Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem November 3, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 November 2019

Israel PM appoints new defence minister, boosting Likud party

  • A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint Bennett as defense minister", and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Naftali Bennett would be appointed defense minister and their parties would unite, as the political system remained deadlocked after two inconclusive elections.
Netanyahu, who has so far failed to form a coalition after a September 17 poll, had in the past refused to give the security-oriented Bennett this coveted portfolio.
But wary of his main challenger Benny Gantz attempting to collect the support of 61 lawmakers necessary to form a coalition and become prime minister himself, the incumbent has changed course.
In doing so, he effectively locked in the three lawmakers of Bennett’s New Right to his ruling Likud party.
A statement by Likud said that Netanyahu had “offered to appoint (Bennett) as defense minister, and Naftali Bennett accepted the offer.”
“Bennett agreed that if a new government is formed” without a third election, “a different person will be appointed defense minister,” the statement read.
The two also agreed that the New Right — formed by Bennett and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked — would join Likud to become a combined force, the statement said.
They will “commit to act as a joint faction throughout the current parliamentary term,” it added.
Bennett did not comment on the move, but Shaked said her party had been offered a choice of the defense ministry on its own or two lesser ministries.
The choices available for the latter were agriculture, diaspora and welfare, Shaked said.
“In a joint decision we agreed that Bennett will be appointed defense minister until a new government is formed,” she said on Twitter.
Gantz’s Blue and White called Bennett’s appointment “inappropriate,” accusing Netanyahu of acting out of a “narrow political and personal interest” rather than toward an inclusive unity government.
Both Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White say they want a unity government, but disagree on how to achieve it.
Likud has been seeking to negotiate based on a compromise proposed by President Reuven Rivlin that takes into account the possibility Netanyahu will be indicted for corruption in the coming weeks.
It could see him remain prime minister for now, but step aside at some point later as he combats the charges.
Gantz would take over as acting premier under such a scenario.
Blue and White says Gantz should be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement since his party won the most seats, finishing with 33 compared to Likud’s 32 — before the addition of Bennett’s party.
Whoever wants to govern needs to find partners with which to control a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.
Negotiators for Likud and Blue and White, as well as the heads of the two factions, have been meeting since the elections.
On Friday, both Netanyahu and Gantz took to Facebook to trade blame for the political deadlock.
Netanyahu said his Likud was prepared to make concessions while Gantz was “using every excuse to not form the government Israeli citizens want: a national unity government.”
And Gantz said Netanyahu has determined to “drag Israel to a third election” which would be “a disaster for the state.”
Blue and White and Likud each won 35 seats in an April election that was also inconclusive.


Ramadan breeds dread in crisis-hit Iraq

Updated 27 min 17 sec ago

Ramadan breeds dread in crisis-hit Iraq

  • Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi had promised extra rations for the holy month
  • “Ramadan fills me with dread. We need a lot of things for the house and new clothes for the children,” says a 32-year-old civil servant

BAGHDAD: Faced with sharp price rises, a decline in the buying power of the dinar and rising unemployment, Iraqis enter the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan with a feeling of dread.
“After a whole day of fasting, we have to eat something,” even if the price of a kilo of tomatoes has more than doubled, said Umm Hussein, a single mother of five who has no salary.
She struggles each month to raise the $45 rent for their modest home.
Like 16 million of Iraq’s 40-million population living under the poverty line, Umm Hussein relies on her ration card for food.
Under the legacy from the 1990s when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was under a stringent international embargo, every Iraqi whose household heads earns less than $1,000 a month is entitled to certain basic provisions at subsidised prices.
But this year, “we’ve only received the rations for February,” said Abu Seif, 36, who like his father before him has the job of distributing bags of subsidised goods.
“We still haven’t got the rations for Ramadan,” during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, a period that starts this week.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi had promised extra rations for the holy month. But “people are coming in or calling every day to ask when they’re arriving,” said Abu Seif.
In Abu Ammar’s grocery store, the credit line has been stretched so far that he fears not being able to pay his suppliers any more.
With prices rising sharply, “some families owe more than 200,000 dinars” ($130), the grocer told AFP.
The authorities in energy-rich Iraq, with revenues slashed by the decline in world oil prices, last year devalued the dinar, which has lost 25 percent of its value against the dollar.
As a result, for example, the price for a bottle of cooking oil has gone up to 2,500 dinars, from 1,500 dinars.
On top of price hikes, Covid-19 restrictions such as lockdowns and curfews have killed jobs, especially the day jobs on which many Iraqis rely following decades of conflict.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says Iraqis are trapped in a vicious circle.
“Over 90 percent of small and medium enterprises in the food and agriculture sector reported being severely to moderately affected by the pandemic. To cope with decreased revenue, more than 50 percent either let staff go or reduced salaries,” it says.
A joke doing the rounds on Iraqi social media goes something like: “This year, salaries are in the group of death with Covid-19 and Eid Al-Fitr (the feast marking the end of Ramadan). Not sure they will make it though to the next round.”
Haider, a 32-year-old civil servant, says it’s no laughing matter.
“Ramadan fills me with dread. We need a lot of things for the house and new clothes for the children,” he said.
Even in normal times, he struggles to pay the rent, for daily expenses and electricity charges with his monthly salary of $600.
Electricity is one of the heaviest financial burdens, in a country with at times 20-hours-a-day power cuts that force Iraqis to turn to private generators that run on pricey fuel.
Abu Ahmad, a 32-year-old colleague, says he will skip the traditions this Ramadan.
“I’m not going to be giving big dinners at my place, so as not to spread Covid,” he said. “But also, because I can’t afford it.”
 

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Iran admits nuclear plant hit by blast

Updated 23 min 59 sec ago

Iran admits nuclear plant hit by blast

  • The attack came amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the US to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers
  • Netanyahu:I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel

JEDDAH:Iran admitted on Monday that an explosion had disabled uranium enrichment centrifuges at its flagship Natanz nuclear plant.

Officials in Tehran initially claimed that a power cut on Sunday had disrupted activities at Natanz, the center of Iran’s nuclear program, but it later emerged that Israel’s Mossad spy agency had carried out a cyberattack on the plant.

The attack came amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the US to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, after former US President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago and reimposed sanctions.

The Israelis “want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday.

“We will not fall into their trap. We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks, but we will take our revenge.”

Israel and US allies in the Gulf strongly oppose restoration of the deal in its current form, without also addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after talks on Monday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: “I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel, and Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism.”

Sunday’s attack on Natanz came a day after Iran started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, which are banned under the nuclear deal.

“Our nuclear experts are assessing the damage but I can assure you that Iran will replace damaged centrifuges in Natanz with advanced ones,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.


Shoukry: Reducing Egypt’s water rights is a hostile act

Updated 13 April 2021

Shoukry: Reducing Egypt’s water rights is a hostile act

  • Egypt’s top diplomat urged Moscow to help settle its dispute with Ethiopia over dam project
  • Egypt and Sudan deem the dam project a threat if filled and operated without a legally binding agreement

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has warned that curtailing his country’s water rights would constitute a hostile act.
Shoukry referenced international law in his statements and said that the issue must be addressed through diplomatic measures and the intervention of international parties.
He highlighted the intransigence of Ethiopia, saying that the country continues to take unilateral measures outside the framework of international law.
The minister also said that Egypt was closely coordinating with Sudan in a combined effort to persuade Ethiopia to change its mind before the second filling of the dam, which Ethiopia is seeking to achieve next July.
If damage occurs, the two downstream countries will take measures to protect their national and water security and deal with any irresponsible behavior from Ethiopia, said the minister.
On the eve of his talks with his Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Cairo, Shoukry said Egypt believes that Russia will play a positive role in the Renaissance Dam issue.


Report finds drugs, negligence led to fatal Egypt train collision

Egypt has been plagued with fatal train accidents in recent years. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

Report finds drugs, negligence led to fatal Egypt train collision

  • Two observers in the department revealed that they had violated their work duties
  • At least 20 people died and 199 were injured in the March 26 crash near Sohag in southern Egypt

CAIRO: Egypt’s Public Prosecution said that railway employees acted with gross negligence in the Sohag train accident after finding that the driver and assistant “were not present” in the cab car at the time of the collision.
It comes as the prosecution releases its report into the fatal crash, which killed 20 people and wounded 199 others.
According to a statement, the superintendent of the nearby Maragha station tower had consumed hashish before the crash, while the assistant driver of the train consumed the same drug and Tramadol, a pain medication.
The investigation revealed that the “distinguished train” (special train) had stopped before the Senussi crossing between two railway stations, Maragha and Tahta, for several minutes.
It then passed two crossings and collided with another train that had stopped.
Investigations confirmed that the head of the Central Control Department in Assiut left his workplace at the time of the accident, despite the responsibility of the department to monitor the movement of trains in the area.
Two observers in the department revealed that they had violated their work duties.
They failed to provide crucial information to either train regarding the situation on the tracks.
Despite one employee claiming that two failed attempts to contact the moving train were made, records from a telecommunications company show that no attempts were made to alert the driver.
The Public Prosecution listened to conversations recorded by communications devices at the department’s headquarters and analyzed recordings from Sohag station.
Authorities also found that the driver and assistant of the moving train had turned off the vehicle’s automatic control system just before the accident.
The assistant driver also forged a document that was intended to be signed by the driver of the train, who was not present in the cab car.
A report by Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority confirmed that the signature on the document was written by the assistant.

Related


EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests

Updated 12 April 2021

EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests

  • EU has blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the country
  • About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019

BRUSSELS: The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday.
The travel bans and asset freezes are the first EU sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses since 2013, as the bloc had shied away from angering Tehran in the hope of safeguarding a nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers in 2015.
Their preparation was first reported by Reuters last month.
The bloc, which also hit three Iranian prisons with asset freezes, blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the Islamic Republic.
“Hossein Salami took part in the sessions that resulted in the orders to use lethal force to suppress the November 2019 protests. Hossein Salami therefore bears responsibility for serious human rights violations in Iran,” the EU said.
The three prisons sanctioned included two in the Tehran area where the EU said those detained after the 2019 protests were deliberately wounded with boiling water and denied medical treatment.
About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019, according to a toll provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials at the time. The United Nations said the total was at least 304.
Iran has called the toll given by sources “fake news.”
Iran, which has repeatedly rejected accusations by the West of human rights abuses, dismissed the EU’s sanctions as “invalid.”
“In response, Iran suspends comprehensive talks with the EU, including human rights talks and all cooperation resulting from these talks, especially in the areas of terrorism, drugs and refugees,” Iranian media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.
On March 9, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, presented a report saying Tehran used lethal force during the protests and chided it for failing to conduct a proper investigation or failing to hold anyone accountable.
Other individuals targeted with EU sanctions, which take effect on Monday, include members of Iran’s hard-line Basij militia, who are under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, and its head Gholamreza Soleimani.
The eight Iranians were added to an EU sanctions list for human rights abuses in Iran that was first launched in 2011 and which now numbers 89 people and four entities. It includes a ban on exports of equipment that could be used for repression.
Diplomats said the sanctions were not linked to efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which the United States pulled out of but now seeks to re-join. That deal made it harder for Iran to amass the fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb — a goal it has long denied — in return for sanctions relief.