UN-Arab League cooperation essential for tackling regional crises, says UN chief

Ahmed Abul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (UN photo)
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Updated 24 March 2022

UN-Arab League cooperation essential for tackling regional crises, says UN chief

  • Security Council discusses merits of enhanced relationship in efforts to address humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, and broader challenges across Arab world
  • Arab League secretary-general said international community has been “merely managing” long-running conflicts instead of actively working to resolve them

NEW YORK: The UN and the Arab League remain united in their pursuit of multilateral solutions to “cascading” challenges facing the Arab world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

Stronger cooperation between the two organizations is essential for the enhancement of multilateralism, he added. He pointed out that the war in Ukraine and its profound ramifications around the globe have revealed the need for such cooperation to be all the more urgent, as many Arab countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, import at least half of the wheat they require from Ukraine or Russia.

Since the war began on Feb. 24, food and fuel prices have soared as supplies were disrupted, which is “hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest across the globe,” Guterres added.

He was speaking at a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Security Council. It was convened by the UAE, which holds the presidency of the council for the month of March, to discuss ways to improve partnerships and strengthen and institutionalize cooperation between the UN and the Arab League in areas such as conflict prevention, diplomacy, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to promote the role of women and youth in efforts to maintain regional and international peace and security.

The meeting was chaired by Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, minister of state at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Guterres highlighted the existing aspects of cooperation between the UN and the Arab League relating to conflicts and crises in the Middle East. He welcomed the latter organization’s “constructive engagement” with efforts to safeguard the unity and “hard-won” stability of Libya since the ceasefire agreement of October 2020, and said he counts on it continuing to prioritize the need for an agreement on a comprehensive political process in the country.

Guterres also said that the two organizations remain firmly united in their support for the Syrian people, “who feel abandoned by the world as they enter the 11th year of a war that has subjected them to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale and left the country in ruins.”

He reiterated that the only way to break the deadlock in Syria and alleviate the suffering of the people there lies in a “credible” political process that includes the implementation of Security Council resolutions.

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, Guterres said the UN is grateful for the work of the Arab League in urging authorities in the country to address the crisis there through a process that includes meaningful reforms, timely elections, constructive engagement with the International Monetary Fund and the full implementation of applicable Security Council resolutions.

He also welcomed the enhancement of strategic cooperation between members of the Iraqi government and the Arab League, including a mission to observe and monitor Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October last year.

A strengthening of regional cooperation is also critical in Yemen, Guterres said. Without efforts to agree a ceasefire, defuse tensions and advance an inclusive political process in the country, unceasing hostilities threaten to cause the already dire humanitarian situation to deteriorate further and dim the hopes of peace, he added.

The UN chief expressed disappointment at the results of a recent pledging event for Yemen, during which less than a third of the funds needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country were received.

“I cannot overstate the severity of the suffering of the people of Yemen,” Guterres said. “I appeal to the generosity of members of the Arab League at this critical time.”

During the meeting the Security Council adopted a presidential statement, drafted by the UAE, welcoming the close cooperation between the UN and the Arab League and reiterating the intention to enhance their collaboration in a number of areas, including maritime safety and security, counterterrorism, respect for international law, poverty eradication, water security, and desertification and drought management in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The statement also affirmed the role of the youth population in efforts to maintain international peace and security, including the prevention and resolution of conflicts in MENA.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the international order is again at a “most serious,” critical juncture as a result of the war in Ukraine.

“It is a deplorable situation,” he said and expressed hope that the international community can work to end the bloodshed, while honoring the security requirements of all those involved in line with the UN’s charter and principles.

However, he also said that he hopes the situation in Ukraine will not affect the ability of the Security Council to focus on other crises.

“The crises of the Arab world must not be forgotten,” Abul Gheit said. “These crises will not resolve themselves.”

The conflict in Ukraine provides a new prism through which to view the continuing suffering of the Palestinians, for example, he said as he stressed that the international order “cannot be based on double standards.”

Abul Gheit lamented the political impasse in Syria and the continuing repercussions for millions of Syrians. He also called for the withdrawal of foreign militias and fighters from Libya, saying that such interventions are complicating efforts to hold democratic elections in the North African country.

In Yemen, Abul Gheit said the Houthis refuse to engage with efforts to reach a political settlement and continue to threaten Saudi Arabia and the UAE with attacks using drones and ballistic missiles. He again welcomed the recent adoption of Security Council Resolution 2624, which extended sanctions against the Iran-backed Houthis and categorized them as “terrorists” for the first time.

He said Iran’s disruptive interventions in the region continue and its missile program is a “legitimate concern for the Arab League.” The organization seeks good relations with Iran, after Tehran ends its interference in regional and international affairs, but “this goal is still not within reach,” he added.

Emirati minister of state Almarar said Wednesday’s meeting was particularly important given that most of the issues on the Security Council agenda are Arab issues.

“As a result of the international community merely managing these crises rather than resolving them, several of these issues have been on the council’s agenda for decades,” Almarar said.

“The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Sudan and Somalia have taken a high economic and humanitarian toll on the region.”

He said that these Arab crises, which have taken on cross-border and international dimensions, require efforts to address them on both the regional and international levels.

“The League of Arab States has a long history … extending back 77 years since it’s founding in 1945,” said Almarar. “It also possesses a deep knowledge of regional challenges, as well as the concerns of its member states, which enables it to play a leading role in supporting the implementation of the Security Council’s core mandate to maintain international peace and security.”

He called for enhanced cooperation between the UN and the Arab League, including the institutionalization of the relationship between them.

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Iran ready to swap prisoners, urges US to free jailed Iranians

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Tehran has sought the release of over a dozen Iranians in the United States, including seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent US residency and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the United States.
“We are ready to swap prisoners with Washington ... The US must release jailed Iranian citizens without any conditions,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani as saying.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that Siamak Namazi had now spent 2,500 days “wrongfully detained” in Iran and Washington was determined to secure the freedom of all Americans held by its Middle East adversary.
Kanaani spoke as Tehran and Washington sought to revive a 2015 nuclear pact after lengthy negotiations. The European Union and United States said on Tuesday they were studying Iran’s response to what the EU has called its “final” proposal to save the deal, after Tehran called on Washington to show flexibility.


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Updated 17 August 2022

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

  • US is certain Tice is being held by the government of President Bashar Assad

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Wednesday denied holding American nationals captive, including journalist Austin Tice who was abducted a decade ago in Damascus.
It issued a statement in response to US President Jo Biden saying last week that he knows “with certainty” that Tice “has been held by the Syrian regime,” and calling on Damascus to help bring him home.
The foreign ministry denied the accusation in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
“The Syrian Arab Republic denies that it has kidnapped or forcibly disappeared any American citizen who entered its territory or resided in areas under its authority,” the statement said.
It said it would only accept “official dialogue or communication with the American administration if the talks are public and premised on a respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he went missing, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later, but there has been little news of him since.
Biden’s statement came on the tenth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.
“There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Biden said.
The previous administration under Donald Trump sent a White House official on a rare mission to Damascus in 2020, aiming to seek Tice’s freedom.
But that mission yielded no visible results.
In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to the journalist’s recovery.


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Updated 17 August 2022

Germany and Israel condemn Palestinian president’s Holocaust remarks

  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing ‘50 Holocausts’
  • His comment followed months of tension and a brief conflict this month during which 49 people were killed in Gaza

BERLIN/JERUSALEM: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz voiced disgust on Wednesday at remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the German leader said diminished the importance of the Holocaust, while Israel accused Abbas of telling a “monstrous lie.”
“For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable,” Scholz tweeted on Wednesday. “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.”
During a visit to Berlin on Tuesday, Abbas accused Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” in response to a question about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics by Palestinian militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also condemned the comments as a “disgrace.”
“Mahmoud Abbas accusing Israel of having committed ‘50 Holocausts’ while standing on German soil is not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“History will never forgive him.”
Six million Jews were killed in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.
Standing alongside Scholz, Abbas referred to a series of historical incidents in which Palestinians were killed by Israelis in the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel and in the years following.
“From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities, in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim and many others, 50 massacres, 50 Holocausts,” said Abbas.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa did not include the Holocaust comments in its report of the meeting with Scholz, and the Palestinian foreign ministry said Lapid’s comments were intended to divert attention from Israel’s “crimes.”
In a statement, the ministry said “the occupying power is not satisfied with committing these crimes on a daily and continuous basis, but also does not tolerate and rejects any talk or statements that remind the Israelis and the international community of the many crimes committed by Israel.”
Abbas’ comment followed months of tension and a brief conflict this month during which 49 people were killed in Gaza after Israel carried out a series of air strikes in response to what it said was an imminent threat from the militant Islamic Jihad group, which fired over 1,000 rockets in response.
Dozens of Palestinians have also been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank, while there have been a number of attacks on Israelis, including an incident on Sunday when eight people were wounded on a bus carrying Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem.
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Updated 17 August 2022

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  • Turkish attacks target Assad forces and Kurdish fighters in border town

JEDDAH: At least 25 people were killed in northern Syria on Tuesday after Turkey launched airstrikes and an artillery bombardment targeting Assad regime forces and Kurdish fighters near the border town of Kobane.

The Turkish shelling began overnight, when artillery salvoes hit the town and around its edges. It continued throughout the day, and at least one child was killed.
Kurdish YPG militia fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces responded with a mortar attack on a Turkish military border post in Sanliurfa province that killed one soldier and injured four.
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FASTFACT

Kurdish YPG militia fighters responded with a mortar attack on a Turkish military border post in Sanliurfa province that killed one soldier and injured four.

Dilvin, a shopkeeper in Kobane, said chaos broke out in the town when the shelling intensified on Tuesday. “People started running everywhere, cars everywhere, people asking about their friends and their family. Then the sounds started to build, the sounds were everywhere,” she said.
“There was so much screaming. So much fear. Now everyone is locked up at home.”
Later on Tuesday, 11 people died in Turkish airstrikes on a Syria border post run by Assad regime forces. It was not clear if the dead were Syrian government troops or Kurdish fighters.
Syrian regime forces have deployed in areas controlled by the SDF near the border with Turkey as part of agreements intended to stem cross-border offensives by Ankara targeting Kurdish forces it views as terrorists.
Turkey has launched a series of attacks since 2016 targeting Kurdish forces and Daesh, but they have rarely resulted in the deaths of Syrian regime fighters.
If regime forces are confirmed to be among those killed on Tuesday, the attack would be one of the largest escalations since Ankara and Damascus traded attacks in 2020 following a Syrian regime strike that killed 33 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Turkey has stepped up its attacks in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria since July, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to obtain a green light from regional allies Iran and Russia for a fresh offensive into northern Syria.
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Updated 16 August 2022

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TUNIS: The final results of a controversial referendum granting unchecked powers to the office of Tunisia’s President Kais Saied showed 94.6 percent of votes in favor, the electoral authority said Tuesday.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the new constitution, the electoral board said, officially announcing definitive results from the July 25 poll.
The charter was approved by just over 2.6 million people, the board’s president Farouk Bouasker told reporters.
Turnout was considered very low at 30.5 percent.
The referendum came a year to the day after Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in what rivals have branded a coup.
Despite the low turnout, Saied’s move against a system that emerged after the 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was welcomed by many Tunisians.
Many people were fed up with high inflation and unemployment, political turmoil and a system they felt had brought little improvement to their lives.
However, opposition politicians and human rights groups have warned of a return to dictatorship under the new constitution.
“The constitution comes into force with the announcement of the final results, its promulgation by the president and its publication in the official journal,” Bouasker said on Tuesday.
He said the fact that appeals against the referendum process had been rejected “confirmed the integrity and transparency of ISIE,” the North African country’s electoral commission.
Bouasker said ISIE had been subjected to “an unprecedented wave of allegations by certain political parties and civil society groups.”
The new text puts the president in command of the army, allows him to appoint a government without parliamentary approval and makes it virtually impossible to remove him from office.
He can also present draft laws to parliament, which will be obliged to give them priority.
A second chamber is created within parliament to represent the regions and counterbalance the assembly itself.
Tunisia is mired in crisis with growth of just three percent, nearly 40 percent of young people jobless and four million people out of a population of nearly 12 million in poverty.
For weeks the heavily indebted country has been negotiating a new loan with the International Monetary Fund, hoping to obtain $4 billion, and also the chance to open other avenues of foreign aid, mainly European.

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