Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement

Analysis Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement

Renewed Gaza combat thrusts Palestinians between mortal danger and mass displacement
  • Nearly three-quarters of embattled enclave’s 2.2 million residents have been forcibly displaced since Oct. 7
  • Overcrowding in camps and shelters for the displaced could lead to spread of disease and shortage of aid

LONDON: A weeklong humanitarian pause in Gaza provided some respite for Palestinians in the beleaguered enclave. But the situation remains overwhelmingly bleak and, after the resumption of combat on Friday, potentially catastrophic.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israel on Thursday it must account for the safety of Palestinian civilians before resuming any military operations in Gaza, where the temporary truce allowed the exchange of captives held by Hamas for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

However, with Israeli officials vowing to continue total war against Hamas, presumably both in Gaza and the West Bank, hope for any recovery has been offset by the imminent threat of further violence in the absence of a permanent ceasefire.




Military vehicles manoeuvre next to a fence, as seen from the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. (Reuters/File)

Since Oct. 7, when Israel launched a military offensive in retaliation for a deadly attack by Hamas, Gaza has endured destruction, displacement, and suffering on an unprecedented scale.

Relentless Israeli airstrikes have reduced entire buildings to rubble, flattening more than 46,000 homes and damaging at least another 234,000, according to UN figures.

The onslaught has forced nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s 2.2 million population from their homes, including the vast majority of the north’s residents.

Close to 15,000 Palestinians across the enclave have been killed, 40 percent of whom are children. A further 6,500 are believed to be missing or trapped under the destroyed buildings.

“Northern Gaza is a disaster zone where people feel it was a miracle to survive,” Ahmed Bayram, media adviser for the Middle East at the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Arab News.

“The sheer level of destruction and personal loss stretches beyond anything we have seen in Gaza. More people were killed in the first two weeks of this round of hostilities compared with the most recent large-scale conflict in 2014.”

INNUMBERS

• 1.7m Palestinians displaced inside Gaza as of Nov. 23.

• 7 Days of the duration of truce before combat resumed on Friday.

• 110 Hostages freed by Hamas from captivity.

• 240 Palestinian prisoners released by Israel.

Bayram said an estimated “1.7 million people have been displaced,” adding that “the few hundreds of thousands who remained in northern Gaza have done so because there is simply nowhere for them to go.”

Despite the seven-day suspension of hostilities, official Palestinian bodies and humanitarian organizations have been unable to pin down precise casualty figures, much less the number of people who could not leave northern Gaza.

“It has been very difficult to understand the numbers that remain in the north,” Oxfam’s policy lead Bushra Khalidi told Arab News. “From what we hear, it is between 200,000 and half-a-million still.”

She said an estimated 1.8 million people had been displaced to the south, “and they’re all crammed in this … what we could say, half the size of the original Gaza Strip.”

Following seven weeks of Israeli bombardment and Hamas rocket attacks, the two sides agreed on a four-day truce — which was later extended. The initial Qatar-mediated deal entailed the release of 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.




Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip along Salah Al-Din Street. (AP)

On Oct. 13, the Israeli military ordered the residents of northern Gaza to relocate immediately to the south, claiming it was for their safety.

Local media and NGOs operating in Gaza reported that nowhere in the besieged Palestinian enclave was safe — not even the “humanitarian passages” identified by the Israeli military or Israel Defense Forces.

Families crammed their most necessary possessions into small cars and pickup trucks and traveled south in a rush. Others who could not secure vehicles made the journey on foot, shielding their children’s eyes from bodies in the street and hiding from Israeli gunfire as battles raged around them.

The only exit route for civilians escaping Gaza City was Salah Al-Din Road, the area’s main north-south highway that stretches across the entire Gaza Strip.

Israel agreed on Nov. 10 to pause its bombardment for four hours every day, allowing Palestinians in northern Gaza to flee through dedicated corridors.

Consequently, tens of thousands sought refuge in UN-run schools and makeshift tents in eastern Khan Younis, the biggest city in southern Gaza. Many voiced fears they would never return home.

Gaza’s older residents may see history repeat itself as they recall the Nakba, the Arabic term for the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians — the ancestors of 1.6 million of Gaza’s residents — during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Khan Younis already had a population exceeding 400,000. As displaced families flocked there the already severe humanitarian crisis worsened, as the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for 16 years.

Khalidi said these evacuation orders should be rescinded, as they represented “a grave violation under international law because it amounts to forcible displacement, and forcible displacement may amount to war crimes.”

In November, in what the chief of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described as a “recipe for disaster,” Israel proposed the establishment of a safe zone in Al-Mawasi camp on Gaza’s southern coast.

Al-Mawasi camp, according to Khalidi, is a 14-square-kilometer area “the size of London Heathrow Airport, where they (Israeli officials) want to cram 1 million people and call it a humanitarian safe zone.”

Dismissing the proposal as “absolutely inhumane,” she said: “But there’s no such thing as a safe zone. Historically, safe zones have been used to actually harm people.”

She noted that attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to some 1 million people in such a small area would be “a logistical nightmare.”

“Another thing about the safe zone is that you are talking about 30,000 to 50,000 injured people, some of whom have severe wounds,” Khalidi added.




Israeli flares light the sky above Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

“We are lacking medical supplies, and there are barely any hospitals running.”

She pointed out that other major concerns included the lack of a functioning water, sanitation, and hygiene system, which would accelerate the spread of infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis and diarrhea. This could “kill more people than bombs have.”

The WHO reported that, since mid-October, there had been more than 44,000 cases of diarrhea in Gaza, a particular risk for young children amid a shortage of clean water.

Conditions in places where Palestinians have taken shelter, such as Khan Younis and Rafah, have been no better — especially as winter weather sets in.

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“Khan Younis and Rafah shelters are bursting with people crammed into small spaces,” Bayram said. “Sick babies, sick children, and sick adults are all at risk of transmissible diseases ahead of what promises to be the worst winter in Gaza’s history.

“There is not enough food for everybody, and even clean drinking water has become a luxury. People have resorted to burning anything made of wood — doors, school desks, window frames — just to cook something their children can eat or make some bread to keep them going for the day.

“There should be no place in this time and age for suffering like this,” he added.




Palestinians check the damage of a house destroyed in an Israeli strike on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

And while the Hamas-Israel truce allowed Gazans to venture out, to scramble through the wreckage of their homes to look for warm clothes and recover more bodies, the looming threat of a broader Israeli assault persists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned that military operations against Hamas would resume once the temporary ceasefire expired. Now the truce has ended, Israel is expected to expand its ground operation into the south.

In mid-November, the Israeli military dropped leaflets on parts of Khan Younis ordering residents to evacuate.

Bayram said: “There is nowhere left for people to go in Gaza. Some shelters house 50 people at a time. If Israel goes ahead with its ground operation, it means killing off any chance of Gaza ever recovering from this (catastrophe).”

Khalidi pointed out that the Gaza Strip was “as small as East London,” and the borders have been closed and controlled by Israel. “That is why the international community has been very vocal about a (permanent) ceasefire and allowing people to go home,” she said.

 

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Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups

Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups
Updated 05 March 2024
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Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups

Iran executed 834 people last year, highest since 2015: rights groups
  • The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent on 2022

PARIS: Iran executed a “staggering” total of at least 834 people last year, the highest number since 2015 as capital punishment surged in the Islamic republic, two rights groups said Tuesday.
The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent on 2022.
It marked only the second time in two decades that over 800 executions were recorded in a year, after 972 executions in 2015, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty said in the joint report.
The groups accused Iran of using the death penalty to spread fear throughout society in the wake of the protests sparked by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini that shook the authorities.
“Instilling societal fear is the regime’s only way to hold on to power, and the death penalty is its most important instrument,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam in the report, which described the figure of 834 as a “staggering total.”
Iran has executed nine men in cases linked to attacks on security forces during the 2022 protests — two in 2022, six in 2023 and one so far in 2024 — according to the rights groups.
But executions have been stepped up on other charges, notably in drug-related cases, which had until recent years seen a fall.
“Of particular concern is the dramatic escalation in the number of drug-related executions in 2023, which rose to 471 people, more than 18 times higher than the figures recorded in 2020,” said the report.
Members of ethnic minorities, notably the Sunni Baluch from the southeast of Iran, are “grossly overrepresented among those executed” on drug-related charges, it said.
At least 167 members of the Baluch minority were executed in total, accounting for 20 percent of the total executions in 2023, even though the minority accounts for only around five percent of Iran’s population.
ECPM director Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said the “lack of reaction” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was sending “the wrong signal to the Iranian authorities.”
Most hangings in Iran are carried out within the confines of prison but the report said that in 2023 the number of hangings carried out in public in Iran tripled from 2022, with seven people hanged in public spaces.
At least 22 women were executed, marking the highest number in the past decade, the report said.
Fifteen of them were hanged on murder charges and NGOs have long warned that women who kill an abusive partner or relative risk being hanged.
In 2023, only 15 percent of the recorded executions were announced by official Iranian media, with IHR confirming the other executions with its own sources.
Amiry-Moghaddam expressed concern that a lack of international outrage at the executions, in particular with attention focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, was only encouraging the Islamic republic to carry out more hangings.
“The inconsistency in the international community’s reaction to the executions in Iran is unfortunate and sends the wrong signal to the authorities,” he said.


Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
Updated 05 March 2024
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Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
  • Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones, missiles against international commercial shipping in Gulf of Aden since mid-November
  • The near-daily attacks have forced firms into long and costly diversions around southern Africa, stoked fears Israel's war can destabilize Middle East

CAIRO: Ships will have to obtain a permit from Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Maritime Affairs Authority before entering Yemeni waters, Houthi Telecommunications Minister Misfer Al-Numair said on Monday.
Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
The near-daily attacks have forced firms into long and costly diversions around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the wider Middle East. The United States and Britain have bombed Houthi targets in response.
“(We) are ready to assist requests for permits and identify ships with the Yemeni Navy, and we confirm this is out of concern for their safety,” Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, reported Al-Numair as saying.
The territorial waters affected by the Yemeni order extend halfway out into the 20-km (12-mile) wide Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the narrow mouth of the Red Sea through which around 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic passes on its way to or from the Suez Canal.
In normal times, more than a quarter of global container cargo — including apparel, appliances, auto parts, chemicals and agricultural products like coffee — move via the Suez Canal.
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there “is good reason to doubt” that the Iran-allied Houthis would stop their assaults on vessels if a ceasefire ends Israel’s major military operations in Gaza.
“They may decide that they like the idea of controlling the amount of shipping going through the Red Sea, and will continue this for an indefinite period of time,” Gates said at the TPM24 container shipping conference in Long Beach, California.
Elsewhere on Monday, Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications said that at least four underwater communications cables — Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom and TGN-Gulf — had been damaged last week in the Red Sea, without stating the cause.
It estimated that the damage had affected 25 percent of the data traffic flowing under the Red Sea, and said in a statement that it had devised a plan to reroute traffic.
Al-Numair’s ministry on Saturday blamed US and British attacks for any damage to cables.
In the latest incident, the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Monday it had received a report that a vessel had been damaged by two explosions, 91 nautical miles southeast of Aden, but there were no casualties and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.


Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
Updated 05 March 2024
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Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
  • Yemen’s Houthis hit container vessel in Gulf of Aden with missile, US CENTCOM says
  • 4 Red Sea communication cables cut as Houthis launch more attacks in the vital waterway

CAIRO: Ships will have to obtain a permit from Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Maritime Affairs Authority before entering Yemeni waters, Houthi Telecommunications Minister Misfer Al-Numair said on Monday.
Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

One of two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis at the container vessel M/V MSC SKY II in the Gulf of Aden hit the ship and caused “damage,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Tuesday.
Initial reports indicated no injuries and the Liberian-flagged, Swiss-owned container vessel did not request assistance and continued on its way, CENTCOM said in a statement.
A military spokesperson for the Iran-aligned Houthis said on Monday that they targeted the vessel with “a number of suitable naval missiles.” Houthis are targeting Red Sea shipping lanes in support of Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The US military said that Houthis also launched an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen into the southern Red Sea, however, it impacted the water with no damage or injuries to commercial or US Navy ships.
CENTCOM forces conducted “self-defense” strikes against two anti-ship cruise missiles that presented “an imminent threat” to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region, the statement added.
The United States and Britain have launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and redesignated the militia as a terrorist group.
Houthis’ Red Sea attacks have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilize the wider Middle East.
“(We) are ready to assist requests for permits and identify ships with the Yemeni Navy, and we confirm this is out of concern for their safety,” Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, reported Al-Numair as saying.
The territorial waters affected by the Yemeni order extend halfway out into the 20-km (12-mile) wide Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the narrow mouth of the Red Sea through which around 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic passes on its way to or from the Suez Canal.
In normal times, more than a quarter of global container cargo — including apparel, appliances, auto parts, chemicals and agricultural products like coffee — move via the Suez Canal.
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there “is good reason to doubt” that the Iran-allied Houthis would stop their assaults on vessels if a ceasefire ends Israel’s major military operations in Gaza.
“They may decide that they like the idea of controlling the amount of shipping going through the Red Sea, and will continue this for an indefinite period of time,” Gates said at the TPM24 container shipping conference in Long Beach, California.

Red Sea cables cut
Elsewhere on Monday, Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications said that at least four underwater communications cables — Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom and TGN-Gulf — had been damaged last week in the Red Sea, without stating the cause.
It estimated that the damage had affected 25 percent of the data traffic flowing under the Red Sea, and said in a statement that it had devised a plan to reroute traffic.
Al-Numair’s ministry on Saturday blamed US and British attacks for any damage to cables.
In the latest incident, the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Monday it had received a report that a vessel had been damaged by two explosions, 91 nautical miles southeast of Aden, but there were no casualties and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.


UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7
Updated 05 March 2024
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UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UNITED NATIONS: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict said in a new report Monday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
There are also “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing,” said Pramila Patten, who visited Israel and the West Bank from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 with a nine-member technical team.
Based on first-hand accounts of released hostages, she said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some women and children during their captivity were subjected to the same conflict-related sexual violence including rape and “sexualized torture.”
The report comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.
Hamas has rejected earlier allegations that its fighters committed sexual assault.
Patten stressed at a press conference launching the report that the team’s visit was not to investigate allegations of sexual violence but to gather, analyze and verify information for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict and for the UN Security Council.
Her key recommendation is to encourage Israel to grant access to the UN human rights chief and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian territories and Israel “to carry out full-fledged investigations into the alleged violations” — and she expressed hope the Security Council would do this.
Patten said the team was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward.” While the number of victims remains unknown, she said, “a small number of those who are undergoing treatment are reportedly experiencing severe mental distress and trauma.”
However, team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interviews with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.
Based on the information it gathered, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”
Across various locations, she said, the team found “that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”
While this is circumstantial, she said the pattern of undressing and restraining victims “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”
At the Nova music festival and its surroundings, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place with victims being subjected to rape and/or gang rape and then killed or killed while being raped.”
“There are further accounts of individuals who witnessed at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women,” Patten said. “Other credible sources at the Nova music festival site described seeing multiple murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were found naked from the waist down, some totally naked,” some shot in the head, some tied to trees or poles with their hands bound.
On Road 232 — the road to leave the festival — “credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements,” Patten said. Other reported rapes and gang rapes couldn’t be verified and require investigation.
“Along this road, several bodies were found with genital injuries, along with injuries to other body parts,” she said. “Discernible patterns of genital mutilation could not be verified at this time but warrant future investigation.”
She said “the mission team also found a pattern of bound naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down, in some cases tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232.”
People fleeing the Nova music festival also attempted to escape south and sought shelter in and around kibbutz Reim where Patten said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe sexual violence occurred.
The mission team verified the rape of a woman outside a bomb shelter and heard of other allegations of rape that could not yet be verified.
At Kibbutz Be’eri, Patten said, her team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered.”
These included a highly publicized allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was reportedly ripped open before being killed with her fetus stabbed inside her, Patten said.
Another was “the interpretation initially made of the body of a girl found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down,” she said. “It was determined by the mission team that the crime scene had been altered by a bomb squad and the bodies moved, explaining the separation of the body of the girl from the rest of her family.”
Patten said further investigation is needed of allegations, including of bodies found naked and in one case gagged, at kibbutz Be’eri to determine if sexual violence occurred.
At Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Patten said, verification of sexual violence was not possible. But she said “available circumstantial information – notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound, and shot – indicates that sexual violence, including potential sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, may have occurred.”
On Oct. 7, the Nahal Oz Military Base, which operated as a hub for signals intelligence and monitoring of the Gaza perimeter fence, was also breached by Hamas and “a significant number” of male and female soldiers stationed there were killed, and seven young female soldiers were abducted and taken to Gaza, Patten said.
Patten stressed that “the true prevalence of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.”


Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
Updated 05 March 2024
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Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
  • Event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Changes in regional and international security demand a faster response to emerging technology-related threats, Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah said on Monday.

The crown prince chaired the opening session of the second Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue, which was also attended by US Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger.

Officials and experts from both countries participated in the dialogue, which discussed ways to improve cybersecurity cooperation, counter cyber threats, and develop information and communications technology systems, Jordan News Agency reported.

The event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US.

The crown prince said that complex cyber threats were increasing globally, which necessitated additional cooperation and coordination among stakeholders on both sides. He cited the dialogue as an important and strategic means of enhancing efforts and strengthening the partnership between the two countries.

He spoke of the importance of utilizing cutting-edge technologies, developing the skills of cybersecurity professionals, and aligning national frameworks with global standards.

The first Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue was held last year in Washington, and both sides agreed to hold it annually.

The crown prince stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation in cyber and digital security, citing links to both countries’ national security interests.