Archive for February, 2018

Fearing backlash, Fatah postpones visit to Gaza

February 15, 2018

Fatah has postponed an expected visit by a senior delegation to the Gaza Strip until further notice, sources told the Palestinian newspaper yesterday.

The sources said that the visit was called off by Fatah Central Committee. The delegation had intended to hold meetings with Palestinian factions in Gaza.

Sources believe the visit was postponed to avoid officials being blamed for the failure of reconciliation efforts.

Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in October last year which saw the Palestinian Authority taking control of ministries and border crossings in the besieged Gaza Strip.

However many have accused the PA of failing to fulfill its part of the deal as salaries of civil servants have remained unpaid, the electricity crisis has not been resolved and borders continue to be closed.

Cleaning staff at medical centers in Gaza went on strike earlier this week demanding their outstanding wages be paid. Workers say they have not been paid for five months. Hospitals in the Strip have been forced to scale back their work as a result of the walkout with the Ministry of Health saying 500 surgeries have been postponed.

Fatah member Fraih Abu Middain said yesterday that President Mahmoud Abbas told him that “Gaza is going to starve until it bows down. Hamas must handover government, money and weapons in order to achieve the reconciliation.”

International aid groups have repeatedly condemned the PA and Israel’s use of collective punishment when dealing with the Gaza Strip.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180215-fearing-backlash-fatah-postpones-visit-to-gaza/.

Oman FM visits Al-Aqsa in ‘historic’ move

February 16, 2018

Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi bin Abdullah visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday.

Azzam Al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Waqf in occupied Jerusalem, who received the Omani minister, described the visit as “historic” and said it was aimed at supporting the people of Jerusalem.

The visit comes after a meeting between the Omani minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

During a press conference with the PA president, the Omani foreign minister called on the Arab countries to “accept the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas to visit Palestine and occupied Jerusalem, stressing that the Palestinian people are not alone and that all the Arab peoples are behind them”.

“What is required is the hard work of the Palestinians to build their country, which has historically been a beacon of science, containing universities, schools, professors and experts,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180216-oman-fm-visits-al-aqsa-in-historic-move/.

Israeli settler leader says settlements grew rapidly in 2017

February 20, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew at nearly twice the rate of Israel’s overall population last year, a settler leader said Monday, predicting that settlement growth would surge even more in the coming years thanks in part to the Trump presidency.

Yaakov Katz said that President Donald Trump, backed by a Mideast team dominated by settler supporters, has created a friendly new atmosphere conducive to settlement growth after eight contentious years with the Obama White House.

“This is the first time, after years, that we are surrounded by people who really like us, love us, and they are not trying to be objective,” Katz said. “We have to thank God he sent Trump to be president of the United States.”

Katz is founder of “West Bank Jewish Population Stats,” a report sponsored by “Bet El Institutions,” a prominent settler organization that has ties to Trump’s closest Mideast advisers. He said the figures are based on official data from the Israeli Interior Ministry not yet available to the public.

According to his figures, the West Bank settler population reached 435,159 as of Jan. 1, up 3.4 percent from 420,899 a year earlier. The settler population has grown 21.4 percent in the last five years.

In comparison, Israel’s total population grew 1.8 percent to 8.743 million last year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Katz said the rapid growth of the settlements should put to rest the idea of a two-state solution favored by the Palestinians and most of the international community.

Based on recent growth patterns, he said the West Bank settler population could approach 500,000 by the time Trump leaves office. His study did not include the more than 200,000 Israelis now living in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.

“We are changing the map,” he said. “The idea of the two-state solution is over. It is irreversible.” The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for a future independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

A string of U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have endorsed the idea of a two-state solution and have joined the international community in opposing settlements as obstacles to peace. But after years of failed U.S.-led peace efforts, Trump has taken a different line. He says he would support a two-state solution only if both sides agree to it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition is dominated by settler allies who oppose Palestinian independence.

Trump also has taken a softer stance toward the settlements, urging restraint at times but avoiding the strong condemnations of his predecessors. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a former president of Bet El Institutions. His chief Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has donated to the group, and even Trump once sent a donation.

These deep ties to the settlements have helped fuel Palestinian suspicions of the White House. Those suspicions deepened after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, prompting the Palestinians to say the U.S. can no longer be an honest Mideast broker. Trump’s team has been working on a peace proposal, though it is not clear when it will be released.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the figures reflect an Israeli policy of building settlements to destroy the two-state solution. He said Trump’s muted response encourages more settlement building.

“What is required of the world, including the American administration, is to condemn the settlements as illegitimate and illegal and to recognize the principle of two states on the 1967 borders,” he said. “if they want to keep hope in any future peace process, they must stop these plans.”

Brian Reeves, spokesman for Peace Now, an anti-settlement monitoring group, said it could not corroborate Katz’s figures but that they are in the “ballpark” of its own estimates. Katz said the settlement growth has been fueled both by natural growth of the population, which is heavily religious and tends to have larger families, as well as the attraction of cheaper housing in the West Bank.

He predicted even faster growth in the coming years, claiming that the Trump White House has given Netanyahu a “green light” to advance construction. “Bibi is less afraid of what the president will say about him,” he said. “We are very, very, very happy with the Trump administration.”

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve

February 18, 2018

MUNICH (AP) — The international nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened Tehran to become increasingly aggressive in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that Iran should “not test Israel’s resolve.”

Netanyahu said if the U.S. decides to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, which he has long opposed, “I think they’ll do nothing.” But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appearing two hours later at the same Munich Security Conference, fired back that Netanyahu’s comment was “delusional thinking.”

“I can assure that if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously. And I believe it would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed deep skepticism about the Iran nuclear deal that lifted sanctions against the country. He extended sanctions waivers in January but said he would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his concerns are addressed.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a main architect of the nuclear deal, said it was “absolutely critical” to ensure it survives. “We know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said Sunday, speaking at the same conference. “It’s not a better place.”

If the U.S. abandons the current nuclear deal it’s unlikely Iran would consider a new one, Kerry said. “The problem is the waters have been muddied because of this credibility issue about America’s willingness to live up to any deal,” he said.

Kerry dismissed Netanyahu’s contention that Iran would be on its way to having a nuclear arsenal in 10 years, saying “that’s fundamentally not accurate.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir weighed in, saying the Iran nuclear deal “has flaws that need to be fixed.” He said that, among other things, the inspection system needs to be more intrusive.

“The world has to extract a price from Iran for its aggressive behavior,” he added. Netanyahu told world leaders, diplomats and defense officials at the conference that the deal was similar to the infamous 1938 “Munich Agreement” that Western powers signed with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to stave off war in Europe, which became synonymous with appeasement.

“The concessions to Hitler only emboldened the Nazi regime,” he said. “Rather than choosing a path that might have prevented war… those well-intentioned leaders made a wider war inevitable and far more costly.”

Similarly, he said, the Iranian nuclear agreement has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.” Declaring that Iran’s “brazenness hit new highs,” he theatrically held up a fragment of what he said was an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israel in Israeli airspace and challenged Zarif.

“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours,” Netanyahu said. “You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!” Tehran has denied that the drone belonged to Iran. Zarif on Sunday dismissed Netanyahu’s stunt as “a cartoonish circus… which does not even deserve the dignity of a response.”

Netanyahu has been projecting a business-as-usual approach on his visit to Germany amid uproar at home after police on Tuesday said was sufficient evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases. The Israeli leader has angrily rejected the accusations and denounced what he describes as an overzealous police investigation. He has also dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.

Zarif suggested the Israeli leader might be escalating tensions with Iran simply to distract from his domestic problems. Denouncing what he said were Israel’s “almost daily illegal incursions into Syrian airspace,” Zarif said Israel was trying “to create these cartoonish images to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”

Netanyahu told the audience that destroying the drone was a demonstration of Israel’s resolve. “Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us but against Iran itself.”

Lebanese Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf accused Israel of being hypocritical, saying that he’d had “an Israeli drone above my head for the past 15 years” and warning about any aggression from its neighbor.

“Lebanon has no belligerent intent on anybody, but watch out, we will defend ourselves,” he said. “We also have partners, we also have friends, we also have people willing to die for their country. We are for peace, yet we will not stand for any threat and we will not accept any aggression. ”

Moulson reported from Berlin.

Israel to recall ambassador to Poland

February 13, 2018

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli Knesset yesterday started official steps to recall the country’s ambassador to Poland in protest against a Polish bill that criminalizes accusations of complicity in the Holocaust, local media revealed reported.

According to Quds Press, Israeli radio reported the move, which was introduced by the Zionist Union Members of the Knesset Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and gained the support of many other MKs.

This move comes after the Polish parliament approved a law that disclaims Polish complicity with in the Holocaust that took place in Poland during WWII when the country was under German occupation.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the law last week, but before it is enforced it must get the final approval from Poland’s constitutional court.

According to the Times of Israel, the law sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone blaming “responsibility or co-responsibility on the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich – or other crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

The US, France and Israel have criticized the law. Israel refused to receive a Polish delegation last week while Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister, Naftali Bennett, had his trip to Poland cancelled following comments he made about the law.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180213-israel-to-recall-ambassador-to-poland/.

Hamas: PA ordered arrest of freed Palestinian prisoners

February 1, 2018

Senior Hamas leader in the West Bank Abdul-Rahman Shadid said yesterday that the Palestinian Authority (PA) ordered the arrest of Palestinians who had been freed from Israeli jails, Felesteen.ps reported.

The PA security services and the Israeli occupation forces carried out a dual detention campaign against Palestinians in different areas in the occupied West Bank early this week.

The campaign came after a number of roadside explosives were discovered along a settler road in the occupied West Bank. The PA claimed that the explosives were aimed at it.

Shadid said: “The PA’s arrest of Palestinians is collusion with the Israeli occupation policies. It is even carrying out the occupation’s orders to hunt and get rid of the [Palestinian] resistance.”

He stressed that the PA claim that the explosions were aimed to harm it was “feeble” and this was only to “cover up its crimes against the Palestinian resistance”.

The Hamas leader stressed that “arresting the freed prisoners serves only the Israeli occupation and puts these Palestinians under suspicion so they can later be arrested by the Israeli occupation.”

Shadid called for the PA to immediately release them and all other Palestinian political prisoners, as well as to stop the security cooperation with the Israeli occupation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-hamas-pa-ordered-arrest-of-freed-palestinian-prisoners/.

No electricity at 7 more Gaza medical centers

January 31, 2018

Generators at seven health centers in the besieged Gaza Strip have stopped working due to the shortage in fuel, the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced today.

Ministry spokesman, Ashraf Al-Qadra, said the medical departments affected are: the Sourani Center, the Palestinian Medical Center, the Medical Foundation, the Gaza Health Administration, Abasan Al-Kabira, the Atatra and the Society of Physically Handicapped People – Gaza Strip.

The crisis management committee in the ministry confirmed that the situation in the Strip has entered an unprecedented stage due to the fuel crisis, demanding donors intervene immediately to bring it to an end.

The committee called on the energy company to work urgently to provide electricity to hospitals around the clock.

“Our health services are on the decline after a number of them stopped at the Beit Hanoun Hospital for the third day and Al-Durra children’s hospital and patients were transferred to other hospitals because of the lack of fuel. We are only a few hours away from seeing the generator at the psychiatric hospital stopping.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180131-no-electricity-at-7-more-gaza-medical-centres/.

Lebanon calls for Turkey’s support for boosting security, infrastructure

February 1, 2018

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, yesterday called on the Turkish government to support Lebanon on enhancing its security and to invest in the country’s infrastructure renovation.

“I’ve asked the Turkish government to support Lebanon in its two national priorities, including enhancing the capabilities of the army and the security forces, and developing the country’ infrastructure sector,” Hariri said on Twitter.

Hariri noted that he had asked the Ankara “to help in encouraging the country’s private sector to participate in the government’s investment plan.”

“We [Turkish government] expect the private sector to fund a third of our investment plan,” he added.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, recently announced that Turkey was willing to boost bilateral relations with Lebanon on a number of issues, a move that Hariri welcomed.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-lebanon-calls-for-turkeys-support-for-boosting-security-infrastructure/.

Tajikistan grants amnesty for over 100 Syria, Iraqi returnees

2018-02-08

DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.

“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.

Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria, which became a magnet for jihadists from around the globe following its descent into civil war in 2011.

Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died fighting for radical groups in Iraq and Syria, mostly the Islamic State group.

Authorities have previously said that over 1,000 Tajik citizens, including women, had joined the radical militants.

Most had traveled to Syria and Iraq through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work as labor migrants.

The Islamic State group’s most high-profile Tajik recruit Gulmurod Khalimov had served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his sensational defection in 2015.

Russia’s defense ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been IS’s “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.

Rahimzoda said Thursday that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.

Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin.

Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87176.

Popular campaign in Kuwait streets to oppose normalization with Israeli occupation

February 2, 2018

On Wednesday, the National Union of Kuwaiti Students launched a popular campaign against normalization with the Israeli occupation under the title “Kuwaiti against normalization”.

On Thursday, the Union of Kuwaiti Students distributed huge announcements in the streets of Kuwait to combat all forms of normalization with the Israeli occupation.

The announcements included a warning against academic normalization with the occupation under the cover of research and knowledge cooperation between Arabs and Israel and pointed out that “just dealing with Israel as a state and not as occupation is normalization in itself.”

The Union, which is controlled by Islamists in Kuwait, announced the convening of a seminar against normalization next Tuesday (06/02/2018).

It is worth noting that the National Union of Kuwaiti Students is a student organisation which was established on December 24, 1964 to represent students of the State of Kuwait who are studying both inside and outside the country. The Union consists of branches that are annually managed by elected administrative bodies, the largest of which is the branch of the University of Kuwait.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180202-popular-campaign-in-kuwait-streets-to-oppose-normalisation-with-israeli-occupation/.