Archive for the ‘ Levant News ’ Category

Pro-Israel Hungary to send sole European representative for Trump’s ‘peace’ ceremony

September 14, 2020

European states have on the whole decided against sending a representative to tomorrow’s signing ceremony in Washington to celebrate normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The only country that will be sending a delegation is the right-wing Hungarian government of Victor Orban.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced yesterday that he will be the only EU diplomatic leader to attend the signing ceremony which has been dismissed as a public relations spectacle designed to boost US President Donald Trump’s chances in November’s election. The much maligned US commander and chief is currently trailing his rival Joe Biden in opinion polls.

“At the invitation of U.S. President Donald Trump, as the only European Union minister, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto will also attend … the signing ceremony in the White House on Tuesday,” Mate Paczolay is reported saying in Reuters.

Szijjarto’s announcement underlines the deep relations between Hungary, under Prime Orban, with his US and Israeli counterparts. Both Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are seen as sharing Orban’s hostility towards immigrants and disdain for democratic principles.

Szijjarto is one of the few European leaders to offer effusive praise for the Trump-led normalization deal. “Since the White House prepared the agenda for stabilizing the region, this has been the second development to prove that this is the best peace plan thus far and promises to bring peace in the Middle East at last,” Szijjarto wrote on Facebook on Saturday.

“The U.S. President thus deserves gratitude,” he said, adding praise for Israeli, UAE and Bahraini leaders.

Reuters also confirmed that Szijjarto will also hold talks with Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser, Jared Kushner.

American Jews have expressed “horror” over the deep ties between Netanyahu and Orban, who is accused of being an anti-Semite.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Jordan: Bahrain, Israel normalization deal not welcomed

September 12, 2020

Jordan announced today that necessary steps to achieve a fair peace should come from Israel after Bahrain and Israel announced a normalization deal, Anadolu Agency reports.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Israel should stop procedures to undermine the two-state solution and end its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Morroccan Tawheed and Islah Movement described the agreement as a betrayal to Palestinians.

The head of the movement, Abdurrahim Sheyhi, told Anadolu Agency that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who last month signed a similar deal with Israel, served the interests of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during difficult election campaigns before elections in those countries.

Sheyhi said residents in Bahrain and the UAE will definitely continue to reject the deals and the agreements will remain between the regimes.

Bahrain is the fourth Arab nation to have diplomatic relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979, Jordan in 1994 and the United Arab Emirates in August.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Israel, Bahrain agree to establish full diplomatic ties


AMMONNEWS – Bahrain and Israel have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, US President Donald Trump announced on Friday, hailing the deal as “a historic breakthrough”.

In a joint statement, the United States, Bahrain and Israel said the agreement was reached after Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Friday.

“This is a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East,” the statement reads.

The deal comes after Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced a similar agreement last month.

Bahrain will join Israel and the UAE for a signing ceremony at the White House on September 15, Trump told reporters on Friday.

“It’s unthinkable that this could happen and so fast,” he said about the Israel-Bahrain deal.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, hailed the agreements as “the culmination of four years of great work” by the Trump administration.

“We’re seeing the beginning of a new Middle East, and the president has really secured alliances and partners in trying to pursue that,” Kushner said.

In a Hebrew-language statement, Netanyahu said he was “moved” to announce the agreement with Bahrain, which he said “adds to the historic peace with the United Arab Emirates”.

For its part, Bahrain said on Friday it supports a “fair and comprehensive” peace in the Middle East, the country’s BNA state news agency reported.

That peace should be based on a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, King Hamad said.

‘Treacherous stab’

Palestinian leaders have criticized Arab states for normalizing ties with Israel while it continues its military occupation of Palestinian lands, saying such deals threaten to cement the status quo.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the Bahrain-Israel deal was “another treacherous stab to [the] Palestinian cause”.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, said Palestinians have unequivocally condemned Friday’s announcement.

Ibrahim said Al Jazeera spoke to a Palestinian official close to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas who said peace between Arab countries and Israel “will not happen without the Palestinian issue being resolved”.

She said the official also said they did not believe Israel’s deals with Bahrain and the UAE would have happened “without regional backing”.

Kushner, speaking to reporters in a call from the White House soon after Friday’s announcement, said the UAE and Bahrain agreements “will help reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their foreign policy, which should be focused on their domestic priorities”.

US election looms

Since coming into office, the Trump administration has pursued staunchly pro-Israel policies, from moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to ordering the PLO to shutter its Washington, DC, office and recognizing Israel’s occupation on the Syrian Golan Heights.

The US president and his advisers have championed a so-called “deal of the century” proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and they have courted Arab Gulf states to try to drum up support for that initiative.

Bahrain, for example, hosted a US-led conference in June 2019 to unveil the economic side of the proposal, and Emirati and Saudi leaders voiced support at the time for any economic agreement that would benefit Palestinians.

Palestinian leaders boycotted that summit, however, saying the Trump administration was not an honest broker in any future negotiations with Israel.

Source: Ammon News.


Israeli soldier’s plea deal in fatal shooting faces scrutiny

September 09, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Ahmad Manasra was traveling home from a wedding when he spotted a family in distress on the side of a West Bank road. Moments later, the 22-year-old Palestinian was fatally shot while another Palestinian driver was seriously wounded — both by an Israeli soldier in a nearby watchtower.

The shootings are now the focus of a plea bargain offering the soldier three months of community service — a deal that has come under fierce criticism from the victims and their families. It also revived accusations by Palestinians and human rights workers that Israel’s military justice system is hopelessly biased and creates an atmosphere of impunity for soldiers suspected of violent crimes against Palestinians.

While the soldier has claimed he mistook the victims for attackers, and any indictment of a soldier is extremely rare, the proposed deal is now being reviewed by the Israeli Supreme Court. “When it comes to clashes with the army or the police, it is very very rare that you will find a fair trial,” said Shlomo Lecker, an Israeli lawyer who filed the appeal to the high court on behalf of the Palestinian families. Even by what Lecker considers the military’s lenient standards, “it will be hard to justify the sentence that the army is interested in,” he said.

The shootings took place on March 20, 2019 near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. At the time, Manasra and three others were in a car, heading home from a wedding. They spotted a parked car and a woman screaming for help on the side of the road.

The woman’s husband, Alaa Ghayadah, had pulled off the road after a traffic dispute with another driver. When Ghayadah got out of his car, a soldier in a nearby guard tower shot him in the stomach, according to witness testimony gathered by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Manasra’s co-travelers took Ghayadah in their car to a hospital, while Manasra offered to drive Ghayadah’s wife and two young daughters behind them. When their car wouldn’t start, he got out of the vehicle and was shot himself, according to B’Tselem. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

In a statement, the army, quoting from the indictment, said the soldier had opened fire after assuming Ghayadah was throwing stones at Israeli motorists. It said the soldier “wrongly assumed” Manasra was the same stone thrower and fired again. It also said forces had received a report about “the possibility of a terror attack in the area” shortly before the incident.

It said that in the Aug. 17 plea bargain, the soldier was indicted for “causing death by negligence.” It said victims were represented in legal proceedings and the various parties “jointly petitioned” for a sentence of “three months imprisonment served through military work,” probation and a demotion to the rank of private.

“Complex evidentiary and legal considerations, significant operational circumstances of the incident and the soldier’s willingness to take responsibility were all considered,” the army said. “In addition, the rights of the victims of the offense were preserved throughout the proceedings.”

The victims strongly disputed the military account and said they never accepted the plea bargain. The military did not explain what appears to be a sharp discrepancy between its claims and the families’ view of the plea deal.

Wafa Manasra, Ahmad’s mother, called the deal “unjust.” “The soldier killed my son in cold blood,” she said. “My son wasn’t going to carry out any attack. He was going to help others when he was killed.”

Ghadayeh, a former tile layer, said he can no longer work because of the severe damage to his stomach. He said he tried to work as a taxi driver but that also was too grueling on his body. “If the soldier was sentenced to life in prison, that won’t be enough for me,” he said.

Critics say potentially criminal shootings of Palestinians rarely result in convictions or even indictments. B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, grew so frustrated with the military justice system that in 2016 it halted its decades-long practice of assisting military investigations.

According to the group, the plea bargain results from the first indictment in the death of a Palestinian in the West Bank since a landmark 2016 case in which a soldier was caught on video shooting and killing a badly wounded Palestinian attacker in the head who was lying on the ground. The soldier, Elor Azaria, served nine months in prison for manslaughter. B’Tselem says there have been at least 11 cases over the past two years in which Palestinians who did not pose a threat were killed while fleeing security forces.

The plea bargain is “not an aberration,” said Amit Galutz, a spokesman for the group. “It is a policy of whitewashing and of protecting perpetrators instead of their victims.” In Israel, military service is compulsory for most Jewish males, and there is widespread sympathy for young soldiers. Azaria’s trial bitterly divided the country, with top generals saying he should be punished for violating a military code of ethics. But large segments of Israel’s nationalist right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pushed for leniency.

Emmanuel Gross, a professor emeritus at the University of Haifa’s law school and a former military judge, said military cases are different than civilian cases. “A soldier finds himself on a battlefield. Therefore he is under constant threat to his life and must be aware to defend himself and his colleagues,” he said. “You must take those circumstances under consideration.”

Gross said that on the surface, the sentence in the Manasra case appeared to be “lenient and inappropriate.” But he said the High Court could determine there were special circumstances that make the plea bargain reasonable.

Lecker, the Palestinians’ lawyer, said the families have few expectations that the plea bargain will be altered. “Just the fact that it will be reviewed by the court is an achievement,” he said.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Two Covid-hit schools shut down in Madaba


AMMONNEWS – Governor of Madaba, Ali Madi, has announced on Sunday, that two schools, one public and the other private, were shut down in the city of Madaba, after two Covid-19 cases were registered.

Speaking to “Petra,” the governor said closure of the two schools was taken after a high school student and a driver in the private school, have tested positive.

Source: Ammon News.


252 new Covid-19 cases, two-virus fatalities recorded on Sunday


AMMONNEWS – Minister of Health, Dr. Sa’ad Jaber, announced that 252 new Covid-19 cases were recorded, bringing the total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 3314.

Speaking during a press briefing on Sunday at the Prime Ministry, Jaber said the new cases involve 4 arrivals from abroad and 248 local infections.

Moreover, two virus-related deaths were registered in Prince Hamzah Hospital (PHH) and the University of Jordan Hospital (UJH), while 50 additional patients have recovered, according to Jaber.

The high number of infections requires “increased” commitment to physical distancing, he noted, adding gatherings will be monitored and violators will be held accountable.

Jaber said the Ministry of Health deals with the media in a “transparent and neutral manner, and is fully prepared to provide information round the clock.”

Source: Ammon News.


Gov’t to tighten control over gatherings, not to impose curfews


AMMONNEWS – The government is set to tighten its control over and restrictions on gatherings as it excludes resorting to blanket curfews, Minister of State Amjad Adaileh said Sunday.

Addressing journalists, Adaileh said the government was briefed Sunday by Minister of Health Saad Jaber about the epidemiological developments and recommendations, which had spurred its decision, and whatever necessary measures needed amid the record highs of infection.

Adaileh, who is also the spokesperson of the government, said the government will tighten restrictions on gatherings and hold organizers accountable; address public institutions to operate at a minimum capacity; ban patient visits in hospitals until a further notice and limit crowdedness in hospitals; limit meetings in public institutions and ministries and urge the usage of teleconferencing.

Starting Tuesday, the Cabinet will hold its sessions by teleconferencing, he highlighted.

He said that the government, as the developments on the epidemiological situation dictate, might put in place new mechanisms that would ensure the safety of students and faculties, adding that flouters of health measures and defense orders will be held accountable.

A crackdown campaign across the Kingdom will begin Monday to detect violations.

“The developments in the epidemiological situation and the unprecedented increase in the number of fatalities and infections requires from us all to be responsible and follow the utmost levels of caution to protect the homeland and its sons,” he cautioned.

Adaileh said that rumors about a two-week blanket curfew starting on September 20 are false.

Source: Ammon News.


Lebanon Kicks off Second Plan to Curb Coronavirus in North

Tuesday, 8 September, 2020

Lebanon’s health ministry continued to warn citizens of the repercussions of ignoring safety precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak, especially as students prepare to return to schools at the end of the month.

Speaking from the northern city of Tripoli, which accounts to 20 percent of COVID-19 infections, caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Monday the healthcare situation was critical throughout the country.

“The situation demands the complete awareness of citizens,” he told a news conference following with Governor of the North, Ramzi Nohra.

He announced the start of the second phase to combat the pandemic by increasing the number of beds at government hospitals in Tripoli, Halba and Sir al-Dinnieh.

“One week from now, we will witness a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases,” he hoped.

Moreover, Hassan highlighted the need for joint efforts by the public and private sectors to curb the outbreak.

The Coronavirus Crisis Follow-up Cell in the Tripoli Governorate said Monday that 43 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in the district in the past 24 hours. Thirty-three were registered in Tripoli, four in Mina and six in al-Beddawi.

Throughout Lebanon, the Health Ministry said 400 new infections were confirmed on Monday, raising the total to 28,426. It confirmed nine more deaths.

Meanwhile, caretaker Education Minister Tarek al-Majzoub announced that the new academic year will begin on September 28, adding that the ministry will evaluate the health situation every week to prevent an outbreak of the pandemic.

In Palestinian refugee camps, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced that test results have revealed 27 new cases of coronavirus, including one among the agency’s staff.

The agency announced the closure of its health center in the Ain al-Hilweh camp and its central clinic in Beirut for them to be disinfected.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.


Hamas welcomes formation of ‘United Leadership of Popular Resistance’

September 14, 2020

Hamas yesterday welcomed the formation of the “United Leadership of Popular Resistance”, considering it a practical step to turn the national consensus into measures on the ground.

“The formation of this body witnesses the beginning of the implementation of the national decisions taken during last week’s conference of Palestinian secretaries-general held in Beirut,” Hamas official Hussam Badran said in a press release.

“We are confident that all Palestinian national institutions will proceed with more steps to turn the rejection of all projects intended to liquidate the Palestinian cause into practical moves,” Badran added.

“All Palestinian factions have agreed to start implementing the outcomes of the secretaries-general’s conference, but some Arab states running towards the normalization of ties with the Israeli occupation brought the formation of this body to the top of the conference’s agenda.”

Badran stressed on the importance of maintaining internal unity and putting aside all differences to save the Palestinian cause.

“We laud the massive and immediate response by all Palestinian factions and institutions to handle all dangers posed to the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian national project,” he said.

“We are confident that the Palestinian public is able to take the initiative and make moves to undermine any proposal aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause by imposing solutions that will not achieve the Palestinians’ aspirations and national goals.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.


UN-backed court to issue verdicts in Lebanon’s Hariri case

August 17, 2020

BEIRUT (AP) — More than 15 years after the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, a U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is announcing verdicts this week in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah allegedly involved in the killing, which deeply divided the tiny country.

The verdicts on Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in a village on the outskirts of the Dutch city of The Hague, are expected to further add to soaring tensions in Lebanon, two weeks after a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port that killed nearly 180 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed thousands of homes in the Lebanese capital.

Unlike the blast that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, the Aug. 4 explosion was believed to be a result of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that accidentally ignited at Beirut’s port. While the cause of the fire that provided the trigger is still not clear, Hezbollah, which maintains huge influence over Lebanese politics, is being sucked into the public fury directed at the country’s ruling politicians.

Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country’s leaders were concerned about violence after the verdicts. Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician at the time, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group.

Tensions between Sunni and Shiites in the Middle East have fueled deadly conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and to a smaller scale in Lebanon. Some Lebanese see the tribunal as an impartial way of uncovering the truth about Hariri’s slaying, while Hezbollah — which denies involvement — calls it an Israeli plot to tarnish the group.

One analyst believes the lengthy investigation and trial have rendered the result almost redundant. The defendants remain at large. Michael Young of Carnegie Middle East Center wrote recently that the verdicts “will seem like little more than a postscript to an out-of-print book.”

“The U.N. investigation was glowingly referred to once as a mechanism to end impunity. It has proven to be exactly the contrary,” Young wrote, saying those believed to have carried out the assassination “risk almost nothing today.”

But for others, especially those more closely linked to the violence that has plagued Lebanon, the verdicts still carry significance. “It’s going to be a great, great moment not only for me as a victim but for me as a Lebanese, as an Arab and as an international citizen looking for justice everywhere,” said prominent former legislator and ex-Cabinet Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who was seriously wounded in a blast four months before Hariri’s assassination. Hamadeh said those who killed Hariri were behind the attempt on his life. The tribunal has indicted one of the suspects in Hariri’s assassination with involvement in the attempt on Hamadeh’s life.

Hamadeh resigned as a member of parliament in protest a day after the Beirut port blast. Hariri was killed by a suicide truck bomb on a seaside boulevard in Beirut that killed him and 21 others, and wounded 226 people.

The assassination was seen by many in Lebanon as the work of Syria. It stunned and deeply divided the country, which has since been split between a Western-backed coalition and another supported by Damascus and Iran. Syria has denied having a hand in Hariri’s killing. Following post-Hariri assassination protests, Damascus was forced to withdraw thousands of troops from Lebanon, ending a three-decade domination of its smaller neighbor.

The tribunal was set up in 2007 under a U.N. Security Council resolution because deep divisions in Lebanon blocked parliamentary approval of the court that operates on a hybrid system of Lebanese and international law. The investigation and trial cost about $1 billion, of which Lebanon paid 49% while other nations paid the rest.

Initially, five suspects were tried in absentia in the case, all of them Hezbollah members. One of the group’s top military commanders Mustafa Badreddine was killed in Syria in 2016 and charges against him were dropped.

The other suspects are Salim Ayyash, also known as Abu Salim; Assad Sabra, Hassan Oneissi, who changed his name to Hassan Issa and Hassan Habib Merhi. They are charged with offenses including conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, and face maximum sentences of life imprisonment if convicted. Sentences will not be announced Tuesday but will be determined at later hearings.

The four defendants, however, are unlikely to serve any prison time — they have never been detained despite international arrest warrants and Hezbollah has vowed never to hand over any suspects. Even if they are all convicted, Hezbollah as a group will not officially be blamed as the tribunal only accuses individuals, not groups or states.

Prosecutors based their indictments on telecommunications data of cellular telephones that the suspects allegedly used to track Hariri’s movements starting weeks before the assassination until the explosion occurred. The tribunal heard evidence from 297 witnesses during the trial, which started in 2014 and spanned 415 days of hearings.

Omar Nashabe, who served as a consultant for the defense team in the tribunal for about five years, said that since there was no consensus in Lebanon over the tribunal and parliament did not approve it, the trial “may not be the best process to reach justice in such cases.”

He said that the people of Lebanon are divided between some who want the tribunal to confirm their suspicions about the perpetrators and others who continue to see the court as part of a wider conspiracy to discredit Hezbollah.

“Therefore this tribunal is doomed to fail because of the lack of consensus,” Nashabe said, adding that if the defense appeals the case the verdict will not mark the end. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week insisted on the innocence of the suspects regardless of the verdicts. “For us it will be as if they were never issued,” he said of the verdicts. Nasrallah warned against attempts to exploit the verdicts internally and externally in order to target the group.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the late Hariri, has said he will make a statement regarding the verdicts after they are made public. Asked about concerns over repercussions of the verdict, he said “justice must prevail regardless of the cost.”

Since the assassination in 2005, several top Syrian and Hezbollah security officials have been killed, in what some supporters of the tribunal say were the result of liquidations to hide evidence. Hamadeh, the legislator, called such deaths “Godly justice,” adding that “we don’t know how. Some say they were liquidated by their own teams, some say the Syrian regime got rid of them to put the suspicion and the doubts away, some said internal feuds.”

Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.