British milestones in Holy Land set traditional foundation for royal visit of Prince William

Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land. ( REUTERS/Chris Jackson/Pool)
Updated 21 June 2018

British milestones in Holy Land set traditional foundation for royal visit of Prince William

  • Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories
  • Visit comes 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day

JERUSALEM: Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day.
Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, 36, and second-in-line to the throne, will travel without his wife Kate or their three children for the three-day visit. He will stay in Jerusalem at the King David hotel, once the headquarters of British authorities, where Jewish militants killed more than 90 people in a bombing in 1946.
Britain captured Palestine from the crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War One in 1917, and later governed it under an international mandate.
William’s visit coincides with the 70th anniversary both of Britain’s exit and of Israel’s independence, which Palestinians mourn as their dispossession.

THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
In November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, a prominent leader of Britain’s Jewish community, expressing British support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. What became known as the Balfour Declaration also talked of protecting the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.
The Balfour Declaration is a milestone for Israelis: the official residence of the prime minister in Jerusalem is on Balfour Street, and the British Library said on Wednesday it is in discussions to lend the document to the Israel Museum.
By contrast, Palestinians accuse the British of signing away land that wasn’t theirs to give, and of colonial double-dealing to seize the Ottoman Empire’s Middle East territories.

THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE
In 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain the Palestine Mandate, endorsing the Balfour Declaration. The next quarter century was marred by fighting in Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Both communities also clashed with British troops.
For survivors of the genocide of six million European Jews in the Holocaust, the creation of a state of their own in the Holy Land took on new urgency after World War Two.
The final years of British rule were marked by intensifying clashes between Jewish and Arab forces. When militants from the underground Jewish Irgun group bombed the King David Hotel in July 1946, the dead included both Arab and Jewish staff as well as 28 British citizens. In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a plan to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Arab representatives rejected the plan.
Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, the day before the end of British rule. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were driven from their homes, and millions of their descendants remain stateless refugees to this day.

ANCIENT TIES
According to some traditions, England’s patron saint, St. George, is buried in Lydda, now the Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. Prince William is expected to visit St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, among other religious sites.
In the 12th century, King Richard I of England, known as Richard the Lionheart, led the Third Crusade to the Holy Land, where he fought the Muslim leader Saladin. A peace treaty left Jerusalem under Muslim control, but allowed Christians to enter.
In the Victorian era, the Holy Land drew British scholars, archaeologists, explorers, cartographers, tourists and missionaries. Its importance to Britain became much more pronounced with the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 19th century, and the discovery of oil in Iraq, piped from Mosul to the Mediterranean via Haifa.

WHY IS PRINCE WILLIAM MAKING THE TRIP?
William’s visit is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal trip until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. William’s tour comes at a time of diplomatic upheaval in the region, after US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy there. The prince’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, said the visit would be non-political, allowing “a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region: their cultures, their young people, their aspirations, and their experiences.”

WHAT WILL THE TRIP INCLUDE?
William will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will also visit religious sites, Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust dead, and the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice, who hid a Jewish family in her residence in Greece during World War Two and is buried in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Other members of the royal family have made unofficial visits. Prince Charles, William’s father, attended the funerals of Israeli statesmen Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In 1994 Prince Philip, William’s grandfather, attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem honoring his mother, Princess Alice.


Russian bombers over Idlib: Large-scale operation on the horizon?

Updated 13 min 3 sec ago

Russian bombers over Idlib: Large-scale operation on the horizon?

  • According to local media, two Russian Su-24 bombers recently landed at the Khmeimim air base in Syria’s Latakia governorate, without any official notice.

ANKARA: The Russian military’s redeployment of frontline bombers to Syria has sparked debate about whether a new Russian operation is imminent in the country’s volatile northwestern region.

However, the experts to whom Arab News spoke said they do not expect a large-scale military move from Russia — partly because of the potential health risks that any such operation would involve in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to local media, two Russian Su-24 bombers recently landed at the Khmeimim air base in Syria’s Latakia governorate, without any official notice. Su-24s have mostly been used in Syria for attacks against rebel targets. An Su-24 was also shot down by the Turkish military in October 2015, triggering a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Moscow that went on for months.

In 2017’s Astana agreement, Turkey pledged to rid Idlib province of all UN-designated terror organizations, including Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

In Moscow on March 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached a fragile cease-fire agreement in northwestern Syria, where escalating violence looked set to push forces from their two countries into open conflict.

However, while Turkey’s major aim is to establish safe zones in northern Syria in which to settle the millions of Syrian refugees it currently hosts, Moscow’s primary expectation from Ankara is the removal of the HTS and related groups from Idlib. The HTS — designated as a terror group by Turkey in August 2018 — refused to comply with the Moscow cease-fire deal as it is currently in control of large territories in Idlib.

According to the Kremlin, HTS was behind the local protests that obliged Turkish and Russian troops to shorten the route of their joint patrol on the M4 highway. Therefore, from the Russian point of view, the HTS and other radical groups are seen as legitimate targets that remain outside any cease-fire deal.

However, the US does not currently share Moscow’s view of the HTS. On Feb. 5, Washington’s special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, said, “The Russians claim that (the HTS) constantly launch attacks on the Russians. While HTS did not accept — or was not part of — the Sochi cease-fire agreement from 2018, we have seen only intermittent and not very strong or significant military actions on their part against the Russians. The Russians use this as an excuse.”

Ammar Hamou, a Jordan-based Syrian journalist, said Iran-backed militias and the Syrian regime have been violating the cease-fire agreement for the past 27 days. Iran — one of the countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — is Syria’s main regional ally, with Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside Syrian regime forces.

“There are reports of a military build-up of Iranian militias in the countryside (near) Aleppo,” he told Arab News. “Officially, the cease-fire has not ended, but I do not think it will continue as Russian warplanes and regime air forces were flying in Idlib airspace on Thursday, although no bombing has been recorded yet.

Navvar Saban, a military expert from the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, does not expect any all-out military operation to be mounted amid ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The current cease-fire is not strong; it just postpones any ground operation for the time being,” Saban told Arab News. “There have been sporadic violations in various parts of Idlib province over recent days. Small-scale clashes and shelling against HTS or similar groups still continue in the area where even the Russians don’t have full control over the regime.”

For Saban, the presence of Iran-backed militia working side-by-side with the Syrian army might discourage anyone from mounting a full-scale operation that could trigger a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 among troops.

On March 23, the second Russian-Turkish joint patrol of a section of the M4 was completed.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova recently reiterated that Russia will not be satisfied by purely cosmetic changes to the HTS.

“We hope that our Turkish partners will continue their efforts to separate moderate opposition from extremists and take measures to neutralize the latter. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the renaming of groups — changing their window dressing — does not change their essence as terrorists. There must be no illusions that we are talking about internationally acknowledged terrorists, regardless of whether they call themselves Al Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra or Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham,” Zakharova said.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said, “Russia has been prioritizing a military solution for Idlib from the very beginning and it does not make a distinction between moderates and radicals. Thus, the province will face new aggression from the Syrian regime and its main backer, even if the HTS rebrands or dissolves.”

But Cengiz, too, does not expect any full-scale operation in the near future, mainly due to the ongoing health crisis in a region that lacks the medical facilities to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.