Archive for October, 2015

President Abbas raises Palestinian flag for first time at UN

October 01, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas raised the Palestinian flag at the United Nations for the first time on Wednesday with a promise that it will be raised soon in Jerusalem, “the capital of our Palestinian state.”

More than 300 ministers, diplomats and well-wishers who crowded into the rose garden at U.N. headquarters where a temporary flagpole had been erected for the ceremony applauded his words. Among them were the foreign ministers of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran and ambassadors from many countries including France. The United States, which does not recognize the state of Palestine, did not send a representative, the U.S. Mission said.

Abbas told the crowd it was an historic moment on the road to Palestinian independence. Palestine was designated as a non-member observer state at the United Nations in November 2012 and Palestinian statehood also has been recognized by many countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As the black, white, green and red flag went up the flagpole, cheers and shouts of “Peace! Peace! Palestine!” erupted. The Palestinians campaigned for a General Assembly resolution that was overwhelmingly approved on Sept. 10 allowing U.N. observer states to fly their flags alongside those of the 193 U.N. member states. The Holy See and Palestine are the only two non-member U.N. observer states.

In contrast to the Palestinians, the Holy See flag was raised outside U.N. headquarters alongside flags of the 193 U.N. member states without fanfare or ceremony just before Pope Francis arrived last Friday to address the General Assembly. The permanent flagpole for the Palestinian flag is already in place beside it.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Wednesday a day of “pride” and “hope” for Palestinians around the world. He urged the Palestinians to pursue their long-held dream for their own state by first uniting Gaza and the West Bank, and he urged Israel and the Palestinians to revive negotiations that collapsed last year and conclude “a successful peace process.”

That will lead to the unfurling of the Palestinian flag “in its proper place — among the family of nations as a sovereign member state of the United Nations,” Ban said.

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Palestinians clash with Israeli riot police at holy site

September 28, 2015

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinians clashed with Israeli riot police after barricading themselves in a mosque at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, throwing firebombs and rocks at officers outside during a major Jewish holiday on Monday.

The hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Police said young protesters barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque at the site, despite an order permitting only men over the age of 50 from entering the compound for prayers. Israel has imposed the ban at times of unrest in the past as it is mostly young Palestinians who throw rocks at the holy site. Women of all ages are allowed to enter.

Spokeswoman Luba Samri said Palestinians stockpiled rocks and other projectiles at the Al-Aqsa mosque overnight. She said police had tried to negotiate with the Waqf — the Islamic religious authority that oversees the compound — to call for calm, but talks failed and police entered the compound to seize the “dangerous devices intended to harm visitors to the site and police and endanger their lives.”

Palestinians threw rocks, firebombs and firecrackers from within the mosque at police, Samri said, adding that the fire bombs sparked a fire at the entrance to the mosque. Waqf guards didn’t prevent the “desecration of the sanctity of the place,” she said.

Officers later managed to restore calm but sporadic Palestinian stone throwing persisted throughout the morning, she said. It was the second day in a row of violence at the site. Monday’s unrest occurred on the first day of Sukkot, a weeklong festival that celebrates the fall harvest and commemorates the wandering of the ancient Israelites through the desert following the exodus from Egypt.

In ancient times, Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem on Sukkot, and many Jews are expected to visit the city throughout the holiday period, raising the risk of further unrest. Rumors have swirled among Palestinians that Jews are planning to take over the holy site, which has fueled tensions. Those rumors were exacerbated earlier this month by calls from a group of religious Jews to visit the site on the eve of the Jewish New Year.

Palestinians say in the last two months there has been a new development where Israel has intermittently restricted some Muslims from the compound when Jews visit. Israel says this is to reduce friction, but Palestinians claim that Israel intends to establish Muslim-free Jewish visiting hours, which they fear could upset the fragile arrangement in place.

Israel insists it will not allow the delicate status quo governing the site to be changed. But its actions have drawn criticism from Jordan, with whom it has a peace treaty, and other Arab countries. And the site is so sensitive that even rumors are enough to trigger unrest. Israel has also blamed Palestinian leaders for inciting the unrest.

Non-Muslim visitors are only allowed to enter the site at specific hours and are banned by police from praying there. However many Muslims view these visits as a provocation and accuse Jewish extremists of a plot to take over the site.

The hilltop compound is so holy for Jews that they traditionally have refrained from praying there, congregating instead at the adjacent Western Wall. Israel’s chief rabbis, as well as the rabbi of the Western Wall, have issued directives urging people not to ascend the Temple Mount — arguing that Jews could inadvertently enter the holiest area of the once-standing temple, where it was forbidden to tread.

But there is a movement advocating the rights for Jews to pray at the hilltop. Some try and get around the ban on prayers by secretly mumbling the words. The Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement, a small group that seeks the construction of a new Jewish temple on the site, has called for a march to the compound on Wednesday — Israeli police have promised to prevent them from getting close to the site.

There were several days of clashes about two weeks ago, Muslim protesters barricaded themselves inside the mosque while hurling stones and fireworks at police. The unrest spread to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, where Palestinian protesters hurled stones at police and Israeli cars.

An Israeli died when Palestinians pelted his car with rocks and several others were injured in other incidents. Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces in violence that followed the Jerusalem unrest then.

Israel responded last week by approving harsher measures that would loosen the rules of engagement for police to respond to stone throwers.

Lebanon to enroll 100,000 new Syrian students-refugees

September 21, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The Lebanese government is launching a campaign to register 100,000 new students from among the Syrian refugee population in its already overwhelmed public schools.

The figure is double the number of refugees who were able to enroll last year. Education Minister Elias Bou Saab said Monday this will give more refugee children a chance at free education. But he cautioned that nearly the same number of Syrian refugee children are still out of schools.

He says that if more refugee children enroll in schools, this may stem the flow of migrants from the region to Europe. Lebanon is struggling with at least 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees who fled their country’s civil war, now in its fifth year.

Bou Saab says Syrians could soon outnumber Lebanese in public schools.

World leaders at UN lay out sharply different views on Syria

September 29, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Vladimir Putin played it cool, Barack Obama was earnest but firm and Iran’s president walked in smiling. World leaders glided through the opening day of a U.N. gathering Monday that aims to wrestle with the globe’s biggest crises — a historic flood of refugees, the rise of threats like the Islamic State group and the conflict in Syria.

The U.N. secretary-general for the first time called for the civil war in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s recent nuclear deal with world powers had a broader goal: “We want to suggest a new and constructive way to recreate the international order.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a $1 billion pledge for U.N. peace efforts. And Jordan’s King Abdullah II made a heartfelt defense of the kinder side of the Muslim world in the face of “the outlaws of Islam that operate globally today.”

“When and how did fear and intimidation creep so insidiously into our conversation when there is so much more to be said about the love of God?” he asked, also quoting the Quran on mercy. The king has called the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State, and the crises they have caused, “a third world war, and I believe we must respond with equal intensity.” Jordan borders both Syria and Iraq, and Syrian refugees now make up 20 percent of Jordan’s population. Iraq and Turkey also groan under the strain of millions of refugees.

In his state of the world address to leaders from the U.N.’s 193 member states, Ban Ki-Moon called for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, now well into its fifth year with more than a quarter of a million people killed.

Ban said five countries “hold the key” to a political solution to Syria: Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Obama and Putin, hours ahead of their first face-to-face meeting in nearly a year, gave no sign of closing their deep divide on the Syrian crisis.

Obama said of Syrian President Bashar Assad, “when a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not a matter of a nation’s internal affairs.” The U.S. is prepared to work with any country, including Russia and Iran, to resolve Syria’s conflict, Obama said.

The U.S. president also took jabs at Russia and China, without naming names. “The strong men of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow,” Obama warned. And he added in a critique of restrictions on speech, “You can control access to information … but you cannot turn a lie into truth.”

Putin, who showed up at the U.N. gathering for the first time in a decade and was not at Russia’s seat in the chamber when Obama spoke, called for the creation of a broad international coalition against terror, following his country’s surprising moves in recent weeks to increase its military presence in Syria and to share intelligence on the Islamic State group with Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The Russian leader dismissed the West’s concerns about his country’s ambitions in Syria and called it “an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate” with the Syrian government. Ukraine’s table just in front of the speaker’s stand was empty as Putin spoke. The country struggles against pro-Russia separatists in its east, while Russia denies supporting them.

Rouhani appeared to align with Putin’s call for a U.N. Security Council resolution consolidating the fight against terror, saying “we propose that the fight against terrorism be incorporated into a binding international document and no country be allowed to use terrorism for the purpose of intervention in the affairs of other countries.”

Meanwhile, Obama announced that more than 40,000 new troops and police have been pledged to U.N. peacekeeping missions from more than 50 countries. He spoke at a high-level meeting chaired by the U.S. to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping, which increasingly faces threats from extremist groups while being severely stretched in personnel and equipment.

Other issues at the center of this week’s discussions include the refugee and migrant crisis, the largest since the upheaval of World War II. Ban warned that resources to address them are dangerously low. “The global humanitarian system is not broken; it is broke,” he said. The U.N. has just half of what it needs to help people in Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen, and just a third of what’s needed for Syria.

The U.N. chief, in unusually hard-hitting words, also blamed “proxy battles of others” for driving the fighting in Yemen, and he warned against “the dangerous drift” in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it is essential for the international community to pressure both sides to re-engage.

Others speaking Monday included French President Francois Hollande, who again declared that Assad “cannot be part of the solution” to the Syrian conflict, and Cuban President Raul Castro, who also has a meeting planned with Obama.

Some, including Obama, Xi and Hollande, already addressed the General Assembly over the weekend during a separate global summit on sweeping new U.N. development goals for the next 15 years.

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer, Christopher Bodeen and Vladimir Isachenkov at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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