Pompeo urges Israeli caution in West Bank moves

In a rare foreign trip during the coronavirus pandemic, Pompeo planned to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming defence minister Benny Gantz, a day before a unity government agreed between the two men is scheduled to be sworn in. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Pompeo urges Israeli caution in West Bank moves

  • Pompeo held talks with Netanyahu and Gantz, a day before the inauguration of their new government
  • The Palestinians have rejected Trump’s plan

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Israeli leaders to factor all parties into a proposed de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank so that it squares with Washington’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
During a one-day visit to Israel, Pompeo also took another swipe at China over what he said was Beijing’s lack of transparency during the coronavirus crisis.
Pompeo held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival turned designated coalition partner Benny Gantz, a day before the inauguration of their new government.
The new government plans in July to begin debating extending sovereignty to Israeli settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and that Palestinians seek for a future state.
In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, where he was quoted in Hebrew, Pompeo said West Bank annexation was an Israeli decision that Netanyahu and Gantz have a right to make.
But appearing to caution against the move, he said the leaders had also discussed many other issues related to it — how to deal with all parties involved, and how to make sure the move is done properly to bring about an outcome in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan.
The Palestinians have rejected Trump’s plan, under which the vast majority of West Bank settlements would be incorporated into “contiguous Israeli territory.”
The plan envisages a Palestinian state under near-complete Israeli security control, made up of stretches of land in the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean coast and two expanses of territory in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected it as offering the Palestinians a “Swiss cheese” state.
VIOLENCE
The Palestinians deem Israel’s settlements illegal under international law, as do most world powers. Israel and the Trump administration dispute that view.
With Palestinian leaders warning that annexation could imperil the already limited cooperation between the sides, there has been a spike in violence in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager during a raid near the city of Hebron, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The Israeli military said Palestinians had thrown rocks and fire-bombs at the soldiers, slightly injuring one of them.
A day earlier, a Palestinian rock-thrower killed an Israeli soldier who was taking part in an arrest raid near Jenin city.
The Palestinians have tried to rally European states to oppose any Israeli annexation, as France pushes for the European Union to consider punitive economic measures should Israel declare sovereignty in the West Bank.
Arab countries have cautioned against Israeli annexation, including Jordan and Egypt, Israel’s neighbors and the only two Arab countries to sign peace treaties with it.
FRICTION OVER CHINA
Trump and his senior officials have engaged in a war of words with China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, accusing Chinese authorities of failing to inform the world fast enough about the dangers it posed and muzzling those who raised the alarm. Beijing denies the charges.
Addressing Netanyahu at the start of their three-hour meeting on Wednesday, Pompeo said: “You’re a great partner, you share information — unlike some other countries that try and obfuscate and hide that information — and we’ll talk about that country, too.”
Pompeo did not name China and did not give specific examples of Israeli cooperation in the fight against coronavirus.
Israeli business ties with China are an irritant in Netanyahu’s usually close relationship with the Trump administration.
The United States has previously cautioned Israel against potential security threats from Chinese investment in its economy, prompting the Netanyahu government to set up a committee last October to vet such projects.
A US State Department spokesperson briefly summed up the Pompeo-Netanyahu meeting as a discussion of “our nations’ ongoing efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and counter Iran’s destabilising influence in the region, as well as the steadfast US commitment to Israel’s security.”
Trump’s pro-Israel moves have been widely seen as an effort to bolster his appeal to evangelical Christian voters, an important part of his political base that he is counting on to help him win re-election in November.


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.


Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell

Updated 18 September 2021

Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell

  • The bell weighing 285kg was cast in Lebanon with donations from a French NGO

MOSUL: A bell was inaugurated at a church in Mosul on Saturday to the cheers of Iraqi Christians, seven years after the Daesh group overran the northern city.
Dozens of faithful stood by as Father Pios Affas rang the newly installed bell for the first time at the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma, an AFP correspondent reported.
It drew applause and ululations from the crowd, who took photos on mobile phones, before prayers were held.
“After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul,” Affas told them.
Daesh swept into Mosul and proclaimed it their “capital” in 2014, in an onslaught that forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the northern Nineveh province to flee, some to Iraq’s nearby Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi army drove out the jihadists three years later after months of gruelling street fighting.
The return of the Mosul church bell “heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city,” said Affas.
“This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites,” he told AFP.
The bell weighing 285 kilogrammes (nearly 630 pounds) was cast in Lebanon with donations from Fraternity in Iraq, a French NGO that helps religious minorities, and transported from Beirut to Mosul by plane and truck.
The church of Mar Tuma, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court.
Restoration work is ongoing and its marble floor has been dismantled to be completely redone.
Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the faithful attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Irbil so that she could see the church being “brought back to life.”
“My joy is indescribable,” said the teacher in her forties. “It’s as if the heart of Christianity is beating again.”
Faraj-Benoit Camurat, founder and head of Fraternity in Iraq, said that “all the representations of the cross, all the Christian representations, were destroyed,” including marble altars.
“We hope this bell will be the symbol of a kind of rebirth in Mosul,” he told AFP by telephone.
Iraq’s Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the recurrent violence that has ravaged the country.
Camurat said around 50 Christian families had resettled in Mosul, while others travel there to work for the day.
“The Christians could have left forever and abandoned Mosul,” but instead they being very active in the city, he said.


Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers

Updated 18 September 2021

Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers

  • The protesters gathered in the centre of the capital chanting "shut down the coup" and "we want a return to legitimacy"
  • The protest was the first since Saied declared on July 25 he was sacking the PM, assuming executive authority

TUNIS: Several hundred demonstrators gathered in Tunis on Saturday to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers in July, which triggered a constitutional crisis and prompted accusations of a coup.
The protesters gathered in the centre of the capital chanting "shut down the coup" and "we want a return to legitimacy", while a few dozen Saied supporters held a counter demonstration chanting "the people want to dissolve parliament".
The protest, accompanied by a heavy police presence, was the first since Saied declared on July 25 he was sacking the prime minister, suspending parliament and assuming executive authority.
Saturday's protests may provide an indication of how the security services, many of whose leadership are newly appointed by Saied, will handle public opposition to him.
Police appeared to be treating both sets of protesters equally, standing between the two camps outside the ornate belle epoque theatre on Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Saied's moves were broadly popular in a country chafing from years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, but they have raised fears for the new rights and the democratic system won in the 2011 revolution that sparked the "Arab spring".
Though the biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, initially decried his move as a coup, it quickly backed down and the period since Saied's intervention has been calm.
However eight weeks on, Saied is still to appoint a prime minister or declare his longer-term intentions.
A Saied adviser told Reuters this month the president was considering suspending the 2014 constitution and putting a new version to a referendum, a possibility that unleashed the broadest and most vocal opposition to him since July 25.
Meanwhile, with their immunity lifted, some parliamentarians have been arrested, while numerous Tunisians have been stopped from leaving the country.
Saied has rejected accusations of a coup and his supporters have presented his moves as an opportunity to reset the gains of Tunisia's revolution and purge a corrupt elite.
"They are only here to ... protect corrupt people and Islamists," said Mohamed Slim, standing with his son in the counter protest. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by David Holmes)


‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

Updated 18 September 2021

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

  • Mohamed Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water
  • The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain – protecting individuals and facilities

Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation, has said that his country is one of those most affected by climate change.

This is due to rising sea levels and the impact of climate change on the sources of the Nile River, and extreme weather phenomena such as heatwaves, cold waves and torrential rains impacting water resources, agriculture and the food, energy and health sectors, as well as coastal regions and northern lakes.

This is in addition to the risks affecting 12-15 percent of the most fertile lands of the delta as a result of the expected rise in sea level, and the intrusion of saline water, which affects the quality of groundwater.

Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water.

He was speaking during a meeting with Ayat Soliman, regional director of the Sustainable Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank Group, and her accompanying delegation. The meeting was to review a climate and development report on Egypt, which is being prepared by experts from the World Bank in cooperation with the Ministry of International Cooperation.

The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain and to protect individuals, facilities and key facilities from its destructive effects, in addition to harvesting rainwater for the use of Bedouin communities in the surrounding areas.

During the meeting, Abdel-Aty reviewed the efforts of the ministry in adapting to climate change through the implementation of several projects to guard against torrential rains, to protect Egyptian beaches, and expand the reuse of agricultural drainage water as one of the non-traditional water resources to meet increasing demand.

Egypt is implementing a number of major projects aimed at protecting its coast (covering about 3,000 km), securing individuals, facilities, public and private properties, roads and investments in coastal areas, working to stop the decline of the beach line and recovering beaches that have been lost due to erosion, and protecting agricultural lands and villages.

The country is also working on contributing to the development of fisheries in the northern lakes. The “Promoting Adaptation to Climate Changes in the North Coast and the Nile Delta” project has been launched with the aim of establishing protection systems, over a distance of 69 km, in five locations on the coast of the Nile River Delta, and the establishment of early warning stations at different depths within the Mediterranean to obtain data related to storm waves and sudden natural phenomena.


Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

Updated 18 September 2021

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

  • Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84
  • Bouteflika's 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests

ALGIERS: Algeria’s leader declared a three-day period of mourning starting Saturday for former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests when he decided to seek a new term.
Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84. His public appearances had been rare in the final years of his presidency, and he had not been seen since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune took office in late 2019.
Flags are to fly at half-staff during the mourning period, the president’s office said. The honors reflect Bouteflika’s role in Algeria’s brutal seven-year war for independence from France that ended in 1962. Those who fought are considered martyrs today.
The former president’s lawyer, Salim Salim Hadjouti, said Bouteflika was being laid to rest in an official ceremony at El Alia cemetery, in the section where martyrs of the revolution for independence are buried, a special honor.
Since Bouteflika’s death, public television has not shown images of him, a clear sign that authorities prefer not to go overboard with a farewell as the North African nation has turned past the Bouteflika era. Early on in his mandate, Tebboune announced his policy of a “new Algeria.”
Tebboune has led a fight against the corruption, including in the Bouteflika clan as it emerged that a close circle of officials around the president were enriching themselves and allegedly making decisions in the place of the ailing president. Bouteflika’s brother and special counsellor Said was acquitted in January by a military appeals court of allegedly plotting against the army and the state, but faces corruption charges.