At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

Syria’s foreign minister Faisal Mekdad addresses the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, on September 27, 2021, at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2021

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

  • FM Faisal Mekdad pledges to continue to fight to rid country of ‘terrorists’
  • Denounces use of chemical weapons despite their use by Assad regime to quell revolution

NEW YORK: Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has accused the country’s adversaries of using the coronavirus disease pandemic as an opportunity to attack Syria, and issued a warning to the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces that the Assad regime will use “all possible means” to expel them from the country.

Speaking on Monday, the final day of the UN General Assembly, Mekdad said that “the world has experienced unprecedented circumstances, where hospitals reached full capacity, millions of lives were lost, economies contracted” as a result of COVID-19.

But, he continued, “some used the pandemic to settle political scores. Others selfishly ignored the needs of others, choosing to believe they are alone on this Earth.”

The minister, who assumed office less than a year ago, denounced countries who allegedly “took advantage of the pandemic to scale up their unilateral coercive economic measures against those countries and people who differ from them.”

The Syrian representative did not name any state explicitly, but the US has implemented a sanctions regime against Syria and its leadership due to crimes committed over the course of the country’s brutal civil war — including the repeated use of chemical weaponry and other human rights abuses.

Mekdad also pledged that the Assad regime would continue the country’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria, and said those that “continue to support and invest in terrorists will be doomed to fail.”

Throughout his speech, he railed against the US, Turkey, and Israel, taking the opportunity to denounce Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was recognized as Israeli territory by the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, but is considered Syrian by the UN.

He also accused both Turkey and the US of looting Syrian resources and occupying territory within the country. 

“Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from the majority of Syrian territories, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law,” said Mekdad.

In a thinly veiled threat against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia convened by the US to fight Daesh, Mekdad said: “As for the few seeking secession in northeast Syria, we warn them against harboring such illusions. By pursuing such ends, they align themselves with those plotting against Syria’s unity — and they will be dealt with accordingly.”

Mekdad also used his speech to rally against the use of chemical weapons, calling them “reprehensible and completely unacceptable under any circumstances by anyone, anywhere at any time.”

He explained that, for this reason, Syria signed up to multilateral conventions against the use of the weapons, and “fulfilled its obligations in record time.”

In 2013, a chemical weapon attack in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, attributed to the Syrian government, killed hundreds of people, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 1,500. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also noted as recently as August this year that Syria still has not fulfilled all of its obligations under the chemical weapons treaties — including the requirement to declare what chemical weapons the regime still has stockpiled and where they are being held.

Syria has also ignored requests by the UN body to issue a visa for a team leader in its command post in the country, OPCW said, “which left the command post with only support staff from UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) for the second time this year.”

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

Updated 04 December 2021

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

  • Officials: Iran was preparing to double enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities during past five-and-a-half months

CHICAGO: Senior US State Department officials accused Iran of not taking negotiations on limiting nuclear technology seriously and using the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as an excuse to expand its nuclear program.

The officials conceded in a teleconference with news outlets including Arab News Saturday that although President Joe Biden views Iran’s conduct as “not acceptable,” the administration is focused on reviving talks rather than pursuing tougher measures or an expansion of sanctions.

During the past five-and-a-half months, they said, while telling JCPOA negotiators in Vienna that they are “getting ready,” Iran was instead preparing to double their enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities.

“We have been waiting patiently for five-and-a-half months. The Iranian government said that it needed time to resume the talks on a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA, and I think what we have seen over the last week or so is what ‘getting ready’ meant for them,” one official said.

“It meant continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways, and their latest provocation as reported by the IAEA Wednesday, while we were still in the middle of talks, was to prepare for the doubling of their production capacity of 20 percent enriched uranium at Fordo.

“What ‘getting ready’ meant was to continue stonewall the IAEA despite efforts by all of the P5+1, (and) constructive efforts to find a way forward between Director General Grossy and Iran.”

The P5+1 refers to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, plus Germany.

Iran is seeking to “walk back” all past compromises during the unproductive six rounds of talks, while asking for more concessions, he said.

“In other (words), not come back with a serious proposal about how we could resume mutual compliance with the JCPOA but raising issues that go beyond the JCPOA,” the official said.

Although US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said in the past that Biden will not “accept the situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” the State Department outlined no plans to step up pressure to force Iran to take the talks seriously.

He said he is unsure when JCPOA talks in Vienna will resume, adding: “The date of those talks, the date of that resumption, matters far less to us than whether Iran will come with a serious attitude prepared to negotiate seriously. If they are, they will find a very serious counterpart on the other side, which is the United States, but we will have to wait and see if they take that position. But so far, what we have seen in Vienna in their nuclear program and in their dealings with the IAEA unfortunately suggest the opposite.”

The State Department official brushed aside questions regarding China, which has violated the sanctions by purchasing Iranian crude oil.

“If Iran kills the JCPOA, then other sanctions would come into effect,” he said, declining to detail those actions.

Asked if Biden needed to “calm” the concerns of Israel, which has a huge cache of nuclear weapons, or if there are concerns Israel might respond with a military strike to any Iranian increase in activity, the official said: “We don’t view our job as to calm Israel down ... Our job is to work together towards our common objective. 

“Israel is sovereign country and makes its own decisions, but we think we are stronger when we act together.”

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

Updated 04 December 2021

Israeli police kill Palestinian assailant in Jerusalem: police, state media

  • The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city's Damascus Gate and then "attempted to stab a border police officer,"
  • A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces shot dead a Palestinian man in annexed east Jerusalem on Saturday after he stabbed an Israeli civilian and tried to attack police, Israeli police and Palestinian medics said.
The assailant used a knife to stab a man near the city’s Damascus Gate and then “attempted to stab a border police officer,” police said in a statement.
“Police neutralized the stabber,” it added.
A spokeswoman for the Palestinian Red Crescent said police killed the Palestinian assailant.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency service said the stabbing victim was a 20-year-old religious Jewish man who was taken to hospital in “moderate to severe condition.”
The assailant was not immediately identified. Israeli public radio said he was a 25-year-old from the northern West Bank town of Salfit.
Footage filmed by a bystander near the Damascus Gate and widely shared on social media showed a man in jeans lying prone on a sidewalk as police fired shots at him.
The official Palestinian state news agency Wafa said the man was killed “when Israeli police officers opened fire on him at point blank range.”
Mohammed Hamadeh, Jerusalem spokesman for Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, decried the “deliberate shooting of a wounded young man lying on the ground.”
After the shooting, police fired tear gas near the Damascus Gate to disperse Palestinians gathered there.
The incident came after a Hamas-affiliated gunman fatally shot a Jewish tour guide in Jerusalem’s Old City before police killed him last month.
Days before that, security forces shot dead a 16-year-old assailant in the Old City who they said stabbed two police officers.
The Old City is located in east Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied since 1967 and which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

Updated 04 December 2021

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

  • The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful UGTT union called for early elections on Saturday, saying it was concerned for the country’s democratic gains because of the president’s reluctance to announce a roadmap for political reforms.
UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi’s comments, in a speech to thousands of his supporters, put more pressure on President Kais Saied, more than four months after he seized all political powers.
“We supported July 25 because it was an opportunity to save the country and implement reforms ... but we have become afraid for Tunisians’ democratic gains because of the excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap,” Taboubi said.
He added that the president should call for a dialogue with political parties and national organizations that includes reviewing the electoral law and agreeing on early and transparent elections.
The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia.
Saied suspended parliament and dismissed the government on July 25, installing a new prime minister and announcing he would rule by decree. Critics denounced his move as a coup.
The president has defended his takeover as the only way to end governmental paralysis after years of political squabbling and economic stagnation. He has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution.
Saied also promised to end the emergency state quickly but has not given a date for this, and pressure has mounted for him to present a roadmap to return to parliamentary democracy.

Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Updated 04 December 2021

Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

  • The chaos comes amid a wave of violent crime in Israel’s Arab community that shows no sign of abating

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel: Police on Friday shot and killed a man in an Arab town in northern Israel who had allegedly been involved in a car-ramming attack that wounded two officers, Israeli officials said.
The incident capped an eruption of communal violence in Umm Al-Fahm, including armed clashes among residents. On Thursday, a man was shot and killed in the town. Israeli police and firefighters raced to the community as gunfire rang out and buildings were set ablaze.
The chaos comes amid a wave of violent crime in Israel’s Arab community that shows no sign of abating, despite far-reaching action announced in recent months by Israeli authorities.
Friday’s incident began when paramilitary Border Police opened fire on a vehicle speeding toward them, fatally shooting one man and wounding the other in the car, who was arrested after receiving medical treatment, Border Police said. They said the two officers suffered light to moderate wounds.
They said a gun and ammunition were found in the car, and that the two men were suspected of involvement in violent family disputes that have rocked Umm Al-Fahm in recent months. Authorities said the car-ramming was not politically motivated.
Arab towns across Israel have seen a major escalation in violence in recent years driven by organized crime and family feuds. At least 117 Arabs have been killed in 2021, the highest number on record, according to the Abraham Initiatives, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence. The crime rate among Arabs far exceeds their 20 percent share of the population.
Arab citizens of Israel have the right to vote, most speak fluent Hebrew, and they have a large presence in the country’s universities and medical profession. But they face widespread discrimination, especially with housing.
They have close familial ties to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Jewish Israelis to view them with suspicion. Jewish-Arab violence erupted across Israel during the Gaza war in May.
Arab activists have long accused police of ignoring crime in their communities. Israeli officials have touted a number of initiatives in recent years, including larger budgets for law enforcement in Arab communities, but police say local leaders could do more to help them.
Israel’s current government pledged major action against crime in Arab communities in August as it announced a wave of arrests. That was a central demand of a small party that made history this year by being the first Arab faction to join a ruling coalition.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed support for the police on Friday, calling for improved security and further dialogue with Arab leaders.


Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital

Updated 04 December 2021

Arab coalition destroys ballistic missile launch pad in Yemen’s capital

RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed a ballistic missile launch pad and a warehouse used to build drones in Yemen’s capital, Al Ekhbariya reported on Saturday.
The coalition has carried out multiple sorties in the past few weeks to hamper Houthi militia operations in and around Sanaa.
The launch pad destruction in southern Sanaa also killed experts, the coalition said, adding that a mine-making and drone-assembly workshop was also destroyed.
The coalition said they took the necessary precautions to safeguard civilian life during the operations.
The near daily attacks by the militia on Saudi civilian infrastructure using drones has reduced considerably as the coalition has gone after specific targets behind the persistent attacks.
Experts belonging to Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been killed by the coalition airstrikes in recent weeks.
The Yemeni government is engaged in a fierce resistance in the governorate of Marib, a resource-rich region coveted by the Iran-backed group.
On Thursday, the coalition said it carried out nine operations against militia targets in Marib in the past 24 hours, killing 45 fighters and destroying six military vehicles.
Government forces also liberated a large swathe of land in the southern governorate of Shabwa on Thursday.
Backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled Bayhan and Ousylan districts, expelling militia fighters from wide areas and taking control of a strategic road that connects the two districts, a military official told Arab News on Thursday.
The Arab coalition has been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis, after the militia seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced a roadmap called the Riyadh Initiative to halt fighting in Yemen and reopen Sanaa airport, as well as continuing talks to find a solution to the conflict. The proposal was seen as a welcome step internationally, but has been rejected by Houthi leadership.
The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.
Saudi relief agency, KSrelief, has poured billions of dollars worth of aid into Yemen and has hundreds of projects focusing on food and health.
In July, The World Food Programme welcomed Saudi contributions to the fund saying humanitarian action in Yemen could not be sustained without it.