US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House

US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House
An Israeli soldier rides in an armored personnel carrier (APC) near the border with Gaza, after a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas expired, in Israel on Dec. 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House

US to press for extending Gaza truce: White House
  • “We continue to work with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar on efforts to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said
  • President Joe Biden and his national security team “will continue to remain deeply engaged as we look to free the remaining hostages"

WASHINGTON: The United States will continue to press for extending a truce in Gaza, the White House said Friday, as intense fighting erupted once again in the Israel-Hamas war.
“We continue to work with Israel, Egypt, and Qatar on efforts to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said.
Under the truce which lasted a week, Hamas militants released 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. More humanitarian aid was also delivered into war-devastated Gaza.
But the prospects of reestablishing a truce were being stymied because “Hamas has so far failed to produce a list of hostages that would enable a further extension of the pause,” the NSC spokesperson said.
President Joe Biden and his national security team “will continue to remain deeply engaged as we look to free the remaining hostages,” the NSC spokesperson said.
On Thursday, Washington’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, also called for a truce extension while meeting Israeli and Palestinian officials during a visit to the region.
The fighting began on October 7 when Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarized border into Israel.
During the unprecedented attack, Hamas killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped around 240, according to Israeli authorities.
In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and unleashed an air and ground military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas authorities who run Gaza say has killed almost 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.


UK’s governing Conservatives face pressure as London mayor blasts ‘tacit endorsement’ of Islamophobia

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. (File/Reuters)
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. (File/Reuters)
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UK’s governing Conservatives face pressure as London mayor blasts ‘tacit endorsement’ of Islamophobia

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. (File/Reuters)
  • Sadiq Khan says ‘enough is enough’ following MP Lee Anderson’s claim that ‘Islamists’ have ‘got control’ of mayor
  • Deputy PM defends ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman after she echoed Anderson’s sentiments

LONDON: London’s Muslim mayor has accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of “tacit endorsement” of Islamophobia in his Conservative Party.

Sadiq Khan’s accusation came after the “belated” suspension of Conservative MP Lee Anderson, who refused to apologize for saying in a TV interview that “Islamists” had “got control” of the mayor.

“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London,” Anderson told GB News. “He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

Khan said Muslims are considered “fair game” for prejudice by the Conservatives.

It comes amid a series of scandals for the governing party after its former leader Liz Truss attended a major conservative conference in the US where she appeared on a panel at which British far-right figure Tommy Robinson was praised, and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman penned an article for the Daily Telegraph suggesting “Islamists” are “in charge” of the UK.

Over the weekend, senior party figures failed to fully condemn Anderson despite his suspension, including Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.

Khan said: “Blatant anti-Muslim hatred is being tolerated from top to bottom of the party, with everyone from ministers to mayoral candidates failing to condemn even the most clear-cut examples of bigotry and racism.”

He added: “Anderson’s comments have poured petrol on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred … The message it sends is some forms of hatred and racism are acceptable. Enough is enough.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Sunak has “extremists” in his party acting “with impunity.”

Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds said in a letter to her Conservative counterpart Richard Holden that Anderson’s comments are “unambiguously Islamophobic, divisive and damaging.”

She cited other incidents of Islamophobia in the governing part, including London mayoral candidate Susan Hall’s suggestion that Jewish Londoners were “frightened” of Khan’s “divisive attitude” in October, and Conservative MP Nus Ghani saying she was told her “Muslimness” made “colleagues uncomfortable” by an unnamed party official in 2020.

Truss, meanwhile, has been criticized by former Chancellor Sir Sajid Javid for failing to address comments made by US conservative figure Steve Bannon at the Conservative Political Action Conference in which he called Robinson a “hero.”

Sir Sajid said: “I’d hope every MP would confront such a statement head-on … Liz should really know better.”

On Saturday morning, Shapps defended Anderson’s right to “speak (his) mind.” On Sunday, Dowden refused to condemn Anderson as a racist in an interview with Sky News in which he said Anderson had used “the wrong words.”

Dowden added: “I don’t believe the language used by Suella Braverman has crossed the line whereby she should apologize for it.”


Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies

Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies
Updated 25 February 2024
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Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies

Saudi tourism sees 50% surge in Indian visitors as promotion intensifies
  • India expected to become Saudi Arabia’s top tourism source market by 2030
  • Promotional strategy bears fruit with Indian tourists seeking out Kingdom’s heritage sites

NEW DELHI: The number of Indians traveling to Saudi Arabia has grown by 50 percent following a series of strategic initiatives in 2023, the Kingdom’s tourism authority said, as it participated in India’s main international travel show over the weekend.

The 2024 edition of the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange — Asia’s leading platform for the tourism and hospitality industry — took place in Noida in the Indian capital region on Feb. 22-24.

The Saudi Tourism Authority established a huge pavilion at the venue, promoting the Kingdom’s ancient heritage sites and new tourism destinations.

“This marks Saudi Tourism Authority’s third year participating in one of the most prominent tourism trade shows in South Asia,” Alhasan Aldabbagh, STA president for Asia-Pacific markets, told Arab News.

“SATTE has been successful as it gave us the opportunity to strengthen our partnerships, share insights and grow together with our trade partners with one unified goal, which is to bring Saudi to life and make its experiences and packages bookable.”

The Saudi exhibition this year was bigger than in the fair’s previous editions, also reflecting the increasing success of its promotional strategy in India.

“We hosted over 1.5 million Indian inbound travelers in 2023, making a substantial 50 percent increase in visitation from 2022. This surge is attributed to strategic initiatives, including a successful partnership with the Indian Premier League, (and) enhanced air connectivity,” Aldabbagh said.

Alhasan Aldabbagh, STA president for Asia-Pacific markets, speaks at the South Asian Travel and Tourism Exchange on Feb. 22, 2024. (SATTE)

In February last year, the STA signed a partnership agreement with the IPL — the men’s T20 franchise that is the world’s most-watched cricket league — becoming its official sponsor and tapping into a strong sports fanbase in both countries.

Saudi and Indian airlines have also added new flights in 2023, connecting Indian cities directly to the Kingdom, while immigration procedures have been streamlined with additional visa-processing centers.

“Last year, we opened 10 VFS Tasheel offices across India, with plans to expand into tier-two cities. We launched our first-ever free 96-hour stopover visa early last year in collaboration with SAUDIA and flynas, our national carriers,” Aldabbagh said, adding that it is now “easier than ever” for Indians to visit the Kingdom.

Indians have been drawn mainly to the growing number of cultural attractions, with archaeological works in full swing and the development of leisure infrastructure.

The top destinations are currently Madinah, Riyadh, Jeddah, and AlUla — one of the Kingdom’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites.

“Saudi has been promoting its rich cultural and historical heritage through key initiatives like the restoration and preservation of heritage sites such as AlUla and Diriyah and the development of cultural festivals and events,” Aldabbagh said.

“To offer Indian travelers a plethora of accommodation options and recreational activities tailored to their preferences, we have invested heavily in developing tourism infrastructure, including hotels, resorts, and entertainment facilities, to accommodate the growing number of visitors.”

Tourism is a booming sector in Saudi Arabia under the Vision 2030 diversification plan. A key part of the vision is to position the Kingdom as a dynamic, diverse, year-round tourism destination and market that will contribute 10 percent of the gross domestic product by 2030.

In the last three years, India has emerged as a key tourism source market, and the STA expects it to become its largest in the next few years.

“By 2030, India is anticipated to become the number one inbound market for Saudi, underlining the growing importance of Indian tourists,” Aldabbagh said.

“Our aim is to welcome 7.5 million Indian visitors by 2030, aligning with our ambitious goals to enhance and diversify the tourism sector while fostering stronger connections between the two nations.”


India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law

India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law
Updated 25 February 2024
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India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law

India’s Assam scraps colonial-era Muslim marriage law
  • Eighty-nine year law allowed marriage involving underage Muslims 
  • Leaders of India’s Muslim community decry move as discriminatory

GUWAHATI, India: India’s Assam state has scrapped an 89-year-old law that allowed marriage involving underage Muslims, against opposition from leaders of the minority community who called the plan an attempt to polarize voters on religious lines ahead of elections.

Assam, which has the highest percentage of Muslims among Indian states at 34 percent, has previously said it wants to implement uniform civil laws for marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance, as the state of Uttarakhand did earlier this month.

Nationwide, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other groups follow their own laws and customs or a secular code for such matters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised a Uniform Civil Code, opposed by Muslims.

Assam repealed the Assam Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act, 1935, effective from Feb. 24, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on X on Saturday.

“This act contained provisions allowing marriage registration even if the bride and groom had not reached the legal ages of 18 and 21... This move marks another significant step toward prohibiting child marriages in Assam.”

Asked by Reuters on Sunday whether the northeastern state would implement a Uniform Civil Code before general elections due by May, Sarma said: “Not immediately.”

Many Muslims in Assam trace their roots to the neighboring Bengali-speaking and Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh. Tension often flares between the Muslims and ethnic Assamese, who are mostly Hindu.

The BJP, the governing party in Assam — and Uttarakhand — calls itself the champion of ethnic communities.

Muslim opposition leaders said repealing the colonial-era law was discriminatory.
“They want to polarize their voters by provoking Muslims, which Muslims will not let happen,” Badruddin Ajmal, a lawmaker from Assam who heads the All India United Democratic Front that mainly fights for Muslim causes, told reporters on Saturday.

“It’s a first step toward bringing a Uniform Civil Code, but this is how the BJP government will come to an end in Assam.”


Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills

Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills
Updated 25 February 2024
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Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills

Republican seeks to bar party from paying Trump’s legal bills
  • The former president faces four criminal trials and was recently ordered to pay about $540 million in judgments in two civil cases
  • “The RNC’s job is to win elections. It’s not to pay the legal bills for any leading candidate,” says the Republican National Committee member

NEW YORK: A Republican National Committee member has submitted resolutions that would prohibit the party from paying presidential candidate Donald Trump’s legal bills, according to a draft, but the measures must get more backers soon to move forward.

Mississippi RNC committeeman Henry Barbor drafted the resolution on Trump’s legal expenses and another requiring the party committee to stay neutral in the presidential race until he receives enough delegates to secure the nomination.
“The RNC’s job is to win elections. It’s not to pay the legal bills for any leading candidate. He’s got to fight his own legal fight,” Barbor told Reuters on Saturday.
Barbor needs to get two cosponsors from 10 states to join the effort by Tuesday for the resolutions to proceed to a full vote by the RNC’s 168 committee members. That vote could come in March and would require a simple majority to pass. But Barbor predicted they would be defeated if they reach that point.
Former President Trump, who denies all wrongdoing, faces four criminal trials and was recently ordered to pay about $540 million in judgments in two civil cases.
A Trump super PAC reported paying more than $47 million in legal expenses for him in 2023.
Trump is seeking to cement his status as Republican presidential nominee and gain more control over the RNC, including by nominating daughter-in-law Lara Trump as co-chair.
Lara Trump has said it is “a big interest to people” to pay fees for her father-in-law’s criminal and civil cases.
Barbor said pro-Trump forces were “jumping the gun” by seeking to declare Trump the party’s presidential nominee while longshot challenger Nikki Haley remains in the race for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election. Trump is on course for another easy win in South Carolina’s primary on Saturday.
The resolutions were first reported by The Dispatch. Trump campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita, who Trump has proposed serve as the RNC’s chief operating officer, on Saturday said in a statement that it is “the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House.”
On Friday, he said the RNC would not use raised funds to pay for Trump’s legal bills.


British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets

British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets
Updated 25 February 2024
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British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets

British PM Sunak says West should be bolder about seizing Russian assets
  • The European Union, US, Japan and Canada froze some $300 billion of Russian central bank assets in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine
  • Sunak also urged the US to continue to provide financial and military support for Ukraine

LONDON: Western nations should be bolder about confiscating Russian assets which they froze after the country’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
Sunak, in an article in an early edition of the Sunday Times to mark two years since the start of the conflict, said Ukraine continued to need more long-range weapons, drones and munitions, as well as other assistance.
“We must be bolder in hitting the Russian war economy .... And we must be bolder in seizing the hundreds of billions of frozen Russian assets,” he said .
Last month British Investment Minister Dominic Johnson met US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo to discuss the seizure of frozen Russian assets, but stressed this needed to be done in accordance with international law.
The European Union, US, Japan and Canada froze some $300 billion of Russian central bank assets in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
Group of Seven countries have been studying a possible seizure of the assets as a way to have Russia pay for the damage its invasion caused in Ukraine.
Sunak also urged the US to continue to provide financial and military support for Ukraine.
“We should never underestimate what America has done for Ukraine and for Euro-Atlantic security. I urge them to continue that support, and I am confident they will,” he wrote in the article.
Britain’s defense ministry announced 245 million pounds ($311 million) of aid to fund Ukrainian artillery ammunition on Saturday.