UN chief condemns civilian deaths in Gaza, urges restraint by all

UN chief condemns civilian deaths in Gaza, urges restraint by all
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot, Israel May 10, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 May 2023
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UN chief condemns civilian deaths in Gaza, urges restraint by all

UN chief condemns civilian deaths in Gaza, urges restraint by all
  • "Israel must abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the proportional use of force," Haq said

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned civilian deaths in Gaza as “unacceptable” and appealed for it to “stop immediately” and for all parties to exercise maximum restraint, Deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Wednesday.
“Israel must abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the proportional use of force and taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations,” Haq said.


How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
Updated 8 sec ago
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE leveraging renewables and environmental policies to protect future growth and prosperity
  • Without action now, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity

RIYADH/DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crossroads. As temperatures rise, water scarcity intensifies and desertification spreads, the region’s immense economic potential is at risk unless bold action is taken.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have been taking steps to adopt sources of renewable energy, not only to meet their own commitments to slashing carbon emissions, but to take a lead in the global energy transition.

This adoption of renewables has come hand in hand with a broader regional push to diversify economies away from oil, invest in carbon capture, storage and utilization, and roll out policies designed to protect natural habitats and expand green spaces.

There is a lot at stake for the MENA region, which is viewed as being uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Indeed, several studies suggest parts of the region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity.

In November and December last year, Dubai hosted the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at which states agreed to a historic set of measures to stop average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The agreement called for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner ... so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

It also called for the creation of a fund to help vulnerable countries pay for climate-related damage, and the publication of landmark assessments on the world’s progress in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, it called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, the speeding up of efforts to reduce coal use, and the adoption of technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization.

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Although not all nations were satisfied with the text of the deal, it did mark an important step forward, building on the ambitions laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Paris headquarters of the International Energy Agency on Feb. 20, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber said that meeting the goals agreed under the “UAE Consensus” would require “unprecedented action” by global stakeholders.

“Solidarity overcame polarization, inclusivity prevailed over finger-pointing and the spirit of partnership brought the best of humanity together,” he said of the COP28 summit.

“To keep this spirit alive and build on the momentum achieved at COP28, the UAE Consensus set a new direction and a clear course correction. We must now turn an unprecedented agreement into unprecedented action. Now is the time for all stakeholders to step up.”

While many Western nations appear to be rolling back their climate commitments, the Middle East and North Africa region has risen to the challenge.

One bold example of this is the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 to protect the Kingdom’s environment, conserve wildlife, and plant billions of trees, while enabling sustainable economic growth.

“Since its inception, SGI has implemented a range of initiatives to protect and conserve the Kingdom’s vital ecosystems,” Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, told Arab News.

“For example, the National Greening Program, which is driving nationwide tree-planting efforts across Saudi Arabia and is underpinned by two key guiding principles: firstly, maintaining ecosystem balance, and secondly, utilizing renewable water resources.

“The program follows a nature-based regeneration approach to allow its ecosystems to flourish over time.”

Faqeeha said several dedicated initiatives under the SGI are being actioned to protect biodiversity hotspots through the designation of protected areas.

“SGI also aims to promote sustainability by raising awareness and reducing the adverse impact of economic sectors on the ecosystems, driving all these efforts by engaging all relevant stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors,” he said.

Other significant steps the Kingdom has taken to safeguard biodiversity include the establishment of a dedicated national environmental framework, underpinned by the National Environment Law.

Several agencies have been established to carry out this work, including the National Center for Wildlife, National Center for Vegetation Cover, National Center for Environmental Compliance, and the National Center for Waste Management.

Under his ministry’s oversight, Faqeeha said these agencies “regulate and monitor critical environmental domains linked to biodiversity conservation, such as terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems, land and vegetation cover, environmental media, waste management, (and) underscore the commitment to biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom.”

The picture is similar in the UAE. Under the General Environment Policy of 2021, authorities are working to preserve ecosystems, promote diversification and economic prosperity, integrate climate change and biodiversity considerations into various sectors, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

All these plans are crucial if countries in the Middle East and North Africa region hope to address the effects of climate change, which are already impacting precipitation patterns, causing water scarcity and harming agriculture, thereby threatening livelihoods and food security.

In the Gulf states, in particular, climate change is already contributing to an increase in the salinity of groundwater. According to a report by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Gulf water supplies will come under additional strain over the next 20 years due to the region’s booming population and the scarcity of rainfall.

Officials in these countries believe it is therefore critical to plan now in order to mitigate and adapt to these challenges if they are to protect future growth and prosperity.

 


Shoukry: Egypt hopeful of Gaza ceasefire deal before Ramadan

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, attends the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Antalya, Turkey, Friday, March 1, 2024. (AP)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, attends the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Antalya, Turkey, Friday, March 1, 2024. (AP)
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Shoukry: Egypt hopeful of Gaza ceasefire deal before Ramadan

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, attends the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Antalya, Turkey, Friday, March 1, 2024. (AP)
  • Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki, speaking at the same panel with Shoukry, said Israel would not announce a ceasefire unless international pressure is imposed on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government

ANTALYA: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday said Cairo was hopeful that talks could agree on a ceasefire in Gaza before the start of Ramadan.
Gaza truce talks have been taking place in Paris since last week in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting in the Palestinian enclave between Israeli forces and Hamas and to secure the release of Israeli and foreign hostages.
“I can say that we have reached a point of understanding. We will still exert every effort with our brothers in Qatar, the US, and others close to the negotiations. We are hopeful that we can reach a cessation of hostilities and exchange of hostages,” Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkiye.
“Everyone recognizes that we have a time limit to be successful before the start of Ramadan,” he said.
A proposed deal from the start of Ramadan on March 10 and 11 includes a 40-day pause in all military operations and the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages at a ratio of 10 to one, a senior source close to the talks told Reuters on Tuesday.
“We will continue to strive in collaboration with the United Nations, with our partners to relieve the suffering of the Gazan people and to increase the level (of aid). This cannot happen practically without the cessation of hostilities,” Shoukry said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki, speaking at the same panel with Shoukry, said Israel would not announce a ceasefire unless international pressure is imposed on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
“If we are not able to reach a ceasefire in the next two or three weeks, is clear we will see another round of attacks on Rafah and the continuation of a genocide,” he said.
Also on Friday, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Al-Qassam brigades, said seven hostages who had been held in Gaza were killed as a result of Israeli bombardment.
It was not immediately clear when the seven died.
The Al-Qassam brigades confirmed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.

 


Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead
Updated 42 min 51 sec ago
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Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead
  • Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory
  • Will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said

WASHINGTON: The US will begin airdropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden said Friday, a day after more than 100 Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.
The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.
Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory to ease the suffering of Palestinians.
“In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies” and will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said.
The president twice referred to airdrops to help Ukraine, but White House officials clarified that he was referring to Gaza.
Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way. The Israeli government has said it is investigating the matter.
Biden made the announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White house.
“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” Biden said. “Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”
The White House, State Department and Pentagon had been weighing the merits of US military airdrops of assistance for several months, but had held off due to concerns that the method is inefficient, has no way of ensuring the aid gets to civilians in need and cannot make up for overland aid deliveries.
Administration officials said their preference was to further increase overland aid deliveries through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border points and to try to get Israel to open the Erez Crossing into northern Gaza.
The incident on Thursday appeared to tip the balance and push Biden to approve airdrops. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that airdrops are difficult operations, but the acute need for aid in Gaza informed the president’s decision.
He stressed that ground routes will be continued to be used to get aid into Gaza, and that the airdrops are a supplemental effort.
“It’s not the kind of thing you want to do in a heartbeat. you want to think it through carefully,” Kirby said. He added, “There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops”
Biden in his visit with Meloni at the White House on Friday also sought to assure European leaders that the US remains behind Ukraine even as he’s been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.
Ahead of Meloni’s visit, White House officials said they don’t have good answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that’s badly needed as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia’s invasion.
Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress “must take care of America’s needs first.”
The leaders’ agenda also discussed the US, Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Italy’s priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from North Africa, and their countries’ China policies.
Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a ceasefire deal could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off the aid convoy.
With Meloni by his side, Biden on Friday expressed cautious optimism that a deal can still be struck.
“We’ve been working and hopefully we’ll know shortly,” Biden said.
Meloni said solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was Italy’s top priority.
“We need to coordinate our actions to avoid an escalation, and this regard we fully support the US mediation efforts,” she said.


Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests
Updated 48 min 38 sec ago
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Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests
  • UNIFIL highlights ‘necessity of freedom of logistical movement’ to implement UN resolution

BEIRUT: The ambassadors of the Arab-International Quintet Committee on Lebanon have stressed the need to “accelerate the process of electing a new president.”

They also indicated that “there does not necessarily have to be a direct link between what’s happening in Gaza and Lebanon.”

The five ambassadors met Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday.

“What’s happening in Gaza should be a greater incentive for Lebanon to complete the process of electing a president, as it is of utmost importance for the future days,” said Egyptian Ambassador Alaa Moussa after the talks.

He was commenting on behalf of the other committee members, and added: “The challenges and commitments the region will witness require Lebanon to have a president speaking in its name.”

The committee, which comprises the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, and France, follows developments in Lebanon.

It affirmed that “in the coming period, it will seek to create once again the environment necessary, for the Lebanese political forces that have a genuine desire, to move toward ending this matter as soon as possible.”

Lebanon has been without a president since November 2022. The parliament has failed to elect one despite holding 12 electoral sessions — the last of which was in June — as candidates failed to make it to the second round of voting due to internal political disputes.

Moussa added: “The committee has a unified stance, which is our commitment to providing all possible assistance and facilitation.

“There is a renewed spirit, and we will work on this in the coming period to reach a unified position and a road map to complete the presidential election process. So far we remain optimistic."

A political observer said that the US had insisted on the restoration of stability in southern Lebanon to facilitate diplomatic efforts based on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to end hostilities in the country.

Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that an early halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. He added he was confident that Hezbollah would announce a ceasefire if Israel did the same.

His remarks came as a new clash was reported between Iran-backed Hezbollah and UN Interim Force in Lebanon troops in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday night.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said a peacekeeping vehicle on a routine logistical operation from southern Lebanon to Beirut ended up on an unplanned route.

The UNIFIL vehicle, which was carrying soldiers from a Malaysian battalion, entered the Hayy Al-Sullum area where Hezbollah members intercepted it, confiscating equipment and cameras.

Some reports said that UNIFIL staff were handed over to Hezbollah’s security committee while others claimed that they were handed over to the Lebanese army and later released.

The incident occurred amid ongoing discussions to bolster UNIFIL’s operations in the south to support the Lebanese army, while mending relations with Hezbollah.

The tension stems from Hezbollah’s objections to UNIFIL’s incursions into residential neighborhoods without being accompanied by the army.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said: “In addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons.

“This freedom of movement is essential to implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”

Fighting has meanwhile continued between Israel and Hezbollah on the southern front.

The Israeli air force carried out noon raids on Friday on the border town of Aita Al-Shaab after a night of heavy shelling which caused extensive damage.

Israeli artillery then targeted the towns of Houla and Wazzani in the Marjayoun district.

The Lebanese Armed Forces announced that “members of an army patrol found an Israeli army drone carrying leaflets, and a specialized army unit worked to dismantle …it.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced that it had shot down “an Israeli army drone in the Azziyeh valley at midnight Thursday-Friday.”


Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison
Updated 01 March 2024
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Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison
  • Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him
  • It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest”

DUBAI: An Iranian singer who won a Grammy presented by US first lady Jill Biden has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem supporting the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him.
It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest.” The court issued its sentence in part because it found he hadn’t properly expressed regret over publishing the song.
It also imposed a two-year travel ban and ordered him to create a song about “US crimes,” as well as make posts about those crimes online.
Hajjipour thanked his lawyers and his agent for their support.
“I will not mention the name of the judge and the prosecutor so that they don’t get insulted and threatened, because insults and threats are not in the religion of humanity,” he wrote. “Finally, one day we will understand each other. Until then.”
Hajjipour already had served some prison time, but was out on bail pending the court’s decision. It was unclear if he had already reported to serve his sentence.
Iranian state-run media, focused on the election Friday, didn’t note Hajjipour’s sentence. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hajjipour’s song “Baraye,” or “For” in English, begins with: “For dancing in the streets,” “for the fear we feel when we kiss.” The lyrics list reasons that young Iranians posted online for why they had protested against Iran’s ruling theocracy after Amini’s death in September 2022, allegedly for not wearing her mandated headscarf to the liking of security forces.
The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed more than 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.
Jill Biden awarded Hajjipour the Grammy’s new song for social change special merit award during the ceremony last year.
“This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights,” Biden said at the ceremony. “Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom.”
Hajjipour’s sentencing comes as other activists, journalists and artists have faced arrest, imprisonment and harassment since the demonstrations. Among those imprisoned is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran condemned Hajjipour’s sentencing Friday, and demanded Iran immediately release him from the sentence.
“This blatant violation of Shervin’s rights to free speech and expression is a grave injustice and a clear affront to human rights principles,” the center said. “His imprisonment serves as a chilling reminder of the ongoing repression faced by artists, activists and dissenting voices in Iran.”