Frankly Speaking: Why Spain stands out in standing up for Palestine

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Updated 11 February 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Why Spain stands out in standing up for Palestine

Frankly Speaking: Why Spain stands out in standing up for Palestine
  • Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares indicates Madrid will take its own decision if Europe continues to waver in its support
  • Backs two-state solution with land corridor linking Gaza Strip and West Bank and East Jerusalem as capital
  • Urges donors to restore UNRWA funding, says allegations against 12 employees unrepresentative of agency

DUBAI: Spain’s minister of foreign affairs has indicated that if Europe continues to waver in its support for the Palestinians, “as a sovereign country” Spain would “take its own decisions.”

Jose Manuel Albares also said that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved through the creation of a Palestinian state, linking Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Spanish diplomat, who has been serving as minister of foreign affairs, European Union and cooperation since 2021, made the remarks during an appearance on the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”




Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares on Frankly Speaking. (AN photo)

According to Albares, while the 27 member states of the European Union “all want peace” in the Middle East, there were “nuances” in the way they saw this materializing.

For Spain, however, the position is “very clear:” It wants to see an immediate halt to the Israel-Hamas conflict, unrestricted humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip, and the implementation of the “two-state solution.”

“We’re calling for a permanent ceasefire, the immediate release of hostages, the immediate access of humanitarian aid, and for a peace conference that will be the framework (for the) implementation of the two-state solution,” Albares said.

“In the end, we all know that as long as the Palestinian people do not have a state, there will be no stable Middle East.

“And we all know the real solution for this situation in the Middle East and for a definitive peace is a state with the West Bank and Gaza under one single Palestinian authority that is connected by a corridor with an exit to the sea and with the capital in East Jerusalem.”




Appearing on “Frankly Speaking,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that while the 27 member states of the European Union “all want peace” in the region, there were “nuances” in the way they saw this materializing. (AN photo)

Describing the solution as “fair and just” for the Palestinian people, Albares said the two-state model offered Israel the “best guarantee” of achieving domestic security and of avoiding a wider regional conflagration.

However, in his role coordinating Spain’s engagement with the European Union, Albares acknowledged that the proposal was still in the “dialogue” stage, as the bloc sought a way to move forward as a collective unit.

He also noted the “growing concern” in the Global South — a term often used to denote the world’s developing economies — over the bloc’s dithering response to the crisis in Gaza compared to its firm alignment on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s why it’s so important, and I always explain it to my European colleagues, that we maintain the same position: To follow the UN Charter and its principles, whether it’s Ukraine, on which we have a clear position, a very clear position,” Albares told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“Any country has the right to defend itself from a terrorist attack, Israel as well, but you must do it in compliance with international humanitarian law.




Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are treated in a hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo)

“There must be a difference between terrorist targets and bombing hospitals, schools, places of prayer, UN headquarters. Refugees are the same. It doesn’t matter the color of their skin, their religion, their sex, they are all the same and they all deserve our protection.”

Speaking to Arab News from Riyadh, during an official tour of three Gulf countries, Albares said Spain shared the opinion of his Arab hosts, with discussions having inevitably turned to the conflict in Gaza and its wider regional ramifications.

Albares praised his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, for his “incredible role” in working towards peace in the region.




Spanish Foreign Minister Albares praised his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, for his “incredible role” in working towards peace in the region. (Supplied)

“We needed a great moment of Euro-Arab unity and we have discussed joining forces to make sure definitive peace comes back to the Middle East,” he said.

“This is what we are calling for and we will not stop calling for that. And my tour in the region, in Riyadh, in the Emirates, it’s carrying this message and in the medium and long term we need the state of Palestine.”

In the interim, Albares said the most pressing need for Gazans is an increase in the amount of humanitarian aid permitted to enter the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“We are not going to stop calling for a permanent ceasefire. A permanent ceasefire and the immediate release of hostages and immediate access of humanitarian aid is what we need in the very short term,” he said.

Aid deliveries, already reduced to a trickle by onerous Israeli border checks, have been further hampered by recent allegations lodged against staff working for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which caters for Palestinian refugees.




Israeli soldiers operate next to the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip Feb. 8, 2024. (Reuters)

According to evidence shared with the UN by Israeli intelligence, 12 members of UNRWA staff in Gaza actively participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the death of 1,200 and the kidnap of 240, sparking the current conflict.

In response to the allegations, the US and other major UNRWA donors suspended their funding for the agency, which could be forced to halt its operations throughout the region by the end of the month unless donations are restored.

Asked whether he believed the allegations were true, or whether the funding suspensions were justified, Albares said that 12 people out of 30,000 staff, none of whom had any connection to UNRWA’s leadership, was a “very small number.”

“There are allegations against 12 people and we take this very seriously and we are looking at the conclusion of the inquiry,” he said, referring to the UN agency’s own internal investigation.

“But UNRWA is indispensable. There is no substitute for UNRWA. They are taking care of millions of refugees in Gaza. And in many other places — Lebanon, in Jordan, the West Bank — and what they do in Gaza is absolutely fundamental.”




Palestinians walk past a UNRWA worker in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on February 5, 2024. (REUTERS)

Given the essential role played by UNRWA, Albares said millions of people who depend on its support would go unfed unless funding is restored. That is why Spain intends to up its UNRWA contribution to help stave off the agency’s collapse.

“They give food and emergency aid to refugees, so, if they fail, if they are not sufficiently funded from one day to the other, they will not be able to feed those people,” Albares said.

“This is why we have decided to increase our contribution to around 3.5 million euros, to make sure that UNRWA will be able to function, and this is what I am explaining to all of my European colleagues.”

Spain is not alone among European nations in bolstering its support for UNRWA. Ireland and Norway have likewise renewed their commitment to the agency.

 

 

However, these nations alone cannot make up for the huge shortfall created by the suspension of US funding, which had contributed $300-400 million annually. Without this funding, Albares said the region was “heading toward a real humanitarian catastrophe.”

“We are already there. Almost 30,000 Palestinians, civilians, dead. It’s a catastrophe. But here we are talking about something unthinkable — hunger in Gaza,” he said.

“And we can avoid it if we continue giving sufficient funding. That’s why we are increasing. We are showing commitment to the Palestinian refugees in Gaza.”




Appearing on “Frankly Speaking,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that while the 27 member states of the European Union “all want peace” in the region, there were “nuances” in the way they saw this materializing. (AN photo)

Mindful of the potential misuse of donations, Albares said Spain has a “very tough screening” process for any country to which it is sending aid, adding that the money going to Palestine is “well used.”

He implored countries to restore their donations, pointing out that UNRWA and the UN have not tried to “hide anything.”

“They have their own investigation and they’ve also called for an independent investigation, so, I think they are showing goodwill. Let’s wait until those investigations are carried out,” he said.

“Meanwhile, let’s follow what the secretary-general of the UN, Antonio Guterres, has made an appeal for. Let’s continue funding UNRWA.”

 


King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis
Updated 15 sec ago
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King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis

King of Bahrain, Egyptian president highlight need for unified Arab response to Gaza crisis
  • Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad pledge joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza
  • King Hamad said that the president and he had also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Hamad of Bahrain have pledged joint action to address the escalating crisis in Gaza and its effects on the region.

El-Sisi received King Hamad in Cairo on Wednesday, where the leaders expressed hope that peace efforts would lead to a new path for the region, offering a future in which they work together toward prosperity.

King Hamad told a joint press conference that the president and he also discussed the agenda for the 33rd Arab Summit, which Bahrain will host next month.

The leaders emphasized the need for clear policies to promote peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The king said he discussed several issues with El-Sisi to enhance Arab cooperation.

El-Sisi said he and King Hamad deliberated “on our countries’ efforts and joint Arab action to address this untenable situation, bring it to an end, and, above all, prevent its recurrence.”

The Egyptian leader added: “For this to happen, the international community shall stand united to enforce an immediate, urgent, and lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, end any attempts of coerced displacement, starvation, or collective punishment of the brotherly Palestinian people, and ensure the full-fledged, unfettered and sustainable flow of sufficient quantities of desperately needed humanitarian aid and relief to the sector.

“In parallel, the parties shall immediately embark, in earnest, on tracks conducive to a just and enduring political solution to the Palestinian cause, based on the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, enjoying both international acknowledgment and full membership of the UN.”

El-Sisi said Egypt had repeatedly warned of the dire consequences likely to result from the ongoing war in occupied Palestine, where the conflict leads to calls for escalation and retribution, creating a cycle of violence that destroys any chance for peace and stability in the region.

“Indeed, over the past few months, the region has been experiencing the devastating consequences of the ongoing war as its flames spiraled outward, creating the current intensely fraught and perilous state in the region that gravely jeopardizes the security, stability, and future of our people,” he added.

El-Sisi said that the leaders “thoroughly discussed these troubling regional developments and our visions for addressing them, driven by our shared belief in the crucial importance of safeguarding the security and stability of the region and its peoples against multiple threats and of not abandoning their fate to the will of warmongers. This commitment is grounded in the principle of prioritizing common Arab security, which we consider as indivisible.”

El-Sisi said that the two leaders agreed on the need to exert and encourage immediate and intensive efforts toward de-escalation in the Palestinian territories and at regional level.

“We also discussed the importance of urging the parties to adopt a rational approach, embrace political solutions, and abandon military solutions and notions of dominance and hegemony,” the president said.

El-Sisi said: “Today, we are gathering at a time of great peril as a result of the bloody Israeli war on the Gaza Strip and the inexorable loss of thousands of helpless and innocent civilians in scenes of untold horror.

“They have done nothing more than live in their land, clinging to their homes and homeland, and yearning for a life with dignity, pride, and humanity.

“It is unequivocally a watershed moment that will endure in the annals of history, given the outrageous use of military force to terrorize, starve, and inflict unimaginable suffering on innocent civilians, collectively and indiscriminately, to terrify them into abandoning their homes and forcibly displace them from their land.

“All this unfolds while the international community stands by idly, with its ability or will to uphold justice and enforce international law, international humanitarian law, or even the basic tenets of humanity, utterly crippled,” El-Sisi said.


US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 18 April 2024
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US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.


Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 18 April 2024
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Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.


Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
  • The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport will return to its full operational capacity within 24 hours, Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al-Joker told state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
“Once operations are back to normal, we will assess the damages and would be able to give figure for the size of losses,” Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV in a televised interview.


British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
Updated 18 April 2024
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British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
  • Signatories to open letter say Iranian organization has ‘never posed a greater threat to UK’
  • Proscription would put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on par with Daesh, Al-Qaeda

LONDON: A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and Lords peers in the UK have demanded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated a terrorist organization.

The cross-party group, which includes former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, made the request in an open letter to The Times.

The IRGC is a key component of Iran’s military and power-projection capabilities. More than 125,000 personnel serve in its ranks, spread across wings including the Quds Force, the overseas element responsible for liaising with and supporting militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In recent years, the IRGC has also built a relationship with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter, signed by 134 people, follows last weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel, which signatories described as the “latest chapter of destructive terror by the IRGC.”

It says: “The government has combated extremism and terrorism by proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah but it is not enough.

“The IRGC is the primary source of ideological radicalisation, funding, equipment and training for these groups.

“The government must act against the root cause and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.”

Iran’s attack was a response to Israel’s strike on its consulate in Damascus that killed 11 people, including senior commanders.

Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, a year before the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force.

But the UK has been reluctant to follow the US measure for fear of breaking diplomatic communication channels with Tehran.

As part of sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program, however, the UK sanctioned the IRGC, freezing the assets of its members and implementing travel bans.

A terrorist designation in the UK would put the IRGC on par with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and make it illegal to support the group, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

The 134 signatories said the IRGC has “never posed a greater threat to the UK,” accusing “thugs” belonging to the group of stabbing an Iranian dissident in London last month.

The letter was coordinated by the UK-Israel All Parliamentary Party Group, which includes former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.