BAGHDAD: Faced with sharp price rises, a decline in the buying power of the dinar and rising unemployment, Iraqis enter the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan with a feeling of dread.
“After a whole day of fasting, we have to eat something,” even if the price of a kilo of tomatoes has more than doubled, said Umm Hussein, a single mother of five who has no salary.
She struggles each month to raise the $45 rent for their modest home.
Like 16 million of Iraq’s 40-million population living under the poverty line, Umm Hussein relies on her ration card for food.
Under the legacy from the 1990s when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was under a stringent international embargo, every Iraqi whose household heads earns less than $1,000 a month is entitled to certain basic provisions at subsidised prices.
But this year, “we’ve only received the rations for February,” said Abu Seif, 36, who like his father before him has the job of distributing bags of subsidised goods.
“We still haven’t got the rations for Ramadan,” during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, a period that starts this week.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi had promised extra rations for the holy month. But “people are coming in or calling every day to ask when they’re arriving,” said Abu Seif.
In Abu Ammar’s grocery store, the credit line has been stretched so far that he fears not being able to pay his suppliers any more.
With prices rising sharply, “some families owe more than 200,000 dinars” ($130), the grocer told AFP.
The authorities in energy-rich Iraq, with revenues slashed by the decline in world oil prices, last year devalued the dinar, which has lost 25 percent of its value against the dollar.
As a result, for example, the price for a bottle of cooking oil has gone up to 2,500 dinars, from 1,500 dinars.
On top of price hikes, Covid-19 restrictions such as lockdowns and curfews have killed jobs, especially the day jobs on which many Iraqis rely following decades of conflict.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says Iraqis are trapped in a vicious circle.
“Over 90 percent of small and medium enterprises in the food and agriculture sector reported being severely to moderately affected by the pandemic. To cope with decreased revenue, more than 50 percent either let staff go or reduced salaries,” it says.
A joke doing the rounds on Iraqi social media goes something like: “This year, salaries are in the group of death with Covid-19 and Eid Al-Fitr (the feast marking the end of Ramadan). Not sure they will make it though to the next round.”
Haider, a 32-year-old civil servant, says it’s no laughing matter.
“Ramadan fills me with dread. We need a lot of things for the house and new clothes for the children,” he said.
Even in normal times, he struggles to pay the rent, for daily expenses and electricity charges with his monthly salary of $600.
Electricity is one of the heaviest financial burdens, in a country with at times 20-hours-a-day power cuts that force Iraqis to turn to private generators that run on pricey fuel.
Abu Ahmad, a 32-year-old colleague, says he will skip the traditions this Ramadan.
“I’m not going to be giving big dinners at my place, so as not to spread Covid,” he said. “But also, because I can’t afford it.”
Ramadan breeds dread in crisis-hit Iraq
Ramadan breeds dread in crisis-hit Iraq
- Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi had promised extra rations for the holy month
- “Ramadan fills me with dread. We need a lot of things for the house and new clothes for the children,” says a 32-year-old civil servant
BAGHDAD: Faced with sharp price rises, a decline in the buying power of the dinar and rising unemployment, Iraqis enter the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan with a feeling of dread.
More Jerusalem clashes on eve of contentious Israeli parade
- US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan calls his Israeli counterpart to express "serious concerns" over the increasing violence
- Israeli PM says the planned parade for Jerusalem Day will go on despite warnings that it is causing further violence
JERUSALEM: Israeli police faced off with Palestinian protesters Sunday in another night of clashes in east Jerusalem, a day before Israeli nationalists planned to parade through the Old City in an annual flag-waving display meant to cement Israeli claims to the contested area.
The late-night skirmishes raised the likelihood of further clashes Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations. Israeli police gave the go-ahead to the parade Sunday, despite days of unrest and soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighborhood where Jewish settlers are trying to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.
Addressing a special Cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”
“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said, “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”
The United States again expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City, home to sites sacred by Muslims and Jews, and Israeli police, as well as the expected expulsion of Palestinian families.
Washington made its concerns during a phone call between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart. Sullivan urged Israel “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.
Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. But the annual event is widely perceived as provocative, as hard-line nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes. That, combined with Palestinian anger over the eviction plan in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, could set the stage for an especially volatile day.
Amos Gilad, a former senior defense official, told Army Radio that the parade should be canceled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.” Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said the final route of the parade had not yet been decided.
In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It has been a tinderbox for serious violence in the past.
“The occupier plays with fire, and tampering with Jerusalem is very dangerous,” Saleh Arouri, a top Hamas official, told the militant group’s Al-Aqsa TV station.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.
The violence, along with the planned evictions in east Jerusalem, have drawn condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and expressions of concern from the United States, Europe and the United Nations.
In Sunday night’s clashes, Palestinian protesters shouted at police and pelted them with rocks and bottles, while police fired stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. Palestinian medics said at least 14 protesters were injured.
The clashes were less intense than the previous two nights. Police said over 20 police officers had been injured in recent days.
But there were signs the violence was beginning to spread.
Late Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts near the border in retaliation for the rocket fire. There were no reports of injuries.
Earlier in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post in response to another rocket attack. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police also clashed with hundreds of Arab students at Israel’s Hebrew University, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd. Police said 15 people were arrested at another protest in the northern city of Haifa.
Jordan and Egypt, the first two countries to strike peace deals with Israel, both summoned senior Israeli diplomats to condemn the Israeli actions.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who acts as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, condemned what he called “Israeli violations and escalating practices” and urged Israel to halt its “provocations against Jerusalemites.”
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the events in Jerusalem with worry and called for an end to the clashes.
“Violence only generates violence,” he told the public gathered at St. Peter’s Square.
With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The decision had been expected for Monday, but was pushed back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court said
Palestinians and international rights groups portray the planned evictions as a part of a campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods, especially in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute.
The flare-up in hostilities comes at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government. If they succeed, Netanyahu would be pushed to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.
Cairo to extend initiative supporting internal tourism until the end of May
- The two ministries confirmed that the extension will come with a 50 percent capacity for accommodation
CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministries of Civil Aviation, Tourism and Antiquities has announced the extension of the internal tourism support initiative until May 31.
In a joint statement, the two ministries said that the decision was in accordance with the directives of Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to extend the work of the initiative to support internal tourism in Egypt until May 31 instead of mid-May.
The two ministries confirmed that the extension will come with a 50 percent capacity for accommodation, in accordance with the established operating controls, with precautionary measures and health safety controls applied at all airports, museums, archaeological sites, restaurants, cafeterias and tourist buses.
The decision follows the government’s encouragement of support for the tourism, aviation and working sector after the guidance of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to support the sector and its employees, and to revitalize tourism.
The initiative was launched by the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Tourism and Antiquities in January, in accordance with the recommendations of the Ministerial Committee for Tourism and Antiquities in December 2020.
Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
- Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption
- He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras
KARBALA: A leading Iraqi anti-government activist was killed early Sunday, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed.
Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran’s influence in Iraq.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Wazni narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against government corruption and incompetence in Iraq in October 2019.
Around 600 people were killed as a result of their association with that movement — many on the streets during rallies, others targeted on their doorsteps away from the rallies.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
In a video recording in the morgue where his body was initially held, a fellow activist made it clear who he and colleagues blamed for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unnamed activist. “They are going to kill all of us! They threaten us and the government remains silent.”
Police in Karbala said they “will spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the killing and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019.
Such targeted killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to identify the perpetrators of these political killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
Pro-Iran groups view the premier as being too close to Washington and protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
“Such crimes against activists in Iraq raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability for... (those) responsible for crimes” targeting protesters, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday.
Wazni had himself challenged Kadhemi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“
US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea ‘destined for Yemen from Iran’
- Seizure includes thousands of assault weapons, machine guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship
- US Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran
DUBAI: The US Navy announced Sunday it seized an arms shipment of thousands of assault weapons, machine guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea, apparently bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.
An American defense official told The Associated Press that the Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, again tying the Islamic Republic to arming the Houthis despite a United Nations arms embargo. Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Tehran has denied in the past giving the rebels weapons.
The seizure, one of several amid the yearslong war in Yemen, comes as the US and others try to end a conflict that spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The arms shipment, described as sizeable, shows that the war may still have far to run.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless dhow, a traditional Mideast sailing ship, in an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan. Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck.
When laid out on the deck of the Monterey, the scale of the find came into focus. Sailors found nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov. They recovered hundreds of other heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The shipments also included several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons.
The Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet did not identify where the weapons originated, nor where they were going. However, an American defense official said the weapons resembled those of other shipments interdicted bounded for the Houthis.
Based on interviews with the crew and material investigated on board, the sailors determined the vessel came from Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement.
The seizure marks just the latest in the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden involving weapons likely bound to Yemen. The seizures began in 2016 and have continued intermittently throughout the war, which has seen the Houthis fire ballistic missiles and use drones later linked to Iran. Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.
This recent seizure appeared to be among the biggest. Tim Michetti, an investigative researcher who studies the illicit weapon trade, also said the shipment bore similarities to the others.
“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” he said.
Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government in March 2015. Iran backed the Houthis, who harass Saudi Arabia with missile fire and drone attacks.
Since 2015, the UN Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. Despite that, UN experts warn “an increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.”
Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
- Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem
- Tunisia calls for UN Security Council meeting, as Arab League and Arab Parliament to hold emergency sessions to discuss Israeli crimes and attacks
LONDON: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.
“We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,” Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of east Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do,” Netanyahu said.
His comments come as Israel’s justice ministry said it would delay the key Monday hearing in the case that could see Palestinian families evicted from their Jerusalem homes to make way for Jewish settlers.
“In all the circumstances and in light of the attorney general’s request, the regular hearing for tomorrow, May 10, 2021 (is) canceled,” it said in a statement, adding it would schedule a new hearing within 30 days.
The delay follows days of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, fueled in part by the dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Meanwhile, UNICEF urged the Israeli authorities to refrain from using violence against children and release all those detained, after 37 Palestinian children have been injured and arrested in east Jerusalem in the last two days.
“Over the past two days, 29 Palestinian children were injured in east Jerusalem, including in the Old City and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood (and) eight Palestinian children were arrested.
“A one-year old toddler was among those injured. Some children were taken for treatment at hospitals with injuries in the head and the spine,” the UN children’s body said.
UNICEF said it received reports that ambulances were restricted from arriving on location to assist and evacuate the injured and that an on-site clinic was reportedly hit and searched.
“All children should be protected from violence and kept out of harm’s way at all times. Families’ rights to access all places of worship should be preserved and those injured be assisted without restrictions,” it said in a statement.
Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.
Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as “barbaric” attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
King Abdullah II condemned the violations and said he rejected attempts by Israeli authorities to change the demographic situation in east Jerusalem, and all measures aimed at changing the city’s historical and legal status. The king also called on Israel to adhere to international law and international humanitarian law.
During a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah said Jordan would continue to protect Islamic and Christian holy sites and to preserve its Arab and Islamic identity, and called for coordination between Arab states to put an end to the Israeli violations in east Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque.
“What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behavior) that is rejected and condemned,” the government said in a statement.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.
“Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes,” Safadi said in comments on state media.
Tunisia, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, in coordination with Palestine, submitted a request to hold a session on Monday to discuss the dangerous escalation and aggressive practices of the Israeli authorities in Palestinian territories.
The request was supported by China — current president of the council — along with Norway, Ireland, Vietnam, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines and Niger.
The session will also discuss Israeli attacks against the Palestinians and their insistence on their expansionist policies, including settlement plans, demolition and dispossession of homes, displacement of Palestinian families, land grabbing, and obliterating the historical and civilizational identity of Jerusalem, the Tunisian foreign ministry said.
“These practices constitute a flagrant violation of international law, a threat to international peace and security and undermine efforts aimed at achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region,” the ministry added.
Arab League foreign ministers announced they would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday at Palestine’s request, which has been supported by a number of countries.
Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, said in a statement “the meeting will discuss Israeli crimes and attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem, Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, and attacks on worshipers, in addition to the brutal Israeli attacks and plans to seize the homes of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to empty the city of its residents and displace its people.”
Zaki said the decision was taken to raise the level of the meeting to the ministerial level, instead of ambassadorial, in proportion to the “seriousness of the Israeli attacks that are part of the Zionist regime’s systematic policy to Judaize Jerusalem and change the existing legal and historical status of the city and its sanctities.”
The Arab Parliament also said it will hold an emergency session on May 19 in Cairo to discuss the same issues.
Adel bin Abdulrahman Al-Asoumi, president of the Arab Parliament, stressed the need for Israel to stop the ongoing crimes committed against the Palestinian people, and support all their rights, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is also set to hold an emergency session on Tuesday.
Dozens of Palestinians and several Israeli police officers have been wounded in clashes in recent days in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the scene of a long-running land dispute and located a short walk from flashpoint holy sites.
The case dates back to before the creation of the state of Israel, when a small Jewish community lived in Sheikh Jarrah.
After Israel’s independence and the 1948 war with its Arab neighbors, east Jerusalem came under the control of Jordan.
Many refugees settled in the district after fleeing Zionist forces in other parts of what was now Israel.
Israel then seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it.
Early this year, the Jerusalem district court ruled in favor of Jewish settlers who laid claim to land in the Sheikh Jarrah district, now home to around 30 Palestinians from four families.
Palestinians argue that discriminatory laws mean they are unable to claim back their properties inside what is now Israel.
The Palestinian families’ lawyer, Hosni Abu Hussein, also accused the settlers of fraud.
“The registration of the lands in the name of the settlement association took place through fraud and deception, in collusion with the commissioner of public properties and the registrar of Israeli lands,” he told AFP.
The dispute, in a strategic location close to Jerusalem’s Old City, has added fuel to tensions around the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest mosque, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Hamas in Gaza have threatened attacks against Israel if the high-profile case goes against the Palestinian families.
(With Reuters and AFP)