Abbas, Israel’s Gantz hold new high-level talks, urged by US

In this Aug. 1, 2021, file photo, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. (AP)
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Updated 30 August 2021

Abbas, Israel’s Gantz hold new high-level talks, urged by US

  • A Palestinian official said Gantz and Abbas discussed possible steps toward improving the atmosphere

JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister has held talks with the Palestinian president in Ramallah, the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, officials said.
Sunday’s meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signaled a possible shift of direction after after the near-complete breakdown of communication between Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years.
It came two days after President Joe Biden urged Israel’s new prime minister during a White House meeting to take steps toward improving the lives of Palestinians.
Gantz’s office said he told Abbas that Israel will take new measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy. It said they also discussed security issues and agreed to remain in touch. It was believed to be the highest level public meeting between the sides since 2014.
A Palestinian official said Gantz and Abbas discussed possible steps toward improving the atmosphere. He said this included Palestinian demands for a halt in Israeli military operations in Palestinian areas of the occupied West Bank, allowing unification of families with relatives inside Israel and allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the late-night meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a hard-liner who opposes Palestinian independence, as do key partners in his diverse, ruling coalition. But Bennett has said he supports building up the Palestinian economy and expanding autonomy for Palestinians. He also is interested in bolstering Abbas in his rivalry with the ruling Hamas militant group in Gaza.
While Biden supports a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, his administration is focused on interim confidence-building measures. Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pursued a hard-line policy toward the Palestinians, backed by former President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration took a number of steps, including moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Abbas halted most contacts with the US and Israel in return.
Netanyahu had repeatedly claimed Abbas was not a reliable partner for negotiating a peace deal, a portrayal dismissed by Netanyahu critics as a pretext for avoiding making concessions.
Hussein Sheikh, a top Abbas aide, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Twitter. It took place on Sunday night in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Abbas maintains his headquarters.


Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead

Updated 6 min 5 sec ago

Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead

  • Quinonez, 32, and another person were found dead close to midnight local time, according to local police

QUITO: Ecuador’s 2019 200 meters world bronze medallist Alex Quinonez who allowed his countrymen to “dream” has been shot dead in the port city of Guayaquil according to the Sports Ministry.
Quinonez, 32, and another person were found dead close to midnight local time, according to local police.
“With great sadness, we confirm the murder of our sportsman Alex Quinonez,” the Sports Ministry announced on Twitter.
“We have lost a great sportsman, someone who allowed us to dream, who moved us....he was the greatest sprinter this country produced.”
Quinonez — who was suspended prior to the Tokyo Olympics due to “breach of his whereabouts obligations” — was also hailed by Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to his family,” he tweeted.
“May he rest in peace. Those who take the lives of Ecuadoreans will not remain unpunished.
“We will act with force.”


Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

Updated 11 min 24 sec ago

Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

  • A motive for the attack in Iran's Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear
  • Later Fars news agency said the man had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The new governor of a northwestern Iranian province found himself slapped in the face by an angry man during his inauguration Saturday.
It was an unusual breach of security in the Islamic Republic during a ceremony attended by the country’s interior minister.
A motive for the attack in Iran’s Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear, though it targeted a new provincial governor who once served in the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and reportedly had been kidnapped at one point by rebel forces in Syria. One report referred to it as a personal dispute.
The new governor, Brig. Gen. Abedin Khorram, had taken the podium in the provincial capital of Tabriz when the man strode out from offstage and immediately swung at the official. Video aired by state television recorded the gathered crowd gasping in shock, the sound of the slap echoing on the sound system. It took several seconds before plainclothes security forces reached him.
They dragged the man off through a side door, knocking down a curtain. Others rushed up, knocking into each other.
Later footage showed Khorram return to the stage and speak to the unsettled crowd, now all standing up.
“I do not know him of course but you should know that, although I did not want to say it, when I was in Syria I would get whipped by the enemy 10 times a day and would be beaten up,” he said. “More than 10 times, they would hold a loaded gun to my head. I consider him on a par with those enemies but forgive him.”
Another man on stage shouted: “Death to the hypocrites!” That’s a common chant used against exiled opposition groups and others who oppose the Islamic Republic. Others cried out that Khorram was a “pro-supreme leader governor.”
Though Khorram said he didn’t know the man, the state-run IRNA news agency later described the attacker as a member of the Guard’s Ashoura Corps, which Khorram had overseen. IRNA described the attack as coming due to “personal reasons,” without elaborating.
Later, the semiofficial Fars news agency said the man who slapped the governor had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse.
Khorram had been recently nominated by Iran’s hard-line parliament to serve as the provincial governor under the government of President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khorram had been among 48 Iranians held hostage in 2013 in Syria, later released for some 2,130 rebels, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that long has been critical of Iran. Iran had referred to those held as Shiite religious pilgrims. A State Department spokesperson at the time called it “just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel (and) technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.”
The incident also comes amid anger in Iran over its precarious economic situation despite its support abroad for regional militias and others, including Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran’s economy has been hammered since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.


Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt

Updated 28 min 48 sec ago

Libya FM: Security, stability necessary to usher in new govt

  • The Libyan government hosted a high-level conference aimed at resolving the country’s thorniest issues ahead of elections scheduled for late December
  • Libya still faces a number of obstacles before its people can go to the polls, including unresolved issues over the country's elections laws

TRIPOLI, Libya: Libya’s chief diplomat says the transitional government is working to hold long-awaited elections later this year, but security and political and economic stability are necessary for a peaceful transition to a new government.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush’s comments came in an interview with AP late Friday in the capital of Tripoli. She spoke a day after the Libyan government hosted a high-level conference aimed at resolving the country’s thorniest issues ahead of elections scheduled for late December.
“To reach a peaceful transition, attention must be paid to the security and military affairs and to push the wheel of the economy in Libya,” she said.
Libya still faces a number of obstacles before its people can go to the polls, including unresolved issues over the country’s elections laws, occasional infighting among armed groups serving the government, and the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west, separated for nearly 10 years by civil war.
Hopefuls for the presidential election, slated for Dec. 24, are set to declare their candidacies in the coming days and there are signs that some figures who rose to prominence during the war could take part. Mangoush said she hopes Libyans would accept the results of the vote which, if held, would be the country’s first election since 2014.
Parliament elections have been rescheduled by lawmakers for early next year.
Mangoush said the conference Thursday attended by Western, regional and United Nations representatives was a push to implement the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign forces from the oil-rich country before holding the presidential and parliamentary votes.
“The conference has a great and very deep symbolism for all Libyans,” she said, adding it was “the biggest indication that Libya is recovering.”
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. He was captured and killed by an armed group two months later. The oil-rich country was for years split between rival governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other in the eastern part of the country. Each side was backed by different foreign powers and militias.
After months of UN-backed negotiations, an interim government was appointed in February to lead the country to elections. As the countdown to the vote begins, differences are re-emerging between Libyan rivals — putting the entire reconciliation process at risk.
In September, Libya’s powerful, east-based commander Khalifa Haftar announced he was suspending his role as leader of a self-styled Libyan army for the next three months — the clearest indication yet that he may be contemplating a run for president in December elections. Should he run, he would be one of the frontrunners but his candidacy would likely stir controversy in western Libya and Tripoli, the stronghold of his opponents, many of them Islamists.
Thousands of mercenaries, foreign fighters and other foreign forces are still in Libya a year after a cease-fire deal included an agreement that they would depart within three months, which hasn’t happened.
A 10-member joint military commission with five representatives from each side of the conflict in Libya reached an initial agreement earlier this month on the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries. The UN has also started to deploy monitors to observe the cease-fire.
The UN special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, warned last month that failure to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24 could renew division and conflict and thwart efforts to unite the oil-rich country.
Mangoush said Libya is marching toward a “peaceful path and safe path,” but she warned that achieving a peaceful transition requires “security, political and economic stability.”
She said the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah backs holding a “fair and comprehensive” vote at the end of the year, although “there is diligent and very serious work to be done toward the elections.”
“We are all waiting for it to take place on time, God willing, and that Libyans accept its results,” she said.


PM Khan says Pakistan can beat India in T20 World Cup opener in Dubai

Updated 29 min 37 sec ago

PM Khan says Pakistan can beat India in T20 World Cup opener in Dubai

  • The prime minister tells his aides the national cricket squad will ‘definitely’ defeat the rival team on Sunday
  • Khan also met the Pakistani cricket team last month and advised its players to strengthen themselves psychologically

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday his country’s cricket team had requisite potential to defeat India in its Twenty20 World Cup opening match in Dubai on Sunday, reported a local news network.
Khan, a legendary cricketer of his time who won the 1992 World Cup for his country, met the national cricket team last month to advise the players to strengthen themselves psychologically and display greater team spirit.
According to Geo News, he discussed Pakistan’s upcoming contest with India with his aides while expressing confidence that his country’s cricket squad would be able to secure victory.
“This team has the talent to defeat India,” the prime minister was quoted as saying. “Insha’Allah [God willing], Pakistan will definitely beat India tomorrow.”
Much like Khan, Pakistan’s information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain also maintained that Pakistan would defeat India in the much-anticipated T20 World Cup opener.
“Spirits are high game on hai Pak is all set to win Inshallah,” Hussain said in a Twitter post.


Pakistan have lost all seven World Cup (50 over) clashes against India as well as five games in the Twenty20 World Cup and start as “underdogs.”
However, the Men in Green come into the Super 12s contest with 10 wins in a row in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Exuding confidence on Saturday, Pakistan skipper Babar Azam stressed that the past was irrelevant to his players.
“To be honest, what has passed is beyond us,” he told a virtual media conference. “We want to use our ability and confidence on the day of the match so that we can get a better result.”
Azam noted that records were “meant to be broken.”
Also on Saturday, India skipper Virat Kohli said they would take on a “very strong” Pakistan team in their first Twenty20 World Cup game while downplaying his team’s unbeaten record against their opponents.
“We never discussed these things, about our record and past performance,” Kohli told reporters in Dubai. “These things create distractions. What matters is how we prepare and execute on that particular day, regardless of the opposition.”

 


Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote

Updated 23 October 2021

Two years after protests, Lebanon activists set sights on vote

  • Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets from October 17, 2019 in an unprecedented countrywide and cross-sectarian uprising
  • Activist Firas Hamdan is one of many to say that the elections, set for next year, will be a new opportunity for people to raise their voices against the authorities

BEIRUT: Two years after a now-defunct protest movement shook Lebanon, opposition activists are hoping parliamentary polls will challenge the ruling elite’s stranglehold on the country.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets from October 17, 2019 in an unprecedented countrywide and cross-sectarian uprising.
Their demands were for basic services and the wholesale removal of a political class they accused of mismanagement and corruption since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
But as the country sank further into economic turmoil, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, what demonstrators called their “revolution” petered out.
Many then saw a probe into the cataclysmic 2020 Beirut port blast as the best chance to bring down Lebanon’s hereditary political barons, but even intense international pressure in the explosion’s aftermath failed to make them change their ways.
Last week, feuding parties turned Beirut into a war zone, with heavy exchanges of fire killing seven people in a flare-up sparked by a rally against the main investigating judge.
Lawyer and activist Firas Hamdan is one of many to say that the elections, set for next year, will be a new opportunity for people to raise their voices against the authorities.
“We tried everything — protests in a single location and across regions, demonstrations outside the central bank and near the homes of officials, following lawmakers and officials into restaurants and coffee shops, and blocking roads — but all to no avail,” he said.
Instead now “the parliamentary elections will be a pivotal moment in confronting the system — even if not the final battle,” he added.
Hamdan said the polls would allow people to choose between those who want to actually “build a state,” and a tired ruling class “that only knows the language of arms, destruction and blood.”
It will be a “face-off between thieves and murderers, and citizens who deserve a chance at state building,” said the lawyer, who was hit in the heart by a lead pellet at a demonstration last year demanding justice over the port blast.
The protest movement has given birth to a clutch of new political parties, as well as attracting support from more traditional ones such as the Christian Kataeb party.
Each has its own vision of how to achieve change, but all largely agree on the importance of the upcoming elections.
Zeina El-Helou, a member of new political party “Lana” (For Us), said it was time to “move on from the nostalgia of throngs of people in the streets chanting” for change.
Activists needed instead to work on “managing frustrations and expectations” for the future, she said.
The political battle would be tough, as it opposed two sides of “unequal means,” she said, referring to her side’s limited financing or access to the traditional media for campaigning, and to gerrymandering giving establishment parties the advantage.
The various opposition groups have yet to decide how they will take part in the upcoming polls, and some observers have criticized them for failing to coordinate their efforts effectively.
Voters, meanwhile, are busy battling to get by on deeply diminished incomes, amid endless power cuts, price hikes and shortages of everything from medicine to petrol.
Maher Abu Chakra, from the new grouping “Li Haqqi” (For My Right), said the polls would likely not change a thing but it was “important to take part.”
“It’s a first step on the path to lasting change.”
But he too acknowledged the challenges.
“When people’s priority becomes making sure they can provide basic needs, they’re less ready for confrontation” in politics, he said.
Tens of thousands have been laid off or have taken pay cuts since the start of the crisis, and many people have been deprived of their own life savings, which have become trapped in the banks.
In some cases, traditional parties have managed to wheedle their way back into voters’ homes by giving them food, fuel or medication, or even paying their electricity or water bills.
Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said the old political system was “still alive and well.”
The people, however, were suffering from “social fatigue” and had “understood change wouldn’t be so easy,” he said.
Rima Majed, assistant professor of sociology at AUB, said people were leaving the country because they had lost hope in any political change.
Fed up with constant blackouts and shortages, thousands of fresh graduates and better-off families have packed their bags and quit Lebanon in recent months in search of a better life abroad.
“It’s deluded to believe that elections can change the system,” she said.