Frankly Speaking: How Saudis view the war in Gaza

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Updated 29 April 2024
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Frankly Speaking: How Saudis view the war in Gaza

Frankly Speaking: How Saudis view the war in Gaza
  • Former intelligence chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal believes a Saudi-Israeli normalization will not happen without establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The Kingdom’s former ambassador says the ⁠US now recognizes Saudi Arabia as a valuable partner, not a pariah
  • Calls out not just Abraham Accords’ “failure” to bring peace but also the world community’s role since Israel’s occupation of Palestine

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is using its leverage to help bring an end to the conflict in Gaza but stands by its original position that normalization with Israel will not occur without the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal.

Appearing on “Frankly Speaking,” the weekly Arab News current affairs podcast, he said the Kingdom has a role to play in brokering peace.

“Saudi Arabia is trying to do that to its best ability,” Prince Turki said. “The summit conferences that were held in the Kingdom since the beginning of this conflict indicate that Saudi Arabia very much wants to establish peace and security for everybody and not just for the Israelis.”

Just days before the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel that triggered the latest round of bloodletting in Gaza, Saudi Arabia and Israel had appeared to be on the brink of a historic normalization deal brokered by the US.

However, the outbreak of war in Gaza, which has resulted in more than 30,000 Palestinian deaths, according to local health authorities, seems to have killed that process and further set back the Middle East peace process.

Prince Turki said the terms of such an agreement remain the same regardless — that Saudi Arabia would only normalize ties with Israel once the two-state solution had been implemented, granting the Palestinians an independent state.

“What I’ve seen from statements from Saudi officials, from the crown prince and from our foreign minister is that so-called normalization of Israel, if it were to happen, will not happen before the establishment of a Palestinian state with all of the necessary arrangements for that state to be viable and survivable,” he said.

“That has been the official position of Saudi Arabia from the beginning.

“Saudi Arabia has reiterated its commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative as the only viable way to achieve total peace between Israel and the Arab world.”




Former intelligence chief Prince Turki Al-Faisal told Katie Jensen he believes a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal would not happen until the establishment of a Palestinian state. (AN Photo)

Prince Turki added: “The Palestinians are the main victims of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And achieving their rights and giving them their ability to have their own state and identity has been the main aim of not just Saudi Arabia, but (of) the Arab world in general and the Muslim world in more general terms. 

“That has been a goal of the Kingdom since the beginning of the conflict many decades ago, and still is.”

If negotiations for a lasting solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to make any headway, Prince Turki said the talks would have to be balanced, especially if the Israeli side insists Hamas is excluded from any dialogue.

“In any consideration for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, if there are going to be conditions placed on who represents who around the negotiating table, those conditions should be evenly placed on both sides,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“If they’re going to exclude certain parties from the Palestinian side, like Hamas, for example, because of what it did on Oct. 7, then they should exclude equally Israeli political parties for what they’re doing in Gaza now. 

“And on that basis, there should be a fair distribution of blame, if that is the right word for it, or representation for the Palestinians and the Israelis. So, the Israelis are just as culpable and just as vicious as any fighter in Hamas or any of the parties on the Palestinian side.”

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, coupled with its restrictions on the flow of humanitarian aid and commercial goods permitted to enter the enclave, has resulted in accusations of genocide against the Palestinian people — claims Israel vehemently rejects.

South Africa, long a supporter of the Palestinian cause, brought a case against Israel before the International Court of Justice at The Hague in January accusing it of committing acts of genocide in Gaza.

Asked whether he believes Israel’s military campaign in Gaza amounts to a breach of the genocide convention, Prince Turki said: “I’m not the only one who believes that.

“I think we’ve seen the reaction of the world populations everywhere, the demonstrations that have gone out in the streets of major cities in Europe, in America, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. 

“Everywhere you go, people have gone out in the streets condemning Israel’s brutal attacks on the Palestinian people in general and more specifically in Gaza. 

“And, definitely, the ICJ has already said that there are grounds to believe that Israel is committing genocide in these territories. So, I’m not the only one who believes that.”




Parachutes drop supplies into the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, March 24, 2024. (AP)

He added: “The Israelis are just there portraying themselves as innocent bystanders, or victims of Hamas brutality, when they are the ones who are committing the major crimes there. And the ICJ definitely has put its mark on the world to require the end of the hostilities there and the stopping of the carnage that Israel is causing.”

In 2020, the US-brokered normalization deals known as the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The implicit understanding was that Israel would become less aggressive toward Palestinians.

In reality, many prominent Arabs believe there has been little in the way of tangible evidence to suggest that Arab normalization agreements have advanced the cause of peace in the Middle East.

In this sense, have the Abraham Accords failed? “Definitely,” said Prince Turki.

“It is not just a failure of the Abraham Accords, but it’s a failure of the world community since the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It’s more than 75 years since the creation of Israel, and yet we’re still, as it were, walking in place without moving forward on establishing a Palestinian state with Palestinian rights and the necessity of peace between Israel and its neighbors. 

“So, I hope that the recent events have convinced the world of the need to walk the walk, not only talk the talk, about establishing peace in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile in Gaza, Israel has continued to accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields by deliberately digging tunnels under hospitals, schools and places of worship. 

Prince Turki, who is an expert in the tactic of guerilla warfare, having written extensively on the topic in relation to the Mujahideen campaign against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, said there is ⁠no evidence that Hamas has used these tunnels for anything more than to hide from Israeli attacks.

More interesting still is the origins of these subterranean networks, which were, it seems, built by the Israelis years earlier.

“There is a very interesting interview that the former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak gave to one of the news media in which, out of the blue, he made the observation that it was Israel who first built tunnels in Gaza when they occupied Gaza,” Prince Turki said, referring to an exchange in November last year between Barak and CNN’s Cristiane Amanpour about the bunkers under Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

“And the interviewer was taken aback and totally surprised and she asked the question again to get Barak to clarify that. And he said, yes, we built them when we were in occupation because it made our occupation easier, and other words to that effect. 

“So, building the tunnels was not just Hamas’ idea but the Israelis when they were in occupation used that method as well to further their occupation of Gaza.”

As for Israeli claims that the tunnels have been used by Hamas as command centers, to store weapons, and to conceal hostages, Prince Turki said these were still unproven.




In Gaza, Israel has continued to accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields by deliberately digging tunnels under hospitals, schools and places of worship. (AFP)

“I have seen no specific evidence of the Israeli claims that these tunnels are used as command headquarters for Hamas,” he said.

“You remember the scenes that they showed at the beginning of this recent fighting of going into one of these tunnels and then claiming that, yes, here is the proof of military use of the tunnels and showing absolutely nothing. 

“There has been no evidence other than that the Hamas is using these tunnels, not only for their own protection but also to move from one place to another.”

In fact, far from exposing the barbarity of Hamas, Prince Turki said the Israelis have demonstrated their own disregard for human life with their bombardment of densely populated civilian areas, even though Israeli hostages were likely to be killed in the crossfire.

“The Israelis have not minded killing their own people, civilians as well, in their attempts to meet the challenge of Hamas fighters,” he said.

“There’s been Israeli news media that have covered this aspect of the initial fighting there, that Israel itself is killing their own people in order to kill the Hamas fighters and the kibbutzim that they occupied before the Israeli assault on Gaza itself.

“The Israelis themselves don’t show any concern for human life, even to their own people. Remember the three Israeli hostages that had come out of one of these areas where they were held by the Hamas and they were shot by the Israeli forces.”

The war in Gaza has spilled over into other parts of the region, with exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, assaults on US positions by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, and attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Yemen’s Houthi militia.

These Houthi attacks have forced the US to make a screeching U-turn. Having delisted the militia as a terrorist group when it assumed office in 2021, the administration of President Joe Biden has now reimposed the designation and mounted repeated strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen.

“Irony is a good word to describe what has happened in that consideration,” Prince Turki said. 

“Having delisted the Houthis from the terrorist list and then working with Saudi Arabia to achieve some kind of ceasefire in Yemen and having succeeded in that, the Palestinian issue impinged on any such considerations, not just for the US, but for us as well. 

“And the US has shown that when issues affected it directly, they were willing to take the measures that Saudi Arabia had taken before against the Houthis when they took over in Sanaa. So, it’s a matter of self-preservation, or self-interest on the part of the US that they changed their mind. 

“I would not be willing to try to explain or to understand American considerations other than to say that it is very ironic that once having taken that view of the Houthis and delisting them from the terrorist list and now they’re putting them back on it, it’s very much an irony there.”




During his appearance on Frankly Speaking, Prince Turki called out not just the Abraham Accords’ “failure” to bring about peace but also the world community’s role since Israel’s occupation of Palestine. (AN Photo)

And this is not the only U-turn the Biden administration has made in relation to the region. 

At the start of his presidency, Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a global pariah. Since then, as the war in Ukraine destabilizes global energy prices and Middle East conflicts again dominate the foreign policy agenda, the US has changed its tone.

“I hope that the Americans realize that such brouhaha and hyperbolic positions they take and public statements about pariah status for the Kingdom really should not be practiced by a big power like the US, but rather to look at reality on the ground and see mutual interest and where those should be, rather than wishful thinking on the part of political campaigning in the US,” Prince Turki said. 

“We’re coming up to an election in the US in the next few months and I hope both sides will keep that in mind when they’re referring to Saudi Arabia. As you know, the Kingdom in previous elections also had been stigmatized by statements from politicians going back many years. 

“But reality subsequently has forced itself on American policymakers and made them recognize that Saudi Arabia is a valuable partner for the US and therefore this is how they should look upon the Kingdom rather than allow party politics to dictate policy in the US.”

Prince Turki would not be drawn on the expected outcome of the presidential election but said that both candidates now recognized the value of Washington’s relationship with Riyadh.

“It’s really a very, very tough contest between two known factors,” he said. “Both Biden and Trump are well known to the American people. All the polling that I see is very much undecided so far. And we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in November of this year.

“My only wish, as I said, is that both sides consider Saudi Arabia as an important partner in maintaining economic welfare for the world, in hoping to achieve peace in our part of the world and going forward for the betterment of mankind, rather than as a political punching bag that either side can feel free to punch every once in a while.”

 

 

 


As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
Updated 24 sec ago
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As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls

As bombs shatter Gaza, boxing coach emboldens girls
  • The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished
  • There are no protective equipment in the open-air sandy space between tents where displaced girls now practice

GAZA: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has pulverized most of its sports facilities and equipment, but that has not stopped boxing coach Osama Ayoub from training Palestinian girls in a tent camp that offers no protection from airstrikes or shelling.
The boxing club where girls once learned to jab, build their stamina, and make friends has been demolished.
There are no protective equipment, ring, or punch bags in the open-air sandy space between the tents where displaced girls now practice — a mattress and pillow will have to do — but Ayoub says the training has helped them overcome their fear of war.
“They started going out on the street. They started going out at night. Their personalities became much stronger, and even their families saw they were stronger,” he said.
It’s all about improvization. One young girl unleashes barehanded punches and weaves left and right to dodge imaginary fists. “Throw a right,” yells the coach, who puts up his fists for the girls to punch.
“They have determination, they have contentment, they have courage. At first, they were afraid of the war we are living in, but through boxing, they have benefited a lot,” he said.
Gaza offered playgrounds, football, tennis, karate, and other sports before terrifying bombs began dropping from the skies, flattening entire neighborhoods.
Attempts to restart sports are risky, even when played outside. On Tuesday, an Israeli missile slammed into a football match at a tent encampment, killing at least 29 people, Palestinian officials said.
Yet the boxers dream of international competitions overseas worlds away from Gaza. This tiny, densely populated enclave suffered from poverty and high unemployment even long before Hamas triggered the war on Oct. 7.
“I hope that this war will end and that our message will reach everyone in the name of the girls of Gaza,” said one of the boxers, Bilsan Ayoub.
The chances of that happening soon are slim. Months of mediation by the US, Egypt, and Qatar have failed to secure a truce between Israel and its arch-enemy Hamas, never mind a permanent ceasefire.
So, all the boxers can do is keep practicing as each side demands concessions from the other, and the conflict rages.
“We do not have anything left, being displaced. We do not have clips, gloves, teeth protection, said Ayoub, who has to improvise daily to keep her dream of international competition alive.
“The tools are very simple, but we want to continue in this game until we achieve our dream and end the war,” she said.


UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
Updated 13 July 2024
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UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September

UN agency for Palestinians says has funds until end of September
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres earlier pleaded for help from donors to fund the embattled agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday it had enough funds to continue operating through September, following a pledging conference for the embattled body where UN chief Antonio Guterres pleaded for help from donors.
“We have worked tirelessly with partners to restore confidence in the agency,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said, after several nations withheld funding following Israeli allegations in January that a number of UNRWA’s employees participated in the October 7 attack by Hamas.
Lazzarini said new pledges of funds would help ensure emergency operations until September.
Guterres had pleaded with donors to fund the embattled UN agency, warning that Palestinians would lose a “critical lifeline” without UNRWA.
“Let me be clear — there is no alternative to UNRWA,” he said.
“Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse in Gaza — somehow, appallingly, civilians are being pushed into ever deeper circles of hell,” Guterres added.
According to Guterres, 195 UNRWA staff members have been killed in the war, the highest death toll for staff in UN history.
The US Congress has barred further funding for UNRWA. President Joe Biden’s administration has instead directed funding for Palestinian civilians to other bodies while saying that UNRWA is uniquely equipped to distribute aid.
The war started with Hamas’s October attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
 


Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
Updated 13 July 2024
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Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel

Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in show of support for Israel
  • The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel
  • Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Argentina designated Hamas a terrorist organization Friday and ordered a freeze on the financial assets of the Palestinian group, a largely symbolic move as President Javier Milei seeks to align Argentina strongly with the US and Israel.
Announcing the decision, Milei’s office cited the militant Palestinian group’s cross-border attack on Israel last Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage, in the deadliest assault in Israel’s 76-year history.
The statement also mentioned Hamas’ close ties to Iran, which Argentina blames for two deadly militant attacks on Jewish sites in the country.
The move comes just days before the 30th anniversary of one of those attacks, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. It killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more in the worst such attack in Argentina’s modern history.
The other attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in 1992, killed more than 20 people. Argentina’s judiciary has accused members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group of carrying out the two attacks.
Friday’s announcement professed Milei’s “unwavering commitment to recognizing terrorists for what they are,” adding that “it’s the first time that there is a political will to do so.”
The US, European Union and several other countries long put a terrorist designation on Hamas, which ruled the Gaza Strip before its current war with Israel.
Previous left-leaning Peronist governments in Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, have maintained friendly ties with Israel but also voiced support for Palestinian statehood.
Since coming into office in December, Milei has set himself apart from even Israel’s closest allies in his vocal support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A huge swell in global pressure has left Israel deeply isolated over its military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, displaced over 80 percent of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster.
“Argentina must once again align itself with Western civilization,” Milei’s office said Friday.
For his first state visit as president earlier this year, Milei flew to Jerusalem in a show of support for the Israeli government and promised to move his nation’s embassy to the contested capital — drawing praise from Netanyahu and ire from Hamas.
Although raised a Roman Catholic, Milei says he has a deep spiritual connection with Judaism.

 


Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
Updated 13 July 2024
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Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China

Iran’s Pezeshkian rejects US pressure, praises Russia, China
  • Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism

DUBAI: The United States should realize that Iran will not respond to pressure, President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian said in a statement published on Saturday, in which he also highlighted his country’s friendship with China and Russia.
Pezeshkian, a relative moderate who beat a hard-line rival in elections, also reiterated that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, adding that Tehran would expand ties with neighbors and engage with Europe.
“The United States...needs to recognize the reality and understand, once and for all, that Iran does not — and will not — respond to pressure (and) that Iran’s defense doctrine does not include nuclear weapons,” Pezeshkian said in the statement, titled “My message to the new world” and published in the daily Tehran Times.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, has pledged to promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact and improve prospects for social liberalization and political pluralism.
However many Iranians are skeptical about his ability to fulfil his campaign promises as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, is the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic.
“China and Russia have consistently stood by us during challenging times. We deeply value this friendship.
“Russia is a valued strategic ally and neighbor to Iran and my administration will remain committed to expanding and enhancing our cooperation,” Pezeshkian said, adding that Tehran would actively support initiatives aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine.
“The Iranian people have entrusted me with a strong mandate to vigorously pursue constructive engagement on the international stage while insisting on our rights, our dignity and our deserved role in the region and the world.
“I extend an open invitation to those willing to join us in this historic endeavour,” Pezeshkian said. (

 


Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
Updated 13 July 2024
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Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says

Breakaway Turkish Cypriot state needs recognition, leader says
  • The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south

NICOSIA: The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus hopes to end its international isolation, its leader Ersin Tatar told AFP in an interview, as the Mediterranean island marks fives decades of division.
“Every day, we are working for recognition,” said the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 but which is recognized only by Ankara.
“Turkish Cypriots have been (put) under a lot of disadvantages — embargoes, isolation,” Tatar said in the interview conducted on Thursday.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Turkiye’s invasion of the north, five days after a coup orchestrated by the junta then in power in Athens sought to unite the whole island with Greece.
The invasion’s aftermath effectively divided the island along ethnic lines, with some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fleeing the north to be replaced by some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots displaced from the government-held south.
But international recognition has always eluded the Turkish Cypriots, with knock-on effects on the northern economy.
All flights to northern Cyprus have to make at least a stopover in Turkiye, hampering the development of large-scale tourism.
The rejection of a UN peace plan by Greek Cypriot voters in a 2004 referendum meant Cyprus entered the European Union that year still a divided island, with Turkish Cypriots denied the full benefits of membership.
“I would very much hope to see a resolution from the United Nations Security Council saying that we do recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus,” Tatar said.
“Greek Cypriots are obviously having a bigger part of the cake. Tourism is prospering, their economy is prospering,” he added.
UN-backed efforts to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation have been at a standstill since the last round of talks collapsed in 2017.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership says that with the UN-backed reunification talks dead, a two-state solution is the only forward.
Greek Cypriot leaders say they remain committed to the UN-backed process.

The United Nations, whose peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone behind the former front line between the two sides, is pressing for talks to resume between the leaders of the two communities.
“All I want is concerted efforts to find a practical, fair, just and sustainable settlement. But on an equal basis, a sovereign equal basis,” said Tatar.
For Tatar, “1974 was a turning point for Turkish Cypriots, a new hope,” said the leader, who was a 13-year-old pupil at the English School in Nicosia at the time and on holiday in London when he heard the news.
Citing violence and discrimination against the minority community in the decade leading up to the invasion, he insisted Turkish troops landed to “protect the Turkish Cypriots.”
A controversial treaty between Britain, Greece and Turkiye that accompanied the island’s independence in 1960 gave the three powers the right to intervene to guarantee the island’s constitution.
The treaty also outlawed partition and the union of any part of the island with Greece or Turkiye.
“This is why we call it Turkish intervention as a result of the right given to Turkiye by the 1960 agreement,” Tatar said.
He said the Turkish troop contingent in northern Cyprus — around 40,000 soldiers, according to the United Nations — was a “deterrent force” that had “ensured that we had peace on the island.”
Despite the many challenges, “what we have achieved is basically to develop our state from nothing to a consolidated state with all the functions and faculties that you would have in any modern state,” Tatar said.