Blinken turns to ‘effective partner’ Egypt to calm Middle East

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Heliopolis Presidential Palace on May 26, 2021. (AFP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he leaves Israel on May 26, 2021 at Ben Gurion Airport following his visit to Israel and Palestinian territories. (AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2021
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Blinken turns to ‘effective partner’ Egypt to calm Middle East

  • Blinken landed in Cairo a day after holding intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders
  • Later he traveled to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken jetted to Egypt on Wednesday as he pressed ahead with a diplomatic mission aimed at shoring up a cease-fire that ended an 11-day war between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas militant group.
Blinken landed in Cairo a day after holding intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In Egypt, he met with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and other top officials. Later he traveled to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II.
Blinken has vowed to “rally international support” to rebuild the destruction in hard-hit Gaza while promising to make sure that none of the aid reaches Hamas. He is instead trying to bolster Hamas’ rival, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.
Blinken has set modest goals for the trip, his first official visit to the Middle East as secretary of state. His main goals have been to help rebuild Gaza and lower the tensions in contested Jerusalem that helped fuel the war.

But he has made it made clear the US has no immediate plans to pursue peace talks between the sides and done little to address the underlying causes of the decades-long conflict, though he expressed hope for creating a “better environment” that might lead to negotiations.
In Cairo, Blinken on Wednesday met with El-Sisi for nearly two hours. Meeting with American diplomatic staff afterwards, he described Egypt as a “real and effective partner” that helped end the Gaza war and is helping “build something positive.” El-Sisi spoke to President Joe Biden last week before and after the cease-fire was announced.
“I think we both believe strongly that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equally to, to live in safety and security to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity. And we’re working on that together,” Blinken said before departing to Jordan.

El-Sisi told Blinken that the latest developments between Israelis and Palestinians reaffirmed the need for direct talks between the two sides with Washington’s involvement.
Washington and Cairo agreed to strengthen their coordination in consolidating the cease-fire and launching the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian presidency said in its statement.
Both Egypt and Jordan are key US allies that have peace agreements with Israel and frequently serve as mediators between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt maintains ties with Hamas, but also enforces a tight blockade on Gaza, along with Israel, with a shared goal of preventing the Islamic group from arming.
The stop in Cairo, along with Biden’s phone talks with El-Sisi, signal a closer relationship between the countries after a cooler beginning, when the US expressed concern over El-Sisi’s human rights record.
The Gaza reconstruction effort will be an important test. The 11-day war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused heavy destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. Preliminary estimates have put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Blinken also said he discussed Egypt’s water needs and the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to the giant Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam during his meeting with El-Sisi.
Ethiopia says the hydropower dam is crucial to its economic development, and that it is asserting its rights over Nile waters long controlled by downstream countries under colonial-era agreements.
Widely arid Egypt relies on the Nile for as much as 90 percent of its fresh water. 

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a video call with El-Sisi that the Gaza cease-fire must be stabilized, a German government spokesman said on Wednesday.
They also agreed on the goal of supporting a resumption in political negotiations, he said. 
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, said US commitment is critical for the region. Before the Gaza war, the Biden administration had kept its distance, preferring to focus on higher foreign policy priorities like China and Iran.
“In the absence of an effective role for the US, we should expect nothing but more cycles of violence and bloodshed of innocent people,” he wrote in the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
One of the US goals is to ensure that any assistance be kept out of the hands of Hamas, which opposes Israel’s right to exist and which Israel and the US consider a terrorist group.
In Gaza, Hamas leader Yehiyeh Sinwar told journalists Wednesday that the group welcomed international reconstruction aid, as long as it did not come from Israel, and had no objections to international oversight.
“I emphasize our commitment in Hamas that we will not take a single penny earmarked for rebuilding or humanitarian issues,” he said.
Sinwar, who has close ties with the group’s armed wing, said Hamas receives ample military assistance from outside sources — led by Israel’s archenemy, Iran. “When I said we do not take money destined for aid, this is because we have comfortable sources of funds covering our activities,” he said.
He also lashed out at Blinken for trying to strengthen the Palestinian Authority at Hamas’ expense. “They are trying to add more fuel to the fire of Palestinian division,” Sinwar said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was in Israel on Wednesday to build on the momentum of Blinken’s visit.
Echoing Blinken’s message, Raab said the UK supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire and would seek to prevent aid money from reaching Hamas. But he also expressed hope that cease-fire efforts would lead to a broader regional peace effort.
“We want to support Israel but we also want the Palestinians to find a track toward an enduring peace,” he said.
Blinken said Tuesday the US is trying to bolster the rival government of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority now administers autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Abbas has been largely sidelined by recent events, is deeply unpopular at home and has little influence in Gaza.
Abbas hopes to establish an independent state in all of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
In a gesture to the Palestinians, Blinken on Tuesday announced plans to reopen a diplomatic office in Jerusalem that oversees outreach to the Palestinians. He also pledged nearly $40 million in additional aid to the Palestinians.
In all, the Biden administration has pledged some $360 million to the Palestinians, restoring badly needed aid that the Trump administration had cut off.
The truce that ended the Gaza war on Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the deeper issues plaguing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those challenges include a hawkish Israeli leadership that seems unwilling to make major concessions, Palestinian divisions, years of mistrust and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites.
The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound 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.
On Wednesday, an Israeli court heard arguments from a Palestinian family trying to block their eviction in Silwan, another east Jerusalem neighborhood targeted by settler groups.
“The settlers want to take my house, to steal my house with their fake papers,” said Kaet Abdel Fath El Rajabi, who said his family has lived in the building for 60 years. Several dozen protesters stood outside the courthouse in support of the family.
In his remarks after his meeting with Blinken on Tuesday, Netanyahu hardly mentioned the Palestinians, warning of a “very powerful” response if Hamas breaks the cease-fire while expressing support for economic development in the West Bank.
Blinken repeatedly affirmed what he said was Israel’s right to defend itself. But he also called on leaders of all sides to chart a “better course” in hopes of laying the groundwork for peace talks aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

(With AP and Reuters)


Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

Updated 21 May 2024
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Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

  • Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and Bahrain’s minister of information review agenda for the 3-day ministerial meeting, which begins on Monday
  • A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism

CAIRO: The Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and head of its media and communication sector, Ambassador Ahmed Rashid Khattabi, and Bahrain’s minister of information, Ramzan Al-Nuaimi, discussed the agenda and arrangements for the 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers, which will take place on May 27 to 29.
Their meeting followed the Arab Summit in Manama last week, which issued resolutions relating to various strategic, political and developmental issues affecting the Arab region. It also explored ways to enhance mechanisms for Arab cooperation, including media support for the Palestinian cause in light of the latest developments and the repercussions of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.
Khattabi and Al-Nuaimi reviewed the draft agenda for the upcoming ministerial meeting, which was approved by the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Information Ministers during its meeting on Dec. 24 in Libya.
It includes several items related to proposed projects for the development and enrichment of a comprehensive and diverse Arab media system. A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism, which was approved during the Arab Summit.
Other significant topics include a media map for achieving sustainable development by 2030; environmental media; educational media; ways to enhance the status of women in the media; and the development of capacity through the use of artificial intelligence technology.
The agenda also includes a proposal by the General Secretariat for the development of a charter detailing the responsibilities of the media in coverage of elections. It includes issues such as the role of the media in electoral campaigns; respect for the rules of pluralism, transparency and neutrality; and the prevention of discrimination based on gender, race or language.
During their meeting next week, the information ministers will also discuss organizational matters, and the winners of the eighth Arab Media Excellence Awards will be announced on the sidelines of the event. More than 100 entries were submitted and the winners chosen by a special committee of judges from member states, chaired by Kuwait, the sponsor of the awards.


At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

Updated 21 May 2024
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At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

  • On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds
  • El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control

PORT SUDAN: At least 85 people have died in a single hospital in the Darfur city of El-Fasher since fighting reignited between Sudan’s warring parties on May 10, medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.
On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds, said Claire Nicolet, head of the charity’s Sudan emergency program.
In the period since the fighting erupted in the North Darfur state capital, the hospital had received “707 casualties” and “85 have passed away,” she added.
For over a year, fighting has raged between the regular military, under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control and is a key humanitarian hub for a region on the brink of famine.
This month, it has been the site of fierce battles, despite repeated pleas including from the United Nations for fighters to spare the city.
Eyewitnesses have reported repeated artillery shelling and gunfire from both sides, as well as air strikes from the army.
Trapped in their homes by the fighting, many residents are unable to brave the violence on the streets to get wounded loved ones to the hospital.
Doctors Without Borders said casualties who reach Southern Hospital are met by “only one surgeon, putting the facility “under intense pressure.”
Across the country, the war has shuttered over 70 percent of medical facilities and stretched the remaining ones impossibly thin.
“We have only around 10 days of supplies left” for Southern Hospital, Nicolet said, urging the warring parties to provide “safe access” to enable them to replenish stocks.
Since the war began, tens of thousands of people have been killed, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, according to UN experts.
Nearly nine million people have been forced from their homes. By the end of April, North Darfur alone hosted more than half a million people newly displaced in the last year, according to the latest figures from the UN.


Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

Updated 21 May 2024
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Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

  • The Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone
  • The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthis claimed on Tuesday to have shot down another US drone over the central province of Al-Bayda, marking the fifth such claim by the militia since the start of their Red Sea campaign in November.
Spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised broadcast that the Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone, which crashed in Al-Bayda province.
Sarea did not disclose when the shoot-down took place, but said the military action came in support of the Palestinian people and as retribution for US and UK bombings of Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen.
“The Yemeni Armed Forces continue to enhance their defensive capacities in order to face the American-British aggression against our nation and carry out military operations in triumph for the oppressed Palestinian people,” Sarea said.
The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November.
On Friday, the militia said its forces shot down a US drone over the central province of Marib while conducting “hostile operations,” soon after locals reported hearing a loud blast and finding wreckage of a drone resembling an MQ-9 Reaper.
The Houthis had previously claimed to have shot down the same drone model on April 26 and Feb. 19 this year, as well as on Nov. 8 last year, over Saada, Hodeidah and the Red Sea, respectively.
Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in international waters around Yemen, mainly the Red Sea, using drones, ballistic missiles and drone boats.
The militia claims its campaign is solely targeting Israel-linked ships in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The US has responded to the Houthi attacks by identifying the militia as a terrorist organization, organizing a coalition of marine task forces and carrying out strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.
In an attempt to revive peace talks stalled by the Houthi Red Sea campaign, the US State Department said on Monday that Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking will return to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
He will meet officials in those countries to discuss the Houthi Red Sea campaign and its implications on Yemen’s peace process.
“The Houthis’ continued attacks threaten progress toward achieving a durable resolution to the conflict in Yemen and obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemenis and people in need across the region,” the US State Department said.


UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity

Updated 21 May 2024
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UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended due to insecurity

  • UNRWA said in a statement on X that only seven out of its 24 health centers were operational and that it had not received any medical supplies in the past 10 days

DUBAI: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that food distribution in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah were currently suspended due to lack of supplies and insecurity.
UNRWA said in a statement on X that only seven out of its 24 health centers were operational and that it had not received any medical supplies in the past 10 days due to “closures/disruptions” at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza.
Israel mounted a new push in central Gaza on Monday, bombarding towns in the north of the Palestinian enclave and saying it intended to broaden operations in Rafah despite US warnings of the risk of mass casualties in the southern city.
Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the southern and northern edges of Hamas-ruled Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.


Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

Updated 21 May 2024
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Cyprus says maritime aid shipments to Gaza ‘on track’

  • 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday
  • The vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island

NICOSIA: Four ships from the United States and France are transporting aid from Larnaca port to the Gaza Strip amid the spiralling humanitarian crisis there, the Cyprus presidency said on Tuesday.
Victor Papadopoulos from the presidential press office told state radio 1,000 tons of aid were shipped from Cyprus to the besieged Palestinian territory between Friday and Sunday.
He said the vessels were shuttling between Gaza and the east Mediterranean island, a distance of about 360 kilometers (225 miles).
Large quantities of aid from Britain, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and other countries have accumulated at Larnaca port.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides told reporters on Tuesday the maritime aid effort was “on track.”
“We have substantial assistance from third countries that want to contribute to this effort,” he said.
The aid shipped from Cyprus is entering Gaza via a temporary US-built floating pier, where the shipments are offloaded for distribution.
The United Nations has warned of famine as Gaza’s 2.4 million people face shortages of food, safe water, medicines and fuel amid the Israel-Hamas war that has devastated the coastal territory.
Aid deliveries by truck have slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing with Egypt in early May.
The war in Gaza broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Two days after the war broke out, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.