Cyprus, Jordan sign bilateral agreements

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades receives Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the presidential palace in Nicosia on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 December 2021

Cyprus, Jordan sign bilateral agreements

  • The agreements covered issues including double taxation and the extradition of fugitives
  • The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and regional developments

NICOSIA: Jordan’s King Abdullah II paid an official visit to Cyprus on Friday for talks with President Nicos Anastasiades, during which several bilateral accords were signed, officials said.
The agreements covered issues including double taxation and the extradition of fugitives.
Following a military guard of honor, Anastasiades and Abdullah held a private meeting and exchanged gifts.
“President Anastasiades bestowed upon the king of Jordan the highest honor of the Republic of Cyprus... and King Abdullah II bestowed upon the president the highest honor of Jordan,” the presidency said.
The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and regional developments, as well as climate change and efforts to combat Covid-19.
Abdullah was also briefed on efforts to resume United Nations-backed Cyprus reunification talks and Turkish warnings against Nicosia over oil and gas exploration in the region.
Jordan has joined a burgeoning regional alliance that includes Egypt, Greece and Israel, based on shared energy interests.


Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

Updated 06 February 2023

Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

  • Reports about decree offer no explanation for decision by Supreme Leader Khamenei
  • Iran prisons are already overcrowded after years of protests over economy, other affairs

JEDDAH: Iranian activists on Sunday dismissed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s decree reportedly ordering amnesty or a reduction in prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.

“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.

“Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable.”

The decree by Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning by the supreme leader before the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, comes as a long-detained opposition leader called for a nationwide referendum on whether to write a new constitution for Iran.

State media also published a list of caveats over the order that would disqualify those with ties abroad or facing spying charges — allegations which have been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the state-run IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.” Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.

The reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic issues and other matters.

In Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted by the opposition Kaleme website, he said he did not believe that Iran’s current system, which gives the final say to a supreme leader, worked any longer.

He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely that Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call.

He and his wife have been under house arrest for years since his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also repressed.

Mousavi himself, however, had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.

Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.

“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be (as) frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been tracking the regime’s crackdown.

At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months.

On Sunday, state media published a list of caveats that would disqualify those who face spying charges, among others, from receiving a pardon. The list has been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.”

Authorities did not name any of those who had been pardoned or given shorter sentences.

Authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television continued to refer to the demonstrations as being a “foreign-backed riot,” rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country’s morality police.

Anger also has been spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran hasn’t offered a death toll for months. It already has executed at least four people detained amid the protests after internationally criticized trials.

All this comes as Iran’s nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel has risen out of the chaos, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.

Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum about whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted late Saturday by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he didn’t believe Iran’s current system giving final say to a supreme leader worked any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops gun down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.
“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.
Currently, hard-liners control all levers of power in the country. Reformists like Khatami and Mousavi previously sought to change and open up Iran’s Islamic Republic while maintaining its system. But increasingly, protesters have demanded an end to theocratic rule in the country.


Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

Updated 06 February 2023

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

  • The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded
  • Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank in the wake of a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters during a raid on a refugee camp near the city of Jericho on Monday aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, according to a statement from the Israeli military.
It said the targets of the raid were suspected of an attempted attack on a restaurant in the Israeli settlement of Vered Yeriho on Jan. 28.
The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded, one critically but it gave no details on any dead.
The raid came during a period of heightened tensions that have drawn fears of a further escalation in violence and prompted calls for calm on both sides from the United States and international bodies including the United Nations.
Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank in the wake of a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year and forces have been put on high alert after a lone Palestinian gunman shot seven people near a synagogue on Jan. 27.
The military said Monday’s raid in the Aqabat Jabr camp was aimed at capturing a group of militants belonging to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, who it said were barricaded in a house in the camp and were planning further operations following the attempted restaurant attack.
On Jan. 28, it said two armed individuals appeared in a restaurant in the Vered Yeriho settlement, where around 30 people were present, but fled before carrying out an attack after a weapon malfunctioned.
Over the past week, it said security forces had conducted a number of operations to try to find and arrest the suspects.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

Updated 05 February 2023

Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

  • Movement of vessels ‘working perfectly’ alongside construction, official says
  • More than 3,000 tourists arrived by ship on Saturday

CAIRO: Development work at the Suez Canal Economic Zone is progressing well, a senior official said, with the new berth at Sokhna port recently welcoming its first cruise ships.

Walid Youssef, deputy chairman of the southern part of the zone, said that the circulation and reception of vessels was “working perfectly” alongside the construction work, which was nearing completion.

The development included four new basins and 18 km of marine berths, as well as commercial and logistical areas covering 5.3 sq. km, he said.

The area is served by a rail network stretching 33 km, which also connects to the Sokhna-El Alamein electric train service.

Youssef said there was constant coordination with the relevant authorities to ensure the smooth operation of the port as the work progressed.

On Saturday, the port welcomed the cruise ship Splendida MSC with 2,826 passengers aboard. It was en route from Yanbu to Safaga.

It also received the Emerald Azzurra, carrying 75 tourists from Sharm El-Sheikh, and the Clio, which had traveled from Hurghada with 85 passengers.


Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

Updated 05 February 2023

Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

  • Khatami hopes the use of ‘non-violent civil methods’ can ‘force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms’

TEHRAN: Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.
And on Sunday Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”
Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”
In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”
He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.
She had been arrested three days earlier by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”
He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”
An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.
He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.
A close confidant of the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.
“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.
“The refusal to take the smallest step toward realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution... has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”
Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”
President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”