Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2020

Restoration of ties with Israel sparks anger in Palestine

  • Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced a halt to coordination with Israel — including security cooperation — in May

GAZA CITY: The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced on Tuesday that it will restore coordination with Israel — a move that has been met with widespread factional rejection in the country, with the PA accused of “undermining” internal reconciliation efforts.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced a halt to coordination with Israel — including security cooperation — in May, in response to Israeli plans to annex 30 percent of the West Bank.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, the PA’s civil affairs minister, announced late Tuesday on Twitter that the PA had decided to restore relations with Israel to “where they were before May 19, after confirming that Israel would abide by signed agreements.”

Al-Sheikh told Palestine’s official TV network that the PA recently sent an official letter to the Israelis inquiring about their commitment to the agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization. On Tuesday, it received a written response declaring Israel’s commitment to those agreements.

Al-Sheikh said: “The recognition of the signed agreements means that (US President Donald Trump’s) ‘Deal of the Century’ is no longer on the table.” He described this as “a great victory and the fruit of the steadfastness of the Palestinians and their leadership.”

However, observers have questioned the timing of the PA’s unexpected announcement, which coincides with talks between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo as Palestine’s two main political factions attempt to negotiate a path forward. Hamas issued a statement describing the PA’s decision as “a stab in the back” for this process.

A political analyst close to Hamas, Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, told Arab News the PA’s announcement of the resumption of its relationship with Israel was expected, but that the way it was announced was “disregarding the Palestinian people.”

“After this decision, the path of reconciliation is at stake,” he said.

Others noted that the Israeli response to the PA was signed by the “coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories” Kamil Abu Rukun rather than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian MP Hassan Khreisheh was one of those who played down the importance of the Israeli message, saying it fails to formalize any political commitment. He described the PA’s decision as part of “a struggle of wings and currents within the PA and Fatah to succeed President Abbas.”

Gal Berger, an analyst for Palestinian affairs at the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, expressed similar sentiments in an article about the decision. “The circle surrounding Abbas, including Hussein Al-Sheikh and (General Intelligence chief) Majed Faraj, did not like the level of progress in the reconciliation efforts,” he wrote, explaining that they oppose the promotion of Fatah Central Committee Member Jibril Rajoub as a possible successor to Abbas.

He also suggested that the announcement coinciding with the Hamas-Fatah talks in Cairo was not “just a coincidence.”

“One of them could have wanted to embarrass Rajoub, who rushed towards reconciliation with Hamas at a time when Abbas and his close circle had another plan,” Berger said. “Reconciliation with Hamas was not an option for Abbas, but rather a message to Israel and the international community, and the opportunity came to retreat after (Joe) Biden’s victory (in the US presidential election).”

US-Palestinian relations had collapsed under Trump’s administration, but there are hopes the situation will improve once Biden takes office.

Israeli journalist Daniel Serotti suggested the PA is trying to “improve its image” and is sending “a message to the Biden administration that the Palestinian boycott of America will not continue during his term.”

Serotti also noted that a major driver behind the PA’s decision is the fact that it has stopped accepting the transfer of taxes Israel had collected on its behalf since May, meaning a deficit of hundreds of milloins of shekels. The PA had been forced to cut civil servants’ salaries just at the time that the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on the Palestinian economy were becoming apparent.

Ismat Mansour, a writer specializing in Israeli affairs, told Arab News that Biden’s statements about a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine issue had given the PA “an appropriate way out to receive tax revenues from Israel.”

That, at least, was news that some Palestinians celebrated, with many civil servants taking to social media to express their joy that some relief of their financial hardship may be in sight.


Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

Updated 26 November 2022

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”


Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

Updated 26 November 2022

Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

DUBAI: Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in “riots” sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September.
The Basij force, affiliated with the country’s Revolutionary Guards, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. “They have sacrificed their lives to protect people from rioters,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.


No injuries in rocket attack against forces in Syria — US military

Updated 26 November 2022

No injuries in rocket attack against forces in Syria — US military

Two rockets targeted a US patrol base in northeastern Syria but did not result in any injuries or damage to the base, the US military said on Friday.
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces visited the origin site of the rockets and found a third unfired rocket, the US military said in a statement.
The base was located in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.


US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

Updated 25 November 2022

US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

  • Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
  • The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger

BEIRUT: A US official in Syria on Friday called for an “immediate de-escalation” following days of deadly airstrikes and shelling along the Syria-Turkiye border, saying the actions destabilize the region and undermine the fight against the Daesh group.
Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups.
The groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say the Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the anti-Daesh fight.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that 67 civilians, gunmen and soldiers, have been killed in Turkish attacks in northern Syria since the airstrikes began.
Nikolas Granger, the US senior representative to northeastern Syria, said Washington “strongly opposes military action that further destabilizes the lives of communities and families in Syria and we want immediate de-escalation.”
The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger, who is currently in Syria, and added that the strikes also endanger US military personnel there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups. On Friday, he said Turkiye would continue its “struggle against all kinds of terror inside and outside our borders.”
Turkiye and the United States both consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terror group for the decadeslong insurgency and attacks the group has staged within Turkiye’s borders.
But they disagree on the status of the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Syrian Kurdish group has been a key US ally in the fight against Daesh.
Turkiye has carried out three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and its forces still control part of the country.
Kurdish officials in Syria have been warning that any new Turkish incursion would disrupt the fight against Daesh, which still has sleeper cells and has carried out deadly attacks in recent months against the Syrian Kurdish-led opposition forces as well as Syrian government forces.
“We take these threats seriously and prepare to confront any ground attacks,” Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told The Associated Press.


Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

Updated 25 November 2022

Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

  • Deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq
  • Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades

BAGHDAD: Iran has sent additional units of special forces to fortify its northern border with Iraq and clamp down on what it says is infiltration by Kurdish opposition groups, Iranian state media reported on Friday.
Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, chief of ground forces of the paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said “armored and special forces” units had been deployed to west and north-west provinces to bolster existing border security, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq that Tehran claims is orchestrating country-wide anti-government protests. It is a claim the Kurdish groups deny and to date Iran has not provided any evidence to support it.
Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades.
The troop movement also comes after Iraq issued directives for boosting security along its side of the border to prevent further bombardment by Iran, according to a statement issued by Iraq’s military spokesman Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasool. Kurdish opposition groups have bases in Iraq’s Kurdish-run northern region.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials were quoted in state-run media as saying they did not have plans to conduct a ground military operation to root out opposition groups from the bases, despite having reportedly threatened to do so during the visit by top general Esmail Ghaani to Baghdad last week.
Country-wide protests engulfed Iran in September following the death of a young woman in police custody for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. The protests have become one the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained.