Israeli president says his speech to Congress highlights an ‘unbreakable bond’ despite US unease

Israeli president says his speech to Congress highlights an ‘unbreakable bond’ despite US unease
Herzog’s speech will mark modern Israel’s celebration of its 75th year. (AP)
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Updated 19 July 2023
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Israeli president says his speech to Congress highlights an ‘unbreakable bond’ despite US unease

Israeli president says his speech to Congress highlights an ‘unbreakable bond’ despite US unease
  • Herzog’s speech will mark modern Israel’s celebration of its 75th year
  • White House visits are typically standard protocol for Israeli prime ministers, and the delay in Netanyahu receiving one has become an issue in Israel

WASHINGTON: Israel’s president speaks to Congress on Wednesday in an appearance aimed at demonstrating what he calls the “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the United States, despite US concerns over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul and settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Isaac Herzog becomes the second Israeli president, after his father, Chaim Herzog, to address Congress. His speech will mark modern Israel’s celebration of its 75th year.
But the visit by Israel’s figurehead president also is exposing the difficulties that Democrats face in balancing longstanding US support for ally Israel with disapproval of some actions by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties.
The House on Tuesday passed a Republican-led resolution reaffirming its support for Israel with strong bipartisan approval — an implicit rebuke of a leading Democrat who over the weekend called the country a “racist state” but later apologized.
The resolution, introduced by Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, passed with more than 400 lawmakers backing the measure. It did not mention Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, by name but was clearly a response to her recent remarks about Israel. The measure was drafted soon after she criticized Israel and its treatment of Palestinians at a conference on Saturday.
Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, walked back the comments the next day, insisting her comments were aimed at Netanyahu and not at Israel.
“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” Jayapal said in a statement. “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”
The GOP-led effort highlighted the divide among House Democrats over Israel, with younger progressives adopting a more critical stance toward the longtime US ally than party leaders.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, the only Palestinian-American in Congress, is boycotting Herzog’s speech Wednesday and criticized the resolution as normalizing violence against those living in the occupied West Bank, given the Netanyahu government’s approval of expanded Jewish settlements there.
“We’re here again reaffirming Congress’ support for apartheid,” Tlaib said during floor debate Tuesday on the Republican measure. “Policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truths, about oppression.”
Over at the White House on Tuesday, Herzog sought to assure Biden that Israel remains committed to democracy amid deepening US concerns over Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul his country’s judicial system.
Netanyahu and his allies say the overhaul is needed to rein in the powers of unelected judges. Opponents say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances and move the country toward authoritarian rule.
Herzog has appealed for a compromise that has thus far proven elusive. Many American Jewish groups and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about the plan.
Herzog’s visit comes weeks after Israeli forces carried out one of their most intensive operations in the occupied West Bank in two decades, with a two-day air and ground offensive in Jenin, a militant stronghold. Senior members of Netanyahu’s government have been pushing for increased construction and other measures to cement Israel’s control over the occupied West Bank in response to a more than yearlong wave of violence with the Palestinians.
US officials have broadly supported Israel’s right to defend itself from militant attacks but have also urged restraint to minimize harm to civilians and have lobbied against additional settlements that would further diminish the chances of securing a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
With differences in plain view, Biden sought to stress the importance of the US-Israeli relationship in his brief remarks before reporters Tuesday.
“This is a friendship I believe is just simply unbreakable,” Biden said. “As I confirmed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, America’s commitment to Israel is firm and it is ironclad.”
Ahead of Herzog’s visit, Biden spoke with Netanyahu by phone and invited him to meet in the US this fall, although the president expressed reservations about several of the Netanyahu hard-right coalition’s policies.
Herzog said the Biden-Netanyahu conversation sent an important message to the region.
“I was pleased to hear about your conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which you focused on our ironclad military and security cooperation because there are some enemies of ours that sometimes mistake the fact that we may have some differences as impacting our unbreakable bond,” Herzog said.
The Biden administration declined to say whether Biden would host Netanyahu at the White House — as the Israeli leader has hoped — or in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
White House visits are typically standard protocol for Israeli prime ministers, and the delay in Netanyahu receiving one has become an issue in Israel, with opponents citing it as a reflection of deteriorating relations with the US.


Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
Updated 52 min 5 sec ago
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Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears

Arrests, summonses of potential presidential candidates in Tunisia continue as election day nears
  • Abdellatif Mekki is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician
  • The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago

TUNIS: As elections approach in Tunisia, potential candidates are facing arrest or being summoned to appear in court as authorities clamp down on those planning to challenge President Kais Saied.
On Friday, a judge in a Tunis court put a potential presidential candidate under a gag order and restricted his movements. Abdellatif Mekki, who served as Tunisia’s health minister and was a prominent leader of the Islamist movement Ennahda before founding his own political party, is among a group of former politicians being investigated for the 2014 killing of a prominent physician.
His political party, Work and Accomplishment, has decried the timing of the murder charges as politically motivated due to his plans to run against Saied in Tunisia’s October election.
“We strongly condemn these arbitrary measures, considering them political targeting of a serious candidate in the presidential elections,” it said in a statement Friday.
Mekki is the latest potential candidate to face legal obstacles before campaigning even gets underway in the 12 million person North African nation.
The challenges facing opposition candidates are a far cry from the democratic hopes felt throughout Tunisia a decade ago. The country emerged as one of the Arab Spring’s only success stories after deposing former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, holding peaceful, democratic elections and rewriting its constitution in 2014.
Since 2019, observers have been alarmed at growing signs of a democratic backslide. Saied has imprisoned political opponents, suspended parliament and rewritten the constitution to consolidate the power of the presidency. Despite Tunisia’s ongoing political and economic challenges, large segments of the population continue to support him and his populist rhetoric targeting corrupt elites and foreign interference into domestic affairs.
About a week before Mekki, Lotfi Mraihi, a physician and veteran politician who had also announced plans to run for president, was arrested on money laundering related charges.
Mraihi, the president of the nationalist Republican People’s Union party, was kept in custody after a judge issued an additional warrant adding to charges filed against him in January.
A court spokesperson in Tunis told Radio Mosaique that the arrest warrant was served “on suspicion of money laundering, transfer of assets and opening of bank accounts abroad without the Central Bank’s approval.”
Last January, the court sentenced Mraihi to a suspended six-month prison term as part of an investigation into a 2019 case related to vote-buying allegations.
The Tunisian non-governmental organization Legal Agenda described the arrest as a show of force.
“The arrest of the presumed candidate, Lotfi Mrahi, represents a new step by the authorities in tightening its grip on the electoral process, after announcing ‘tailor-made’ conditions for candidacy, while judicial rulings ensure that the rest of the candidates in the race are besieged,” it said in a statement last week.
The arrests add Mekki and Mraihi to the list of Tunisian politicians pursued by the courts in Saied’s Tunisia.
Amnesty International said in February that over the year prior more than 20 political critics of Saied’s government had been arrested, detained or convicted on charges related to their political activity.
The pursuit of Saied’s political opponents has spanned the political spectrum, from Tunisia’s lslamists like Ennahda’s 83-year-old leader Rached Ghannouchi and nationalists like Free Destourian Party President 49-year-old Abir Moussi.
Ghannouchi has been behind bars since May 2024, facing foreign interference charges that Ennahda, the country’s largest Islamist party, has decried as politically motivated.
Tunisia’s anti-terrorism court sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine following public statements he made at a funeral in February 2022, when he appeared to call the president “a tyrant.”
Ghannouchi continues to face legal challenges. This weekend, the court sentenced him to three years in prison on charges that he was involved in an illicit foreign financing scheme during the last presidential election.
Moussi, a popular right-wing figure who appeals to Tunisians nostalgic for the pre-revolution era, was arrested in October 2023. She was initially detained while being investigated under a controversial cybercrime law after Tunisia’s election authority filed a complaint against her. The complaint came after Moussi criticized a lack of transparency and the presidential decrees guiding the electoral process.
Moussi’s party had announced plans to challenge Saied in October before her arrest and confirmed them earlier this month, though she remains imprisoned.
The National Salvation Front — a coalition of secular and Islamist parties including Ennahda — has said Tunisia can’t hold a legitimate election in such a political climate. The group has denounced the process as a sham and said it won’t endorse or nominate a candidate.
This arrests have sparked outrage among individual political parties and inflamed worries about the country’s ailing political and economic atmosphere landscape.
Work and Accomplishment, Mekki’s party, said his Friday arrest would “confuse the general political climate, undermine the credibility of the electoral process and harm Tunisia’s image.”


GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
Updated 13 July 2024
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GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine

GCC chief reiterates ‘firm and absolute’ support for Palestine
  • Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo

LONDON: The Gulf Cooperation Council remains “firm and absolute” in its support of the Palestinian people, its secretary-general said on Saturday.

Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, who was speaking at an Arab Parliament plenary session in Cairo, said the GCC fully backs the Palestinians’ struggle to attain a state and their “legitimate rights.”

Albudaiwi also praised the role of the Arab Parliament and its efforts to promote collective action, especially while the Arab world was facing “immense and painful challenges,” foremost among them the Palestine cause, which, he added would “always remain the central and primary Arab priority,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

This had been consistently reflected in the “clear and unwavering positions adopted by the GCC since its establishment,” he said.

“The tragic situation under which the Palestinian people are suffering, represented in the continuing crimes and violations by the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories, is a deep wound in the heart of every Arab and Muslim,” he continued, adding that Israel’s actions were not only a violation of human rights and international laws, but also a “blatant challenge to all human values and principles.”

The GCC has repeatedly called on the international community to adopt effective measures to ensure an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. It has also called for a de-escalation of violence against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the holy Islamic sites, and a stop to settlement activities and land confiscation.

Albudaiwi reiterated the GCC’s call for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and “all relevant international resolutions.”

He said cooperation between the GCC, the Arab Parliament and other Arab institutions stemmed from a belief that “unity and solidarity among Arab states is the optimal path to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the region.”


Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
Updated 13 July 2024
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Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt

Houthis reject proposed UN-mediated economic talks with govt
  • Grundberg informed Houthis would only take part in talks with Yemeni government

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia on Saturday rejected a demand by UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grundberg to hold discussions with the Yemeni government to resolve knotty economic problems, especially the government’s punitive actions against Sanaa banks.

In a post on X, Hussein Al-Ezzi, the militia’s deputy foreign minister, said that Grundberg was informed that the Houthis would only take part in talks with the Yemeni government about implementing the UN-brokered road map to end the war in Yemen, undermining his efforts to end the country’s deepening economic divisions.

“There will be no negotiations save in the context of addressing the implementation of the agreed-upon road map,” Al-Ezzi said.

The UN Yemen envoy has asked the government and the Houthis to meet without preconditions to discuss financial issues and their effect on Yemen’s deteriorating humanitarian situation, his office said.

“We believe a dialogue, in good faith and without preconditions, is the best possible way to address several important economic issues, including the banking sector issue, and come to solutions that prioritize the interests of the Yemeni people,” Mayy El-Sheikh, director of strategic communications and public information at Grundberg’s office, told Arab News.

In a letter dated July 10, Grundberg urged the chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, to halt the government’s most recent decision to revoke the licenses of six banks in Houthi-held Sanaa that refused to relocate their offices to the southern city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen.

Grundberg also encouraged the Yemeni government to engage in negotiations with the Houthis to resolve economic issues.

The envoy, in his letter, expressed sympathy for the Yemeni government’s anger over the Houthi attacks on oil terminals, which resulted in the cessation of oil exports.

But he also cautioned that the government’s punitive measures against the banks in Sanaa would worsen the living conditions of Yemenis and potentially reignite the war.

The PLC agreed on Friday to suspend the revocation of six Sanaa bank licenses and to begin talks with the Houthis on the condition that the dialogue would focus on resuming oil exports, unifying currencies, and addressing the Houthis’ measures against banking and trading, including trade harassment and the militia’s ban on imports from government-controlled areas.

The Houthis have prevented the circulation of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government, attacked oil terminals in government-controlled provinces, banned cooking gas imports from government-controlled Marib, and prohibited traders in areas they control from importing goods through Aden and other government ports, all in an effort to drive the Yemeni government into bankruptcy.

The government responded by directing banks and state bodies to relocate their offices from Sanaa to Aden, withdrawing old banknotes that were commonly used in Houthi areas, restricting the issuing or receiving of international transfers to authorized banks, and most recently, revoking the licenses of six banks in Sanaa.

Meanwhile, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said on Friday evening that militia forces targeted the Chrysalis ship twice in the Red Sea and the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, using ballistic missiles and drones, for allegedly breaching the group’s prohibition on sailing to Israel.

It is the latest in a series of claims by the Houthis concerning attacks on ships in the Red Sea and other vital maritime channels off Yemen.

The militia has described the campaign as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Also on Friday, US Central Command said that its forces had destroyed three drones in a Houthi-controlled part of Yemen.


Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
Updated 13 July 2024
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Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq

Daesh kills four police in clashes in eastern Iraq
  • The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants
  • One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said


BAGHDAD: Four police officers were killed and at least three injured in clashes between Iraqi government forces and Daesh militants in Diyala province in eastern Iraq on Saturday, police and medical sources said.
The clashes occurred while police and army forces conducted a search for militants taking shelter in farmland areas in the town of Khan Bani Saad in Diyala province, police sources said.
Two police colonels said the clashes were ongoing and militants are using snipers to prevent police and soldiers from advancing.
One of at least three police injured was in critical condition, police said.
Iraq’s security situation has been relatively stable in recent years after the chaos of the 2003-US-led invasion and years of bloody sectarian conflict that followed.
Baghdad is now looking to draw down the U.S-led international coalition that helped defeat Daesh and still remain in the country in an advisory role, saying local security forces can handle the threat themselves.


Syria says restoring ties with Ankara depends on Turkish troop withdrawal

Syria says restoring ties with Ankara depends on Turkish troop withdrawal
Updated 13 July 2024
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Syria says restoring ties with Ankara depends on Turkish troop withdrawal

Syria says restoring ties with Ankara depends on Turkish troop withdrawal
  • The statement came days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he might invite Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to Turkiye
  • Earlier on Saturday Erdogan went further when he announced the imminent end to the Turkish forces’ operation against Kurdish fighters

DAMASCUS: Syria’s foreign ministry said Saturday a normalization of ties with neighboring Turkiye depended on Ankara withdrawing troops from its territory.
The statement came days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he might invite Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to Turkiye to try and reconcile ties between the two countries that went sour after war broke out in Syria in 2011.
And earlier on Saturday Erdogan went further when he announced the imminent end to the Turkish forces’ operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and Syria.
Turkiye has launched successive offensives across the border in Syria to expel Kurdish forces from border areas in northern Syria, with pro-Turkish forces controlling two vast border areas of northern Syria.
Erdogan supported early rebel efforts to topple Assad at the start of the war in 2011, but reversed course in recent years, with top officials from both countries meeting in Russian-mediated talks.
Earlier this month Erdogan pointed to a possible meeting with Assad in Turkiye “at any moment.”
“Now we have come to such a point that as soon as Bashar Assad takes a step toward improving relations with Turkiye, we will show him the same approach,” Erdogan said Sunday.
The foreign ministry in Damascus, in its statement of Saturday, said that any bid to restore ties between Syria and Turkiye “must be built on clear foundations that ensure the desired results... foremost of which is the withdrawal of illegally present forces from the Syrian territory, and the fight against terrorist groups that threaten not only Syria’s security, but also the security of Turkiye.”
Diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed at the start of the war in Syria, which erupted after a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
It has spiralled into a devastating war involving foreign armies and militants, and killed more than half a million people.