Gulf countries reject US position on Israeli settlements, Arab League calls emergency meeting

Laborers work in a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev in the occupied-West Bank Nov. 19, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2019

Gulf countries reject US position on Israeli settlements, Arab League calls emergency meeting

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it completely rejected Washington’s statement on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, state news agency SPA reported.
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday abandoned the position held by the United States for four decades that the settlements were “inconsistent with international law.” 
An official foreign ministry source expressed “the Kingdom’s utter rejection of the US government’s statements that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legitimate and do not violate international law.”
The source added that Israel’s construction of the settlements is contrary to the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law, and stands as an obstacle to achieving peace and stability in the Middle East and a two-state solution.
The source said that achieving lasting peace requires the Palestinian people to obtain their full legitimate rights in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and the resolutions of international legitimacy.

The United Arab Emirates also stressed the need to abide by the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative, which are relevant to the West Bank, including Security Council resolutions stating that Israeli settlements are illegal.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation called on the UN Security Council to abide by the Security Council resolutions stating that Israel should stop settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities toward providing international protection for the Palestinian people and confronting Israeli policies that violate international law.
Bahrain also reiterated its firm rejection of the Israeli settlements, “which is in violation of international law and resolutions of international legitimacy, especially Security Council Resolution 2334 issued in 2016 to stop settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in 1967, including East Jerusalem.”
Bahrain’s foreign ministry said that the construction of settlements carries serious repercussions that would hinder efforts to reach a just and comprehensive peace in the region based on a two-state solution.
Meanwhile, the Arab League said it is to hold an urgent meeting Monday on the US announcement.
Hossam Zaki, the pan-Arab body’s deputy secretary-general, said several members had backed a Palestinian Authority (PA) call for a ministerial meeting.
The PA’s permanent representative to the Arab League has condemned Washington’s change of position — announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — as “illegal.”
Pompeo said Monday that after legal consultations, the US had concluded the establishment of settlements was “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”
The Cairo-based Arab League has said the US shift was an “extremely adverse development.”


Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

Updated 30 sec ago

Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

  • Six new ministers will be named including the interior and justice portfolios
  • Expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a $14 billion budget

AMMAN: Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh was expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Sunday to help accelerate IMF-guided reforms seen as crucial to economic recovery in Jordan from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Six new ministers will be named including interior and justice after Khasawneh fired both incumbents last week for attending a restaurant dinner party that violated coronavirus restrictions they were supposed to enforce.
The British-educated Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month-old surge of infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.
Aides say Khasawneh was expected to retain Harvard-educated Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He has won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the pandemic, and has negotiated a four-year IMF program worth $1.3 billion, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.
The expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a 9.9-billion-dinar ($14 billion) budget which Al Ississ said aimed to maintain fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45 billion public debt.
The economy saw its worst contraction — 3 percent — in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic, but the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.
Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.


Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

Updated 58 sec ago

Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

  • The cause of the blast was not immediately clear

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday after a blast ripped through their boat off the Gaza shore, officials said.
Nezar Ayyash, of the association that represents fishermen, said the anglers – two brothers and a cousin – were plying their trade off the coast of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip when the explosion happened.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Palestinian media reports blamed Israeli navy fire, but the Israeli military said it was not involved in this incident. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it opened an investigation.
Minutes before the explosion, local media reported that Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, was test-firing rockets toward the sea.


Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

Updated 07 March 2021

Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

JERUSALEM: Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education may reopen to the public on Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.
The Israeli government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.
Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,856 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

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Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

  • Under tight security, he will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul
  • He will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits on Sunday Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Daesh group until the jihadists’ “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.
The 84-year-old, traveling under tight security, will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul, an ancient crossroads whose center was reduced to rubble by fierce fighting to oust the Daesh, or also known as ISIL.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace.”
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”
The Christian community of Iraq, a Muslim-majority country of 40 million, has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the population.
“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said an Iraqi Christian leader, Father George Jahoula.
Back in 2014, when IS militants swept across one third of Iraq, Pope Francis had said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war.
Seven years later, after a stop early Sunday in the Kurdish north of Iraq, he will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and efforts to rebuild it.
Pope Francis will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns.
It was largely destroyed in 2014 when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.
To honor the pope, local artisans have woven a two-meter (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ that is still used in Qaraqosh.
Security will be extra-tight in the north of Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS remnants and sleeper cells.
Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed the country, taking planes, helicopters and armored convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in-country.
The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, as Iraq has recently been in the grip of a second wave, with a record of more than 5,000 cases in a day.
Iraqi authorities have imposed lockdown measures to control crowds, but thousands of faithful are expected to flock to a stadium later Sunday in the northern city of Irbil to hear the pope.
Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s oil-rich northern Kurdish region, has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.
Several thousand seats in the Franso Hariri stadium will be left empty to avoid creating a super-spreader event when Iraqis come to hear the Catholic leader, known here as “Baba Al-Vatican,” deliver the holy mass.

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Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties

A Lebanese protester sets up a burning barricade to block a road in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on Wednesday over a deepening economic crisis. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 March 2021

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Diab threatens to ‘refrain’ from exercising his duties

  • Black market dollar exchange rate hits LBP10,450 as protesters take to the streets  
  • He spoke in a terse address to the nation as the currency continued its rapid collapse against the dollar

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Saturday threatened “to refrain” from exercising his duties in protest at politicians’ failure to form a new government.

The country’s lawmakers have failed to agree on a new administration since the last one resigned after the devastating Aug. 4 port explosion in Beirut.
There has also been a sharp increase in tension between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, as well as a currency collapse to contend with.
Angry protesters took to the streets in various regions after the dollar exchange rate on the black market jumped to LBP10,450, directing their anger at banks and supermarkets.
Diab, addressing the Lebanese in a televised speech, asked why people should “pay the price for political ambitions and maneuvers,” and warned that the country had “reached the brink of explosion” after the currency’s collapse.
“Is it required to dissolve the state after it has become the weakest link?” he asked. “The current crisis is likely to worsen, and the scene of the race for milk in the supermarket should be an incentive for transcendence and forming a government. The situation may force me to refrain (from exercising caretaker duties) and I may resort to it, although it contradicts my convictions. Who can deal with the next dangerous repercussions and more suffering of people?”
Analysts feared that Diab’s retreat may lead to a further collapse of the Lebanese pound, with lawyer and former minister Rachid Derbas explaining what could happen. next.

FASTFACT

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, addressing the Lebanese in a televised speech, warned that the country had ‘reached the brink of explosion’ after the currency’s collapse. 

“Refraining means (the) complete paralysis of the caretaker government’s work,” he told Arab News. “The late Prime Minister Rashid Karami had previously refrained. But I think that Diab’s move is in response to the pressures exerted on him by the ruling authority to hold Cabinet sessions in violation of the constitution because they do not want to form a new government now.”
He added that if Diab decided to refrain there would be more pressure on Aoun and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil, who were “obstructing” the formation of the government.
“But I believe that Aoun and Bassil will not back down from imposing their conditions for the formation. Portraying the dispute as between Hariri and Aoun is absurd. Hariri will not give the ‘blocking third’ to Aoun or the FPM, as he is not ready to be another Hassan Diab.”
He also forecast the trouble that lay ahead if Hariri walked away from forming a government.
“This means that the exchange rate of the dollar will reach LBP20,000.”
Another former minister, Ziyad Baroud, said that Diab was simply raising the alarm because there was “no such thing” in the Lebanese constitution about the caretaker prime minister refraining.
“The government is resigned and business is running in a narrow sense,” he told Arab News. “If Diab decides to refrain, this will effectively paralyze the wheel of public administration completely. His position is political and not constitutional, as he says that he cannot be a caretaker indefinitely. He is raising the alarm and making a point for history.”
He also said that those who were blocking the government’s formation would not budge from their positions. “They are not affected by the people taking to the streets and their cries that they are hungry.”