UN special envoy slams Israeli destruction, seizures in occupied territories

Children watch over what remained of their family belongings after Israeli authorities dismantled at least 49 structures in the Bedouin community of Ras Al-Tin in Ramallah on July 14. (Twitter/@ochaopt)
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Updated 29 September 2021

UN special envoy slams Israeli destruction, seizures in occupied territories

  • Tor Wennesland: ‘Israeli-issued building permits almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain’
  • 433 Palestinians displaced since July, 970 face eviction in East Jerusalem

LONDON: Israel has continued to destroy structures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council on Wednesday.

The council heard how Israel has since July demolished and seized Palestinian-owned structures across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

Wennesland said Israeli authorities conducted the demolitions and seizures while “citing the absence of Israeli-issued building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain.”

UN investigations found that 302 structures were demolished or seized by Israeli authorities, or were destroyed by their owners to avoid being charged. This caused the displacement of some 433 people, including 251 children and 102 women.

Wennesland said Israeli authorities demolished around 30 structures, including 17 buildings that were given as humanitarian assistance, on July 7 in the Bedouin community of Humsa Al-Bqai’a in the Jordan Valley.

Israeli authorities, he added, confiscated at least 49 structures in the Bedouin community of Ras Al-Tin in Ramallah governorate on July 14, displacing 84 people.

Some 970 Palestinians currently face eviction in East Jerusalem. 


Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of Guards colonel: president

Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel who was shot dead in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi warns. (AP)
Updated 23 May 2022

Iran will ‘avenge’ killing of Guards colonel: president

  • Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel who was shot dead in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi warns

TEHRAN: Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel who was shot dead in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi warned on Monday.
Col. Sayyad Khodai was shot dead Sunday outside his home by assailants on motorcycles, in a killing Iran blamed on “elements linked to the global arrogance,” its term for the United States and its allies including Israel.
It was the most high profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 murder of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Raisi said: “I insist on the serious pursuit (of the killers) by security officials, and I have no doubt that the blood of this great martyr will be avenged.”

“There is no doubt that the hand of global arrogance can be seen in this crime,” he added, echoing what the Guards said the previous day.
He was speaking just ahead of visiting Oman, where he will meet with Sultan Haitham.
Khodai’s funeral was due to take place in Tehran at 5:00 p.m. local time (1230 GMT).
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the ideological arm of Iran’s military — described Khodai as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a term used for those who work on behalf of the Islamic republic in Syria or Iraq.
Iran maintains significant political influence in both countries, notably having backed President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s grinding civil war.
State television noted that Khodai was “known” in Syria, where Iran has acknowledged deploying “military advisers.”

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Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

  • Hezbollah resorting to narcotics trade to secure funding after US sanctions hit Iran

AMMAN: The Jordanian army announced it had killed four people who attempted to smuggle “large amounts” of drugs into the country from Syria.

A source from the Jordanian Armed Forces said that troops on Jordan’s eastern borders with Syria opened fire on people who attempted to infiltrate the kingdom, killing four of them and injuring others.

The source said that the infiltrators were forced to retreat into Syrian territory.

“After inspecting the area, 181 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 637,000 Captagon narcotic pills, and 39,600 tramadol pills were found and handed over to the concerned authorities,” the source told Arab News.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said that six people were injured in the operation with some of them in a critical condition.

It said that one of those killed by the Jordanian army was the leader of a group that works in the narcotics industry in southern Syria and had “strong” ties with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah.

The operation on Sunday was the latest since Jordan announced a crackdown on drug smuggling from Syria and a change in rules of engagement to curb what it described as a “dramatic increase” in drug trafficking from its neighbor.

Jordan has warned that Syria was becoming a narco-state, posing cross-border threats to Jordan, the region, and the rest of the world.

The JAF has recently said that a total of 361 smuggling attempts from Syria were foiled in 2021, leading to the seizure of about 15.5 million pills of narcotics of different types.

It foiled more than 130 smuggling attempts from Syria in 2020 and seized about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

Describing the figures as “dramatically high,” a military source, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that “Illicit drug cultivation and manufacture has become a growing industry in Syria.”

According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi, drug smuggling operations are most active in the southern regions of Daraa and Al-Suwayda.

Most of the smuggling routes are controlled by armed Bedouin tribes that have affiliations inside Jordan, the news website quoted sources as saying.

Experts say the strong presence of the militant organization Hezbollah in Syria and the expansion of its drug trafficking operations are the main reasons for the war-torn country becoming a narco-state and for the increase of drug smuggling into Jordan, Arab Gulf states, and Europe.

In recent remarks to Arab News, Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and military analyst, said Hezbollah had resorted to the narcotics trade to secure funding after the US sanctions on Iran.

“There is an established illicit drugs industry for Hezbollah in Beirut’s Dahieh Al-Janubiya and in the Shiite stronghold of Baalbek,” he said.

Hezbollah “has relocated some of its drug factories to Aleppo and other Syrian regime-controlled regions,” Dweiri said.

“The US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah hard, obliging Tehran’s most funded proxy to look for other sources of revenues,” he said.

According to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah has significantly expanded and institutionalized its drug trafficking enterprises, which now generate more money than its other funding streams.

The think tank said that Hezbollah’s global narcotics industry began in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1970s, using well-established smuggling routes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

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Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Updated 22 May 2022

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

  • Only 20 percent of damaged housing repaired since end of fighting in 2021

GAZA CITY: Delayed rebuilding efforts in Gaza have frustrated locals, with many still living in temporary accomodation a year after the end of fierce fighting.

Ayman Dahman has lived with his family for more than a year in a rented house after his home was destroyed during the Palestinian-Israel conflict in May last year.

Dahman does not know when his old apartment — which he is still paying installments on — will be reconstructed.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed four conflicts, the last of which was in May 2021. The fighting that year lasted for 11 days, during which about 1,700 housing units were completely destroyed.

“I bought my apartment some years before the war, and I still pay the installments from my monthly salary. Now I live with my wife and two daughters and two sons in an apartment I rented after the war; we don’t know when we will return to our home again,” Dahman said.

Dahman and his family used to live in a five-storey building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees paid rent allowance to 154 Palestinian families whose homes were completely demolished during the war, including the Dahman family.

Naji Sarhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, said that no more than 20 percent of the damaged properties have been reconstructed since the end of the war last year.

“What has been accomplished and what is underway in the housing sector so far does not exceed 20 percent of the completely destroyed houses, and 70 percent of the partially damaged houses,” Sarhan said at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.

He added: “There are no commitments for the reconstruction of the high-rise and multi-storey residential buildings that were bombed and demolished by the occupation during the aggression of last May.”

Last year, Egypt and Qatar pledged $1 billion to rebuild the post-war Gaza Strip.

“Many friendly countries began pledging to rebuild Gaza after the aggression on the city last year, led by Egypt with a grant of $500 million, and Qatar with a grant of $500 million, in addition to some sporadic grants of limited amounts provided by countries and institutions,” Sarhan said.

Egypt also began construction on Gaza’s 1.8-kilometer-long Corniche Street, three residential communities comprising 117 buildings with a total of more than 2,500 housing units, in addition to a construction plan for a bridge in the Shujaiya area, and an open tunnel in the Saraya neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Qatar has started construction of 200 housing units, in addition to the restoration of 11 residential buildings that were partially damaged. It is also repairing a number of destroyed street intersections with a pledge to continue the reconstruction process, Sarhan said.

Fears over new rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas have mounted amid tensions over preparations by Israelis to conduct a flag march on May 29 in Jerusalem. A similar move led to the outbreak of violence last year.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said during a conference held in Gaza: “We are following the threats to storm the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29, or organize a march of flags.

“I warn the enemy against committing such crimes and such steps.”

Palestinians in Gaza are divided over support for a new confrontation.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine express a willingness to confront Israel over flag marches. Others fear that any conflict would only add to the economic woes of the Gaza Strip.


Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting

Updated 22 May 2022

Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting

  • Rinawie Zoabi’s departure had raised the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after Bennett’s broad coalition government took office
  • But on Sunday Rinawie Zoabi reversed course, saying that her main concern was securing ‘achievements for the needs of Arab society’ in Israel

JERUSALEM: An Arab Israeli lawmaker who quit the ruling coalition said Sunday that she was returning to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s 60-member alliance, ending a crisis that lasted just a few days.
Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said Thursday that she was quitting Bennett’s coalition, leaving it with with just 59 members in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. She cited the government’s hard-line policies in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement construction that she said have alienated her constituents, fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Two other legislators from Bennett’s own party have already broken ranks and joined the opposition, headed by former leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Rinawie Zoabi’s departure had raised the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after Bennett’s broad coalition government took office. But even with a 60-member coalition that’s deadlocked with the opposition, passing legislation will remain difficult.
Recent Israeli-Palestinian tensions, set off by several deadly Palestinian attacks against Israel and Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, and fueled by repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, have shaken the coalition’s stability.
But on Sunday Rinawie Zoabi reversed course, saying that her main concern was securing “achievements for the needs of Arab society” in Israel, and preventing an ultranationalist extremist in the opposition from becoming the next minister in charge of police.
She made the announcement of her return to the coalition’s ranks after meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who wrote on Twitter that the two had “an open and reasonable conversation about the real needs of Arab society” and put aside their disagreements.
As leader of a small nationalist party Bennett heads an unwieldy coalition of eight diverse parties — from dovish factions supporting Palestinian statehood to ultranationalists and, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Islamist Arab party. They joined forces in June after four consecutive deadlocked elections with the aim of ousting longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.
As part of their union, the parties agreed to set aside divisive issues, like Palestinian statehood, and focus instead on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Despite its internal divisions, it has managed to pass a budget, navigate the pandemic and strengthen relations with both the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies.


Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Updated 22 May 2022

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

  • James Fitton and Volker Waldmann have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport
  • According to customs officers, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics; Waldmann had two pieces, but denied they were his

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Sunday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German man accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defense lawyer called for more investigations.
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist, have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport as they wound up their holiday.
According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but denied they were his.
The two men did not know each other before they traveled to Iraq on an organized tour, and both say they had no intention of breaking the law.
The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow time for further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defense lawyer, Furat Kuba.
During initial investigations, “certain important aspects were not examined,” Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee that said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any more details: what site do these pieces come from? What era, what civilization do they date back to?” Kuba asked, adding there were also outstanding questions relating to the site where the fragments were collected.
“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there signs indicating that these are ancient pieces that it is forbidden to collect?“
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been present at the site to give evidence in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.
Their trial comes with the war-ravaged country, whose tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, timidly opening to visitors.
Iraq has also been trying to recover antiquities that were looted over a period of decades from the country whose civilization dates back thousands of years.
The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of “intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity.”
Fitton, at the start of the trial, when asked why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, cited his “hobby,” saying he was interested in “geology and ancient history and archaeology,” and was not aware that taking the fragments was illegal.
Waldmann has denied the pieces allegedly found in his luggage were his, but they belonged to Fitton.