Escalation comes exactly 3 months since Israel and Hamas reached truce following deadly fighting
Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line, and any attack on it will be met with valiant resistance from our people
Updated 23 August 2021
GAZA CITY: Israeli warplanes bombed Gaza after clashes between its troops and Palestinian protesters left dozens injured, including an Israeli border policeman and a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who were both critically wounded.
The Israeli military said it carried out airstrikes against four weapons sites and that it had reinforced its Gaza division with additional troops.
The escalation came exactly three months since Israel and Hamas reached a truce following their deadliest fighting in years.
Israeli troops fired at Palestinian protesters who gathered near the Gaza border wall, the army and Palestinian witnesses said.
A Palestinian gunman fired at Israeli troops through an opening in the wall and crowds of young protesters hurled explosives over the barrier and tried to scale it.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the injured included a 13-year-old boy left in critical condition after being hit in the head.
“Forty-one civilians were wounded with various injuries,” the ministry said in a statement, with Hamas saying “thousands” of protesters had taken part.
The Israel Border Police said a 21-year-old sniper in its undercover unit was critically wounded when he was shot by a Palestinian protester.
“His condition is critical and there is a risk to his life,” it said of the wounded officer.
Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai in a statement vowed the force would “continue to act firmly and with all our might against those who want to harm us.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz had warned that “these are definitely extremely serious events that will have a response.”
Shortly after his comments, the Israeli Air Force said on Twitter that its “fighter jets struck four weapons manufacturing and storage sites belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization.”
There were no immediate reports of any casualties from the strikes.
Hamas had called a protest Saturday to mark the burning 52 years ago of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line, and any attack on it will be met with valiant resistance from our people,” the movement said in a statement.
Late Saturday, Hamas and other groups in Gaza issued a joint statement in which they “saluted the heroic youth” who clashed with Israeli forces.
The violence is some of the worst since the May 21 ceasefire came into force.
Over 11 days in May, Israel pounded Gaza with air strikes in response to rockets fired from the occupied enclave.
Hamas said it took action after Israeli security forces stormed Al-Aqsa in May.
Reconstruction in Gaza has stalled since the ceasefire, in part because of a crippling blockade Israel has maintained on the enclave since Hamas seized power in 2007.
On Thursday, Israel announced it would allow funds from Qatar to reach impoverished Palestinians in Gaza. Other restrictions remain.
The ceasefire Egypt brokered between Hamas and Israel has largely held, although there have been flare-ups.
On Monday Israel said its “Iron Dome” missile defense system intercepted a rocket fired by militants in Gaza into Israel, the first time since the recent battle.
That came after four Palestinians were killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
In 2018, Gazans began a protest movement demanding an end to Israel’s blockade and a right for Palestinians to return to lands they fled after the Jewish state was founded.
The Hamas-backed weekly demonstrations, often violent, sputtered as Israel killed some 350 Palestinians in Gaza over more than a year.
‘Troubled nations can never spend their way to improved global reputation,’ says Good Country Index creator Simon Anholt
Stands by comment that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste but rather is a crime
Says hosting the football World Cup, despite an estimated cost of $220 billion, will not benefit Qatar beyond a few months
Updated 28 November 2022
DUBAI: While there is no question that staging a major sporting event will “in a real way raise the profile of the country for a relatively short period,” the data suggests it makes no lasting impact on the image of the host country, according to the man credited with coining the term “nation brands” back in the 1990s.
Simon Anholt, founder of the renowned Nation Brands Index, is currently an independent policy adviser to nearly 60 countries around the world, and publisher of the Good Country Index, which ranks nations based on their contributions to people and planet.
His views on the topic have a special significance as Qatar hosts the Middle East’s first World Cup, prompting many to wonder whether the event, the organization of which has cost the Gulf country an estimated $220 billion, will succeed; and what Arab cities such as Riyadh, Dubai or Doha need to do to become the next London or New York.
“Looking back over the 20-odd years that I’ve been running surveys on this (subject), the evidence is that running or hosting a big sporting event, such as the football World Cup or the summer Olympics, has no impact, generally speaking, on the image of the country, at least not beyond a few months,” Anholt said on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ weekly talkshow.
He added: “Within about six months or so, people would have forgotten about it.
“Occasionally, it can do quite serious damage to the (host) country’s image, if the thing is very controversial or if it shows things about the country that are worse than what people were expecting.”
For Qatar, Anholt said, hosting the World Cup has its upside if “what you are actually looking for is just crude awareness. In other words, you want more people to have heard about the existence of this country, because it’s anonymous.”
He continued: “Then there’s no question that hosting a major sporting event will, just in a real way, raise the profile of your country for a relatively short period.
“And, if you know exactly what you’re going to do to follow on from that immediately afterward, and keep the momentum going and keep the profile high, then that could work as part of a slightly more sophisticated strategy.”
Nevertheless, he cautioned that “believing that just hosting a successful major event will suddenly turn your image from bad into good, or from unknown into super well-known, is just an illusion. It just doesn’t happen.”
Anholt acknowledged that “there can be other valuable effects of hosting a major event” and that “these things are not necessarily a waste of time and money.”
He added: “Particularly the smaller ones can be very useful tactical instruments for countries to engage with the international community.”
In sum, he said: “It’s not a simple, straightforward relationship between hosting an event and the image of the country: It can do you harm. The most common effect is no effect at all.”
Anholt said events such as Saudi Arabia’s thrilling 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup and the UAE’s successful Mars Mission can do more good for their nation brands than PR or advertising campaigns, but “in the longer term.”
He added: “The mistake is always to expect an immediate return. Your brand is not your message; it’s the context in which your message is received.”
Anholt, while delivering a talk at the Riyadh Book Fair last September, said that money spent on nation-brand advertising campaigns not only goes to waste, but rather is a crime.
Elaborating on the point, he told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen: “You’re saying, if you spend enough money on advertising and it’s good enough advertising, it will work. But what I’m saying is that those tools that work so well for selling products and services, they don’t work for changing the images of countries.”
He added: “All the evidence is that it’s just money burned. Countries are judged by what they do and by what they make, not by what they say about themselves.”
It was recently announced that Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh would host the Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a big conference full of world experts who would want to sell their country as the next ideal holiday destination. What, according to Anholt, is the difference between destination marketing and the concept of a nation brand?
He said that the two concepts are separable. “Destination marketing is a very honest and very straightforward marketing exercise. You’ve got a product which is called vacations in Saudi Arabia, and you want to market it to potential tourists, to potential purchasers of that product,” Anholt said.
“Advertising, marketing, online, offline etc, all the conventional tools of commercial promotion are very, very useful to do that. If you do lots of it and you do it well, people will come.
“You can deliberately cause more people to visit your country through effective marketing. There’s no question about that.”
Anholt’s presence at the book fair means he is no stranger to some of Riyadh’s ambitious goals: To double its population by 2030, make huge investments in projects aimed at creating jobs for both locals and expatriates, further expand green cover, and win the bid to host the World Expo in 2030.
What, in his view, does Saudi Arabia need to do so that the capital can become more attractive and grow into another London, New York or Tokyo?
“Making the city into an attractive destination, an attractive product for people to buy into, is really only part of the story,” Anholt said.
“Having a beautiful city or having an attractive destination, or a beautiful nature or a great culture, nice people, is all part of the attraction of a country.
“But, fundamentally, the thing that matters most is that people should feel glad they are there. It’s got something to do with how they perceive you as a player in the international community.”
Anholt also shed light on why Saudi Arabia — which occupies 57th place on the Nation Brands Index — should not expect quick improvements in its international perception purely on the strength of ongoing domestic reforms or the generous sums of money it gives in foreign aid.
He said: “Change is not easy, and it’s not quick. We need to change people’s minds. When you’re talking about the whole world, and you’re talking about a vast cultural construct which is the perceived image of a nation, that really is a slow process.
“It’s very disheartening for the first several years. You’re going to find that almost whatever you do that tries to be good and helpful, it’s going to be interpreted in a negative way. But gradually, if you are persistent and strategic about it and, above all, sincere with those gestures, then, over time, it will begin to shift.
”But this is not something that can be fixed overnight, or in a matter of weeks or years. The images of countries take literally generations to form. They don’t come through the media from one day to the next; they come through the whole of the culture that surrounds us.”
Anholt joked that the Nation Brands Index is “one of the most boring social surveys ever conducted,” simply because the rankings change so little from year to year.
He added: “It’s because people really, really don’t change their minds about countries. These are the stable building blocks of their world view.”
As someone who has never seen a country rise by more than two places from one year to the next, he explained that “when a country does rise or fall by more than two or three places in the ranking, then that’s really important and it’s really worth analyzing.”
Case in point is Russia, which has plunged 31 places to the bottom of the index in one year.
Anholt used the example to say that, based on his experience running the Nation Brands Index survey since 2005, “international public opinion will not tolerate conflict. The one thing that people all over the world just cannot forgive a country for is being involved in a war.”
He added: “If you reach out and you harm or threaten or insult another group, whether that’s a religious group or another state, public opinion will punish you as a state for doing so.”
Does that mean Israel, which occupies illegal lands as per the UN but has not suffered a plunge in its Nation Brands ranking, is an exception to the rule?
Anholt said the explanation is more complicated in that “Israel doesn’t suffer quite the same because (the occupation) hasn’t just happened right now. It’s a situation which people have been used to for a number of years.”
He pointed out, however, that while Israel is nowhere near the bottom of the index, it is also nowhere near the top.
He said: “Considering the size of its economy, and considering its successes and the connections that it enjoys with other countries, its position in the international community, especially since the Abraham Accords and all the rest of it, you might expect Israel to rank significantly higher than it does.”
Moving on to the UK, Anholt said that chaotic politics is so much the order of the day in world affairs these days, he does not think “just changing prime ministers every few weeks is going to have any long-term effect on the image of the country.”
Even so, he said the image of Britain is on the slide and has been so, barring a few reversals, ever since the Brexit referendum.
He added: “The data very clearly shows the number one reason why people admire a country is because they think it contributes something to humanity and the planet.
“The point about Brexit, as it was understood by most people around the world, was that the UK was withdrawing from its multilateral behavior and wanted to do it on its own. It wanted to be the British Empire all over again. Very predictably, people don’t like that.”
As for the US, he said: “It had always been the number one country, right up until the second term of George W. Bush, when the Americans invaded Iraq for the second time. America was always the most admired country on Earth; now, it never is. It seems to have settled down at about seventh to 10th position.”
Anholt put the twin examples of the UK and US this way: “Aside from invading another country, the only way that you can gradually damage the image of a country is by behaving in a persistently chaotic, turbulent and unfriendly way in the international community, and both the US and the US are proving that from year to year.
“Year by year, their scores slip in the Nation Brands Index.”
Finally, with divisions opening up in British public opinion after the passing of Queen Elizabeth this year, how much did Anholt think she and the monarchy were worth to “Brand UK?”
He said: “If you look at monarchies in pure economic terms, they tend to give quite good value for money.
“They cost taxpayers several millions a year, sometimes many millions a year, to keep them there. But what they actually return to the country’s image in terms of pure brand value is in the order of billions. People love monarchies, especially people who don’t live in monarchies themselves.
“Without the monarchy, the UK would be significantly less interesting to people than it is. It would be significantly harder to attract people to visit its old buildings in its old cities. So, purely in economic terms, royal families appear to give rather good value, as long as they behave in the right way.”
Bethlehem prepares for ‘distinguished’ celebration of Christmas
100,000 tourists expected next month, with 80% hotel occupancy: Palestinian minister
Mayor Hanna Hanania highlights special arrangements for festive season targeting global visitors
Updated 27 November 2022
RAMALLAH: Bethlehem was preparing for a “distinguished” celebration of Christmas next month with tens of thousands of visitors from around the world expected to descend on the city, officials said.
The central West Bank city is of special religious and historical importance to Christians, and Bethlehem Municipality, and the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism, have this year launched Christmas activities under the title, “From Bethlehem to the World: The spirit of Christmas Brings us Together.”
Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Hanania said: “All the eyes of the world are currently turning toward Bethlehem in preparation to mark the birth of the child Jesus.”
He pointed out that despite current world crises the event offered an opportunity to unite faithful and peace-loving people and promote freedom and dignity for all.
And by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Hanania noted that visitors were showing their support for the Palestinian presence.
The civic leader told Arab News that the municipality had started gearing up for this year’s Christmas festivities four months ago.
The occasion coincides with the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Bethlehem Municipality and the 10th anniversary of the inclusion of the Church of the Nativity on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
He said: “Bethlehem wears a new suit of joy, and hope has returned to the hearts of the city’s citizens after a long absence, and we look forward to a distinguished Christmas this year.
“Bethlehem and the Holy Land are in dire need of the blessing of peace that does not come at any price, as its highest price is justice, as peace cannot be achieved without justice and love among people.”
He added that the municipality’s aim had been to organize special Christmas celebrations in an atmosphere of joy, starting with a tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 3, Christmas market, and other related activities at the Bethlehem Peace Center and throughout the city.
Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Maayah said this year had witnessed a sharp rise in the number of tourists with post-coronavirus pandemic visitor numbers already reaching 600,000, with a further 100,000 expected next month, pushing hotel occupancy levels up to 80 percent.
Elias Al-Arja, head of the Palestinian Hotels Association and owner of the Bethlehem Hotel, told Arab News that he anticipated many hotels in Bethlehem to be full during the Christmas holidays and new year period.
He said that in recent months he had joined several Bethlehem hotel owners, backed by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, in promoting the city at international tourism exhibitions in Spain, Italy, Romania, the UK, and Turkey.
“We have begun to feel and sense the presence of a Christmas atmosphere in Bethlehem early this year,” he added.
Al-Arja noted that the tourism sector in Bethlehem — that has a Christian-dominated population of around 30,000 — had been the first to suffer from the impact of the pandemic and the last to recover from it.
Fifty percent of Bethlehem’s economy relies on tourism with the city having 56 hotels with a combined 4,500 rooms that can accommodate 9,000 people, almost 100 oriental antique stores, 400 traditional craft workshops, and 20 large restaurants.
The Palestinian Central Statistics Center revealed that in 2020 to 2021 the tourism sector lost $1.5 billion due to the pandemic.
Jeries Qumsiyeh, director at the Palestinian Ministry of Archeology and Antiquities in Bethlehem, told Arab News that this year the ministry was looking to spotlight the religious, heritage, and tourism components of not only Bethlehem but the cities of Jerusalem and Nazareth too.
Niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader urges world to cut ties with Tehran over unrest
“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video
Updated 28 November 2022
DUBAI: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s niece, a well known rights activist, has called on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran over its violent crackdown on popular unrest kindled by the death in police custody of a young woman.
A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on Nov. 23.
“O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime,” Moradkhani said in the video. “This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power.”
Khamenei’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
HRANA said 450 protesters had been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest as of Nov. 26, including 63 minors. It said 60 members of the security forces had been killed, and 18,173 protesters detained.
The protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for “inappropriate attire,” pose one of the strongest challenges to the country’s clerical establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, a member of parliament from the mainly Kurdish city of Mahabad, said on Sunday that as many as 105 people had been killed in Kurdish-populated areas during the protests. He was speaking in a debate in parliament as quoted by the Entekhan website. Widespread opposition
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters from all walks of life have burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the downfall of Iran’s Shiite Muslim theocracy.
The video was shared on YouTube on Friday by her brother, France-based Mahmoud Moradkhani, who presents himself as “an opponent of the Islamic Republic” on his Twitter account, and then by prominent Iranian rights activists.
On Nov. 23, Mahmoud Moradkhani reported her sister’s arrest as she was heeding a court order to appear at the Tehran prosecutor’s office. Farideh had been arrested earlier this year by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and later released on bail.
HRANA said she was in Tehran’s Evin security prison. Moradkhani, it said, had earlier faced a 15-year prison sentence on unspecified charges.
Her father, Ali Moradkhani Arangeh, was a Shiite cleric married to Khamenei’s sister and recently passed away in Tehran following years of isolation due to his stance against the Islamic Republic, according to his website.
Farideh Moradkhani added in her video: “Now is the time for all free and democratic countries to recall their representatives from Iran as a symbolic gesture and to expel the representatives of this brutal regime from their countries.”
On Thursday, the United Nations’ top human rights body decided by a comfortable margin to establish a new investigative mission to look into Tehran’s violent security crackdown on the anti-government protests.
Criticism of the Islamic Republic by relatives of top officials is not unprecedented. In 2012, Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was sentenced to jail for “anti-state propaganda.”
Iranian authorities released on bail the activist and blogger Hossein Ronaghi on Nov. 26 to undergo medical treatment, according to his brother writing on Twitter.
Concerns had been growing about Ronaghi’s health after he went on a hunger strike last month.
Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV
Updated 27 November 2022
BAGHDAD: Iran’s supreme leader praised paramilitary volunteers tasked with quashing dissent on Saturday in a televised address as dozens of eye doctors warned that a rising number of demonstrators have been blinded by security forces during anti-government protests.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed members of the Basij, the volunteer paramilitary wing of the elite Revolutionary Guard, and reiterated unsupported claims that protesters demonstrating countrywide are “tools” of the US and its “mercenaries.”
“(The) Basij should not forget that the main clash is with global hegemony,” Khamenei said, referring to the US. The address marking Basij week in Iran echoed previous statements lambasting the protests as a foreign plot to destabilize Iran.
Extolling the military and social virtues of the Basij over the decades, Khamenei said the forces “sacrificed themselves in order to save people from a bunch of rioters and mercenaries,” referring to the recent countrywide unrest. “They sacrificed themselves in order to confront oppression.”
The Basij have taken a leading role in clamping down on demonstrations that began Sept. 17, ignited by the death of a young woman while in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
Protests continued on Saturday at some universities in the capital Tehran and other cities, according to social media. Because of a severe countrywide crackdown by Iranian security forces, demonstrations have become more scattered. Protesters have also called for commercial strikes.
In a letter, 140 ophthalmologists raised concerns about a rising number of patients with severe eye injuries resulting from being shot with metal pellets and rubber bullets, according to pro-reform Iranian news site Sobhema and Iran International as well as other sites on social media. “Unfortunately in many cases the hit caused the loss of sight in one or both eyes,” the letter, addressed to the head of the country’s ophthalmologists association, said. The doctors requested that the head of Iran’s Opthalmology Association pass on their concerns about the irreparable damage caused by security forces to the relevant authorities.
It was the second letter from eye doctors expressing concerns about police brutality and the shooting of pellets and rubber bullets into the eyes of demonstrators and others. A previous letter was signed by over 200 ophthalmologists.
Last week, videos circulated on social media of law student Ghazal Ranjkesh in the southern city of Banda Abbas who lost an eye after being shot with a metal pellet on her way home from work.
The neighborhood watch is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019
The men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime
Updated 27 November 2022
BEIRUT: In the darkness of Beirut’s unlit streets, men wielding batons and torches are taking security into their own hands in an initiative they hope will keep neighborhoods safe but critics see as a worrying echo of Lebanon’s troubled past.
The neighborhood watch, launched earlier this month in some of Beirut’s most salubrious streets, is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019, paralyzing much of the state and fueling poverty in the worst shock since the 1975-90 civil war.
To supporters of the scheme — the idea of Christian politician Nadim Gemayel and organized by a civil society group he founded — the men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime.
But among critics, their appearance has evoked parallels with the civil war when the state collapsed, militias controlled the streets and Beirut split into cantons. The mayor has expressed concern it could prompt others to follow suit.
Such criticisms are rejected by Gemayel, a lawmaker in the Kataeb Party whose father, Bashir, led the main Christian militia in the civil war until he was assassinated in 1982 after being elected president.
“We are not a militia, we are not armed, we don’t have rockets or drones,” he said, referring to the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
“The big problem we are suffering today in Beirut and all Lebanon is that there’s no electricity, there’s no security, no feeling of reassurance, and all the streets are dark,” he said, describing the state as “absent.”
“If they had done their duty and lit the streets, we would not have been forced to light the streets, and if they ... had not allowed the country to collapse, we would not be forced today to stand in the streets to reassure our people,” he said.
The initiative — which currently has 98 recruits — was launched in coordination with the security services and aimed to complement their work, Gemayel said, adding the security forces were suffering a manpower shortfall due to the crisis.
Lebanon’s security services, like the rest of the state, have been hit hard by a 95 percent currency collapse which has destroyed the value of wages paid to soldiers and police.
The United States is buttressing them with aid, including salary support.
A spokesman for the Internal Security Forces (ISF) did not respond to a request for comment.
The crisis has driven a spike in crimes, including armed robberies, carjackings, handbag snatches and thefts of Internet and telephone cables.
Still, army chief General Joseph Aoun said the army, the backbone of civil peace in Lebanon, was able to maintain order. “The security situation is under control... we have not previously accepted any violation of security and stability, and we will not accept it today,” he said.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani said he learnt about the initiative on the news, and was worried it could cause tension.
“Say they catch a thief from one party or people intervene with guns, then things could get out of hand,” he said.
“My second fear is that other areas will also ask for this and then each area will have a group for itself managing security in their area.”
Lebanon’s sectarian parties disarmed at the end of the war, bar Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal to fight Israel. Their pervasive influence is never far from the surface and tensions are common in a country awash with guns.
Supporters of different groups fought deadly clashes in Beirut as recently as last year.
Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said the initiative was a clear example of security being organized locally under a political umbrella, adding that this trend had surfaced earlier in the crisis and was unfolding less visibly elsewhere.
Security, like electricity, would increasingly be enjoyed by those who could afford it, he added.
Gemayel said the finance came from local donors, with logistics organized by a security company. Recruits earn $200 a month for a six-hour shift — much needed income for many.
He expects expansion.
Shopkeeper George Samaha welcomed it.
“We were more assured because nothing is guaranteed given this bad situation we’re living,” said Samaha, 51.
But lawmaker Paula Yacoubian called it “short-sighted.”
“Are we back to the time of militias?” she said.
“This country is disintegrating and falling apart, and this is one of the things that will contribute to the fall of the country and the state.”