Palestine mission still open despite US threats to close it

This Nov. 18, 2017 file photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (AP)
Updated 11 September 2018

Palestine mission still open despite US threats to close it

  • The US is engaged in an attempt to neuter or dismantle the Palestinian movement
  • Palestinians are making major headway in the international arena and in the US and instead of isolating Palestine

AMMAN: The Palestine mission to the US continues to operate normally, despite threats by US National Security Adviser John Bolton to close it. American officials say that the closure will take place soon because Palestine, a member of the International Criminal Court, has called on it to investigate Israeli war crimes.
Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO mission in Washington, who has been recalled back to Ramallah since May in protest at the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, did not appear to be concerned. He told journalists in Ramallah that the closure will not stop Palestinians from pursuing Israel for war crimes.
The aim of the closure, Zomlot said, is “to protect Israel from investigations into its war crimes, and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Daniel Seidman, an Israeli lawyer and a peace activist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that the US is trying to crush Palestinian nationalism. “The US is engaged in an attempt to neuter or dismantle the Palestinian movement: The embassy, UNRWA, the East Jerusalem hospitals, occupation denial, now the PLO office. This is so blatant it cuts against broad international consensus which isolates the US.”
Seidman called the US move, which claims to remove Jerusalem from the negotiating table, “infantile.”
Hani Elmasri, a respected Palestinian political analyst and director of the Masarat think tank in Ramallah, told Arab News that the latest threat of closure is not new. “Since the US president refused last Nov. 17 to renew the registration of the mission in Washington, nothing has happened.”
Elmasri believes that the Trump administration is trying to increase pressure on the Palestinian president while pleasing his own rightwing and Christian Zionist base. Elmasri said the threats “make a loud noise but have no effect after all that Trump has done to the Palestinians.”
Rev. Munther Isaac, pastor of the Lutheran Nativity Evangelical Church and dean of the Bethlehem Bible College, told Arab News that the US moves are aimed at “blackmailing” the Palestinians and crushing their will. “In all these moves the people pay the price. What is the goal of this act of bullying? Is it just revenge against the Palestinians because they are not going along with their plans?”
Imad Shakour, a veteran PLO member who specializes in Israel and US affairs, told Arab News that the decision of the Trump administration will not make any difference. “Palestinians are making major headway in the international arena and in the US and instead of isolating Palestine, the US is isolating itself.”
Ori Nir, the director of communication at the nonprofit organization Americans for Peace Now, told Arab News that the move to close the Palestinian office in Washington is “another swing of Trump’s wrecking ball” at prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. “By acting as a bully, punishing and humiliating the Palestinians, the administration is wrecking its ability to serve as either an honest or an effective broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace, harming both US and Israeli national security interests,” he said.
Veteran Lebanese political analyst Hekmat El-Zein told Arab News that the goal of the Trump administration is to extract the highest concessions from Palestinians in favor of Netanyahu and a reflection of their failures in the Middle East. “They are not able to do anything in Syria and Iraq, and so they feel that they can make some progress by acting to reverse any decisions of the previous administration.”
El-Zein said that the US administration is acting in this way because of Arab divisions: “They know that the PLO has little or no Arab cover these days, and so it has become an easy target.”

Unclear if ‘pirates’ threatened Turkiye ship crew: Italy media

Updated 57 min 34 sec ago

Unclear if ‘pirates’ threatened Turkiye ship crew: Italy media

  • The ship, Galata Seaways sailing under a Turkish flag, was then escorted to Naples, where Italian investigators were questioning the crew and others aboard
  • Interviews with the crew have so far not backed up that version of events, according to Italian med

ROME: The crew of a cargo ship boarded by Italian special forces may not have been threatened by knife-wielding “pirates” as initially reported, Italian media said on Saturday.
On Friday, Italy’s defense minister said marines had dropped onto a vessel off the nation’s coast after reports that that “stowaways” used knives to threaten the crew.
The ship, Galata Seaways sailing under a Turkish flag, was then escorted to Naples, where Italian investigators were questioning the crew and others aboard.
According to Friday media reports and statements from the defense ministry, the ship captain radioed for help after knife-wielding migrants, who had secretly boarded the vessel hoping to reach Europe and were discovered by the crew, tried to take some of the crew hostage.
But interviews with the crew have so far not backed up that version of events, according to Italian media on Saturday.
The captain has told investigators that he alerted the authorities after he saw two men with knives try to enter the ship’s machine section and, failing to do so, then rejoined the other stowaways, according to reports by ANSA news agency and La Repubblica daily.
“For the moment, it is not clear what the clandestine passengers wanted to do with the knives,” La Repubblica said, citing “informed sources.”
“Thus it is not clear whether there was a diversion attempt or not,” La Reppublica wrote, adding that no-one has yet been charged with piracy over the incident.
The three migrants who were found to have knives on them have been charged with arms possession, but have not been jailed, according to ANSA.
The 15 stowaways came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Four of them — two men and two women — have been hospitalized, according to ANSA.
One of the women is pregnant, the other is weak, one of the men could have a fractured ankle, and the other is suffering from hypothermia.
“When we were discovered, we were afraid that we’d be arrested and repatriated,” ANSA quoted one of them telling investigators.
The Galata Seaways is a roll-on roll-off cargo ship designed to carry vehicles and was sailing under a Turkish flag with reportedly 22 crew members.
It set off from Topcular in Turkiye on June 7 and was headed for Sete in southern France.
Scores of people fleeing war and poverty in Asia, Middle East and Africa try to enter European Union countries each year.

Iran police kill 9-year-old, caught in crossfire, after his father stole a car

Updated 10 June 2023

Iran police kill 9-year-old, caught in crossfire, after his father stole a car

  • Boy’s photo was shared on social media, with people expressing sorrow for his death

Dubai: A boy was shot and killed by police after his father stole a car in the southwestern Khuzestan province and drove off with him, Iranian authorities said.
Ruhollah Bigdeli, chief of police in Shushtar County, said — via Iran’s official police website — that officers tried to stop the “stolen vehicle by shooting at it,” but the boy was caught in the crossfire and died on the spot.
Police said they issued the man several warnings before they started shooting, adding that he had a criminal record, including car theft and drug smuggling.
The Iranian Jamaran news website identified the boy as 9-year-old Morteza Delf Zaregani. They spoke to the father who accused the police of not issuing any warning before shooting.
Morteza’s photo was shared on social media, with people expressing sorrow for his death.
In November, 9-year-old Kian Pirfalak, was killed in a shooting that his mother blamed on security forces.
Pirfalak was shot and killed while passing with his parents through a street in the southwestern city of Izeh, in Khuzestan province, filled with demonstrators, during nationwide protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police.

Turkiye investigates fatal explosion at munitions factory which killed 5

Updated 9 min 35 sec ago

Turkiye investigates fatal explosion at munitions factory which killed 5

  • Investigation launched into cause of explosion

ANKARA: Five people were killed in an explosion at a military factory in Ankara’s Elmadag district early on Saturday. 

The bodies of the victims have been recovered and judicial and administrative investigations into the cause of the explosion are underway. Vasip Sahin, the governor of Ankara province, said initial investigations suggest the blast was caused by a chemical reaction. 

According to the Turkish Ministry of Defense, the explosion occurred in the manufacturing unit of the Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE), a subsidiary of the ministry. 

Fatal accidents have previously occurred at the factory, which produces rockets and explosives for the defense and interior ministries.

In 2018, Health and Safety Labor Watch (ISIG), a civil watchdog, issued a report about workplace fatalities at the factory after an explosion on May 24 that year left one worker dead and six others injured. The official investigation blamed the explosion on a technical fault, ruling out sabotage. ISIG criticized the factory for not having sufficient workplace security measures in place. 

On May 20, 2013, an explosion at the factory left two workers dead. 

Petrol-Is, Turkiye’s petroleum, chemical and rubber workers union, has long demanded improved working conditions at the same factory. Workers staged a three-day strike in November 2012 to draw the government’s attention to the situation.

In July 2013, Petrol-Is claimed there were serious issues with the factory, that its technological infrastructure had not been modernized, and that more explosions could occur. Work at the factory was temporarily halted at that time so improvements could be made. 

Latest Sudan truce begins amid civilian skepticism

Updated 10 June 2023

Latest Sudan truce begins amid civilian skepticism

  • Civilians trapped in the battlegrounds are desperate for relief from the bloodshed

KHARTOUM: A 24-hour cease-fire took effect Saturday between Sudan’s warring generals but, with fears running high it will collapse like its predecessors, US and Saudi mediators warn they may break off mediation efforts.
With the fighting now about to enter a third month, civilians trapped in the battlegrounds in greater Khartoum and the flashpoint western region of Darfur are desperate for relief from the bloodshed but deeply skeptical about the sincerity of the generals.
Multiple truces have been agreed and broken since fighting erupted on April 15, and Washington had slapped sanctions on both rival generals after the last attempt collapsed at the end of May.
The nationwide truce announced by US and Saudi mediators on Friday took effect at 6:00 a.m.
“Should the parties fail to observe the 24-hour cease-fire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning” talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah which have been suspended since late last month, the mediators said.
Civilians voiced disappointment that the promised cease-fire was so limited in scope.
“A one-day truce is much less than we aspire for,” said Khartoum North resident Mahmud Bashir. “We look forward to an end to this damned war.”
Issam Mohamed Omar said he wanted an agreement that required fighters of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who had occupied his home in Khartoum to leave so that he can return there from his temporary lodgings across the Nile in Omdurman.
“For me, a truce that doesn’t kick the RSF out of the home they kicked (me) out of three weeks ago, doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said.
Sudan specialist Aly Verjee said he saw little reason why this truce should be honored any more than its predecessors.
“Unfortunately, the incentives have not changed for either party, so it’s hard to see that a truce with the same underlying assumptions, especially one of such short duration, will see a substantially different result, said Verjee, a researcher at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.
Upwards of 1,800 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Nearly two million people have been displaced, including 476,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries, the United Nations says.
The Saudi and US mediators said they “share the frustration of the Sudanese people about the uneven implementation of previous cease-fires.”
The army, led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, said it has “agreed to the proposal,” adding in a statement it “declares its commitment to the cease-fire.”
The paramilitary RSF, commanded by Burhan’s former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, said: “We affirm our full commitment to the cease-fire.”
Both statements said the truce could support humanitarian efforts, while cautioning against violations by their opponents.
“If observed, the 24-hour cease-fire will provide an important opportunity... for the parties to undertake confidence-building measures which could permit resumption of the Jeddah talks,” the US-Saudi statement said.
Friday’s announcement came a day after Sudanese authorities loyal to Burhan declared UN envoy Volker Perthes “persona non grata,” accusing him of taking sides.
UN chief Antonio Guterres later expressed support for Perthes, who is currently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a series of talks.
Speaking through his spokesman, Guterres said “the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to or in respect of United Nations personnel” and is contrary to Khartoum’s obligations under the UN charter.
The fighting has sidelined Perthes’s efforts to revive Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, which was derailed by a 2021 coup by the two generals before they fell out.
It has also complicated the coordination of international efforts to deliver emergency relief to the 25 million civilians that the United Nations estimates are in need.
Alfonso Verdu Perez, outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Sudan, warned on Friday that “health care may collapse at any moment.”
“The needs are immense and much more remains to be done” in both Khartoum and Darfur, he told reporters in Geneva.

Palestinian president to visit China next week

Updated 09 June 2023

Palestinian president to visit China next week

  • China has expressed readiness to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian talks
  • Beijing has recently positioned itself as a mediator in the Middle East

BEIJING: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will make a state visit to China next week, Beijing said Friday, after China expressed readiness to help facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Beijing has positioned itself as a mediator in the Middle East, brokering the restoration of ties in March between Iran and Saudi Arabia in a region where the United States has for decades been the main powerbroker.

“At the invitation of President Xi Jinping, president of the state of Palestine Mahmud Abbas will pay a state visit to China from June 13 to 16,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Friday.

“He is the first Arab head of state received by China this year, fully embodying the high level of China-Palestine good relations, which have traditionally been friendly,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing later.

Abbas is an “old and good friend of the Chinese people,” he added.

“China has always firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights.”

Beijing has sought to boost its ties to the Middle East, challenging long-standing US influence there — efforts that have drawn rebukes from Washington.

Xi last December visited Saudi Arabia on an Arab outreach visit that also saw him meet with Abbas and pledge to “work for an early, just and durable solution to the Palestinian issue.”

And during a trip to Riyadh this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saudi Arabia was not being forced to choose between Washington and Beijing, striking a conciliatory tone following tensions with the long-time ally.

Blinken has also this week sought to mediate Israel-Palestinian tension, urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to undermine prospects for a Palestinian state.

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been stalled since 2014.

In April, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that his country was willing to aid peace negotiations, Xinhua reported.

And Qin told Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki that Beijing supports the resumption of talks as soon as possible, according to the state news agency.

In both calls Qin emphasised China’s push for peace talks on the basis of implementing a “two-state solution.”

“The Palestinian issue is the core of the Middle East issue. It bears on peace and stability in the Middle East and on international fairness and justice.”