Thousands march in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies push overhaul

Thousands march in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies push overhaul
The protest outside the Knesset was the largest in years and reflected the deep divisions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan. (AP)
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Updated 13 February 2023

Thousands march in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies push overhaul

Thousands march in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies push overhaul
  • Benjamin Netanyahu’s government formally launches a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s legal system

JERUSALEM: Tens of thousands of Israelis — hoisting flags, blowing on horns and chanting “democracy” and “no to dictatorship”— protested outside the parliament building on Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government formally launched a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s legal system.
It was the largest protest outside the Knesset in years and reflected the deep divisions over the plan. The proposed changes have triggered weeks of mass demonstrations, drawn cries of protests from influential business leaders and former military men and even prompted a statement of concern from President Joe Biden.
Despite a plea from the nation’s figurehead president to put the legislation on hold, Netanyahu’s allies approved a series of legislative changes during a stormy committee meeting Tuesday. The vote now sends the legislation to the full parliament for a series of votes — an opening salvo in a battle expected to stretch on for weeks.
“They hear our cry. They hear the strong voice of truth,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said from the stage outside parliament. “They hear it and they’re afraid.”
Netanyahu and his supporters say the proposed changes are needed to rein in a judiciary that wields too much power. But his critics say the judicial overhaul is tantamount to a coup and will destroy Israeli democracy. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for a series of corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.
The protesters came from across the country. Organizers said that upwards of 100,000 people were in attendance. Trainloads of people arrived in Jerusalem on packed trains, streaming up escalators in the city’s main train station chanting, “democracy,” cheering and whistling, and waving the national flag. A few hundred others gathered in protest at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, before marching toward the Knesset.
In parliament, opposition lawmakers vocally protested the proposed reform to judge appointments ahead of a committee vote that would send the bill to the full parliament for a vote. During an unruly session, members of the opposition stood on the conference table and shouted as a key Netanyahu ally tried to hold the vote. The motions passed in a 9-7 committee vote.
Throngs of people marched to the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, a day after the country’s figurehead president urged Netanyahu’s government to delay its proposed changes to the judiciary — moves that critics say will weaken the country’s Supreme Court and erode democratic checks and balances.
Many protesters carried the blue and white Israeli flag and posters decrying what they saw as attack on the country’s democratic institutions. “Shame! Shame!” and “Israel will not be a dictatorship!” they chanted.
Other demonstrations were held outside schools around the country.
Netanyahu and his allies took office in December after the country’s fifth election in less than four years. That election, like its predecessors, focused on Netanyahu’s fitness for office at a time when he is facing serious criminal charges.
Netanyahu has lashed out at the country’s police, prosecutors and judges, saying he is the victim of a deep-state style conspiracy to oust him. His critics say he is motivated by a personal grudge and his campaign will destroy Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances.
The legislation approved in committee Monday would give Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority the authority for appointing all of the country’s judges — a step that critics say could pave the way for his trial to be dismissed. A second change would take away the Supreme Court’s authority to review the legality of major pieces of legislation, known as Basic Laws.
His coalition also plans on passing another law that would give parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions it dislikes.
Taken together, critics say this will destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and unleash a process similar to those in authoritarian countries like Poland and Hungary.
Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government, a civil-society group that organized Monday’s demonstration, said the gathering was meant to send a message of support to the Supreme Court and a warning to the Knesset.
“We will fight to the end,” he told The Associated Press. “They want to change Israel from a liberal democracy to a dictatorship, a fascist dictatorship.”
Late Sunday, President Isaac Herzog appealed to Netanyahu to put the legislation on hold and open a dialogue with the opposition. Netanyahu has not responded to the appeal.

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
Updated 24 sec ago

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
  • Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages

KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.

Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.

Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”

In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.

Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.

“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”

Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.

For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.

“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.

The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”

Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
Updated 36 min 17 sec ago

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
  • Poor access to hygiene products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s conflict and crisis zones
  • Camp overcrowding “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact mental health”

LONDON: Every month, women and girls living in camps for displaced people face a common challenge — one that, despite being a natural occurrence, disrupts their daily lives in everything from queuing for meals to participating in social life.

Long a relatively neglected health issue, aid agencies say that poor access to menstrual hygiene management products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s crisis-hit regions, deepening gender inequality.

“The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities can be a significant barrier to the participation of displaced women and girls in training programs and other activities,” said Samara Atassi, CEO and co-founder of Souriyat Across Borders, a women-led charity that supports refugees and internally displaced people in Jordan, Syria and the UK.

Insufficient access to such products and facilities often forces women and girls to resort to “unhygienic practices, such as using dirty rags, leaves or even sand to manage their periods,” Atassi told Arab News.

Social stigma and embarrassment often pose an additional challenge, leading to “isolation and a sense of shame,” taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, she said. Overcrowding in camps in particular “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact their mental health.” 

Further exacerbating the problem are issues such as inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. 

A woman sits outside a tent at a camp for those displaced by conflict in the countryside near Syria’s northern city of Raqqa. (AFP/File)

These conditions “can make it difficult to manage menstrual hygiene, further increasing the risk of infections and other health problems,” Sahar Yassin, Oxfam MENA regional gender advocacy adviser, told Arab News.

“Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.

In 2019, experts from academic institutions, NGOs, governments, UN organizations and elsewhere came together to form the Global Menstrual Collective to research the issue. It defined menstrual health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”

It noted that people should have access to information about menstruation, life changes and hygiene practices, the ability to care for themselves during menstruation, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.

It also highlighted the importance of the ability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and access to health care, a positive, supportive environment in which to make informed decisions, and the ability to participate in all aspects of life, such as going to work and school.

Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide — but is perhaps more keenly felt by those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, or those reaching puberty while living in overcrowded and poorly equipped camp settings.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that women and girls account for about 50 percent of any displaced or stateless population.

At the end of 2021, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for about 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, with the largest numbers fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen, according to the UNHCR figures.

However, the reproductive health of women and girls in refugee and internal displacement camps continues to face neglect by donors. A 2019 survey by UNHCR found that just 55 percent of women’s needs were met with regard to menstruation products.

Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News that the UK had recently reduced “funding for its flagship program on sexual and reproductive health, Women’s Integrated Sexual Health,” which supports marginalized populations in Asia and Africa.

“Cuts to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) programs ... could result in reduced access to menstrual hygiene products, education and reproductive health services, potentially exacerbating period poverty,” Banks said.

A displaced Iraqi woman who fled Mosul sits with her child as they wait to enter Syria. (AFP/File)

During humanitarian crises, relief and aid efforts are chiefly focused on what are considered the most immediate needs — food, shelter and medicine — while menstrual hygiene products are often ignored, according to a report published in September 2022 by the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.

Another critical challenge to menstrual hygiene management is a lack of education, which can lead to misconceptions about menstruation, further perpetuating stigma and shame, said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders.

Owing to this pervasive sense of stigma and shame, many girls aged 10-18 in refugee camps in Turkiye continue to have limited access to accurate information about menstruation, meaning few are fully informed before reaching menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, according to the UNFPA report.

The study, “Menstrual hygiene management among refugee women and girls in Turkiye,” emphasized that this important yet vulnerable population lacked a complete and accurate conception of menstruation, with the main source of information being the mother or another female family member.



A 2019 UNHCR study found that only 55 percent of women’s needs were met in regard to menstruation products.

Oxfam’s Yassin says that this lack of education, combined with period poverty, “is closely linked to gender-based violence in the MENA region, where the cultural taboo surrounding menstruation precludes women and girls from discussing it openly, leading to misinformation and/or lack of information.”

Forms of gender-based violence, or GBV, linked to menstruation include “early marriage, lack of privacy, safety, and sexual harassment,” she said.

To conceal evidence of their menstruation, women in displacement and refugee camps often find themselves forced to venture alone to secluded areas, which exposes them to the potential for sexual violence. But the threat is also present in toilet spaces inside the camps.

A 2021 statement by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, revealed that “one in five refugees or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the issue.

Syrian-Kurdish displaced women stand behind a wire fence at the Qushtapa refugee camp. (AFP/File)

“In many cases, GBV is a result of violations of SRHR, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” said Banks of Action for Humanity.

“While education, empowerment, and ending violence are critical components of gender equality, they cannot be addressed in isolation from SRHR.”

For Oxfam’s Yassin, “by addressing period poverty and providing better menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and accessible facilities, we can not only promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence but also support women’s and girls’ health, economic empowerment and well-being.”

Despite efforts by several NGOs and UN agencies to alleviate the burdens caused by period stigma and poverty, menstrual hygiene management remains a largely unaddressed issue in refugee and displacement camps.

“As an organization that is committed to empowering women, we recognize the importance of providing comprehensive sexual education,” said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have an education project inside the IDPs camps. 

“However, we strive to support women’s health and hygiene needs through all our relief campaigns.

“Even in the emergency response situations, such as during the (Feb. 6 Syria-Turkiye) earthquakes ... we prioritized the inclusion of women’s hygiene baskets in our relief efforts.

“We believe that by addressing women’s basic needs, we can help them feel supported, safe and empowered.”

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate
Updated 06 June 2023

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate

Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate
  • Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s former president Michel Aoun has traveled to Syria to shore up relations with Damascus after his party rejected Hezbollah’s preferred presidential candidate.

The Free Patriotic Movement said Aoun, its leader, “traveled on Tuesday to Damascus on a visit during which he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.”

It came days after the FPM announced it backed opposition candidate Jihad Azour for the Lebanese presidency and rejected Hezbollah’s preference Suleiman Frangieh, who is a close friend of Assad.

Aoun was accompanied by former minister Pierre Raffoul. A source close to the FPM stated that Aoun’s goal was “to confirm the continuation of the relationship and the strategic positioning of the FPM.

“In return, Aoun will explain to Assad that the FPM’s rejection of Frangieh has nothing to do with this positioning, and he will warn that clinging to Frangieh would pose a danger to Christian consensus.”

Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination.

Aoun was quoted during a meeting of the FPM parliamentary bloc on Monday evening as saying that Azour, who previously held the position of finance minister, “is a technocrat and works at the IMF (as Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department), which is what Lebanon needs, while the head of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, is an integral part of the ruling system that has brought Lebanon to where it is."

Political parties are scrambling to secure the votes of MPs for the forthcoming presidential contest, set down by the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, for June 14.

So far, more than 30 out of 128 MPs have not yet decided on their position regarding supporting Azour. Some independent and undecided MPs say they are yet to make a decision while others will not disclose their choice.

The parliamentary bloc of the Democratic Gathering (the Progressive Socialist Party) will meet on Thursday to discuss its choice.

Others yet to make their choice public are the National Consensus (Faisal Karami and his allies), National Moderation (North), and the Independent Parliamentary Gathering which includes MPs Imad Hawat, Bilal al-Hashimi, Nabil Badr, Neeemat Ferm, and Jamil Abboud.

Armenian MPs, the three MPs of Sidon-Jezzine and about 10 MPs from the Change bloc plus some other unaffiliated independents, make up the list of those undecided.

MP Hassan Fadlallah from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said it would “exercise its constitutional and legal rights in full, and we are now in a stage of discussion. We have time until the session date, and we will take a common position and proceed to implement it at the designated time.”

“We have not imposed our opinion on anyone, nor have we imposed a candidate on anyone. Instead, we said that there is a candidate, and let’s come to the discussion. The natural outcome is dialogue.”

It is all but guaranteed that 86 or more MPs will vote in the first round, meaning it will meet the legal threshold for legitimacy. However, neither candidate is expected to win two-thirds of all MPs’ votes, meaning a second round will be required where the threshold is reduced to 65 votes.

Supporters of Azour claim that he has secured between 65 and 70 votes. However, the second round of voting remains subject to the possibility of not reaching the quorum.

Previously, a joint-veto was placed on Frangieh by the Christian parliamentary blocs. There is concern that a joint-Shia veto will now be placed on Azour, who as yet has no declared support from that bloc.

The Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies previously resorted to obstructing the quorum of the second round of voting, as happened in the 11 sessions that were held during the nomination phase of MP Michel Moawad.

“The second round of voting will be an opportunity to reveal the limitations of everyone and to move from this stage to a more serious stage in the search for a moderate presidential candidate,” said the political observer.

Razi El Hage, a member of the parliamentary bloc of the Lebanese Forces which supports Azour, said that the campaign against him by opponents “does not indicate a positive approach to dealing with the election.

“Azour was not previously a candidate of any of the blocs that now support him, and he is not a candidate of challenge or maneuvering. Everyone converged around him to achieve the presidential mandate.

“They must respect the choice of the MPs, and let them apply the provisions of the Constitution and allow the successive rounds of voting, and they will see that the MPs are capable of electing Azour with an absolute majority.”



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 06 June 2023

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.