds where resources are constrained to support better results, and the accountability will generate greater trust that helps support governments to meet the increasing demand for education as the challenges multiply.

“With Ramadan approaching, I urge all fellow philanthropists to come together to support and improve the lives of the future leaders of tomorrow.”