Palestinian president, Israeli leaders speak before Biden visit

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Thursday for the first time since Yair Lapid took over as caretaker prime minister ahead of Nov. 1 elections. (AP)
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Updated 08 July 2022

Palestinian president, Israeli leaders speak before Biden visit

  • Israeli minister said “civilian and security challenges” in the region were discussed

JERUSALEM: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held rare meetings and calls with Israeli leaders in an effort to calm tensions and coordinate security measures days before US President Joe Biden’s first visit to the region.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid had separate calls with Abbas on Friday, official statements said, following a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday.
Lapid and Abbas discussed “continued cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” the prime minister’s office said, in the first call between the two since Lapid took over as caretaker prime minister in Israel last week ahead of elections on Nov. 1.
Gantz said on Twitter that Thursday’s meeting “was conducted in positive terms” and the two discussed civilian and security challenges in the region.
“We agreed to maintain close security coordination and to avoid actions that may cause instability,” Gantz said.
Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting signed agreements and stopping actions and measures that lead to the deterioration of the situation,” Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said in a tweet.
Abbas also stressed the importance of having a “calm atmosphere before Biden’s visit, which we welcome.”
It was the third known meeting between Abbas and Gantz since August last year.
Simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians grew more intense following the May 11 killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Palestinians say Abu Akleh was shot deliberately by an Israeli soldier. Israel denies this. The US State Department said on Monday that Abu Akleh was likely killed by gunfire from Israeli positions but it was probably unintentional.
The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank. US-brokered talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory collapsed in 2014 and show no sign of revival.
The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad condemned Thursday’s meeting in a statement.
“Insisting on communication and security meetings serves the interests and plans of the enemy (Israel) and gives it a free hand to practice the aggression our people are subjected to every day,” it said.

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Updated 27 September 2022

Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

  • Jordan urges Israel to stop provocative actions
  • Arab League condemns violation of international law

RAMALLAH: Tension escalated at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday, with incursions into the area by hundreds of Jewish settlers, under the protection of Israeli police, to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah.

It came as Jewish extremist groups continued calls to be allowed to enter the compound on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Ambassador Haitham Abu Al-Foul, spokesman at the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs, called on Israel to put a stop to the settlers’ activities and respect the sanctity of the compound and the authority of the Jerusalem Awqaf Administration in line with international law.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, home to over 350,000 Palestinians, in 1967, but Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are under Jordanian guardianship.

On Monday morning Israeli police placed a cordon around Al-Aqsa, preventing the entry of young people under the age of 40 and stopping all noon prayers, as around 335 Jews toured the compound.

Five Palestinians were injured by police at the Lion’s Gate, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. They were taken to Al-Makassed Hospital. Worshippers — including women and children — performed noon prayers at the doorsteps of the mosque instead.

Israel imposed a complete closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip crossing late on Sunday afternoon in conjunction with Rosh Hashanah over fears of escalation. The state of alert will continue until the end of the holiday. 

Many Palestinians fear that Israel will introduce a division of use of Al-Aqsa, as happened with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, allowing both faiths access, but closing it to the other during specific holidays.

The Palestinian presidency condemned the escalation at the compound, warning that continuation would lead to potential violence.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian Authority’s presidency, stressed that the Palestinians would not allow Al-Aqsa Mosque to be damaged or desecrated in any way, and would stand against the occupation.

The Palestinians claim the mosque has become a scene of political strife with the approach of the Israeli elections on Nov. 1, with major right-wing Israeli parties competing to win more votes from the right by allowing access to the compound.

The Arab League condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa, holding the Israeli government responsible for igniting the situation.

The spokesman for the league’s secretary-general, Jamal Rushdie, said in a press statement that the storming of Al-Aqsa and the arrest of several Palestinians inside was aimed at imposing a temporal and spatial division in the mosque, changing the existing historical and legal situation.

This continuous policy on the part of the occupying government represents a flagrant violation of international law, and provokes Palestinians and Muslims in general, he added.

Rushdie said that the intensification of incursions ahead of the Jewish holidays adds to the state of tension that already exists in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem.

He said that imposing a siege on Al-Aqsa and arresting those stationed inside it is an unacceptable crime.

Rushdie called on the international community to assume its responsibilities and confront this dangerous Israeli escalation.

Tension is expected to continue until the end of the holidays on Oct. 17.

Israeli authorities issued warnings about the potential for violence in the coming days against Israeli citizens, after announcements made by Fatah and Hamas calling on Palestinians to oppose Israelis approaching Al-Aqsa.

“There is a clear increase in alerts about plans to carry out attacks, and the police are responding to the threat of deploying large forces,” said Israeli Police Commissioner Yacov Shabtai.

Thousands of Israeli police will be deployed at roadblocks, shopping centers and entertainment venues, synagogues and crowded sites across Israel.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper’s website, the Israel Defense Forces currently have at least 25 battalions in the West Bank to enhance security during the Jewish holidays.

Hundreds of IDF members and police are also deployed in the Jerusalem area, as well as inside Old Jerusalem and on the roads leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Fatah called on Palestinians to confront extremist Jewish groups and stop settler incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards, and to prevent them from performing prayers, blowing trumpets, offering sacrifices, or marching.

Hamas, too, called on the Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and inside Israel to stand against the settlers.

“We need the greatest Arab and Islamic support at all levels for the Palestinian people and the holy sites, so that we can protect Jerusalem and defend the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque with all the tools of struggle,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum.

Why Mahsa Amini’s death will deepen the alienation of Iran’s secular Kurdish minority

Updated 26 September 2022

Why Mahsa Amini’s death will deepen the alienation of Iran’s secular Kurdish minority

  • Ethnic group that champions gender equality was already a misfit in the authoritarian theocracy
  • Kurds have known the heavy hand of the security state since the Islamic Revolution of 1979

LONDON: Since the death of Mahsa Amini after being taken into custody by Iran’s notorious morality police, protests have raged in cities across the Islamic Republic, beginning in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan.

Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurdish woman, died on Sept. 16, three days after she was arrested in Tehran by the Gasht-e Ershad, the regime’s vice squad, which enforces strict rules on women’s dress, including the hijab.

Her death has highlighted the oppression and marginalization of women in Iran. It has also cast a light on the ill-treatment of the country’s non-Persian ethnic minorities, particularly its substantial Kurdish population, concentrated in the west of the country.

In turn, this has highlighted the contrasting treatment of women in other areas of the Middle East in which Kurds make up a majority of the local population — in northern Iraq, southeast Turkey and northern Syria — where women are prominent in both civic and military life.

On Sept. 24, a protest was held in solidarity with the women of Iran outside the UN compound in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. Many of those who took part were Iranian Kurds living in self-imposed exile in a city known for its culture of tolerance.

Kurdish opposition groups have consistently fought for an alternative vision for society. (AFP)

Bearing placards with Amini’s face, the protesters chanted “women, life, freedom,” and “death to the dictator,” in reference to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“They killed (Amini) because of a piece of hair coming out from her hijab. The youth are asking for freedom. They are asking for rights for all the people because everyone has the right to have dignity and freedom,” one protester Namam Ismaili, an Iranian Kurd from Sardasht, a Kurdish town in Iran’s northwest, told Reuters.

“We are not against religion, and we are not against Islam. We are secularists, and we want religion to be separate from politics,” Maysoon Majidi, a Kurdish Iranian actor and director living in Irbil, told the news agency.

Last week, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan’s governing party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, called Amini’s family to express his condolences, saying he hoped justice would be served.

Kurdish political identity throughout the region and among the community’s large European diaspora embraces secularist, nationalist and even socialist traditions. In the case of Iran’s Kurds, this frequently puts them at odds with the country’s theocratic regime.

On Sept. 23, the Kurdish-majority town of Oshnavieh in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province briefly fell into the hands of protesters, who set fire to government offices, banks, and a base belonging to the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Amini’s death has highlighted the oppression and marginalization of women in Iran. (AFP)

In response, the IRGC shelled the offices of Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Sidakan in Iraq, accusing the Kurdish parties of inciting “chaos.”

Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, said the shelling targeted the offices of Komala and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran for allegedly sending “armed teams and a large amount of weapons … to the border cities of the country to cause chaos.”

The KDPI is a Kurdish opposition party that has waged an on-and-off armed campaign against the regime since the Islamic Revolution. Komala, meanwhile, is a leftist Kurdish armed opposition party, which fights for the rights of Kurds in Iran.

Although Iran’s constitution grants ethnic minorities equal rights, allowing them to use their own language and practice their own traditions, the Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch, and other groups say they are treated as second class citizens — their resources extracted, their towns starved of investment, and their communities aggressively policed.

Kurdish opposition groups in Iran have fought for decades to obtain greater political and cultural rights for their communities, which are spread across a part of the country known to Kurds as Rojhelat — or Eastern Kurdistan.

This nationalist spirit has often meant women’s emancipation has been viewed as a secondary concern against the overarching fight for Kurdish nationhood, especially in the case of Iraqi Kurdish leaders, who have long drawn their support from traditional tribal structures.

However, elsewhere in the region, Kurdish opposition groups have consistently fought for an alternative vision for society — one that is based on democratic values and on the equal status of women.

Nowhere is this perhaps more obvious than in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where the political arm of the US-allied Syria Democratic Forces has established a self-governing polity known to Kurds as Rojava — or Western Kurdistan.

On Friday, Mazloum Abdi, commander in chief of the SDF, condemned the killing of Amini, describing it as a “moral failure” of the ruling authorities in Iran.

He also expressed solidarity with the protests in Iran via Twitter, saying: “The Kurdish and women’s issues must be resolved in appropriate ways.”

On Friday, Mazloum Abdi, commander in chief of the SDF, condemned the killing of Amini, describing it as a “moral failure” of the ruling authorities in Iran. (AFP)

In Rojava, Kurdish women fighting in guerrilla brigades against Daesh have achieved iconic status — especially the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, the all-women brigades of the People’s Protection Units.

These YPJ fighters won global acclaim in 2014 for their role in the liberation of the Kurdish-majority city of Kobane in northern Syria from an extremist group whose warped interpretation of Islam would have seen them enslaved.

Soon after their victory, images of young, unveiled, mostly Kurdish YPJ fighters appeared on magazine covers and in newspapers around the world, demolishing many prevailing stereotypes in the West about Middle Eastern women as passive victims.

Within the AANES, there are now several women-only organizations, while in the areas of Syria under YPJ control, child marriage has been abolished, the practice of men taking multiple wives outlawed, and domestic abuse treated with the utmost severity.

The focus on women has also led to a policy called the “co-chair” system, whereby all positions of authority are held by both a man and a woman with equal collaborative power. As a result, women in Kurdish areas of Syria hold 50 percent of official positions.

A similar model is employed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey and among the ranks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, inspired by the values of its jailed founder Abdullah Ocalan.

Although honor killings and female genital mutilation have remained all too common in parts of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, women’s political participation and leadership has improved greatly in recent years, with the role of speaker in the Kurdistan parliament twice being held by a woman.

Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baloch, and other groups say they are treated as second class citizens in Iran. (AFP)

In 2018, the Kurdistan Regional Government raised its gender quota in Parliament from 25 percent to 30 percent, so that 34 out of 111 sitting MPs are now women.

The Daesh attack on Yazidi women in Sinjar in Aug. 2014 also encouraged more Kurdish women to join the frontline war effort, challenging their victim role in warfare and broadening their identity from being mere caregivers to protectors.

This brought forward changes in Kurdish society concerning women’s roles and identities, making it easier for women to join the Peshmerga — the armed forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Despite the region’s recent achievements, Iraqi Kurdish women’s campaigner Sherri Talabany reported during the MERI Forum 2019 that women still face high rates of domestic violence and a low share in the labor market of just 14 percent.

Kurdish opposition groups in Iran have fought for decades to obtain greater political and cultural rights for their communities. (AFP)

Meanwhile, only three representatives in the 23-member Iraqi Cabinet are women, and only one in the KRG cabinet of 21 ministers.

But the picture is far bleaker in Iran, where female labor force participation reached just 17.54 percent in 2019, compared with the global average of 47.70 percent, giving Iran one of the lowest levels of labor force female participation in the world.

Women in Iran also face restrictions in reaching managerial and decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. In addition, owing to Western sanctions, erratic economic policies and the COVID-19 pandemic, Iran’s economy has shrunk in recent years, affecting women’s employment opportunities.

What the protests sweeping Iran in response to Amini’s death appear to show is a general rejection of the maltreatment of women and ethnic minorities, frustration over the economic situation, and outrage at the heavy-handed ways of the morality police.

Some Iranians who cross into Iraqi Kurdistan for work or to see relatives have told AFP that while Amini’s death was a trigger, the long-running economic crisis and the climate of repression fed into the explosion of anger.

“The difficult economic situation in Iran … the repression of freedoms, particularly those of women, and the rights of the Iranian people led to an implosion of the situation,” Azad Husseini, an Iranian Kurd who now works as a carpenter in Iraq, told the news agency.

“I don’t think the protests in Iranian cities are going to end anytime soon.”


Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

Updated 26 September 2022

Canada sanctions Iran morality police as protests flare

  • “We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said
  • Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown in Iran

OTTAWA: Canada on Monday announced sanctions against Iranian officials over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests driven by the death of a young woman after her arrest by the morality police.
“We will implement sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities, including Iran’s so-called morality police,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference.
“We join our voices, the voices of all Canadians, to the millions of people around the world demanding that the Iranian government listen to their people, end their repression of freedoms and rights and let women and all Iranians live their lives and express themselves peacefully.”

More than 75 people have been killed in the Iranian authorities’ crackdown against unrest sparked by the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, a rights group said Monday.
The authorities last put the death toll at 41, including several members of the security forces.
Officials said Monday they arrested more than 1,200 people as the dragnet widens against the nationwide demonstrations over Amini’s death, following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group said at least 76 people have been killed in the crackdown in Iran, up from a previous count of 57.

“We call on the international community to decisively and unitedly take practical steps to stop the killing and torture of protesters,” said IHR’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.


Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

Updated 26 September 2022

Leading Iran cleric calls on authorities to 'listen to people'

  • Protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up
  • Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani has long been aligned with ultra-conservative establishment

TEHERAN: A leading Iranian cleric has urged authorities "to listen to the people", as protests ignited by a young woman's death in morality police custody show no sign of letting up.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Teheran, for 10 straight nights since the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old was pronounced dead on Sept 16, three days after her arrest in the capital for allegedly breaching Iran's dress code for women.

"The leaders must listen to the demands of the people, resolve their problems and show sensitivity to their rights," said Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a statement posted on his website on Sunday.

The powerful 97-year-old cleric has long been aligned with the country's ultra-conservative establishment and strongly backed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on several occasions - notably during the 2009 protests against the reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Any insult to the sanctities and any attack on the rights of the people and public property are condemned," Hamedani added.

At least 41 people have been killed since the protests began on Sept 16, mostly protesters but including security forces, according to an official toll.

The protests have spread to several cities, where demonstrators have shouted slogans against the authorities, according to local media.

More than 1,200 demonstrators, reformist activists and journalists have been arrested during the mostly night-time demonstrations across the country.

On Sept 18, Grand Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a cleric seen as close to the reformists, denounced what he said were "illegitimate" and "illegal" actions behind the "regrettable incident" of Amini's death.

Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

Updated 26 September 2022

Germany urges Iran to allow protests after summoning ambassador

  • “We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said

BERLIN: Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin on Monday in order to urge Tehran to stop its violent crackdown on nationwide protests over the death of a woman in police custody, the German foreign ministry said.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to not deploy further violence — in particular not fatal violence — against protesters,” the ministry said on Twitter. “We also communicated that directly to the Iranian ambassador in Berlin today.”
Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the violence, a ministry spokesperson had earlier said, “we will consider all options” with other European Union states.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women. Washington said it held the unit responsible for the Sept. 16 death of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.