Tunisian premier announces major cabinet reshuffle

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi speaks during a press conference to announce a wide cabinet reshuffle in the capital Tunis, on January 16, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 January 2021

Tunisian premier announces major cabinet reshuffle

  • The new line-up, which does not include any women, must be approved by parliament
  • “The aim of this reshuffle is to achieve greater efficiency in the work of the government,” Mechichi said

TUNIS: Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced on Saturday a major cabinet reshuffle affecting 12 ministries, in the wake of high-profile sackings.
“The aim of this reshuffle is to achieve greater efficiency in the work of the government,” Mechichi said at a press conference in the capital Tunis.
The new line-up, which does not include any women, must be approved by parliament.
A few hours before the announcement, Mechichi had met with President Kais Saied, who insisted the “integrity” of proposed ministers should “raise no doubt,” according to a statement from the presidency.
“There is no place (in the government) for people who are subject to legal proceedings” or to “doubts about their background or their behavior that could undermine the state and the credibility of its institutions and the legitimacy of its decisions,” Saied said.
One of the officials to be replaced is former environment minister Mustapha Aroui, who was sacked and arrested in December in a scandal over hundreds of containers of household waste shipped from Italy.
Chiheb Ben Ahmed, CEO of the Tunisian Export Promotion Center (CEPEX), was proposed as his replacement.
Cabinet chief Walid Dhahbi has been put forward as interior minister to replace Taoufik Charfeddine.
The former lawyer and pillar of Saied’s election campaign was sacked earlier this month over high-level staffing changes he sought to make to some security agencies, according to a previous statement from Mechichi.
The reshuffle also impacts the ministries of health, justice, industry, energy and agriculture.
Ten years after the uprising that led to the fall of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has successfully transformed into a democracy — albeit one still riven by corruption and economic pain.
The country has had nine governments in 10 years, but the transfers of power have been peaceful.
However, since a general election in 2019, the political class has been more fragmented than ever and paralyzed by infighting, fueling discontent over the continued economic malaise, which has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.


Netanyahu pushing for new settlement, Palestinian officials warn

Updated 6 min 49 sec ago

Netanyahu pushing for new settlement, Palestinian officials warn

  • Israel PM may use election campaign to turn former Jerusalem airport into a settlement

AMMAN: Palestinian officials warn that Israel’s prime minister might use the fiercely fought election campaign to make a deal with right-wing Israeli parties that will include building an 11,000-unit settlement for Orthodox Jews on the runway of a former Jerusalem airport.

Israeli elections are set for March 23 and Benjamin Netanyahu has no clear path to staying in power.

Palestinian Orthodox clergyman Bishop Atallah Hanna called on Palestinians to be on the watch and prevent Israelis from turning the former Qalandia Airport into a massive Jewish settlement.

Ofer Zalzberg, the Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that three weeks ago Netanyahu revived a plan for housing in the area before the elections to encourage unity among religious Zionist parties.

“But he failed to secure this merger,” Zalzberg said. “In the past, he has promised to advance construction in this area but never acted upon it.”

Ironically, the airport location was included in former US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” program to benefit Palestinians.

“Israel should allow for the development by the state of Palestine of a special tourism zone in Atarot, in a specific area to be agreed on by the parties,” Zalzberg said.

Khalil Tufakji, the head of the map department at Jerusalem’s Arab Studies Society, told Arab News that Israel has already made plans for a settlement on the airport runway, but that no official tender has been announced.

“But there is no guarantee that they will not do it if Netanyahu thinks it will serve his political ambitions or help him get out of jail,” Tufakji said.

More than half of the land is intended for the Jewish settlement, but the former Qalandia Airport is privately owned by Palestinians, according to Tufakji.

“Six hundred of the 1,200 dunums are privately owned by Palestinians, and another 20 dunums are owned by the Islamic Waqf,” he said.

Tufakji said this is not the first time this has happened as Israelis “have previously made similar announcements in 2012 and 2017,” he added.

Jerusalem-based lawyer Daniel Seidemann, the director of the Terrestrial Jerusalem NGO, also said it is unlikely that the plan will be implemented in the near future.

“I am tempted to say it will not happen anytime soon,” he said. “They have not started planning because of objective obstacles, enormous legal complication, and its proximity to Ramallah and Kufr Aqab. If it happens, it will be 10 years from now.”
 


Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

Updated 25 February 2021

Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

  • Houthis delay UN inspection of leaking tanker

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni troops and allied tribesmen, backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, have seized control of a large territory in the northern province of Jouf, the first major territorial gains since the beginning of a Houthi offensive on Marib, local army officers told Arab News on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry announced recapturing Al-Jadafer, a large desert area in Jouf, putting government forces on the edges of provincial capital Hazem city and other strategic locations.

Maj. Gen. Amen Al-Waili, commander of the 6th Military Region, first announced the Jouf gains on Wednesday, saying the army was pushing toward new areas as the Houthis had suffered heavy setbacks and casualties.

“After this remarkable progress, the national army forces are (now) on the outskirts of Hazem,” Al-Waili was quoted as saying by state media.

The Houthis seized Hazem and surrounding areas last March, paving the way for their fighters to push toward the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib.

But the army’s territorial gains in Jouf have boosted the morale of loyalists as well as alleviating Houthi pressure on government troops in Marib.

An officer in Marib, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News that they had pushed back Houthi attacks on Serwah and other contested areas.

Army troops and allied tribesmen on Thursday captured Zor, a small village in Serwah hosting displacement camps, and surrounding mountains and areas after clashes with rebels.

Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded in the Murad area as army troops and tribesmen repelled their offensive, the Defense Ministry said.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani tweeted the latest gains in Marib, saying that troops were determined to recapture areas that had fallen to the Houthis.

“With their high morale and determination, the heroes are moving toward recapturing areas that the terrorist Houthi militia controlled during their latest escalation,” he said.

Earlier this month the Houthis resumed a large-scale offensive to capture the city of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen. The Defense Ministry recently sent hundreds of troops and equipment to push back the Houthis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak is visiting Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to mobilize diplomatic efforts to stop Houthi attacks and explain the government's perspective on plans for ending the war.

Bin Mubarak told Arab News that he would visit the capitals of Gulf states to garner support for the government, explaining political developments and coordinating positions with GCC officials.

Separately, the UN said that new requests by the Houthis were further delaying its experts from examining a decaying tanker that is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil.

It warned last year that the tanker, the FSO Safer, had not been maintained for more than five years. Experts fear it could explode or leak, causing huge environmental damage to marine life and also affect shipping in the Red Sea.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the additional requests focused on “logistics and security arrangements,” and that it was “now difficult to say exactly when the mission could be deployed,” according to an AP news agency report.
 

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Iran policeman killed amid unrest in southeast

Sistan-Baluchistan has a large ethnic Baluch population, that straddles the border and mainly follows the Sunni branch of Islam, not the Shiite branch followed by most Iranians. (File/Reuters)
Updated 25 February 2021

Iran policeman killed amid unrest in southeast

  • The policeman's death follows days of violence in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan region bordering Pakistan
  • The Islamic Republic has long been critiqued for the plight of minorities in the country

TEHRAN: An officer has been killed in an attack on a police station in southeastern Iran, state media reported Thursday, as unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan province spread to provincial capital Zahedan.
The violence began earlier this week when a clash involving fuel smugglers at the Pakistani border triggered attacks on government buildings in the nearby city of Saravan, 270 kilometers (170 miles) southeast of Zahedan, in which at least one person was fatally wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan has a large ethnic Baluch population, that straddles the border and mainly follows the Sunni branch of Islam, not the Shiite branch followed by most Iranians.
The province has long been a flashpoint for cross-border attacks by separatists and Sunni extremists.
Zahedan county governor Abouzarmahdi Nakahei said the latest violence was fueled by “fake” reports of deaths in the unrest in Saravan.
“Following the propaganda and rumors by foreign media, criminal elements attacked Kurin police station in Zahedan with light weapons and grenade launchers,” Nakahei told state news agency IRNA, without saying when the attack took place.
He said the assailants had acted on the “excuse of showing solidarity for the fake deaths at Saravan’s Shamsar police station.”
Police returned fire and the attackers eventually fled, but one officer was killed in the firefight, Nakahei said.
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said several people had been wounded, one of them fatally, when officers at the Shamsar police station opened fire on a crowd on Monday.
He said the crowd had attacked the police station after an incident at the border in which Pakistani soldiers opened fire on fuel smugglers attempting to cross into Iran, killing one person and wounding four.
On Tuesday, angry protesters attacked the county governor’s office in Saravan, damaging property before being dispersed, Marashi said.
Provincial police chief Ahmad Taheri told the Tasnim news agency that hundreds had taken part in the Tuesday attack but the situation was now “under control.”


Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

An Iraqi policeman walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis on the outer walls of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, in Baghdad on February 22, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2021

Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

  • Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit
  • The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis is due to hold an inter-religious prayer service at the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur when he visits Iraq next week — an event local archaeologists hope will draw renewed attention to the place revered as the birthplace of Abraham.

Popular with Western visitors in the 1970s and 1980s, Ur is scarcely visited today after decades of war and political instability shattered Iraq’s international tourism industry. The coronavirus crisis now also keeps local tourists away.

Located about 300 km (200 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, the site comprises a pyramid-style Ziggurat and an adjacent residential complex as well as temples and palaces.

 

It was excavated about 100 years ago by Leonard Woolley, a Briton who recovered treasures rivalling those found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. But little work has since been done on one of the world’s oldest cities, where urban dwelling, writing and central state power began.

According to the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage director for Ur, Ali Kadhim Ghanim, the complex next to the Ziggurat dates back to about 1900 BC.

The father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abraham is described in the biblical book of Genesis as living in the city before God called upon him to create a new nation in a land he later learned was Canaan.

“This is why it is believed that this building, or house, was the house of the prophet Abraham,” Ghanim said, pointing at the residential complex.

According to Ghanim, the housing settlement was restored in 1999, after Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope John Paul II, announced a trip to Iraq. But his visit was canceled when negotiations with the government of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down.

This time, Ghanim hopes that Pope Francis’ visit will attract international attention to the site, which he says is badly needed to fund restoration works on its palaces and temples.

“Not only tourism, but we believe that there will be a Christian pilgrimage season,” Ghanim said.

READ MORE

Pope Francis’ visit, his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic and the first ever by a pope to Iraq, is a sign that “You’re not alone,” said Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz. More here.

 

Un Ponte Per, an Italian-based organization, is working with the United Nations Development Programme on infrastructure works such as paths, rest areas and signposts to help visitors.

Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit.

But without adequate funding, Ghanim says his administration has been limited to containing further damage to the site, such as digging trenches to divert rainwater from the ruins.

Basra’s Archbishop Habib Al-Naufaly stressed the symbolic importance of the pope’s March 5-8 visit as Iraq is still recovering from the war against Islamic State that destroyed scores of Christian heritage sites.

The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities present in Iraq.

The focus will be on harmony between religious groups in a service the Vatican has named “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham.”


Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

Updated 25 February 2021

Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

  • The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations
  • Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives

TRIPOLI: Libya’s designated prime minister, chosen via a UN-facilitated process last month, will on Thursday propose a unified government to the country’s divided parliament as part of a peace plan.
The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations and oversee the run-up to national elections planned for December in a roadmap to end years of chronic chaos and violence.
However, designated premier Abdulhamid Dbeibeh is not expected to announce the names of ministers after a process of intense negotiations over recent weeks to form a government that could win acceptance across front lines.
Libya, a major North African oil and gas producer, has enjoyed little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and the sprawling country has been split since 2014 between rival factions.
One is the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli in Libya’s west, while the east is controlled by an administration backed by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Dbeibeh’s new interim government is intended to replace both existing administrations.
Last month, participants in a UN dialogue in Geneva selected Dbeibeh as prime minister along with a three-member presidency council to act as head of state. All four men have pledged not to stand for office in December’s election.
Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives, a body that has been divided for years after some of its members broke off to form a rival assembly.
House of Representative members have been negotiating in recent days for a meeting to discuss the proposed government that could take place in the frontline city of Sirte.
Located in the eastern city of Tobruk, the eastern-based House of Representatives is headed by Aguila Saleh, one of the losing candidates in last month’s Geneva selection process.
He, along with other prominent losers in that vote such as GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and GNA Defense Minister Saleh Namroush, have promised to abide by the process.
Both Dbeibeh and the new presidency council head Mohammed Al-Menfi have traveled inside Libya and met representatives from major foreign powers outside the country.

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