Palestinians hope Omani visit boosts Jerusalem tourism

Photo of Omani minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi (C), visiting Al-Aqsa mosques in Arab east Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock mosque seen in the background Feb 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2018

Palestinians hope Omani visit boosts Jerusalem tourism

AMMAN: Palestinian religious and tourism officials have welcomed a visit by the Omani foreign minister to East Jerusalem and called for steps to support tourism to the city.

Yusuf bin Alawi prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday in a rare visit to Islam’s third holiest site by a senior Arab dignitary.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has long urged Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa out of solidarity with the Palestinians, despite the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. But officials from countries with no ties to Israel have traditionally stayed away.

Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the Jordanian Awqaf in Jerusalem, told Arab News that the visit is welcomed by all Palestinians in Jerusalem. Jordan has been custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem.

“It gives attention to Jerusalem and reflects the natural extension we have to the Arab and Muslim worlds,” Al Khatib said, adding that such visits lift the spirits of the people of Jerusalem.

“When we see our brothers coming to visit us this… (it) lets us know that we are not alone and, at the same time, it is a signal to the world to increase efforts to bring peace to our region, as people will be able to see and feel the daily suffering we endure as a result of the Israeli occupation.”

Al-Khatib, whose organization is responsible for running the Al-Aqsa Mosque site inside Jerusalem’s walled Old City, said high-profile visits to Jerusalem need to be followed by visits from members of the public.

We want the people “to come and stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and participate in our religious and cultural events and projects,” Al-Khatib said.

Ihab Jabari, a tourism expert in Jerusalem, told Arab News that there are two levels of visits to Jerusalem. “One is a photo op and this is important politically and we leave this to President Abbas to manage, but the other level is the need to translate these visits to the opening up of new tourists coming to Jerusalem.”

For decades various governments and religious organizations said Muslims should not visit Jerusalem because of Israel’s occupation.

Jabari hailed recent fatwas and statements from different religious and political sources that have said Muslims should visit Jerusalem but said it has not been easy to reverse people’s thinking. “It is hard for people to shift their thinking very quickly just because of a fatwa or a photo of a minister in Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Jabari said.

The change in approach started with countries such as Turkey, which has diplomatic ties with Israel.

“Turks stay in East Jerusalem an average of three days. They have an embassy in Tel Aviv and therefore there is no political or legal problem to come and Israel makes it easier for Turks to get visas than for others in the region.”

But Ihab Jabari, the adviser for the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association, said Palestinians in Jerusalem want tourists to come from Arab and Islamic countries and to do so through Palestinian tour agencies. “All Palestinian embassies in these countries must support this effort,” he said.

The tour expert said that the current occupancy rate in East Jerusalem’s 2,000 hotel rooms is around 50 percent. “If the occupancy rate goes up to 75 percent this will encourage investors to build.”

Jabari said that nearby Bethlehem has 3,900 hotel rooms “rented at very inexpensive rates.”

Official records show rising numbers of tourists from majority Muslim countries. Last year 12,000 arrived from Malaysia (up from 5,000 the years before). From Indonesia 24,000 Muslim tourists arrived in Jerusalem and 30,000 from Turkey. Nearly 5,000 tourists came from Morocco.

“Our prices are lower than those on the Israeli side of Jerusalem but the Israelis fight us by telling tourists from western countries that our area is unsafe,” Jabari said. “Muslim tourists are happy to stay with us and feel at home in East Jerusalem because we understand their cultural, religious and touristic needs.”

Speaking in the Palestinian west bank city of Ramallah after the meeting with Abbas, bin Alawi, said: “We have to encourage Arabs everywhere to come to Palestine because, as I said, hearing is not the same as seeing. What is needed now is for them to see the Palestinians.”

Palestinians want part of Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel occupied the Arab eastern half of the city in 1967 and the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which sits above the Jewish holy sites above Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, is central to any talks to resolve the conflict.

US President Donald Trump sparked widespread anger in December when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said that he would move the US Embassy there.

Houthi court sentences Yemeni women’s rights activist to death

Updated 13 sec ago

Houthi court sentences Yemeni women’s rights activist to death

  • Sanaa court sentenced Fatema Saleh Mohammed Al-Arwali, an activist and head of the Yemeni branch of the Arab League’s Arab Women Leadership Council, to death for gathering military intelligence
  • Yemeni officials, as well as local and international rights organizations and activists, severely denounced the death sentence and urged the militia to release Al-Arwali

AL-MUKALLA: A court in Houthi-held Sanaa on Tuesday condemned a women’s rights rights activist to death for spying, sparking an uproar in Yemen and abroad against the Iran-backed militia.

Abdul Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer, told Arab News that the Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Sanaa sentenced Fatema Saleh Mohammed Al-Arwali, an activist and head of the Yemeni branch of the Arab League’s Arab Women Leadership Council, to death for gathering military intelligence and sending key Houthi locations to the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen to be bombed.

The militia had kidnapped Al-Arwali while she was traveling to the southern city of Aden from Houthi-controlled Taiz. She was abducted and family requests to know her whereabouts were ignored.

The Houthis put Al-Arwali on trial early this year, but barred her from receiving legal representation.

Yemeni officials, as well as local and international rights organizations and activists, severely denounced the death sentence and urged the militia to release Al-Arwali and end its harassment of activists.

Dozens of Yemeni activists, lawyers and academics signed an online petition demanding that the Houthis release the activist, adding that her lawyer was barred from the courtroom during the first trial session and Al-Arwali was condemned to a lightless underground detention facility for almost a year.

“We urge that the death sentence imposed on her be overturned. We urge human rights and civil society groups to unite in opposition to this unfair sentencing that undermines justice,” the Yemeni activists said in the petition.

Amnesty International and the Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties also released separate statements criticizing the death sentence and urging the Houthis to free Al-Arwali.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, without exception, and calls on the Houthis to immediately quash Al-Arwali’s death sentence and ensure she promptly receives a fair trial in line with international standards or is immediately released,” the organization said on X.

Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

Updated 36 min 57 sec ago

Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

  • Senior official of International Committee of the Red Cross doubles down on calls to warring sides to respect Geneva Conventions
  • Expresses gratitude for strong Saudi support in Gaza and Sudan, wants humanitarian partnership to climb new heights

RIYADH: Despite the daily efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to “step up, to scale up, to send more people on the ground in Gaza,” humanitarians “can only do so much,” according to Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director general.

He made the comment in the course of an interview on Tuesday with Arab News in Riyadh, where he held a meeting with officials from the Saudi aid agency KSrelief.

“We cannot cope with this magnitude of needs and we want the parties in the conflict, the Israeli side and the Hamas side, to de-escalate and to create the conditions for humanitarians to be able to operate at the level that is required,” Mardini said.

He added that the current level and intensity of fighting in Gaza makes humanitarians’ ability to operate at the levels required “impossible.”

He said: “No meaningful humanitarian response is possible under the current circumstances. This is why we have to, in parallel to doing everything we can to step up the humanitarian response, double down on repeating and reiterating our calls to the parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions.”

Mardini made it clear that as humanitarians, the ICRC will continue to push the limits of the possible to “make a difference for the people in Gaza.”

But while efforts will continue, Mardini said the ICRC can only do so much, “and the responsibility lies within the parties in the conflict.”

He added: “They have the obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, to do everything they can to protect civilians, and to de-escalate the conflict; to ensure that there are regular humanitarian pauses to allow humanitarian supplies to get into the Gaza Strip; and to allow humanitarian workers to be able to deliver much-needed humanitarian support to the people in Gaza, and also to give respite to the civilian population, who are living in disastrous conditions, in constant fear of violent death.”

Mardini has no doubt about the immediate requirements: A de-escalation of the conflict, regular humanitarian pauses, and better conditions for civilians.

He said all people in Gaza today were traumatized by what is happening.

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive at a hospital in Rafah. (AP)

When asked about what needs to take place to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza, he said that humanitarian goods were critical.

“Even before the conflict started on Oct. 7, on average 400 to 500 or 600 trucks a day were getting into the Gaza Strip at the time where it was more or less normal life,” Mardini said.

Now, after nearly two months of fighting, “people (are) being torn apart with thousands killed, tens of thousands severely injured,” and the needs of the region are much greater.

He added: “So, definitely, 200 trucks, which was the maximum reach during the seven-day truce, is only a small fragment, and it’s a drop in an ocean of needs. Trucks alone will not save the people of Gaza.

“What the people of Gaza need now is going back to a normal life, is more respite, is the de-escalation of the conflict. And it’s a political solution that is needed to avoid additional loss of life, and desperation and despair.”

Mardini stressed that although the ICRC is currently trying to receive reasonable security guarantees, “it’s very tough because today, really nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

He said: “Our own teams were in the line of fire. The teams of the Palestine Red Crescent Society were also caught in the line of fire. Many other humanitarians from UNWRA, MSF, also lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Mardini underlined the gravity of the humanitarian situation, adding that the ICRC has a full surgical team working in the European Hospital of Gaza with Palestinian doctors and nurses.

He said: “The testimonies they are giving us are terrifying and horrifying, you know. The sheer number of mass casualties is totally unprecedented.”

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, being interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Alshuhub)

According to the Hamas-run government media office in Gaza, fighting has claimed more than 16,000 lives since the start of the war. While a humanitarian pause was reached on Nov. 24, it ended on Dec. 1, with Israeli forces resuming combat operations.

Mardini said: “The resumption of the fighting in the Gaza Strip is taking its toll on the civilian population, which has been through impossible hardship over the past almost two months.”

Mardini described the testimonies he has heard from ICRC colleagues on the ground in the Gaza Strip operating in a hospital and supporting the Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers as “horrendous.”

He added: “People are living in difficult circumstances. The families have been separated. Thousands are getting into hospitals.”

He said that hospitals were so overcrowded with the sick, injured, and those seeking shelter that treatment had become difficult. He added that such overcrowding, complicated by shortages of water and medicine, may lead to the spread of disease.

“Doctors are facing impossible choices of who to save, who will make it, who won’t be able to make it, because of the very limited medical supplies, the lack of fuel,” he said.

He added that civilians were in areas, “the so-called safe zones,” adding that “(they) are not really safe, because there are no safe places in the Gaza Strip today.”

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, during which they discussed the situation in Gaza, he said: “The King Salman Center is a very solid partner of ICRC.

“We have discussed ways and means to step up the humanitarian response. I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip, as it did several months ago to our work in Sudan.”

When asked about the application of the law of armed conflict, which was put in place to set the conduct of military operations and provide protection for the victims of conflict, Mardini asserted that “the law of armed conflict actually works.”

He said: “We have a demonstration of this every day. Every day, an ICRC surgeon is able to save a life.

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, Mardini, right, said: “I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip.” (Supplied)

“Every day, a Palestine Red Crescent volunteer is able to evacuate the severely injured from our hospital to the other. Every day. And we have seen this over the past seven days. The ICRC managed to facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian detainees in Israel to their families in Ramallah.

“These are the laws of war in action. These are the laws of war working.”

Elaborating on the point, he said that when the law of armed conflict works, it “prevents harm from happening in the first place … The laws of war are the ultimate safety net to uphold dignity in war. They should be supported; they should be respected by parties in the conflict.”

Discussing the role of the ICRC in aiding hostage situations, he described the agency as a “neutral intermediary.”

He said: “The ICRC has a dialogue with all sides of the conflict. And when the hostages were taken, we did three things. We first called for their immediate release, because civilian hostages should not be taken in armed conflict.”

He went on to add that the ICRC checked the health status of hostages and ensured they were able to communicate with their families.

He said: “I have to hope that the two parties will continue to negotiate for further releases of hostages and Palestinian detainees. And we are certainly ready to renew these types of operations, of course, provided the conditions are acceptable for the safety of hostages and detainees, and our own staff.”

He added: “We need to keep hope alive. I think it’s important civilians, on both sides of this front line, still have hope. And they deserve better conditions than they have today.”

US finds both sides in Sudan conflict have committed atrocities in Darfur

Updated 34 min 26 sec ago

US finds both sides in Sudan conflict have committed atrocities in Darfur

  • Fighting that began in Khartoum earlier this year has descended into ethnic violence in recent weeks

WASHINGTON D.C.: The Biden administration said Wednesday it has determined that both sides in the ongoing conflict in Sudan have committed atrocities in the African nation's western region of Darfur and elsewhere, saying the fighting “has caused grievous human suffering.”
The State Department said the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces are responsible for either war crimes or crimes against humanity, or both, in Darfur, where fighting that began in the capital earlier this year has descended into ethnic violence in recent weeks.
“Based on the State Department’s careful analysis of the law and available facts, I have determined that members of the SAF and the RSF have committed war crimes in Sudan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “I have also determined that members of the RSF and allied militias have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
The finding does not include sanctions being imposed on leaders or members of either side but creates the authority for the US to impose them.
“This determination provides force and renewed urgency to African and international efforts to end the violence, address the humanitarian and human rights crisis, and work towards meaningful justice for victims and the affected communities that ends decades of impunity,” Blinken said. “Today’s determination does not preclude the possibility of future determinations as additional information about the parties’ actions becomes available.”
The Biden administration has already imposed sanctions on RSF and Sudanese army officials for their actions in other parts of the country, including Khartoum, the capital.
On Monday, the administration imposed sanctions on three Sudanese men accused of undermining “peace, security and stability.” Those sanctions freeze all property and assets held by Taha Osman Ahmed al-Hussein, Salah Abdallah Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Etta al-Moula Abbas in US jurisdictions.
All three held senior government positions under former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years. They were forced out of public office after al-Bashir was toppled in a popular uprising in 2019.
The sanctions were the latest the US has imposed on Sudanese leaders and companies in recent months.
In September, the US imposed sanctions on Abdel-Rahim Hamdan Dagalo — brother of the RSF leader — for alleged acts of violence and human rights abuses committed by the paramilitary.
In June, the US placed sanctions on four key companies either linked to or owned by the army and the RSF. In addition, it put visa restrictions on officials from both Sudanese sides, as well as other leaders affiliated with al-Bashir, but didn’t specify who was affected.
Sudan plunged into chaos in April when long-simmering tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Force paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo escalated into open warfare.
The conflict had killed up to 9,000 people by October, according to the United Nations. However, activists and doctors groups say the real figure is far higher.
In Darfur, which was the site of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the RSF and allied Arab militias attacking ethnic African groups, according to rights groups and the UN.

Lebanon complains to Security Council about Israel’s targeting of Lebanese army

Updated 06 December 2023

Lebanon complains to Security Council about Israel’s targeting of Lebanese army

  • French foreign ministry calls on ‘all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent the outbreak of regional conflict’
  • FM Abdallah Bou Habib said that he ‘instructed the Lebanese mission to the UN to submit a complaint against Israel in response to the targeting of the Lebanese army’

BEIRUT: Israeli bombing of a residential building in the Lebanese border town of Mays Al-Jabal has killed one person and injured two others.

Following a night of violence, the public square in Mays Al-Jabal resembled a war zone. The town and its surroundings were relentlessly bombarded for hours, extending well into the night. The vicinity of Mays Al-Jabal Hospital experienced intense artillery shelling. The Israeli army used artillery and internationally prohibited phosphorus shells.

From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, Hezbollah launched 14 military operations against Israeli military sites. The actions were in response to an Israeli airstrike that resulted in the death of a Lebanese army soldier and the injury of three others at an army center in the Al-Adisa border area.

The French foreign ministry expressed its regret on Wednesday over the Israeli strike that claimed the life of a Lebanese soldier. It stressed “the need for all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent the outbreak of a regional conflict.”

Lebanese caretaker foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, said that he “instructed the Lebanese mission to the United Nations to submit a new complaint to the Security Council against Israel in response to Israel’s targeting of the Lebanese army, which caused the martyrdom of a soldier and the injury of others.”

In the complaint, Bou Habib stated that “Israel is actively violating Lebanon’s sovereignty and attacking it on land, sea and air while refraining from implementing international resolutions, especially Resolution 425.”

UNIFIL forces warned of “the rapid increase in violence on the Lebanese-Israeli border, which could lead to serious consequences for people on both sides of the Blue Border Line.”

After Israel targeted a Lebanese army post, UNIFIL said in a statement: “This is the first time that a Lebanese soldier has been killed during this critical period. The Lebanese army did not engage in the conflict with Israel.”

Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee claimed that “a threat was detected from inside a Hezbollah reconnaissance complex and the firing of shells near the Nabi Aweida-Al-Adisa area on the Lebanese border.” He added that “members of the Lebanese army were not the targets of the Israeli raid.”

Adraee expressed “the Israeli army’s regret for the incident,” and claimed that the army was “investigating the circumstances.”

Hostilities between the Israeli army and Hezbollah continued at a low level but remained confined to a geographical border area. According to Israeli Channel 12, the missile fire that was launched from Lebanon hit “an Israeli army position in Mount Hermon.”

In the morning, the Israeli army attacked a house in the town of Aita Al-Shaab. Three shells were fired from a Merkava tank from the Pranit barracks. No casualties reported. The same house had been bombed previously.

The Israeli artillery targeted the outskirts of Yaroun and Maroun Al-Ras, as well as the towns of Khiam, Fardis, Rashaya Al-Fukhar, Helta Farm, the outskirts of Kfar Shuba, and Al-Salamia Farm on the outskirts of Al-Mari village in Hasbaya District. The areas surrounding the towns of Tayr Harfa and Shehine were also subjected to artillery shelling.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said that “military drones bombed the headquarters of Hezbollah’s operations command and infrastructure.”

Hezbollah announced that it had targeted “an Israeli radar site and investigated direct hits.” ‏

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai is scheduled to visit Christian towns in the border region on Thursday.

During their monthly meeting on Wednesday, the Maronite bishops expressed their “deep sadness regarding the ongoing war in Gaza, with its terrible tragedies and horrific calamities.”

The bishops denounced “opening new fronts in southern Lebanon by any Palestinian faction because it is a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty as an independent state.”

They affirmed their adherence to the principle that “the decision on war and peace must be in the hands of the Lebanese state alone because of its repercussions on the entire Lebanese people.”

Egypt condemns Israel’s decision to build new settlement in East Jerusalem

Updated 06 December 2023

Egypt condemns Israel’s decision to build new settlement in East Jerusalem

  • First settlement plan to be fully approved by the Israeli government since 2012
  • About 700,000 Israeli settlers are living in 164 settlements and 116 outposts in the occupied West Bank

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned Israel’s decision to build a new settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

According to left-wing Israeli organization Ir Amim, which monitors the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Jerusalem, it is the first settlement plan to be fully approved by the Israeli government since 2012.

In a statement, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry called the move “a new blatant violation of international decisions and the UN Security Council resolutions regarding the illegitimacy of Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The ministry stressed Egypt’s categorical rejection of the Israeli settlement policies in the entire occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and its repeated attempts to undermine the existing legal, historical, and demographic context in an effort to separate parts of the land from its Palestinian surroundings.

It demanded that Israel halt its illegal settlement activities.

The statement reiterated Egypt’s call to influential international parties, including the UN and its relevant bodies, to shoulder their responsibilities in protecting the rights of the Palestinian people and to halt unilateral Israeli settlement operations that undermine the foundations of peace.

The statement stressed the need for Israel to stop exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the war it is waging against the Palestinian people in Gaza to intensify its illegal practices in the West Bank, including settlement activities.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

About 700,000 Israeli settlers are living in 164 settlements and 116 outposts in the occupied West Bank, adjacent to East Jerusalem.