Palestinian refugees welcome US decision to restart aid

Palestinian boys play football at Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 8, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Palestinian refugees welcome US decision to restart aid

  • President Joe Biden’s administration said on Wednesday that it will provide $235 million to the Palestinians

JERUSALEM: Palestinian refugees on Thursday welcomed the US announcement that it will renew humanitarian aid, marking a break with the Trump era.
President Joe Biden’s administration said on Wednesday that it will provide $235 million to the Palestinians and restart funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which assists 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees.
It was the clearest sign yet of Biden’s apparent intent to repair ties with the Palestinians, who boycotted the Trump White House for most of his tenure, accusing him of pro-Israel bias.
“We are happy,” said Ahmed Odeh in Bethlehem’s Deheisheh refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “The former American administration tried to stop these funds to the Palestinian people.”
“Any funding for the refugee camps and the refugees is out of good will and is good for us ... people are not working or making money, especially during the pandemic,” said Subhi Allian, 71, outside an UNRWA clinic in Far’a refugee camp near Tubas.
Most UNRWA-registered refugees are descendants of 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
Many want the right to return to their families’ former lands in pre-1948 Palestine, lands which now lie in Israel. Israel rejects any such right as a demographic threat to its Jewish majority.
In a Twitter video late on Wednesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, voiced “disappointment and objection” about the renewal of funding to the refugee agency without reforming it.
“UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a refugee only perpetuates the conflict,” he said. “It should not exist in its current form.”
The Biden plan will provide $150 million to UNRWA and agency officials hope it will lead to more donations from the United States and others.
However, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters that the agency would “still struggle” amid reduced donations from elsewhere and cuts to their overseas development budgets by Australia and Britain.
Two priorities were COVID-19 and Lebanon, where last week he found residents of the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp to be more desperate than he had ever known them.
“When I was in Ein Al-Hilweh people were saying ... that either ‘we die from COVID or we die from hunger’ or the last choice would be to try to cross the sea to go to Cyprus,” he told Reuters.
“Basically, they say the situation today is between three different types of death for the people. That’s how desperate and stressful the situation is.”


Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

Updated 24 sec ago

Biden in UN call for independent Palestine

  • “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,”

NEW YORK: A sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the best way to ensure Israel’s future, US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. “We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said on the opening day of the UN General Assembly.
“I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.” Biden repeated his promise to return to the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, provided Tehran did the same. Talks on the issue are deadlocked over who takes the first step.
The world faced a “decisive decade,” Biden said, in which leaders must work together to combat a raging coronavirus pandemic, global climate change and cyber threats. He said the US would double its financial commitment on climate aid and spend $10 billion to fight hunger.
Earlier, Antonio Guterres, who begins a second five-year term as secretary-general on Jan. 1, warned of the dangers of the growing gap between China and the US, the world’s largest economies.
“I fear our world is creeping toward two different sets of economic, trade, financial and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial intelligence — and ultimately two different military and geopolitical strategies,” Guterres said.
“This is a recipe for trouble. It would be far less predictable than the Cold War.”


Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

Updated 22 September 2021

Nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Abbas to quit: Poll

  • International community still views him as a crucial partner in peace process

JERUSALEM: A new poll has found that nearly 80 percent of Palestinians want President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, reflecting widespread anger over the death of an activist in security forces’ custody and a crackdown on protests over the summer.

The survey released Tuesday found support for Abbas’ Hamas rivals remained high months after the 11-day Gaza war in May, when the Islamic militant group was widely seen by Palestinians as having scored a victory against a far more powerful Israel while the Western-backed Abbas was sidelined.

The latest poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 45 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas should lead and represent them, while only 19 percent said Abbas’ secular Fatah deserved that role, showing only a slight shift in favor of Fatah over the last three months.

“This is the worst polling we’ve ever seen for the president,” said Khalil Shikaki, the head of the center, who has been surveying Palestinian public opinion for more than two decades. “He has never been in as bad a position as today.”

Despite his plummeting popularity and refusal to hold elections, the international community still views the 85-year-old Abbas as the leader of the Palestinian cause and a crucial partner in the peace process with Israel, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.

His Palestinian Authority administers parts of the occupied West Bank under interim agreements signed with Israel at the height of the peace process in the 1990s. Hamas drove Abbas’ forces out of Gaza when it seized power there in 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections.

Abbas’ latest woes began in April, when he called off the first Palestinian elections in 15 years as Fatah appeared to be headed for another embarrassing loss. Hamas’ popularity soared the following month amid protests in Jerusalem and the Gaza war, as many Palestinians accused the PA of doing nothing to aid their struggle against Israeli occupation.

The death of Nizar Banat, a harsh critic of the PA who died after being beaten by Palestinian security forces during a late-night arrest in June, ignited protests in the occupied West Bank calling on Abbas to resign.

His security forces launched a crackdown in response, beating and arresting several demonstrators.

The poll found that 78 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign and just 19 percent think he should remain in office.

It found that 63 percent of Palestinians think Banat was killed on the orders of PA political or security leaders, with only 22 percent believing it was a mistake. The PA recently announced that 14 security officials who took part in the arrest will stand trial. Sixty-nine percent of those polled felt that was an insufficient response.

Sixty-three percent of Palestinians support the demonstrations that broke out after Banat’s death, and 74 percent believe the PA’s arrest of demonstrators was a violation of liberties and civil rights, the poll found.

The PCPSR says it surveyed 1,270 Palestinians face-to-face in the West Bank and Gaza, with a margin of error of three percentage points.


Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

Updated 22 September 2021

Saied vows new electoral code, transition team

  • The North African nation was widely seen as a model for budding democracies but has failed to cure chronic unemployment

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president has announced plans to draft a new electoral code and appoint a transitional leadership — and to hang on to the exceptional powers that he seized in July.

President Kais Saied promised that the new initiatives would respect Tunisians’ hard-fought rights and freedoms and democratic constitution. While many Tunisians welcome his moves, human rights groups and some others are concerned about the future of the only country to emerge from the turbulent Arab Spring uprisings with a new democratic system.

Saied spoke to supporters in the impoverished town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, where many people are disillusioned with the country’s failure to solve economic and social problems since overthrowing its repressive leaders a decade ago.

He defended his July 25 decision to suspend parliament, fire the prime minister and seize executive powers, which he said was needed to save the country amid unrest over financial troubles and the government’s handling of Tunisia’s coronavirus crisis. He invoked a special constitutional article allowing such measures in the event of imminent danger to the nation, and said they would be in place for 30 days. But they have been extended until further notice.

“Danger still hangs over the country and I cannot leave it like a puppet in the hands of those who act in the shadows, and of corrupt people,” Saied said. He accused unidentified players of “conspiring to cause chaos and confusion” in Tunisia, and said, “There is no question of going back.”

He promised a new electoral code to hold lawmakers more accountable to constituents, and transitional arrangements to run the country before he names a new prime minister. He did not detail them.


Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

Updated 21 September 2021

Military aid for Israel removed from US bill to fund government

  • Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its "Iron Dome"
  • That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel

WASHINGTON: Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday removed $1 billion in military funding for Israel from legislation to fund the US government after objections from House of Representatives liberals, setting the stage for a potential fight over the matter later this year.
Some House Democrats objected to a provision in a stopgap spending bill to provide the additional funding so Israel can replenish its “Iron Dome” missile-defense system.
The US company Raytheon produces many Iron Dome components.
The House is debating legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 3 and raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The dispute forced the House Rules Committee to adjourn briefly before leaders of the Appropriations Committee pledged that funding for the Israeli system would be included in a defense spending bill later this year. That could set the stage for another dispute over military aid for Israel.
Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman said House members had not been given enough time to consider the matter.
“The problem is leadership (will) just throw something on our table, give us about five minutes to decide what we’re going to do and then tries to move forward with it,” Bowman told reporters.
The United States has already provided more than $1.6 billion for Israel to develop and build the Iron Dome system, according to a US Congressional Research Service report last year. This reflects perennially strong support for aid to Israel among both Democrats and Republicans.
Some liberal Democrats objected to that policy this year, citing Palestinian casualties as Israel struck back after Hamas rocket attacks in May. Israel said most of the 4,350 rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict were blown out of the sky by Iron Dome interceptors.


US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

Updated 22 September 2021

US to hand over 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

WASHINGTON: The US will formally return an illegally imported 3,500-year-old tablet recounting the epic of Gilgamesh to Iraq this week, the UNs’ cultural body UNESCO has announced.

The ancient tablet, which a wealthy US collector had acquired along with other Iraqi artifacts to display in the Washington Museum of the Bible, will be handed over to Iraqi officials at the Smithsonian Institution on Sept. 23.

UNESCO called the repatriation of the tablet, along with 17,000 other artifacts sent back to Iraq in July, “a significant victory in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.”

“The theft and illicit trafficking of ancient artefacts continues to be a key funding source for terrorist groups and other organized criminal organizations,” the Paris-based agency said in a statement.

It said that when the terrorist organization Daesh controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria over 2014-2019, Iraqi archaeological sites and museums were systematically looted.

The rare fragment, which recounts a dream sequence from the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian cuneiform script, is one of many ancient artifacts from Iraq and the Middle East collected by David Green, the billionaire owner of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.

It was seized by the US Justice Department in 2019, two years after Green opened the museum dedicated to ancient Christian history in downtown Washington.