Palestinians push for international conference, US is open

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki sits before a meeting during a visit to Sarajevo October 28, 2011. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Palestinians push for international conference, US is open

  • Riad Malki backed a call by the Palestinian President for an international conference early next year
  • He said it was “ridiculous” to claim the Palestinians wouldn’t negotiate

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinian foreign minister said Monday an international peace conference is the only way to generate momentum to bring Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace agreement. The US ambassador said the Trump administration has “no objection” to meeting international partners.
Riad Malki, the top Palestinian diplomat, strongly backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call for an international conference early next year, telling the UN Security Council: “Anything else is volatile, and it is futile.”
Abbas called for a conference in his virtual address to the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders in late September to launch “a genuine peace process.” He called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to undertake preparations along with the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, European Union and Russia.
US Ambassador Kelly Craft was skeptical that a conference would produce results, but said the Trump administration, Israel’s closest and most important ally, was open to the possibility raised by Abbas.
“We have no objection to meeting with international partners to discuss the issue. But I have to ask, how is this different than every other meeting convened on this issue over the past 60 years?” she asked the council.
Israel’s new UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan opposed the Palestinian call, accusing Abbas of refusing “every peace offer made by the state of Israel” and attacking Israel’s recent agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan instead of viewing them as “a new opportunity to kick-start negotiations.”
For more than three decades, the Palestinians have sought an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a crippling blockade when the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’ forces in 2007.
There have been no substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected more than a decade ago, and the two sides are fiercely divided over the core issues of the conflict.
Instead, Netanyahu has focused on building ties with Arab, African and Asian countries that have long supported the Palestinian cause. In Israel, the agreement with the UAE, an oil-rich country with considerable regional influence, is seen as a historic breakthrough that could transform the Middle East.
The Palestinians have rejected President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the conflict, which overwhelmingly favors Israel, and responded by cutting off contacts with both the US and Israel. Arguing that Washington is no longer an honest broker, they have called for a multilateral peace process based on UN resolutions and past agreements.
Craft encouraged Mideast countries and Security Council members to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the Trump peace plan — and “to embrace the opportunities” presented by the accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said it was “ridiculous” to claim the Palestinians wouldn’t negotiate, pointing among other things to the identification of final status issues by both sides which were to be negotiated based on internationally agreed terms of reference and parameters by 1999.
“Here is Netanyahu’s stance on these issues: Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, shall be Israeli,” Malki said. “Illegal settlements shall remain in place. Refugees shall remain refugees. Israel shall continue to control our borders. Israel shall control all of the Jordan Valley and with it most of our natural resources.”
He said these positions “are contemptuous and unlawful” and show Israel wants to make its occupation permanent.
Israel’s Erdan countered that Netanyahu has invited Abbas to Jerusalem many times and has even offered to go to the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
“But Abbas wastes time calling for another useless conference,” Erdan said. “Instead, this council should call on the Palestinians to begin negotiations based on the American vision for peace, which is a good starting point for realistic, sustainable peace.”

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Updated 03 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon’s president wants investigation into currency crash

Updated 03 March 2021

Lebanon’s president wants investigation into currency crash

  • While officially, the US dollar costs only 1,520 Lebanese pounds, the black market price was around 9,900 pounds on Wednesday
  • Just a few months earlier dollars could be bought at a rate of some 7,000 pounds

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president ordered the central bank governor on Wednesday to open an investigation into currency speculation, after the Lebanese pound plunged to record lows on the black market this week, leading to protests in the stricken country.
The request by President Michel Aoun came after the country’s banks were required to raise their capital holdings by Feb. 28, and local media reported that some had to scramble to get hard currency from the black market, sending demand for it — and its prices — surging.
While officially, the US dollar costs only 1,520 Lebanese pounds, the black market price was around 9,900 pounds on Wednesday — a day after briefly hitting a record high of 10,000. Just a few months earlier dollars could be bought at a rate of some 7,000 pounds.
In a statement released by his office after meeeting central bank governor Riad Salameh, Aoun said if it turns out that the crash was because of speculators, they should face justice. Enraged protesters, angry over the higher costs of dollar denominated goods, have blocked roads and highways with burning tires across the country.
Lebanon’s banking association denied it was responsible for the situation, blaming instead a lingering political implasse, pileups of unpaid state contracts, and houshold dollar hoarding.
Bickering between Lebanon’s political rivals has left the country in a stalemate for months, only worsening the economic disaster sparked by a debt crisis and soverign default last year. Disagreements between Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have delayed the formation of the government for more than four months.
Lebanon has been hit by one crisis after another, with widespread protests against the country’s corrupt political class breaking out in October 2019. That has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive blast in Beirut’s port last August that decimated the facility.
The country desparately needs foreign currency, but international donors want major anti-corruption reforms first, lest the funds disappear into a notorious state sector sinkhole that has brought the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.
The crisis has driven nearly half the population of the small country of 6 million into poverty. Over 1 million refugees from Syria live in Lebanon.

New Maronite archbishop elected

Updated 03 March 2021

New Maronite archbishop elected

  • Antoine Farès Bounajem elected new archbishop of Antélias of the Maronites
  • Lebanese Maronite Christians constitute about 22% of the population of Lebanon

ROME: The Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Maronites has elected Antoine Farès Bounajem as new archbishop of Antélias of the Maronites, Lebanon.

Pope Francis has given his assent to his election, according to a statement of the Vatican Press office.

Bounajem, 53, was born in Harharaya-Kattine. After his schooling at the Saint George College of Zalka and in the minor seminary of Ghazir, he studied philosophy and theology at the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, graduated in 1992.

He was awarded a licentiate in theology, with a catechetical-pastoral focus, at the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1999.

He was ordained a priest on July 10 1994 for the archeparchy of Antélias. Since ordination he has held various pastoral roles.

He has served as parish priest and chaplain of the Scouts and various prayer and formation groups.

Pope John Paul II established the archdiocese of Antélias of the Maronites in 1988. It depends immediately on the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

Its cathedral is the Resurrection Cathedral, five km north of Beirut, in the Matn District, Lebanon. In 2012, its 93 parishes counted 249,971 Lebanese Maronite Catholic members.

The Maronite Church is the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon. It is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the worldwide Catholic Church.

The Lebanese Maronite Christians are believed to constitute about 22 percent of the total population of Lebanon.

ICC prosecutor to open formal probe into war crimes in Palestinian Territories

Updated 03 March 2021

ICC prosecutor to open formal probe into war crimes in Palestinian Territories

  • Fatou Bensouda said the probe will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor”
  • Bensouda said in 2019 there was a “reasonable basis” to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip

THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Wednesday her office will open a formal investigation into war crimes in the Palestinian Territories which will examine both sides in the conflict.
The decision comes after the court ruled on Feb. 5 that it has jurisdiction in the case, a move which prompted swift rejection from Washington and Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ruling.
"The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years," outgoing Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
"In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides," Bensouda said.
"My office will take the same principled, non-partisan, approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized."
Bensouda, who will be replaced by British prosecutor Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019 that "war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip". She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.
The next step will be to determine whether Israel or Palestinian authorities have investigations themselves and to assess those.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the court ruled on jurisdiction, he said: "When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure antisemitism."
The Palestinian Authority welcomed the prosecutor's investigation.
It is "a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve", the PA foreign ministry said in a statement.