Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on June 18, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2023

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances

Israel PM gives nod to Gaza Marine gas development, wants security assurances
  • Any pact must include Hamas, the Gaza Strip ruler, says analyst
  • Field is part of ongoing talks between Palestinians, Tel Aviv, Cairo, US

GAZA CITY: Israel has given preliminary approval for the development of a gas field off the Gaza Strip.

If concluded, the agreement would be a boost for the Palestinian economy.

Announcing the move on the Gaza Marine project, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said progress would hinge on “preserving the State of Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.”

The office added in a press statement in Arabic and Hebrew that the project — 36 kilometers from the Gaza coast in the waters of the Mediterranean — falls within the framework of the ongoing negotiations between Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

On May 4, Israel’s Channel 13 reported that the government was in secret talks with the Palestinian Authority to extract gas from the field off the coast of the Gaza Strip, with the approval of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The channel claimed that the Israeli government held internal discussions about the gas field after the administration was formed at the end of last year.

It reported that the talks were renewed as part of the political and security process that began recently between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under US mediation.

The issue of developing the Gaza Marine field and preparing it for gas extraction was at the heart of the talks that took place in Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh.

The talks brought together security and political officials from the Palestinian and Israeli sides, under the auspices of the US. Jordan and Egypt were part of the talks.

Tzachi Hanegbi, head of the Israeli National Security Council — who headed the Israeli delegation — and Ghassan Alyan, coordinator of government operations in the Palestinian territories, took a leading role in the meetings.

The deal would see an Egyptian company facilitating natural gas production in the offshore fields.

Gaza Marine is estimated to hold over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, much more than is needed to power the Palestinian territories.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority — represented by the sovereign wealth vehicle Palestine Investment Fund or PIF — will gain 27.5 percent of profits from the field.

The PIF’s partner, the Palestinian-owned Consolidated Contractors Company or CCC, will get another 27.5 percent.

The remaining 45 percent will go to the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Co. or EGAS, which will operate the project.

The Israeli TV channel indicated that Tel Aviv expects Palestinians to gain economically from the latest step, which might contribute to reducing security tensions in the long run.

Economist Hamed Jad hoped a deal could be finalized by the end of the year.

“The Palestinian attempts, since the discovery of gas fields off the shores of Gaza, have continued ever since but every time there are new obstacles. Now the issue has come up again,” Jad told Arab News.

He said that a final agreement should include an understanding with Hamas — the de facto ruler of Gaza — to avoid further challenges in the field’s operations.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Arab News: “We are following up on all developments related to the gas issue and the agreements.”

He added: “Our people’s right to benefit from its natural resources and gas is guaranteed in all international laws and resolutions.”

The Gaza gas fields were first discovered in 1999 in Palestinian territorial waters.

The first discovery was called Gaza Marine 1 and contains an estimated 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

The second field — located on the sea border area between Gaza and Israel — was called Gaza Marine 2 and contains an additional 3 billion cubic meters.

The fields have long been seen as a major stepping stone toward Palestinian energy independence but they remained untapped mainly due to Israeli objections and obstacles.

The offshore fields can help Gaza’s power station switch from oil to gas, which would increase its operational capacity.

In November 1999, a 25-year contract for gas exploration and development of gas fields was signed between the British Gas Group or BG Group, the CCC and the PIF.

BG Group withdrew from the project in 2016 and handed it over to Shell, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018 due to various disputes.

In 2021, the PA signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt to develop the Gaza gas field and the necessary infrastructure.

Since 2016, the Gaza Strip has been suffering from a severe shortage of electricity as a result of the Israeli bombing of the only station at the time.

There has also been a lack of funds to finance the petrol needed to operate the station amid the 16-year-long Israeli-led blockade.

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster
Updated 13 sec ago

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

Four more officials held after Libya flood disaster

BENGHAZI: Libya’s prosecutor general has ordered the arrest of four more officials, bringing to 12 the number held as part of an inquiry into this month’s flood that killed thousands.
Flooding caused by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel tore through eastern Libya on Sept. 10, leaving at least 3,893 people dead and thousands more missing.
The seaside city of Derna was the worst-hit in the flash flood, which witnesses likened to a tsunami. It burst through two dams and washed entire neighborhoods into the Mediterranean.
The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested for suspected “bad management of the administrative and financial missions which were incumbent upon them,” said a statement issued by the prosecutor general’s office in Tripoli, western Libya.
On Monday, the office ordered the arrest of eight officials, including Derna’s mayor who was sacked after the flood.
Libya’s prosecutor general Al-Seddik Al-Sour belongs to the internationally recognized regime in the country’s west.
A rival administration in the flood-stricken east, is backed by military leader Khalifa Haftar.
The eastern government has said it plans to host an international donors’ conference in Benghazi on Oct. 10 to focus on the reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas, but its failure to involve the Tripoli government has drawn mounting criticism from donors.
The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree on a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.


The US called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree a framework to channel aid to eastern towns.

“We urge Libyan authorities now to form such unified structures — rather than launching separate efforts — that represent the Libyan people without delay,” US special envoy Richard Norland said in a statement on Friday.
“A proposal to hold a reconstruction conference in Benghazi on October 10 would be much more effective if it were conducted jointly and inclusively.”
Norland echoed concerns already expressed by the UN that mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that foreign aid is spent accountably.
“Libyans need to be assured public funds are used transparently, accountably, and that assistance goes to those in need,” the US envoy said.
On Thursday during talks with the European Commission, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily said he had called for funds to be monitored.
“I ... emphasized the need for a joint assessment of reconstruction needs of storm-affected areas to ensure the utmost accountability in the management of reconstruction resources,” he said.
On Friday, the eastern authorities said they would begin paying compensation to people affected by the disaster, which a UN agency has said uprooted more than 43,000 people.
“Checks have been handed over to the mayors” after a relief committee received records of damage caused by the flooding, the government based in Libya’s east said in a statement.
People whose homes were destroyed would receive 100,000 dinars ($20,500) in compensation, Faraj Kaeem, the eastern administration’s deputy interior minister, said separately.
Those with partially destroyed homes would get 50,000 dinars, while those who lost furniture or household appliances would be given 20,000 dinars, he said.
The eastern administration announced on Wednesday the creation of a fund for the reconstruction of Derna.
The authorities have yet to specify how the new fund will be financed, but the eastern-based parliament has already allocated 10 billion dinars to reconstruction projects.

Women play ‘prominent’ role as hundreds protest in Syria

Women play ‘prominent’ role  as hundreds protest in Syria
Updated 12 min 20 sec ago

Women play ‘prominent’ role as hundreds protest in Syria

Women play ‘prominent’ role  as hundreds protest in Syria
  • Activist says between 2,000 and 2,500 people took part in Friday’s demonstrations in southern city

SWEIDA, Syria: Hundreds of Syrians protested on Friday in the southern city of Sweida, as women play a growing role in the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the province for over a month, activists said.

Peaceful protests have swept Sweida province, the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, since President Bashar Assad’s regime ended fuel subsidies last month.
The move dealt a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from more than a decade of war and economic woes.
An activist and a witness said that between 2,000 and 2,500 people took part in Friday’s protests, some chanting anti-regime slogans and waving Druze flags.
“I felt a certain strength, surrounded by women and chanting against Bashar,” said Sama.
One male protester carried a large banner with a list of demands, including a transitional regime, a “new constitution” and for displaced people and detainees to return home.
Another woman protester, Sana, 50, said: “Bashar must leave. One family has dominated during my entire lifetime,” she added, also declining to provide her surname due to security concerns.
Civil war erupted in Syria after Assad’s regime crushed peaceful protests in 2011.
The war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.
Wajiha, in her 20s, said she walked half an hour in the heat to Sweida’s main square, carrying anti-regime banners for daily protests that have been going on for weeks.
Women from Sweida have been present at rallies since the conflict broke out, she said, but “the difference today is that women are not only demonstrating, they are planning and organizing the movement.”
This includes coordinating chants, making banners, and communicating with those holding protests in nearby towns, she said.
Sweida has been mostly spared from fighting during the conflict, and has faced only a few extremist attacks, which were repelled.
Protests against deteriorating economic conditions have erupted sporadically in the province in recent years.
Syrian security services have a limited presence in Sweida, and Damascus has turned a blind eye to Druze men refusing to undertake compulsory military service.
Since last month, smaller protests have also taken place in neighboring Daraa province, the cradle of Syria’s 2011 uprising.
Followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Druze made up less than three percent of Syria’s pre-war population. They have largely kept out of the conflict.
The Assad family has been in power for more than half a century, ever since Bashar Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a 1970 coup.

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp
Updated 29 September 2023

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp

Joint security force occupies Lebanon refugee camp
  • Gunmen withdraw leaving unexploded grenades, spent ammunition on school playgrounds of Ain Al-Hilweh
  • School walls riddled with holes from bullet, rocket fire during clashes between rival factions

BEIRUT: A Palestinian joint security force on Friday took control of a school complex in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp after gunmen who had occupied the site since late July withdrew.
The deployment was part of the second phase of a cease-fire agreement between the Fatah movement and extremist groups in mid-September.
Clashes between the rival Lebanese factions in late July left more than 30 people dead.
The force entered the UNRWA school complex, which became a battleground between the rival groups, as gunmen vacated the site.
The deployment raises hopes that the truce will hold and further ease tensions inside Ain Al-Hilweh, the largest of 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
More than 75,000 refugees, including Palestinians who fled the Yarmouk camp in Syria, are housed in Ain Al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.
The joint force consists of officers and military personnel from various Palestinian factions in the camp, including Hamas.
However, the security force and UNRWA now face a major clean-up, with the extent of damage becoming evident after the militants’ withdrawal from the school complex.
Unexploded grenades were found on the site and empty bullet casings littered the school playgrounds.
Rockets used in the clashes have left gaping holes in school walls.
The joint security force was divided into two groups. One entered the schools complex from the Al-Barakasat area, controlled by the Fatah movement, while the other entered from the Al-Tawarek-Al-Taameer area, controlled by the extremist groups, most prominently Al-Shabab Al-Muslim.
Representatives of the Palestinian Joint Action Committee in the Sidon area accompanied the force.
Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Ajouri, who was commanding the force, gave the signal for the deployment, while Maj. Gen. Subhi Abu Arab, Palestinian national security commander, accompanied the operation.
UNRWA, which is monitoring the cease-fire, postponed the start of the new academic year in the Ain Al-Hilweh camp until further notice.
Schools in the rest of the region will resume teaching on Oct. 2.
More than 11,000 students attend schools in the camp, with the damaged school complex providing education to 5,900 students.
Dorothee Klaus, director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, said the safety of schools in the vicinity of Ain Al-Hilweh “is our top priority, and we are striving in every possible way to achieve that as soon as conditions permit.”
The agency is working to find alternatives so that children from the camp and surrounding areas can return to school as soon as possible, she said.
A preparatory meeting ahead of Friday’s deployment took place in the Sidon office of Sheikh Maher Hammoud, president of the International Union of Resistance Scholars, who is believed to be close to Hezbollah.
Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
Discussions took place on the possible handing over of eight suspects wanted for the assassination of Fatah leader Mohammed Al-Armoushi.
Representatives of Hamas and the Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, also attended.
As part of the cease-fire deal, the joint security force will prepare the way for those displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.
The final phase of the agreement involves the handover of wanted suspects.
A source dismissed rumors on social media on Thursday night that some of the wanted suspects had left the camp.
“There is an agreement that has been reached and it is fundamental, and the essential point is handing over wanted people,” the source said.
Hamas representative Ahmed Abdel Hadi described Friday’s deployment as “a step in the right direction,” adding that it stemmed from Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiatives to end the clashes.
Berri joined Palestine Liberation Organization leader Azzam Al-Ahmad and Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk in pushing for a cease-fire.

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya
Updated 29 September 2023

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya

Italy signs judicial cooperation agreements with Algeria, Libya
  • Prisoners can serve sentence in country of origin following case-by-case evaluation procedure
  • Deals signed on sidelines of conference to mark 20th anniversary of UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

ROME: Italy on Friday signed with Libya and Algeria agreements on judicial cooperation and extradition of convicted criminals.

The agreements were signed on the sidelines of an international conference in the Italian city of Palermo to mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.

They enhance judicial cooperation, and provide that select prisoners can serve their sentence in their country of origin following a case-by-case evaluation procedure.

Before entering into force, the agreements must be approved by the Italian parliament through a specific ratification bill.

“The treaties we signed will be essential to boost fruitful judicial cooperation between our countries, and will be a useful tool in order to have faster extradition processes for criminals arrested in our countries,” Italian Justice Minister Carlo Nordio told reporters after signing the agreements.

“Italy is ready to increase its network of liaison magistrates in several countries in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

“The experience we have so far has been very satisfactory, both for us and for the countries where our magistrates have been performing their duties alongside their local colleagues. That is a great way to learn best practices from both sides.”

Syrians in Lebanon ‘economically displaced,’ not ‘refugees’: Justice minister

Syrians in Lebanon ‘economically displaced,’ not ‘refugees’: Justice minister
Updated 29 September 2023

Syrians in Lebanon ‘economically displaced,’ not ‘refugees’: Justice minister

Syrians in Lebanon ‘economically displaced,’ not ‘refugees’: Justice minister
  • Henry Khoury’s comments were made during a meeting in Rome with his Italian counterpart
  • ‘The massive influx of Syrians to Lebanon is an issue that will have negative impacts on Europe’

ROME: Lebanese Justice Minister Henry Khoury told his Italian counterpart Carlo Nordio that Syrians fleeing to his country should no longer be considered as “refugees” but as “economically displaced.”
During a meeting in Rome to discuss enhancing judicial cooperation, Khoury said: “The massive influx of Syrians to Lebanon is an issue that will have negative impacts on Europe. For them, Lebanon is only a temporary destination, while their actual goal is to reach Europe.”
Since 2011, more than a million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon, whose population is just under 4 million people.
Lebanon never signed the Geneva Convention on refugees, and does not recognize the refugee status of Palestinians or Syrians who are in the country.
Khoury told Nordio that the bad conditions in Lebanese prisons are caused by the “transgressions” of displaced Syrians “that raise the crime rate and the number of prisoners in the country.”
He added: “The prison infrastructure in Lebanon cannot withstand the overcrowding resulting from the high number of prisoners.”
Nordio pledged “every possible cooperation though specific programs to help the judicial system in Lebanon in order to perform its regular activities.”