India, Egypt raise ties to strategic partnership on Modi’s visit to Cairo

India, Egypt raise ties to strategic partnership on Modi’s visit to Cairo
Egypt and India share deep ties that date back to the 1950s, when the two nations played key roles in founding the Non-Aligned Movement (twitter/@MEAIndia)
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Updated 26 June 2023

India, Egypt raise ties to strategic partnership on Modi’s visit to Cairo

India, Egypt raise ties to strategic partnership on Modi’s visit to Cairo
  • Modi’s visit is the first by an Indian premier since 1997
  • PM awarded with Order of the Nile civilian honor in Cairo

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi signed on Sunday a strategic partnership agreement, underscoring growing ties between the two countries that experts say can spark geopolitical and economic significance. 

Modi arrived in Cairo on Saturday afternoon following a four-day trip to the US, marking the first state visit to Egypt by an Indian premier since 1997. 

He was awarded Egypt’s highest civilian honor, known as the Order of the Nile, during the trip that comes less than six months after El-Sisi’s visit to India earlier this year, when the leaders first announced plans to elevate their partnership. 

“An agreement to elevate the bilateral relationship to a ‘Strategic Partnership’ was signed by the leaders,” Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a tweet on Sunday. 

“The leaders discussed ways to further deepen the partnership between the two countries, including in trade & investment, defense & security, renewable energy, cultural and people to people ties.” 

Bagchi said their meeting was “productive,” with India and Egypt also signing three other memoranda of understanding in agriculture, archaeology and antiquities, and competition law. 

Modi also visited on Sunday the historic Al-Hakim Mosque in Cairo, recently renovated with the help of the India-based Dawoodi Bohra community, and met with Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, Egypt’s Islamic jurist. 

In January, Modi and El-Sisi agreed to increase bilateral trade to $12 billion in the next five years, up from $7.3 billion in 2021-22. 

The two countries signed several agreements in New Delhi then on expanding cooperation in cybersecurity, information technology, culture, and broadcasting.   

Navdeep Suri, former Indian ambassador to Egypt, said India and Egypt had been drifting apart prior to this year’s engagements. 

“After allowing the relationship to drift for years, it’s back on track,” Suri told Arab News. 

According to Suri, India had built momentum by inviting El-Sisi as a chief guest on India’s Republic Day in January and had Egypt among special invitees for meetings of the Group of 20 biggest economies under Delhi’s presidency this year, which he said sends “a strong signal.” 

Suri said: “​​There is now an opportunity to develop a special relationship with a country that, despite its present economic difficulties, will always be an important player in the Middle East. 

“This kind of intensity and engagement have been missing for a long time.” 

Closer ties with Egypt may also bring strategic benefits for India, experts say. 

“Egypt’s pivotal position in the region is important for growing India’s profile in the region,” Dr. Zakir Hussain, a Middle East expert based in New Delhi, told Arab News. 

“(India is) securing favorable treatment in trade, an industrial berth in the Suez Canal Free Zone, to access the Europe market and all those areas where Egypt has free trade deals such as Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East,” Hussain said, adding that “India needs to access these markets at preferential terms to achieve the target of $1 trillion merchandise exports by 2030.” 

Modi’s visit to Cairo “holds great significance” in strengthening India-Egypt bilateral relations, said Mohammed Soliman, tech program director at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. 

With the countries discussing potential deals, such as the allocation of an economic zone for India in the Suez Canal area, they have the “potential to significantly impact the economic and strategic collaboration between the two nations,” he told Arab News.  

“With India now surpassing the UK as the fifth-largest global economy, it sees Egypt as a potential launchpad for Indian manufacturing and defense industries,” Soliman said.  

“Egypt’s strategic location, particularly with the Suez Canal, is central to Delhi’s global posture.” 

Italy to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Italy to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees
Updated 16 sec ago

Italy to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Italy to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees
  • UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis after Israel’s allegations
ROME: Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani on Saturday announced Rome would restore funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees as he met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa.
“Italy has decided to resume financing specific projects intended for assistance to Palestinian refugees, but only after rigorous controls that guarantee that not even a penny risks ending up supporting terrorism,” he said.
Tajani said he had informed the visiting premier “that the government has arranged new funding for the Palestinian population, for a total of 35 million euros.”
“Of this, five million will be allocated to UNRWA,” he said in a statement, with the remaining 30 million euros allocated to Italy’s “Food for Gaza” initiative in coordination with UN aid agencies.
UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the October attack on Israel by Hamas.
That led many nations, including top donor the United States, to abruptly suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver aid in Gaza, although several have since resumed payments.
An independent review of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its leading allegations.
Created in 1949, the agency employs around 30,000 people in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Mustafa was later due to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Car blast kills one in Syrian capital: state media

Car blast kills one in Syrian capital: state media
Updated 26 min 3 sec ago

Car blast kills one in Syrian capital: state media

Car blast kills one in Syrian capital: state media
  • Three vehicles caught fire in the area

DAMASCUS: A car explosion killed one person in Damascus on Saturday, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported, without identifying the victim.
Security incidents, including blasts targeting military and civilian vehicles, occur intermittently in the capital of war-ravaged Syria.
Quoting a police official, SANA said “one person was killed when an explosive device exploded in their car in the Mazzeh district.” It did not provide any other details.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor with a network of sources on the ground, said three vehicles caught fire in the area.
The explosion comes against a backdrop of heightened regional tensions, including the war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Last month, an explosive device went off in a car in Mazzeh, an upscale neighborhood of Damascus, without causing any casualties, SANA reported at the time.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011, targeting Iran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement as well as Syrian army positions.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed embarks on China state visit on May 30

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed embarks on China state visit on May 30
Updated 25 May 2024

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed embarks on China state visit on May 30

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed embarks on China state visit on May 30

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will have a state visit to China on May 30 following an invitation from his counterpart Xi Jinping.

Discussions between the two leaders would mainly be regarding bilateral relations between the two countries, and how to further strengthen their economic, developmental and cultural ties, state news agency WAM reported.

Sheikh Mohamed will also attend celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and China, and will participate in the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum.

The UAE leader will have a two-day state visit to South Korea, prior to his arrival in China, at the invitation of President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and explore opportunities for greater collaboration across various sectors including trade, investment, energy and technology.

Israel strikes Rafah after top UN court orders it to halt offensive

Israel strikes Rafah after top UN court orders it to halt offensive
Updated 25 May 2024

Israel strikes Rafah after top UN court orders it to halt offensive

Israel strikes Rafah after top UN court orders it to halt offensive
  • Israel gives no indication it is preparing to change course in Rafah, insists that the court had got it wrong
  • Top UN court earlier ordered Israel to halt military operations in the southern city

RAFAH: Israel bombed the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, on Saturday, a day after the top UN court ordered it to halt military operations in the southern city as efforts get underway in Paris to seek a ceasefire in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also demanded the immediate release of all hostages still held by Palestinian militants, hours after the Israeli military announced troops had recovered the bodies of three more of the captives from northern Gaza.
The Hague-based court, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, also ordered Israel to keep open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which it closed earlier this month at the start of its assault on the city.
Israel gave no indication it was preparing to change course in Rafah, insisting that the court had got it wrong.
“Israel has not and will not carry out military operations in the Rafah area that create living conditions that could cause the destruction of the Palestinian civilian population, in whole or in part,” National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a joint statement with Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, welcomed the ICJ ruling on Rafah but criticized its decision to exclude the rest of war-torn Gaza from the order.
Continued fighting
Hours after the ICJ ruling, Israel carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday while clashes between the Israeli army and the armed wing of Hamas continued.
Palestinian witnesses and AFP teams reported Israeli strikes in Rafah and the central city of Deir Al-Balah.
“We hope that the court’s decision will put pressure on Israel to end this war of extermination, because there is nothing left here,” said Oum Mohammad Al-Ashqa, a Palestinian woman from Gaza City displaced to Deir Al-Balah by the war.
“But Israel is a state that considers itself above the law. Therefore, I do not believe that the shooting or the war will stop other than by force,” said Mohammed Saleh, also met by AFP in the central Gaza Strip city.
In its keenly awaited ruling, the ICJ said Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
It ordered Israel to open the Rafah crossing for humanitarian aid and also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The Israeli military said the three hostages whose bodies were recovered in north Gaza on Friday — Israeli hostage Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux — were “murdered” during the October 7 attack and their bodies taken to Gaza.
Truce talks
The court order comes ahead of separate meetings on the Gaza conflict in Paris between the CIA chief and Israeli representatives on one side and French President Emmanuel Macron and the foreign ministers of four key Arab states on the other.
Ceasefire talks involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators ended shortly after Israel launched the Rafah operation, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office this week said the war cabinet had asked the Israeli delegation “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”
CIA chief Bill Burns was expected to meet Israeli representatives in Paris in a bid to relaunch negotiations, a Western source close to the issue said.
Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron received the prime minister of Qatar and the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers on Friday “to press for a ceasefire,” according to Cairo.
The French presidency said they held talks on the Gaza war and ways to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The five countries discussed “the effective implementation of the two-state solution,” it added.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken also spoke with Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz about new efforts to achieve a ceasefire and reopening of the Rafah border crossing as soon as possible, Washington said.
Aid stuck
Israeli ground troops started moving into Rafah in early May, defying global opposition.
Troops took over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, further slowing sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza’s 2.4 million people.
But on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed in a call with his US counterpart Joe Biden to allow UN aid through the other entry point into southern Gaza, the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel, the White House said.
The US military has also installed a temporary jetty on the Gaza coast to receive aid by sea that a UN spokesman said had delivered 97 trucks of aid after “a rocky start” a week ago.
The security and humanitarian situation in the territory remains alarming, with a risk of famine, hospitals out of service, and around 800,000 people, according to the United Nations, having fled Rafah in the last two weeks.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the situation had reached “a moment of clarity.”
“Aid workers and UN staff must be able to carry out their jobs in safety,” he posted on social media site X late Friday.
“At a time when the people of Gaza are staring down famine... it is more critical than ever to heed the calls made over the last seven months: Release the hostages. Agree a ceasefire. End this nightmare.”

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah
Updated 25 May 2024

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

KHAN YOUNIS: In a cowshed in Gaza’s Khan Younis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals, including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel’s offensive in Rafah.
“We’ve moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah),” he said.
“I ran out of time and couldn’t move them.” Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.
Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion, and more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population was sheltering there.
Now, the Israeli offensive has sent more than 800,000 people fleeing from Rafah, according to the UN, with Gomaa and his family among them.
“I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism,” Gomaa said, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.
He fears they won’t survive long on their own.
“Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don’t get them out, they will die because they’ll be left with no food or water.”
Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war: “Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey, and nine squirrels.”
And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa’s other birds are no longer with him.
“I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons, and some of the ornamental birds. I released many of them because we didn’t have cages to transport them.”
In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can’t leap out.
Israeli troops began their assault on Rafah on May 7, defying widespread international concern for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians sheltering in the city.