Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

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Updated 16 November 2023

Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News
  • Veteran statesman condemns Israel’s “humanitarian oppression” of the Palestinian people in Gaza
  • Says Israel can only stave off a repeat of Oct. 7 by negotiating with Hamas, giving back Palestinian land

RIYADH: Israel’s military assault on Gaza is a disproportionate response, and the conflict can only be halted through negotiation with Hamas and by pursuing a two-state solution, according to Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia.

The veteran statesman, who held office from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020, making him the country’s longest-serving prime minister, has long been a staunch supporter of Palestinian national rights.

Compared with the 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel and the dispossession of millions of Palestinians, Mahathir believes the current conflict in Gaza presents an even greater threat and is more akin to an extermination.

“This is worse than the previous Nakba because this is not war. This is, simply, a humanitarian oppression,” he told Arab News.

“We don’t see soldiers fighting each other. We see, simply, Israeli soldiers killing civilians. That is not war. It is a humanitarian disaster.”

Israel launched its military assault on Gaza with the intention of eliminating Hamas after the Palestinian militant group mounted its unprecedented attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in the death of 1,200 people, Israelis and foreigners, and the taking of more than 200 hostages.

The US and many other Western governments have repeatedly voiced their support for Israel’s right to defend itself and broadly backed the aim of eliminating Hamas, which Washington and many European governments consider a terrorist organization.

“It may have the right to defend itself but not to the extent of proposing to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit,” said Mahathir.

“Already, they have killed 12,000. They claim they have lost 1,400, but now they have killed more than 12,000 Palestinians. That is not the way to secure the well-being of Israel.”

The steadfast Western support for Israel has started to wane, however, as the civilian body count in Gaza continues to rise, prompting growing calls for an immediate ceasefire, the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors, and a negotiated settlement of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mahathir, who was in office during the 1993-1999 peace process, when the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat, came close to its goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state, said the violence of Oct. 7 was all but inevitable after Israel failed to keep up its end of successive agreements.

“For 70 years, the Israelis have been oppressing the Palestinians, have taken their land and built settlements on their land,” said Mahathir.

“And they (the Palestinians) have tried many ways, including negotiation by Arafat. But every time they tried to solve the problem, the Israelis reneged on their promises. For example, when Arafat finally agreed that the state of Israel should exist, that there should be a two-state solution, the Israelis (did) not implement the promise they made that there should be a two-state solution.

Arab News’ Noor Nugali interviews Mahathir bin Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. (AN Photo)

“So, what can the Palestinians do? They had to eventually resort to violence. They have no other way. The world is not helping them. There is no justice. So the attack on Oct. 7 is because there is no other way for them to regain their land. It’s not terrorism, it’s to fight to liberate your own country.”

Mahathir doubts whether Israel ever truly countenanced the possibility of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Instead, he believes Israel wants to dispossess the Palestinians of all their remaining lands west of the Jordan river, and goes so far as to accuse the current government of orchestrating a campaign of attempted extermination.

“What they want is actually, if what they are doing in Gaza is any evidence, what they want is to rid the world of all Palestinians. That is their final solution,” said Mahathir.

“They learned this from the Nazis of Germany. The Nazi solution to the Jewish problem was to kill all Jews. Now, it seems that Israel is adopting that approach to the problem, wanting to kill all Palestinians so that the Middle East will not have any Palestinians left.”

The “final solution” refers to the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, primarily in purpose-built death camps, between 1941 and 1945.

Last weekend, Saudi Arabia hosted an extraordinary joint summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Riyadh, during which leaders demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and rejected Israel’s justification of its actions as being self-defense.

They urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing” in the Palestinian territories, according to the summit’s final communique.

They also demanded an end to the siege of Gaza, access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and a halt to the sale of arms to Israel, and called on the UN Security Council to take action.

“Just asking the Israelis to stop the war is not doing very much, because everybody is saying that,” said Mahathir. “But the Islamic countries can demand from the UN all peacekeepers to be sent to Gaza so that they can look after the welfare, the well-being, the security of the Gazan people.

“Today, the Gazan people have no defense. They are being killed almost as if they are not human. And this is what Israel is doing. Merely asking Israel just to stop killing is not enough. Israel will not stop killing.

“But I think at least they should send peacekeepers. They should supply food, medicine, water and all that, all the needs of the people in Gaza. And they should be there, represented as peacekeepers, to stop this unfair killing of innocent people by the Israeli military.

“And it’s not only killing that Israel is doing. They’ve cut off water, electricity, food supplies, humanitarian aid for close to a month now. And they’re saying that they want to eliminate Hamas, that they want to eradicate the terrorist group, Hamas.”

Mahathir does not believe that Hamas can be defeated by force of arms alone. Instead, he said that Israel and its allies will have to negotiate with the group if they hope to end the cycle of violence that led to the Oct. 7 attacks.

“If you want to eliminate Hamas, sit down and negotiate with Hamas,” he said. “Give back the land belonging to the Palestinians; the Palestinians who are ready to acknowledge there is Israel. That was not (the case) before but now they accept that there is Israel.

“Israel must give back the land belonging to the Palestinians and that should be done through negotiation, not through killing. Killing is uncivilized. Yes, we’ve heard so many officials say that dialogue should be open. There should be more conversation. There should be a conversation also taking place. But Israel says they needed a proportionate response to what happened to them.”

In the meantime, Mahathir believes Arab and Islamic countries in the region should offer sanctuary to Palestinian women and children, while the men should remain behind to prevent a permanent Israeli occupation.

“If the Israelis keep on killing the Palestinians, we should provide asylum for at least the women and the children,” he said. “The men should stay back in Gaza, because if you don’t, then the Israelis will occupy Gaza. So, the men will stay back, and they should be given some way of defending themselves.

“At the moment, they cannot defend themselves. They have no weapons, and they are being killed. Whether they are Hamas or not has not been ascertained. They (Israel) are killing people, saying they want to get rid of Hamas. But the people, the babies, who were killed, are they Hamas? How can you justify killing people?”

Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalize War in 2015, as well as the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of the US, Israel and their allies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

He has also accused the West of increasing the likelihood of a third world war as a result of its intervention in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Part of the problem, in his view, is the dearth of moral values among the current crop of world leaders.

“We are getting world leaders who have no conscience,” Mahathir said. “We have very poor qualities of world leaders. To find the president of the US actually approving the killing of the Palestinians, that shows the quality of leadership.

“A leader should always move toward doing good things and correct things — just use the rule of law. But now the US president and the prime minister of the UK and many other European leaders, the quality of leadership is very bad. They have no conscience, no moral values. They like to see wars being fought and they don’t mind if there is no justice, if the laws are broken.”

At a time when islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes appear to be on the rise worldwide in response to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, Malaysia has managed to maintain a degree of harmony among its diverse population, which is made up of a majority of Malay Muslims along with Buddhists, Christian Chinese and mainly Hindu Tamils.

“Malaysia is a multiracial, multireligious country,” said Mahathir. “We have different beliefs, different cultures, but each one of us accepts that we have to tolerate each other.

“Of course, we are different. We cannot be the same. If God wants us to be the same, we will all be Muslim. But there are people who are not Muslims, and Muslims must tolerate the non-Muslims. That is part of the teachings of Islam.

“So, we adhere to the teachings of Islam and we live together. They have their own way, we have our own way and we tolerate that, for instance.”

Mahathir said this has been achieved through widespread recognition of the fact that resorting to violence can only harm the nation and its people. It is a lesson he believes other countries ought to take on board.

“If we have confrontation, (if) we have violence, (then) we will destroy the country. In the end, nobody gets anything,” he said. “Everybody in Malaysia understands that if you fight, the whole country is going to be destroyed. Everybody is going to suffer.

“Yes, we have our differences. We can settle our differences around a table, not by fighting each other. When you fight each other, you kill people and you destroy the country. In the end, even if you win, the country is destroyed. Of course, if you lose, you will also face a country that is no longer, well, stable.”

Saudi Arabia’s RSGT to operate major terminal in Bangladesh’s largest port

Saudi Arabia’s RSGT to operate major terminal in Bangladesh’s largest port
Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi Arabia’s RSGT to operate major terminal in Bangladesh’s largest port

Saudi Arabia’s RSGT to operate major terminal in Bangladesh’s largest port
  • RSGT will operate Patenga Container Terminal in Chittagong Port for 22 years
  • Project marks beginning of larger Saudi presence in Bangladesh, minister says

DHAKA: Saudi port developer Red Sea Gateway Terminal on Wednesday signed a concession agreement with the Bangladeshi government to manage and operate a newly built terminal in the country’s largest port.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih witnessed the signing ceremony between RSGT and the Chittagong Port Authority at the premier’s office in Dhaka, marking the beginning of a 22-year agreement struck under the public private partnership and G2G format.

The $240 million Patenga Container Terminal, which finished construction earlier this year, is a “lighthouse of hopes for the economic development of Bangladesh,” Hasina said at the ceremony.

“This automated modern terminal will further strengthen the capacity of our ports. In addition, it will facilitate foreign trade, create employment and facilitate the ways of new entrepreneurs … it will work as a gateway to world trade and open new opportunities for the expansion of our trade and establishing connectivity with the world,” she said.

RSGT will be the first foreign company operating Bangladeshi ports, as Dhaka banks on the company’s technological expertise and ports management experience.

“Red Sea Gateway Terminal International is a renowned global terminal operator nominated by the Saudi government,” Hasina said. “With the goodwill RSGTI is operating the Jeddah port along with other ports, they will apply the same expertise, technology and work processes in operating our Patenga Container Terminal. It will open a new door for our country. Our people will also be trained in this process.”

Chittagong Port is the busiest container port on the Bay of Bengal, which handled about 3.2 million 20-foot equivalent units in the 2021 fiscal year and served as the main gateway for Bangladesh’s ocean cargo import and export. This included products from its garment sector, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports and 11 percent of its gross domestic product.

The Patenga Container Terminal, which will be handed over to RSGT next month, is expected to have an annual capacity of 500,000 TEU, or twenty foot equivalent container units.

The signing on Wednesday is the beginning of a “new chapter in our very friendly relationship,” Al-Falih said at the signing ceremony, adding that Bangladesh holds a “special place” in Saudi Arabia that makes the Kingdom keen on continuing its support of the South Asian country’s development.

“Today’s signing of the investment agreement for the Red Sea Gateway company project in Patenga, this award represents, in my opinion, an anchor, economic connection between our two countries, and one of the most important sectors establishing a strong economic relationship, which is logistics,” Al-Falih said.

 “For us, Patenga also symbolizes the importance of logistics as an enabler for other sectors,” he said. “This project, this decision, is a small nucleus that we hope will grow into a large vibrant cluster of Saudi presence here in Bangladesh.”

Italy to process asylum-seekers in Albanian facility

Italy to process asylum-seekers in Albanian facility
Updated 06 December 2023

Italy to process asylum-seekers in Albanian facility

Italy to process asylum-seekers in Albanian facility
  • Migrants to be given right to legal aid via video call
  • More than 153,000 people traveled from North Africa to Italy this year

LONDON: Italy will offer legal aid via video call to migrants it detains at an overseas holding facility in Albania, The Times reported on Wednesday.

Italy’s government on Monday issued a parliamentary bill to put in motion plans to open a holding center in Albania by next spring.

The facility will house up to 3,000 migrants who are picked up by Italian ships operating in international waters.

They will be transported to Albania’s Shengjin port, identified and sent to the facility, with Italy proposing a 28-day asylum-processing period.

It follows the striking of a deal between the Italian and Albanian governments last month, with Rome planning to quickly repatriate migrants that disembark from “safe countries,” including Tunisia.

The Italian government bill guarantees migrants “the quick and full exercising of the right to defense,” and the right to “private discussions with a lawyer in Italy via video conference.”

Migrants will be able to take part in judicial hearings on their case using video calls if they choose to appeal against their repatriation.

The facility in Albania — which is expected to cost under $215 million per year to operate — will also contain a prison facility to incarcerate migrants who commit crimes while detained.

Albania will not be paid to host the center but accepted the deal as a “gesture of goodwill,” said its Prime Minister Edi Rama. But Rome will pay the salaries of the center’s guards and will oversee jurisdiction of the site.

Italy is battling a migration crisis, with about 153,000 migrants sailing into its territory from North Africa this year. The figure represents a surge over last year, when 95,000 people made the same journey.

However, the country’s latest plan has been labeled “unworkable” by migration experts over concerns that 28 days leaves too little time to resolve asylum disputes.

Italy also lacks sufficient bilateral deals with migrants’ countries of origin to expedite repatriations, they warned.

Indonesia looks into potential aviation, railway cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Indonesia looks into potential aviation, railway cooperation with Saudi Arabia
Updated 06 December 2023

Indonesia looks into potential aviation, railway cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Indonesia looks into potential aviation, railway cooperation with Saudi Arabia
  • Indonesia, Saudi transport ministers held talks in Riyadh on Sunday
  • Jakarta also eyeing Saudi investment on Indonesian railways

JAKARTA: Indonesia was hoping for closer cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the aviation sector and to develop its urban transportation, the southeast Asian country’s Ministry of Transportation has revealed.

Indonesian Minister of Transport Budi Karya Sumadi held a meeting with his Saudi counterpart Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser in Riyadh on Sunday, where they explored potential cooperation between the two nations.

In a statement issued by his ministry, Sumadi said: “This is a big momentum for our two countries to continue cooperation in transportation, which has been going really well.”

Sumadi was in the Saudi capital to attend the 15th International Civil Aviation Organization’s Air Services Negotiation event, partaking in a ministerial session alongside Al-Jasser and other transport officials.

His trip follows Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s state visit to the Kingdom in October, when officials discussed the formation of a negotiation team for the Indonesia-Saudi Arabia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

“There are plenty of other collaboration opportunities we can do, especially for Hajj flights and the development of urban transportation,” Sumadi added.

The Indonesian minister had highlighted recent urban transportation developments in Saudi cities during his meeting with Al-Jasser, projects happening at a time when Indonesian cities were also developing mass transport systems.

“There’s an opportunity for (Saudi Arabia) to invest in Indonesia’s railways, which has to be further discussed,” Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News on Wednesday.

“Saudi Arabia’s experience in developing urban railways can also be a benchmark for Indonesia.”

Indonesia was looking into the possibility of establishing a joint venture for domestic flights with Saudi airlines, the ministry said, as the country also hoped to increase flights between the two nations to facilitate more Indonesian pilgrims.

“On aviation, the importance of cooperation is related to Umrah and Hajj flights as there is a large volume of Indonesian pilgrims,” Irawati added.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, sends the biggest Hajj contingent and hundreds of thousands of Umrah pilgrims to Saudi Arabia every year.

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families
Updated 06 December 2023

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families
  • Former PM begins giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis

LONDON: Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for “the pain and the loss and the suffering” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as he began giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis.
The former prime minister, who has faced a barrage of criticism from former aides for alleged indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic, is facing two days in the witness box.
Johnson, who was forced from office last year over lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street during the pandemic, accepted that “mistakes” had “unquestionably” been made.
“I understand the feeling of the victims and their families and I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering to those victims and their families,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 59, was briefly interrupted as a protester was ordered from the inquiry room after refusing to sit down during the apology.
“Inevitably we got some things wrong,” Johnson continued, before adding “we did our level best” and that he took personal responsibility for decisions made.
The former premier had arrived around three hours early for the proceedings, with some suggesting he was eager to avoid relatives of the COVID-19 bereaved who gathered outside later in the morning.
Nearly 130,000 people died with COVID-19 in the UK by mid-July 2021, one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations.
Johnson will insist the decisions he took ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives, the Times newspaper reported, citing a lengthy written statement set to be published later Wednesday.
The Times said he would argue he had a “basic confidence that things would turn out alright” on the “fallacious logic” that previous health threats had not proven as catastrophic as feared.
But he is expected to say that overall, the government succeeded in its main goal of preventing the state-run health service from being overwhelmed by making the “right decisions at the right times.”
He will also say that while the country’s death toll was high, it defied most of the gloomiest predictions and “ended the pandemic well down the global league table of excess mortality.”
According to The Times, Johnson, who quit in part because of revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, has reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence and spent hours in talks with lawyers.
He can expect to be questioned on whether he thought the government was initially complacent about the pandemic, despite evidence suggesting a more proactive approach was needed.
He will also need to justify his timing of the first UK lockdown on March 23, 2020, which some senior ministers, officials and scientific advisers now believe was too late.
Johnson, who was treated in hospital intensive care for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, is expected to say that shutting down the country went against all his personal and political instincts.
But he had no choice because “ancient and hallowed freedoms were in conflict with the health of the community.”
Johnson’s understanding of specialist advice is likely to come under scrutiny after his former chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said the former premier was frequently “bamboozled” by data.
Comments about lockdowns and the death toll, including a claim that Johnson suggested the elderly might be allowed to die because they had “had a good innings,” could also be raised.
Johnson has denied claims he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown.
Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings and communications chief Lee Cain both criticized their ex-boss when they gave evidence at the inquiry.
Cummings said a “low point” was when Johnson circulated a video to his scientific advisers of “a guy blowing a special hairdryer up his nose ‘to kill Covid’.”
Cain said COVID-19 was the “wrong crisis” for Johnson’s skill set, adding that he became “exhausted” by his alleged indecision and oscillation in dealing with the crisis.
“He’s somebody who would often delay making decisions, would often seek counsel from multiple sources and change his mind on issues,” Cain said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was Johnson’s finance minister during the pandemic, is due to be questioned at the inquiry in the coming weeks.

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises
Updated 06 December 2023

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises
  • Bus carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon
  • The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads

MANILA: A passenger severely injured when a bus plunged into a ravine in the central Philippines has died, taking the death toll from the accident to 17, authorities said on Wednesday.
The bus was carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon, the local governor, Rhodora Cadiao, told a press conference.
Seven people were in critical condition while four were stable and recovering, she said.
Local media had reported earlier than 28 died in the crash.
Cadiao said the bus was traveling to Culasi in Antique from the neighboring province of Iloilo when its brakes malfunctioned on a winding road and it plunged 30 meters (98.5 feet) into the ravine.
“We call that area the killer curve. It was already the second bus that fell off there,” Cadiao told DZRH radio station.
Rescue operations at the site have stopped after all visible bodies were retrieved, the Antique government said on Facebook.
“The engineering design of this road is very faulty,” Cadiao said. “I want to condemn that road already.”
The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads.