Biden ‘putting in a lot of effort’ toward Saudi-Israeli normalization: Official

Special Biden ‘putting in a lot of effort’ toward Saudi-Israeli normalization: Official
US President Joe Biden at the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 20, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2023
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Biden ‘putting in a lot of effort’ toward Saudi-Israeli normalization: Official

Biden ‘putting in a lot of effort’ toward Saudi-Israeli normalization: Official
  • ‘We recognize that the road will be long and winding’: US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs
  • Barbara Leaf shuts down speculation about an imminent Iran nuclear deal

NEW YORK: Normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel is central in the US administration’s agenda in the Middle East, but former representatives have called on it to heed its allies.

Addressing the inaugural Middle East Global Summit in New York, attended by Arab News, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs said Washington is looking to increase integration.

US President Joe Biden “has been putting in a lot of effort to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but we recognize that the road will be long and winding,” Barbara Leaf added.

Noting that the US believes all parties would benefit from increased integration that would be fostered by normalized relations, Leaf said when Biden took office, the Middle East was in a state of “extraordinary fragility” with chronic conflicts throughout.

Pointing to the preceding six years as having riven “a lot” of tensions, Leaf said in the last two years, the Biden administration has seen “rifts begin to heal.”

However, she was swift to shut down speculation about an imminent nuclear deal between the US and Iran.

“On the nuclear front, the fundamentals haven’t changed, and this chatter of a new deal, this isn’t the case. But Biden has reiterated that diplomacy is the path to securing something,” she said.

Asked whether normalized Saudi-Israeli relations would help the Middle East peace process and the end of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, Leaf was circumspect.

“Since 2014, we’ve seen a significant withering of relations between Israel and Palestine, leaving the two-state solution a much more diminished prospect, but it nonetheless remains a solution fundamental for peace, prosperity and security in the region,” she said.

“There has been a succession of Israeli governments over that time, but the Palestinians are also at fault too. We’ve sought to engage Egypt and Jordan though to bring stability.”

Given this seeming reliance on neighboring states to help broker peace, former US Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen told the summit: “It’s a sign of disrespect to not have an ambassador to an ally like Egypt. This is a major ally, and it hasn’t had a US ambassador for over a year.”

He added: “Since 1970, the US has invested $50 billion in Egypt’s security policy and a further $30 billion in its development policy, so this is a country where we have skin in the game, and yet we have only a charge d’affaires in Cairo.”

Since 2017, Cohen has been the only fulltime ambassador to Egypt, having been appointed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019 and serving until March last year.

But Cohen was preceded by charge d’affaires Thomas Goldberger, with four charge d’affaires since.


UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
Updated 5 sec ago
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UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion

UN says 14 million fled homes in Ukraine since Russian invasion
  • In addition to the refugees abroad, some 3.7 million people remain displaced within Ukraine
  • The Russian invasion was the biggest of a European country since World War II
GENEVA: The UN said Thursday more than 14 million people had fled their homes in Ukraine during the two years since the Russian invasion, with nearly 6.5 million now living outside the country as refugees.
Reflecting on the February 24 second anniversary of the full-scale invasion, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that in addition to the refugees abroad, some 3.7 million people remain displaced within Ukraine.
Over 4.5 million people have returned home to date, from either abroad or displacement within the country.
In total, more than 14 million people — nearly one third of Ukraine’s population — have fled their homes at some point during the war.
“The destruction is widespread, loss of life and suffering continues,” IOM director general Amy Pope said in a statement.
“IOM commends the government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for their strength and resilience, as well as Ukraine’s neighbors who are taking in those seeking safety. We remain fully committed to alleviating human suffering and helping recovery.”
The United Nations agency said it had supported 6.5 million people in Ukraine and across 11 countries in eastern Europe hosting refugees.
“As the war enters a protracted phase, however, needs continue to grow and outpace available resources,” the agency said.
In the first two years of the conflict, the IOM has received $957 million in donations.
“We count on increased support from donors and local partners to meet the challenges that lie ahead in providing a better life for Ukrainians,” said Pope.
The Russian invasion was the biggest of a European country since World War II and triggered the largest refugee crisis the continent has faced since the 1939-1945 conflict.
The United Nations overall says it needs $4.2 billion this year to provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine and to refugees who have fled but fears a likely shortfall as the Gaza war dominates global attention.
Of those who fled and have now returned to their homes, “many have encountered lasting challenges... including insecurity, loss of livelihoods, damaged housing and infrastructure, and strained services,” said Soda Federico, director of the IOM’s humanitarian response and recovery department.
“We must focus on economic recovery,” he said in the agency’s report on the first two years of the war.

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination
Updated 25 min 51 sec ago
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Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right to self-determination
  • ‘The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process’

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Thursday continued its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya were expected to deliver their positions during the third day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

Ma Xinmin, a foreign ministry legal adviser, said Beijing “has consistently supported the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate right”.

“In pursuit of the right to self-determination”, he mentioned, the Palestinian people’s use of force to “resist foreign oppression” and complete the establishment of an independent state is an “inalienable right”.

Reza Najafi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs. (ANP/AFP)

The Iranian representative said the Israeli occupation force continuously violated Palestinians right to self-determination.

“The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process which involved the forcible displacement of native Palestinian people to create a majority Jewish colony in line with the Zionist movement,” Reza Najafi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs said.

Najafi listed a series of supposed ongoing violations by the Israeli occupying regime: prolonged occupation; alteration of the demographic composition in the occupied territories; alteration of the character and the status of the Holy City; discriminatory measures and violations of the rights of Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.

Najafi added that “the expansion of settlements, segregated roads and barriers as well as checkpoints has created a system of apartheid which is isolating Palestinian communities.”

In his closing remarks, Najafi said “the inaction or insufficient action of the Security Council” was one of the “main causes of prolonged occupation of the Palestinians,” and it was “paralysed due to the stalemate” caused by a “certain permanent member.”

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, center, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq. (ANP/AFP)

Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, ambassador and head of the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, meanwhile called on the ICJ to stop the “systematic killing machine” against the Palestinian people and the end of “mass murder” and “genocide.”

Al-Barrak talked of Israel’s “barbaric acts”, including “air strikes and rocket attacks targeting civilians.”

“These acts constitute war crimes executed with a criminal intent” and are serious violations of the laws of war, the Iraqi representative said, and added that Israel “must be held accountable”.


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies
Updated 22 February 2024
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

DUBAI: A missile attack Thursday targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime agencies said, the latest in a flurry of strikes disrupting global shipping.

“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”

Security firm Ambrey also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship following two missile strikes southeast of Yemen’s Aden.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea,” Ambrey said.

“Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis say the attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 22 February 2024
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
Updated 22 February 2024
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One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three Palestinian gunmen killed one person and wounded eight, among them a young pregnant woman, in a “terror attack” Thursday when they sprayed automatic weapons fire at vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said.
The shooters were “neutralized,” police said, and an AFP photographer later saw their bodies at the scene of the attack on a highway east of Jerusalem, where five cars were riddled with bullets.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting automatic weapons at vehicles that were in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement about the attack near the Maale Adumim settlement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot,” police said. “In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”

The gunmen were identified as Mohammed Zawahrah, 26, his brother Kathim Zawahrah, 31, and Ahmed Al-Wahsh, also 31, by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet.
Among those wounded was a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was in critical condition, said the emergency response service Magen David Adom and a spokesperson for the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.
Violence was already on the rise across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has escalated since then to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with hundreds killed in recent months.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site of Thursday’s attack where he told journalists: “The enemies... want to hurt us. They hate us.”
He argued that “we need to distribute more weapons” and that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of residents governed by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.
“There should be more restrictions and we should put barriers around villages and limit the freedom of movement” of people from the West Bank, Ben Gvir added.

Israeli officials work at the scene of a shooting attack by Palestinian gunmen near the Maale Adumim settlement, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Feb. 22, 2024. (REUTERS)

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
“Our enemies must know that any harm done to us would result in more construction, more development and even more control over the entire country,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
The attack came after two people were shot dead last Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war broke out, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Four people have died, including three gunmen. (REUTERS)

Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, in settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The West Bank’s Palestinian population is about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of a future independent state, a goal being discussed by the international community as the Gaza war rages into a fifth month.
Israel’s parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.