Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce

Update Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati at a hotel during a day of meetings, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the Jordanian capital Amman on November 4, 2023. (AFP)
Update Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce
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Blinken attends a meeting with Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Nov. 4, 2023. (Reuters)
Update Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce
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Blinken attends a meeting with Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Reuters)
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Blinken meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at a hotel during a day of meetings, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Reuters)
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Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said we need to stop the bloodshed of unarmed civilians. (SPA)
Update Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce
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Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said we need to stop the bloodshed of unarmed civilians. (SPA)
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Updated 05 November 2023
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Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce

Blinken rejects Arab demand for urgent Gaza truce
  • Foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, and a senior Palestinian official met with Blinken after holding a separate consultative meeting earlier and another with Jordan’s King Abdullah

AMMAN: A demand by Jordan and Egypt for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza was rejected by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at an Arab foreign ministers meeting in Amman on Saturday.

Blinken said that a truce would be counterproductive, and made clear the furthest he would go was support for a humanitarian pause to allow the delivery of aid and the evacuation of civilians from the besieged enclave.

“It is our view now that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” Blinken told a news conference after the talks, referring to the militant group’s attack on southern Israel that triggered the latest Gaza conflict.

Foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, and a senior Palestinian official met with Blinken after holding a separate consultative meeting earlier and another with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The meeting was attended by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan, along with Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan from the UAE, Qatar’s Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, and Hussein Al-Sheikh from the Palestine Liberation Organization.

According to a Jordanian Foreign Ministry statement, the meeting reaffirmed Arab calls for an “immediate” ceasefire and “undisrupted” delivery of relief assistance as part of efforts to stop the war.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Shoukry and Blinken, Safadi said that “slaughter and war crimes need to stop, and also the immunity given to Israel before the international law.”

He called for “immediate” delivery of aid into Gaza and a halt to Israeli displacement of Palestinians, and also voiced alarm at the situation in the occupied West Bank, where “settlers are permitted to kill innocent Palestinians.”

Shoukry also raised concerns over the mounting civilian toll in Gaza, describing it as “collective punishment,” and saying that “the slaughter of civilians cannot be justified in (any) terms even as self-defense.”

The Egyptian foreign minister called for an “immediate ceasefire without any condition,” and said that Israel needs to end its violations of international humanitarian law.

He also highlighted “double standards” in dealing with the mounting civilian toll, saying: “Arab blood is no less worthy.”

Blinken reaffirmed Washington’s support for “humanitarian pauses” to ensure civilians receive assistance.

The senior US envoy said that he agreed with his Arab counterparts on the need for aid corridors, acknowledging that what has so far entered Gaza is “inadequate.”

Asked why Washington is failing to exert pressure to stop the killing of civilians, Blinken said that “Israel has the right to defend itself, but also to take means to ensure the protection of civilians and minimize harm to them.”

He claimed Hamas “embeds itself” within the civilian population, and is using civilian infrastructure as command centers and for ammunition storage.

“But Israel has an obligation to defend civilians. This is what I told the Israelis,” he said.

Washington’s top diplomat said that he is saddened to see bodies of children pulled from the rubble in Gaza. “I am a father and I have children and I know how it feels.”

Ending the press conference, Safadi said: “Self-defense? How would you explain this term to a father who is unable to protect his children and find shelter for them, not even in a refugee camp, a hospital or a UN organization?”

Before meeting Blinken, King Abdullah told the foreign ministers “to maintain Arab coordination and speak in one voice to the international community regarding the dangerous escalations in Gaza.”

He added: “Arab states have the responsibility of pushing the international community and world powers to stop the war on Gaza, allow the uninterrupted delivery of aid, and protect civilians.”

The king warned that continued fighting would lead to an “explosion in the region,” a statement said.

The Jordanian ruler also urged constant support for international relief organizations working in Gaza, especially UNRWA.

He reiterated that a political solution is needed to achieve just and comprehensive peace on the basis of a two-state solution.


UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes
Updated 01 March 2024
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UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes

UN experts: Sudan’s paramilitary forces carried out ethnic killings and rapes that may be war crimes
  • Report to the UN Security Council,paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of the Rapid Support Forces

UNITED NATIONS : Paramilitary forces and their allied militias fighting to take power in Sudan carried out widespread ethnic killings and rapes while taking control of much of western Darfur that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, United Nations experts said in a new report.
The report to the UN Security Council, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, paints a horrifying picture of the brutality of Rapid Support Forces against Africans in Darfur. It also details how the RSF succeeded in gaining control of four out of Darfur’s five states, including through complex financial networks that involve dozens of companies.
Sudan plunged into chaos in April, when long-simmering tensions between its military led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.
Fighting spread to other parts of the country, but in Sudan’s Darfur region it took on a different form: brutal attacks by the RSF on African civilians, especially the ethnic Masalit.
Two decades ago, Darfur became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against populations that identify as Central or East African. It seems that legacy has returned, with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan saying in late January there are grounds to believe both sides are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.
The panel of experts said Darfur is experiencing “its worst violence since 2005.”
The ongoing conflict has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis and displaced approximately 6.8 million people — 5.4 million within Sudan and 1.4 million who have fled to other countries, including approximately 555,000 to neighboring Chad, the experts said.
The RSF and rival Sudanese government forces have both used heavy artillery and shelling in highly populated areas, causing widespread destruction of critical water, sanitation, education and health care facilities.
In their 47-page report, the experts said the RSF and its militias targeted sites in Darfur where displaced people had found shelter, civilian neighborhoods and medical facilities.
According to intelligence sources, the panel said, in just one city — Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state near the Chad border — between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed.
The experts said sexual violence by the RSF and its allied militia was widespread.
The panel said that, according to reliable sources from Geneina, women and girls as young as 14 years old were raped by RSF elements in a UN World Food Program storage facility that the paramilitary force controlled, in their homes, or when returning home to collect belongings after being displaced by the violence. Additionally, 16 girls were reportedly kidnapped by RSF soldiers and raped in an RSF house.
“Racial slurs toward the Masalit and non-Arab community formed part of the attacks,” the panel said. “Neighborhoods and homes were continuously attacked, looted, burned and destroyed,” especially those where Masalit and other African communities lived, and their people were harassed, assaulted, sexually abused, and at times executed.
The experts said prominent Masalit community members were singled out by the RSF, which had a list, and the group’s leaders were harassed and some executed. At least two lawyers, three prominent doctors and seven staff members, and human rights activists monitoring and reporting on the events were also killed, they said.
The RSF and its allied militias looted and destroyed all hospitals and medical storage facilities, which resulted in the collapse of health services and the deaths of 37 women with childbirth complications and 200 patients needing kidney dialysis, the panel said.
After the killing of the wali, or governor, of West Darfur in June, the report said, Masalit and African communities decided to seek protection at Ardamata, just outside Geneina. A convoy of thousands moved out at midnight but as they reached a bridge, RSF and allied militias indiscriminately opened fire, and survivors reported that an estimated 1,000 people were killed, they said.
The panel stressed that disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians — including torture, rapes and killings as well as destruction of critical civilian infrastructure — constitute war crimes under the 1949 Geneva conventions.
The RSF was formed out of Janjaweed fighters by Sudan’s former President Omar Al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades, was overthrown during a popular uprising in 2019, and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for charges of genocide and other crimes during the conflict in Darfur in the 2000s.
According to the panel, the “RSF’s takeover of Darfur relied on three lines of support: the Arab allied communities, dynamic and complex financial networks, and new military supply lines running through Chad, Libya and South Sudan.”
While both the Sudanese military and RSF engaged in widespread recruitment drives across Darfur from late 2022, the RSF was more successful, the experts said. And it “invested large proceeds from its pre-war gold business in several industries, creating a network of as many as 50 companies.”
The RSF’s complex financial networks “enabled it to acquire weapons, pay salaries, fund media campaigns, lobby, and buy the support of other political and armed groups,” the experts said.
United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who visited Chad in September, called the report’s findings “horrific” and expressed “deep disappointment” that the UN Security Council and the international community have paid such little attention to the allegations.
“The people of Sudan feel that they have been forgotten,” she said.
In light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan and the broader region, Thomas-Greenfield demanded that the Sudanese military lift its prohibition on cross-border assistance from Chad and facilitate cross-line assistance from the east. She also demanded in a statement Wednesday that the RSF halt the looting of humanitarian warehouses and that both parties stop harassing humanitarian aid workers.
“The council must act urgently to alleviate human suffering, hold perpetrators to account, and bring the conflict in Sudan to an end,” the US ambassador said. “Time is running out.”


Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom

Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom
Updated 01 March 2024
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Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom

Iran begins voting in first parliament election since 2022 protests as questions over turnout loom
  • Some 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament
  • Terms run for four years, and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities

DUBAI: Iran began voting Friday in its first parliamentary elections since the mass 2022 protests over its mandatory hijab laws after the death of Mahsa Amini, with questions looming over just how many people will turn out for the poll.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 84, cast one of the first votes in an election that also will see new members elected to the country’s Assembly of Experts. The panel of clerics, who serve an eight-year term, is mandated to select a new supreme leader if Khamenei steps down or dies, giving their role increased importance with Khamenei’s age.
Khamenei voted before a crowd of journalists in Tehran, his left hand slightly shaking as he took his ballot from his right, paralyzed since a 1981 bombing. State television showed one woman nearby weeping as she filmed Khamenei with her mobile phone.
Khamenei urged people to vote as soon as possible in the election, saying that both Iran’s friends and enemies were watching the turnout.
“Make the friends happy and make the enemies hopeless,” he said in brief remarks by the ballot boxes.
Initial election results are expected as soon as Saturday. Some 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years, and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.
Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader.
Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.
Under Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.
More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory head covering, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests.
The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.
Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”
The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.
The state-owned polling center ISPA hadn’t put out election data prior to the vote until Thursday, something highly unusual as their figures typically get released much earlier. Its polling, based on a survey of 5,121 voting-age people, predicted a turnout of 23.5 percent in the capital, Tehran, and 38.5 percent nationally. It said the margin of error in the poll was 2 percent.


Palestinian UN ambassador pleads for rebuke of Gaza aid deaths

Palestinian UN ambassador pleads for rebuke of Gaza aid deaths
Updated 01 March 2024
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Palestinian UN ambassador pleads for rebuke of Gaza aid deaths

Palestinian UN ambassador pleads for rebuke of Gaza aid deaths
  • Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians scrambling for food aid on Thursday
  • The Security Council held a meeting to discuss the morning’s events in Gaza at the request of Algeria

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinian ambassador to the UN on Thursday pleaded for the Security Council to condemn the episode in Gaza that saw Israeli forces open fire on Palestinians scrambling for food aid.

“The Security Council should say enough is enough,” Riyad Mansour told reporters ahead of a closed-door meeting by the body, which came at the request of Algeria.

The meeting was held to discuss the morning’s events in Gaza, where Israeli forces opened fire on the Palestinians in a chaotic melee that the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said killed 112 people and injured 760.

An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”

 

 

The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of desperate Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.

“This outrageous massacre is a testimony to the fact that as long as the Security Council is paralyzed and vetoes (are) casted, then it is costing the Palestinian people their lives,” Mansour said.

As one of five permanent members of the 15-member council, the United States — Israel’s biggest ally — has a veto that it has wielded three times so far to bar the body from calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Palestinian territory.

At Thursday’s meeting, Algeria put forth a draft declaration expressing “deep concern,” which stated that the situation was “due to opening fire by Israel forces.”

Of the Council’s 15 members, “14 members supported the text,” Mansour said after the meeting.

According to a diplomatic source, the United States opposed Israel being named, but discussions were ongoing.

“The parties are working on some language to see if we can get to a statement,” US deputy ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said.

“The problem is that we don’t have all the facts here,” he said, adding that he wanted the wording to reflect “the necessary due diligence with regards to culpability.”

Mansour said he met earlier in the day with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“I implored her that the Security Council has to produce a product of condemning this killing and to go after those responsible for this massacre,” he said.

If the Security Council has “a spine and determination to put an end to these massacres from happening all over again, what we need is a ceasefire,” Mansour said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the situation “would require an effective independent investigation,” into how the deaths occurred and who was responsible, after condemning the episode earlier in the day through his spokesman.

Thursday’s incident added to a Palestinian death toll which the Gaza health ministry said had topped 30,000, mainly women and children.

The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 Israel says are presumed dead.


Netanyahu says he will pave way to end exemption for ultra-Orthodox from military service

Netanyahu says he will pave way to end exemption for ultra-Orthodox from military service
Updated 01 March 2024
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Netanyahu says he will pave way to end exemption for ultra-Orthodox from military service

Netanyahu says he will pave way to end exemption for ultra-Orthodox from military service
  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 13 percent of Israel’s population, claim the right to study in seminaries instead of serving in uniform for the standard three years
  • Israel’s Supreme Court in 2018 voided a law waiving the draft for ultra-Orthodox men, citing a need for the burden of military service to be shared across Israeli society

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday his government would find a way to end exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israeli military service in the face of political pressures that threaten his narrow coalition’s future.
“We will determine goals for conscripting ultra-Orthodox people to the IDF and national civil service,” Netanyahu said at a press conference, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. “We will also determine the ways to implement those goals.”
Israel’s Supreme Court in 2018 voided a law waiving the draft for ultra-Orthodox men, citing a need for the burden of military service to be shared across Israeli society.
Parliament failed to come up with a new arrangement, and a government-issued stay on mandatory conscription of ultra-Orthodox expires in March.
Ultra-Orthodox parties have helped Netanyahu hold a narrow parliamentary majority alongside far-right nationalist parties but in past governments have made draft exemption a condition for remaining in the coalition.
Netanyahu appeared to be responding to a pledge made by his defense minister to veto a law that would allow the continuation of exemptions unless the government reached an agreement paving a path for ultra-Orthodox enlistment.
“We recognize and support those who dedicate their life to studying Jewish holy scripture but, with that, without physical existence there is no spiritual existence,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday.
The exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews have been a longstanding source of friction with more secular citizens now stoked by the country’s costly mobilization for the Gaza war.
The ultra-Orthodox claim the right to study in seminaries instead of serving in uniform for the standard three years. Some say their pious lifestyles would clash with military mores, while others voice ideological opposition to the liberal state.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 13 percent of Israel’s population, a figure expected to reach 19 percent by 2035 due to their high birth rates. Economists argue that the draft exemption keeps some of them unnecessarily in seminaries and out of the workforce.


‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears
Updated 29 February 2024
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‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

‘Mercy tables’ in Egypt suffer from economic crisis as Ramadan nears

CAIRO: Rising food prices and shortages may lead to fewer donations and less food for “tables of mercy” in Egypt during Ramadan.

Such tables are usually seen on Egypt’s streets to provide lower-income people with free iftar.

“There are many philanthropists in Egypt, but the high prices of food items constrain them,” said Kamal Khairy, a cook who worked at the tables in previous years.

A kilogram of meat is now priced at 450 Egyptian pounds ($14.56) in some areas, while a kilogram of rice costs 40 pounds. The price of vegetables has risen to unreasonable levels, Khairy told Arab News.

The meal cost has increased significantly, causing some philanthropists to withdraw from setting up tables this year.

“Before the COVID-19 outbreak, I used to cook at different tables upon request by philanthropists,” he said.

“In one year, I cooked for three tables — one in the morning, another in the afternoon, and the third before sunset. However, no one has asked me this year.”

A 50-year-old Egyptian, who declined to be named, told Arab News: “In previous years, I used to set up a free iftar table near my factory in Al-Azhar. However, I cannot afford the extra expense due to financial constraints this year.”

He said the factory was struggling financially, so he had been cutting expenses.

A car park attendant on Hoda Shaarawi Street in Cairo who gave his name as Uncle Ahmed told Arab News: “Due to the nature of my job, I cannot go home during Ramadan. Therefore, I rely on the ‘mercy table’ set up on the street, where I am a regular guest.”

The man, nearing 60, added: “I used to sit at a table alongside people from diverse social backgrounds, such as delivery workers, nurses, conscripts, and passersby.

“The table used to accommodate more than 500 people but now fits only 50.”

He said that in the past, a meal would typically consist of a meat dish (such as chicken or kofta), a vegetable dish, a salad and rice or pasta.

“There is only one dish that contains rice and vegetables this year, and the size of the chicken and meat has been reduced. Additionally, the salad portion has been reduced."

Ahmed added: “The crisis affects everyone, and we don’t expect more from the philanthropists. I excuse them.

“I pray that our crises in Egypt will be resolved.”

Farid Jamal, a worker at a charity hosting a table, said: “In previous years, people would arrive an hour before the Maghrib prayer, but now they come three hours earlier.

“The social composition has also changed. I see young men and men from good social levels wearing relatively elegant clothes and women who appear to be in a good situation, all reserving their places at the table to get an iftar meal.”