EU pressures Israel over Palestinian poll delay

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, a new date for Palestinian elections should be set without delay. (Reuters)
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Palestinian protesters during a demonstration in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on April 30, 2021, following the postponement of Palestinian elections, which were due to take place next month. (AFP)
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Updated 30 April 2021

EU pressures Israel over Palestinian poll delay

  • President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow the election to proceed in Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza
  • EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the Palestinian president’s decision late on Thursday as “deeply disappointing”

AMMAN: The EU has urged Israel to ensure that Palestinian elections are held across all territories, including East Jerusalem, following a unilateral decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to delay polls planned for May 22.  

The Palestinian leader said that the fear Jerusalem would be excluded from the electoral process was the only reason for postponing the poll.

Abbas, 85, blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow the election to proceed in Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The official confirmation of the lists and campaigning was due to begin on April 30.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the Palestinian president’s decision late on Thursday as “deeply disappointing.”

“We strongly encourage all Palestinian actors to resume efforts to build on the successful talks between the factions over recent months. A new date for elections should be set without delay,” he said.

Borrell added: “We reiterate our call on Israel to facilitate the holding of such elections across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem.” 

He called for calm and restraint from all actors “at this sensitive time,” AFP reported.

“We firmly believe that strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the Palestinian people, for democratic legitimacy and, ultimately, for the two-state solution,” he said.

The decision to delay the poll has further deepened Palestinian divisions.

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, former president of Al-Quds University and the No. 2 candidate on the Mustaqbal list, called on Abbas “to resign from the Fatah Central Committee and the presidency, allowing the prime minister to restart the negotiations and its committees immediately.” 

Nusseibeh a life-long Fatah member, who was also imprisoned by Israel, told Arab News that this is the only way “to avoid an explosion.” 

He said: “The Palestinian people are about to explode, and the best way to get out of this dilemma is by insisting on elections and allowing for campaigning to begin. This might require civil disobedience within the democratic structures.”

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission on April 18 condemned the arrests by Israel of candidates, particularly those running in occupied Jerusalem. 

Similar to previous elections, Jerusalemites are scheduled to vote at six post offices in East Jerusalem, which hold a maximum capacity of 6,300 voters. This action requires Israeli approval due to post offices remaining under Israeli control. 

Dimitri Diliani, a Jerusalem resident and spokesperson of the pro-Dahlan Reform faction, told Arab News that “the cancelation of the elections is a way for Mahmoud Abbas to escape the reality that he and his associates are hated by the Palestinian people. Abbas simply gave up whatever was left of Palestinian democracy, and put it under his autocratic regime and made it a subject of Israeli manipulation.”

The US State Department appeared to distance itself from the Palestinian vote, with spokesperson Ned Price telling reporters in Washington: “The exercise of democratic elections is a matter for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian leadership to determine. We believe in an inclusive political process.”

Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that he “fully understand the disappointment of the many Palestinians who have so clearly expressed a desire to exercise their democratic rights after nearly 16 years without elections.”

Wennesland called for a new election date to be announced and “encouraged Palestinians to continue on the democratic path. The holding of transparent and inclusive elections throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem as stipulated in prior agreements remain essential for renewing the legitimacy and credibility of Palestinian institutions.”

A statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry called on Israel to “end its obstructive policies and to respect the provisions of the 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement so that the Palestinian elections will be conducted at the earliest possibility.”

The ministry said that it hoped the decision to postpone the elections “will not have a negative impact on the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process, to which our country attaches great importance. We encourage all Palestinian groups to continue working toward unity and reconciliation.”

Loud protests took place in Ramallah while Abbas met with his advisers. 

Fatah cadres held rallies throughout the West Bank supporting Abbas and his insistence on the inclusion of Jerusalem. 

Protests in Gaza and statements by top Hamas officials hint at a difficult summer if the decision to halt the elections is maintained.

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said: “All Palestinians want Jerusalem to be part of the elections.” 

He called on the international community to “stand up to Israeli attempts to change the status of Jerusalem.”

Suheir Ismael Farraj, head of a center for training women in media, said on her Facebook page that self-censorship might be the reason more people have not protested. 

“As Palestinians, we have learned from childhood to oppose injustice and to resist the Israeli occupiers, but the danger to livelihoods has forced many to stay quiet. The PA needs financial help, parties need their monthly stipend, government employees are afraid to lose their jobs and even civil society organizations are afraid because they don’t want the government to obstruct their work.”


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.