Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance

Update Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance
1 / 4
Update Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance
2 / 4
Update Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance
3 / 4
Update Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance
4 / 4
Short Url
Updated 21 May 2023

Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance

Arab League summit concludes with Assad and Zelensky in attendance
  • Syrian President Bashar Assad was welcomed back after a 12-year suspension
  • Ukrainian president tells delegates his country in a state of war – not just a conflict

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Arab League Summit on Friday that they must not allow the region to turn into a conflict zone, but reassured the world that “world peace” was near.

The Kingdom hosted the summit in which Syrian President Bashar Assad was welcomed back after a 12-year suspension and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to rally support for his country.

“We assure friendly countries in the East and the West that we are moving forward in peace. We will not allow our region to turn into a zone of conflict,” the crown prince said.

“It is enough for us, with turning the page of the past, to remember the painful years of conflicts that the region lived through, it is enough for us to have conflicts that the peoples of the region suffered from and because of which development was faltered in the region,” he added.




Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaking at the Arab League Summit in Jeddah. (SPA)

And on Syria the crown prince said: “We hope that Syria’s return to the Arab League will mark an end to its crisis.”

The crown prince emphasized that the Palestinian cause was, and still is, the pivotal issue for all Arabs.

He also expressed hope that dialogue would lead to a resolution of the crisis in Sudan. “Saudi Arabia is welcoming the signing of the Jeddah Declaration by the two parties involved in the conflict in Sudan,” he said.

The outgoing chairman of the Arab League has called on the world to bring the Israeli settlement policy to an end and he added: “The Palestinian cause was and still is the central issue of the Arabs.”

Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky – who had arrived in Jeddah a short time before – told delegates his country was in a state of war – not just a conflict.




Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)

He also said he appreciated the Saudi mediation for the release of prisoners of war last year.

The crown prince said: “We reaffirm the Kingdom’s position supportive to everything that contributes to reducing the intensity of the crisis in Ukraine, and not to allow further worsening of the humanitarian situation there, Saudi Arabia is ready to continue mediation efforts between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.”

Also on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a cable to the Arab League saying his country would continue to provide all possible assistance to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He also said Moscow intended to expand its multifaceted cooperation with Arab countries, and remained keen to support efforts to resolve the crises in Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

In his opening remarks of the summit outgoing Arab League chairman Algerian prime minister Aymen Benabderrahmane, praised Saudi Arabia for hosting the event.

He added that the world was going through increased polarization with an energy crisis and face threats to food security.

He said all efforts to solve the ongoing crisis in Yemen would be appreciated.

 

Jordan’s ruler King Abdullah II told the summit the system of joint Arab action required the cooperation between the countries to be strengthened.

And he added: “A fair and comprehensive peace will only be achieved through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

King Abdullah said the crisis in Syria had come at a high price. “We welcome its return to the Arab League,” he added, addressing the Syrians.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said countries were going through a harsh period.

“Preserving the national institutions of our countries is necessary and vital,” he said.

He said Egypt was continuing in its efforts to stabilize Gaza,  and he affirmed the need to establish a Palestinian state to achieve regional peace.




Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi welcomed to the summit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)

Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to “provide protection to the Palestinian people,” and to “resort to all international courts to restore our rights.”

But he thanked his Arab neighbors for their support.

“We commend the firm positions of Arab leaders towards the Palestinian cause.”

Tunisian President Kais Saied condemned what he described as the international community’s inaction over Palestine.

“There must be an end to the violations against the Palestinian people and the international silence towards them,” he said.




Tunisian President Kais Saied. (Screenshot)

Syrian President Bashar Assad thanked Saudi Arabia for promoting the reconciliation in the region in his first speech to the Arab League in over a decade.

“We are facing a historic opportunity to sort out our situation without foreign intervention,” he said.

Without mentioning specific countries, he then went onto add: “We must prevent foreign interference in our affairs.”

 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman had welcomed dignitaries through the afternoon for the start of the Arab League Summit in jeddah.

Representatives started arriving for meetings in the build up to the summit earlier in the week.

Among the most notable arrivals for the main meeting was Syrian President Basha Assad who was greeted by the crown prince before the pair shook hands and then posed for a photograph.




Syrian president Bashar Assad with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (SPA)

It's the first time in more than a decade that Assad was excluded from the alliance.

A short time before the opening of the summit, images were transmitted around the globe of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as he arrived for what he described as a historic visit to build relations with Arab nations.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was the first Arab leader to leave the summit on Friday afternoon, as others began returning home in the evening.


50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq
Updated 17 sec ago

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq

50 Daesh terrorists, 168 family members repatriated from Syria to Iraq
  • Al-Hol camp, in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria, is home to about 50,000 people including family members of suspected terrorists

BAGHDAD: Fifty Daesh terrorists and 168 Iraqi members of terrorist families were repatriated from Syria to Iraq on Saturday, an Iraqi official said.
Iraqi authorities “received 50 members of the Daesh from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The SDF are the Kurds’ de facto army in the area, and led the battle that dislodged Daesh group fighters from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.
They will “be the subject of investigations and will face Iraqi justice,” they added.
According to conflict monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights they were detained in Hasakah, northeast Syria.
Additionally, 168 relatives of Daesh-group members were repatriated from Syria’s Al-Hol camp to be relocated to Al-Jadaa camp south of Mosul, the Iraqi official added, where they will undergo psychiatric treatment.
“Once we receive the assurances of their tribal leaders that they will not face reprisals, they will be sent home.”
Al-Hol camp, in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria, is home to about 50,000 people including family members of suspected terrorists.
Among them are displaced Syrians, Iraqi refugees as well as more than 10,000 foreigners originally from some 60 countries.
In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the swift repatriation of foreigners held in Al-Hol.
Nearly half of the camp’s population is under the age of 12 and residents are “deprived of their rights, vulnerable, and marginalized,” Guterres said in a statement during a visit to Iraq.
“I have no doubt to say that the worst camp that exists in today’s world is Al-Hol, with the worst possible conditions for people and with enormous suffering for the people that have been stranded there for years,” Guterres said.
Since May 2021, hundreds of families have been transferred from Al-Hol to Al-Jadaa in Iraq, with a number of those going on to flee.
The repatriation to Iraq of relatives of fighters who joined the ultra-radical group that controlled one-third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017 has sparked opposition.
In December 2021, Iraqi authorities announced plans to close Al-Jadaa.
But little progress has been made and the relocation of displaced people to their home regions has proven challenging and prompted opposition from local people.

 


Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home
Updated 11 min 33 sec ago

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home

Three Europeans released by Iran arrive home
  • Vienna reacted with relief at the release of its two citizens, named as Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, who it said had been arrested “unjustly” by Iran in January 2016 and January 2019, respectively

BRUSSELS: One Dane and two Austrian-Iranian citizens released from detention by Tehran arrived in their home countries on Saturday, after the latest in a series of prisoner swaps.
The three Europeans had landed shortly before 2:45 am (0045 GMT) Saturday at Melsbroek military airport just outside Brussels.
They had flown there from Muscat, the capital of Oman which helped broker their release.
Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib welcomed them at the airport along with Danish and Austrian diplomats.
The trio’s release, as well as that of a Belgian aid worker a week earlier, were part of a prisoner swap in which Tehran got back an Iranian diplomat convicted and incarcerated in Belgium on terrorism charges.
Vienna reacted with relief at the release of its two citizens, named as Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, who it said had been arrested “unjustly” by Iran in January 2016 and January 2019, respectively.
Thanking Belgium, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said: “Our years of diplomatic efforts to secure their release have borne fruit... Today is a very emotional day for all of us.”
Ghaderi and Mossaheb arrived at Vienna airport from Belgium at around 11:30 am (0930 GMT) on Saturday, where they were welcomed by their families and Schallenberg, his spokeswoman Claudia Tuertscher told AFP.
The Danish man, identified as Thomas Kjems, landed at Copenhagen airport at around 11:00 am local time, telling reporters that he had been treated well in Iran, without being subjected to torture.
Kjems had been arrested in Iran in November 2022 on the sidelines of a demonstration for women’s rights, according to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Melsbroek is the same airport that Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele arrived at on May 26 upon being freed by Iran after 15 months in captivity.
His liberation was obtained in exchange for Belgium freeing Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who had been imprisoned for a 2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris.
Iran had levelled charges of “espionage” at Vandecasteele but his family, the Belgian government and rights groups all say that was a fabricated case used to pressure Brussels for Assadi’s release.
Belgian government officials said the release of Vandecasteele, the Dane and the two Austrian-Iranians were all part of “Operation Blackstone,” in reference to an 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, who was known for declaring: “It is better that 10 guilty escape than one innocent suffer.”
De Croo confirmed to Le Soir daily that the three Europeans released on Friday were the second part of the negotiations with Tehran on the exchange between Vandecasteele and Assadi.
The exiled Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran, the target of the 2018 bomb plot, has criticized Assadi’s release, saying it violated a Belgian court order requiring them to be consulted first.
Critics of the prisoner swap said it would encourage Tehran to take more Europeans hostage as bargaining chips to seek the return of agents like Assadi arrested for terror offenses in the West.
De Croo stressed his government “continues to fight for the respect of human rights and the release of European citizens unjustly detained by Iran.”

The exact number of foreign passport holders still being held by Iran is thought to be in the dozens but is not precisely known, as the families of some detainees opt to negotiate out of the public eye.
Belgian government officials said at least 22 “innocent” Europeans remained detained in Iran. France last week gave a figure of more than 30 EU citizens held.
Austria’s Schallenberg said of his two freed compatriots: “We are especially happy for the brave families who have suffered so much in recent years. Now they can finally embrace their husbands, fathers and grandfather again in freedom.”
The Gulf sultanate of Oman has emerged as a key interlocutor between the West and Iran.
In 2016 it also played a mediator role in the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other US citizens who had been held by Tehran.
In May, Iran released a Frenchman and a French-Irish citizen, both of whom had gone on hunger strike to protest their detention and conditions.

 


Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan
Updated 20 min 6 sec ago

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan

Israelis stage mass protest against judicial reform plan
  • On Friday, several hundred Israelis had protested outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea north of Tel Aviv in a demonstration police labelled as unauthorized

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of demonstrators thronged Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities on Saturday for the 22nd consecutive week to protest against a controversial plan to reform Israel’s judicial system.
The government’s reform proposals would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.
In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced a “pause” to allow for talks on the reforms, which were moving through parliament and split the nation.
Israeli media said nearly 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv for Saturday’s protest. The police do not supply official figures for the number of demonstrators.
On Friday, several hundred Israelis had protested outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea north of Tel Aviv in a demonstration police labelled as unauthorized. There were at least 17 arrests.
“We will keep demonstrating to show them that even if they have paused in the reform plan we will stay mobilized — they will not be able to pass laws on the sly,” said 55-year-old dentist Ilit Fayn at Saturday’s Tel Aviv protest.
“It’s important for us to eliminate the possibility of Israel becoming a dictatorship,” added Arnon Oshri, a 66-year-old farmer.
Netanyahu’s government, a coalition between his Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues that the proposed changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.
But opponents of the plan believe it could open the way to a more authoritarian government.
“This corrupt government is full of outlaws who are degrading our country to the level of a third world country,” Oshri said.
“It took 2,000 years for the Jewish people to have a state, and we cannot lose it because of a bunch of fanatics.”

 


Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink
Updated 03 June 2023

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink

Tunisian coast guard finds drowned child’s body after migrant ships sink
  • The flow of migrants from Tunisia has intensified since President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on Feb. 21 claiming illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia

SFAX, Tunisia: The Tunisian coast guard recovered the body of a young child thought to have drowned at sea when two vessels carrying migrants sank in the Mediterranean, a journalist working with AFP said.
The child’s body, dressed in a pink jumpsuit and grey woollen cap, was discovered during a patrol off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia’s second city, according to the journalist who was accompanying the coast guard.
The child was likely from Cameroon, as more than 200 Cameroonians had been rescued in the last two days, the coast guard undertaking the operation said.
The child’s mother was believed to have been one of the people missing after the sinking of two boats earlier in the week, they added.
The Cameroonian Embassy in Tunis was nonetheless unable to confirm this information when contacted by AFP.

BACKGROUND

The child’s body, dressed in a pink jumpsuit and grey woollen cap, was discovered during a patrol off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia’s second city, according to a journalist who was accompanying the coast guard.

Local court spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi meanwhile said that two boats carrying migrants from sub-Saharan Africa sank off Sfax’s coast Wednesday.
Six people died and 39 were rescued from the first boat, while 12 people from the second boat were rescued and 41 others are missing, he said.
It was unknown which of the boats the child had been traveling on, Masmoudi added.
Tunisia, whose coastline is less than 150 km from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has long been a favored launching point for migrants attempting the perilous sea journey from North Africa to Europe.
The flow of migrants from Tunisia has intensified since President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on Feb. 21 claiming illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia.
The country is in the grips of a long-running socio-economic crisis, with spiralling inflation and persistently high unemployment, pushing some of its citizens to seek a better life abroad.
On May 26, authorities announced the arrest of an alleged smuggler in Sfax, wanted in connection with the September deaths of 20 Tunisian migrants who drowned off the coast of Chebba.

 


Sudan fighters take over Khartoum museum raising fears for safety of important artefacts

Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis  treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
Updated 03 June 2023

Sudan fighters take over Khartoum museum raising fears for safety of important artefacts

Sudanese patients suffering from kidney failure, undergo a dialysis  treatment at the Soba Hospital in southern Khartoum. (AFP)
  • Among its thousands of priceless relics are embalmed mummies dating to 2,500 BC
  • Since the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar Bashir in 2019 Sudan’s government was headed by a sovereign council under army chief General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan with the RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, as his deputy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese paramilitary fighters have taken over the national museum in Khartoum, its deputy director said on Saturday, urging them to protect precious artefacts from the nation’s heritage that include ancient mummies.
Members of the Rapid Support Forces group that has been fighting the army since mid-April for control of Sudan entered the museum on Friday, said deputy director Ikhlas Abdellatif.
Museum staff do not know the situation inside the museum because they halted work there after the conflict suddenly erupted on April 15, forcing police guarding the facility to quit, Abdellatif said.
The RSF released a video filmed inside the museum grounds showing a soldier denying that they had done any harm to the museum or would do so, and inviting any individuals or organizations to visit the museum to check.
The video also showed RSF fighters covering up exposed mummies with sheets and closing the plain white boxes in which they were contained. It was not clear when or why the mummies had been uncovered.
The museum is in a large building on the banks of the River Nile in central Khartoum, near the central bank in an area where some of the fiercest fighting has taken place.
Among its thousands of priceless relics are embalmed mummies dating to 2,500 BC, making them among the oldest and archaeologically most important in the world.
The museum also contains statues, pottery and ancient murals, with artefacts from the stone age through to the Christian and Islamic eras, said former director Hatim Alnour.
Roxanne Trioux, part of a French archaeological team that was working in Sudan, said they had been monitoring satellite pictures of the museum and had already seen potential signs of damage there before Friday, with signs of burning. “We don’t know the extent of damage inside,” she said.
Fighting has persisted despite repeated truces including one negotiated by Saudi Arabia and the US to which both sides signed up. The latest was due to expire on Saturday evening. On Saturday afternoon, residents reported clashes including air and artillery strikes in southern Khartoum and northern districts of its sister cities Omdurman and Bahri which lie across the Nile, as well as the Sharg el-Nil district, to the east.
After continued clashes, bombardment and occupation of civilian buildings, Washington and Riyadh suspended the talks and the US said this week it was imposing sanctions on the two sides’ business interests.
On Friday, the UN Security Council called on the warring factions to cease hostilities to allow access to humanitarian organizations.
“The army is shelling us and the RSF are spread out in the streets, and the citizen is paying the price for war,” said Sami el-Tayeb, a 47-year-old resident of Omdurman.
The war has already displaced 1.2 million people inside the country and forced another 400,000 to flee into neighboring states, pushing Sudan to the brink of disaster and raising fears of a wider conflict.