Opinion

US to reopen Jerusalem consulate, upgrading Palestinian ties

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hold a joint press conference, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 May 2021

US to reopen Jerusalem consulate, upgrading Palestinian ties

JERUSALEM: Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday that the US would reopen its Consulate General in Jerusalem — a move that restores ties with Palestinians that had been downgraded by the Trump administration.
The consulate long served as an autonomous office in charge of diplomatic relations with the Palestinians. But former US President Donald Trump downgraded its operations and placed them under the authority of his ambassador to Israel when he moved the embassy to Jerusalem.
Trump’s move infuriated the Palestinians, who view east Jerusalem as occupied territory and the capital of their future state.
Blinken did not give a precise date for reopening the consulate.
Blinken announced the step after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom opportunity and dignity,” he said.
Blinken is in the region to help shore up the cease-fire last week that ended a devastating war 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers that killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused widespread destruction in the impoverished coastal territory.

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He promised to “rally international support” to help Gaza in the wake of the war. He later announced nearly $40 million in aid to the Palestinians, including $5.5 million in emergency assistance for Gaza. That brings total US assistance to the Palestinians under the Biden administration to over $360 million after the Trump administration had cut off nearly all assistance to them.
Blinken has promised that any assistance will be kept out of the hands of Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and which Israel and the US consider a terrorist organization.
The US is trying to bolster Abbas, who was sidelined by recent events, in his rivalry with Hamas and on the international stage. Abbas heads the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank but whose forces were driven from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in 2007.
Abbas is seen by many Palestinians as having lost all legitimacy. But he is still seen internationally as the representative of the Palestinian people and a key partner in the long-defunct peace process.
The truce that ended the Gaza war on Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the underlying issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something Blinken acknowledged after meeting earlier in the day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges. And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild,” he said.
The top US diplomat faces the same obstacles that have stifled a wider peace process for more than a decade, including a hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites. The Biden administration had initially hoped to avoid being drawn into the intractable conflict and focus on other foreign policy priorities before the violence broke out.
The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site revered by Jews and Muslims that has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years. The protests were directed at Israel’s policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
The truce remains tenuous since tensions are still high in Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian families is not yet resolved.
The evictions were put on hold just before the Gaza fighting erupted, but the legal process is set to resume in the coming weeks. Police briefly clashed with protesters at Al-Aqsa on Friday, hours after the cease-fire came into effect.
Adding to the tensions, an Israeli soldier and a civilian were stabbed and wounded in east Jerusalem on Monday before police shot and killed the assailant in what they described as a terrorist attack.
Then, early Tuesday, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by undercover Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to the Wafa news agency. Pictures circulating online appeared to show the man bloodied and lying in the street. The Israeli army referred questions to the Border Police, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, is fighting for his political life after a fourth inconclusive election in two years. He faces mounting criticism from Israelis who say he ended the offensive prematurely, without forcibly halting rocket attacks or dealing a heavier blow to Hamas.
Netanyahu hardly mentioned the Palestinians in his remarks after his meeting with Blinken, warning of a “very powerful” response if Hamas breaks the cease-fire.
Netanyahu spoke of “building economic growth” in the occupied West Bank, but said there will be no peace until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians have long objected to that language, saying it undermines the rights of Israel’s own Palestinian minority.
Blinken will also visit neighboring Egypt and Jordan, which have acted as mediators in the conflict. Egypt succeeded in brokering the Gaza truce after the Biden administration pressed Israel to wind down its offensive.
The administration had been roundly criticized for its perceived hands-off initial response to the deadly violence, including from Democratic allies in Congress who demanded it take a tougher line on Israel. Biden repeatedly affirmed what he said was Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza.
The administration has defended its response by saying it engaged in intense, but quiet, high-level diplomacy to support a cease-fire.
Blinken has said the time is not right for an immediate resumption in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but that steps could be taken to repair the damage from Israeli airstrikes, which destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged infrastructure in Gaza.
The narrow coastal territory, home to more than 2 million Palestinians, has been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from importing arms, while the Palestinians and human rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.


Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

Updated 6 sec ago

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

  • Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
BEIRUT: The commander of the main US-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria said Saturday they have halted operations against the Daesh group due to Turkish attacks on northern Syria over the past week.
Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters that after nearly a week of Turkish airstrikes on northern Syria, Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive. He said Turkey-backed opposition fighters are getting ready to take part in the operations.
Abdi added that Turkish strikes over the past week have caused severe damage to the region’s infrastructure.
Abdi said Turkey is taking advantage of the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. Kurdish organizations have denied any involvement in the Istanbul attack that killed six and wounded dozens.
Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the Istanbul attack.
“The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against IS are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped,” Abdi said, using an Arabic acronym of the Daesh group. “Anti-Daesh operations have stopped.”
His comments came hours after the US military said two rockets targeted US-led coalition forces at bases in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh resulting in no “injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”
The US military statement said SDF fighters visited the site of the rocket's origin and found a third unfired rocket.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, blamed Daesh sleeper cells for the Friday night attack on the US base.
“Attacks of this kind place coalition forces and the civilian populace at risk and undermine the hard-earned stability and security of Syria and the region,” said Col. Joe Buccino, CENTCOM spokesman.
The SDF said in a statement before midnight Friday that as Turkish drones flew over the al-Hol camp that is home to tens of thousands of mostly wives, widows and children of IS fighters, some IS family members attacked security forces and managed to escape from the sprawling facility. The SDF did not say how many escaped but that they were later detained.
Kurdish authorities operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria holding about 10,000 Daesh fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

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.


Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

Updated 26 November 2022

Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

  • Rockets aimed at ‘coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria’

BEIRUT: Two rockets targeted a US patrol base in northeastern Syria late Friday, the third such attack in nine days, US Central Command said.

Centcom did not indicate who fired the rockets but said, in a statement, that they aimed at “coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.”

The strike at about 10:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) caused no injuries or damage to the base or coalition property, said Centcom, which covers the Middle East region.

The US troops support Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are the Kurds’ de facto army in the area and led the battle that dislodged the Daesh group from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.

Hundreds of American troops are still in Syria as part of the fight against Daesh remnants.

“Syrian Democratic Forces visited the rocket origin site and found a third unfired rocket,” Centcom added in its latest statement.

On November 17 rockets targeted the coalition’s Green Village base which is in Syria’s largest oil field, Al-Omar, near the Iraqi border, Centcom said at the time. There were no injuries.

A war monitor, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which has a wide network of sources in Syria, said that strike came from “a base of pro-Iranian militias.”

Such groups have significant influence in the Syria-Iraq border region.

In another attack, a Turkish drone strike on Tuesday killed two SDF fighters and posed “a risk to US troops,” Centcom said earlier.

That strike hit a base north of Hassakeh city, also in Syria’s northeast but farther north.

On November 20 Turkiye announced it had carried out a series of air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, a week after a bomb attack in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded 81.

Turkiye says it is targeting rear bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF.

Both Kurdish groups denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.


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.