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.
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.
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.

Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake

Updated 01 July 2022

Iranian man who shot daughter in honor killing claims it was a mistake

  • Mohammad Kazem Lashkari killed 15-year-old with a shotgun after seeing her with an unknown man
  • Relative claims Tehran is suppressing details of the story in a country where 62 percent of murdered women are killed by relatives

LONDON: An Iranian man killed his daughter in a suspected honor killing before claiming it was a tragic accident, in an incident a relative claims is being hushed up by the regime in Tehran. 

Mohammad Kazem Lashkari, 43, reportedly killed his teenage daughter Ariana, 15, with a shotgun after seeing her in a park with an unknown man.

He was arrested by police in the Iranian city of Nurabad on June 27, telling them: “After an argument, Ariana went to my mother’s house and I could not control my anger.

“I went there with my shotgun to scare her. I really did not mean to kill my daughter. I fired involuntarily.”

However, Lashkari’s story has been called into question, with one relative telling human rights activist Masih Alinejad: “Ariana was a girl who didn’t enjoy being oppressed by her father.”

The relative added: “She wanted to choose her own lifestyle and have a free mind. Accepting her views was hard for her father.

“Ariana was a quiet girl who went to school every day full of hopes. This girl was very kind and caring. All of her friends and classmates adored her. I’m still in shock. It’s unbelievable that Ariana is gone.”

A neighbor suggested that Lashkari had been addicted to drugs, and had previously threatened Ariana, as well as his other daughter.

The unnamed relative also suggested that the Iranian government was pushing for details of the story to be suppressed. 

“The regime is trying hard for this tragedy not to get published in the media,” he said.

“I hope this innocent girl’s blood is not going to be trampled on like many other girls who have been murdered in this way.”

In Iran the murder of a child or grandchild by a father or paternal grandfather carries a maximum sentence of just 10 years, and is considered different to other murders, for which the penalty is usually death. 

Up to 62 percent of all women murdered in Iran are killed by relatives, and between 15-18 percent of murders in the country are considered honor killings. 

The investigation into Ariana’s death continues.

Unilever sells Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business to defuse BDS row

Updated 01 July 2022

Unilever sells Ben & Jerry’s Israeli business to defuse BDS row

  • Ice cream brand said it does “not agree” with the deal made by the parent company

JERUSALEM: Unilever this week sold its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream business in Israel to its local licensee for an undisclosed sum, aiming to smooth over a potentially damaging diplomatic row over the company’s political stance.
The deal comes after the US ice cream brand announced last year it would stop marketing products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, saying that selling there was “inconsistent” with its values. Under the new arrangement Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will be available to all consumers in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Ben & Jerry’s has said it does “not agree” with the deal made by the parent company.
The episode highlighted the challenges facing consumer brands taking a stand on Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians, such as San Francisco-based Airbnb, which in 2019 reversed its decision to delist Israeli settlements.
The international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to pressure Israel to abide by international law in its treatment of the Palestinians. Israel says such boycotts are discriminatory and anti-Semitic.
On Wednesday, Israel’s foreign ministry called the Ben & Jerry’s deal “a huge victory.”
“We will fight delegitimization and the BDS campaign in every arena, whether in the public square, in the economic sphere or in the moral realm,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.
Last year, Israel condemned the sales boycott as “morally wrong” and said Unilever would face “severe consequences.” The consumer goods giant defended Ben & Jerry’s autonomy, but said it was “fully committed” to Israel and would find a solution by the end of this year.
Unilever had said previously it did not support the BDS movement, and reiterated that stance in a statement on Wednesday.
The new owner is the brand’s long-time Israeli ice cream licensee Avi Zinger, owner of American Quality Products. Zinger had sued Ben & Jerry’s after its decision in the West Bank, saying the company illegally severed their 34-year relationship.
“The new arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s will be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank under the full ownership of its current licensee,” Unilever said.
A representative for the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry’s said the company does not agree with Unilever’s announcement and will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.
“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the representative told Reuters.
Pension officials in at least six US states had restricted or sold Unilever stock or bonds to protest the Ben & Jerry’s decision, among them New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee. Representatives for all three told Reuters on Wednesday they would review Unilever’s move.
Billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz, who is joining the board of Unilever next month, was involved in the discussions to bring about the resolution, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization that supported the deal. Peltz is the chairman of the center’s board of governors.
Peltz met with Unilever CEO Alan Jope in September before Trian Partners, the investment fund Peltz runs, bought any shares, to discuss the situation, a person familiar with the matter said.
Trian Partners commended the new arrangement in a statement, saying that “respect and tolerance have prevailed.”
Ben & Jerry’s and its independent board maintained the right to decide on its social mission when it was bought by Unilever in 2000. But Unilever said it “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions and therefore has the right to enter this arrangement.”
Israel captured the West Bank, part of the territory Palestinians want for an independent state, in a 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal. Israel disputes this.
“The return of Ben and Jerry’s to Israeli settlements, which were built on Palestinian land, exposes it to international legal accountability and its name will be on the United Nations blacklist of companies operating in settlements,” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Wasel Abu Yussef told Reuters.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said the deal sought to undermine the “principled decision” to stop selling the ice cream in Israeli settlements.
“What comes next may look and taste similar, but, without Ben & Jerry’s recognized social justice values, it’s just a pint of ice cream,” he said in a statement.
Ben & Jerry’s Jewish founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, no longer manage the brand but are well known for their commitment to social justice. The company has recently expressed strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights and electoral campaign finance reform.

Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty

Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey’s Erdogan says ready to back reinstating death penalty

  • Turkey would consider turning back the 2004 abolishment of capital punishment

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would approve possibly reinstating the death penalty if parliament were to send a bill on the matter to him, broadcaster NTV cited him as saying on Friday.
Erdogan’s justice minister said at the weekend Turkey would consider turning back the 2004 abolishment of capital punishment after the president earlier raised the issue in connection with the cause of wildfires. His nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli has backed the idea and said the penalty should extend to terrorism, rape, and the murder of women.
“If necessary, this should be brought back on the agenda and made into a debate. We should see what comes of this debate,” Erdogan was cited as saying.
“I said it before, if parliament makes such a decision as a result of our justice ministry’s work, I will approve this decision,” he added. (Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 


Six killed during protests in Sudan on anniversary of uprising

Updated 01 July 2022

Six killed during protests in Sudan on anniversary of uprising

  • Security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon as they tried to prevent the swelling crowds from marching on the presidential palace, according to witnesses
  • ‘It is imperative that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully’ and security forces should protect that right not hinder it, UN spokesman tells Arab News

KHARTOUM/NEW YORK: At least six people were killed in Sudan on Sunday in a violent crackdown on protesters demonstrating against military rule.

In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon as they tried to prevent the swelling crowds from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.

They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, and to be the largest this year. In Omdurman, witnesses reported gunfire and the use of tear gas as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.

The UN denounced the violent response by the authorities to the protests.

“We’ve said this before and we’ll continue to say that we’re very, very much gravely concerned by the continued use of excessive force by the government security forces in Sudan as they respond to protests, and especially what we’ve seen today,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Arab News.

“It is imperative that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully, and security forces in any country should be there to protect people’s right to do that, not to hinder it.”

The way forward, he added, “is for all the parties to reach an inclusive political solution as soon as possible, leading to a return to constitutional order and democratic transitions.”

The latest protests mark the third anniversary of the massive demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.

In October last year, the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, toppled the transitional government, triggering protests amid demands that the army stays out of politics.

June 30 also marks the day Al-Bashir seized power in a coup in 1989.

Some of the protesters on Thursday carried banners demanding justice for those killed during previous demonstrations. Others chanted: “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.

Earlier, protesters blocked some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with barricades made from stones and burning tires.

“Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Al-Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.

For the first time in months of protests against October’s coup, internet and phone services were cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement. Staff at Sudan’s two private-sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that authorities ordered them on Thursday to once again shut down internet connections.

Phone calls within Sudan were also blocked and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri — another step typically taken in response to big protests to limit the movement of marchers.

In recent days there have been daily protests in many neighborhoods. On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during demonstrations in Bahri. The four deaths on Thursday, all in Omdurman, brought to 107 the total number of protesters killed since the coup.

There were also large numbers of injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in the capital where the wounded were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said. There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.

The UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, this week called on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.

Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support that had been agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has escalated.

Al-Burhan said on Wednesday that the armed forces look forward to the day when an elected government can take over but added that this can only be achieved through consensus or elections, not protests.

Mediation efforts led by the UN and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.