Biden restates backing for two-state solution but offers no way forward

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US President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One to depart Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)
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(L to R) US President Joe Biden and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas deliver statements to the media after their meeting at the Muqataa Presidential Compound in Bethlehem. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)
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US President Joe Biden called the east Jerusalem hospitals ‘the backbone of the Palestinian health care system.’ (AFP)
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A photo of slain US-Palestinian Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, with a caption in Arabic reading “Shireen Abu Akleh, the voice of Palestine.” (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)
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Israel's President Isaac Herzog (2nd-R) and caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid (C) bid farewell to US President Joe Biden (2nd-L). (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
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Updated 16 July 2022

Biden restates backing for two-state solution but offers no way forward

  • US president meets Abbas in Bethlehem, admits that Palestinians are suffering
  • He pledges new $100m assistance package and $200m for UN refugee aid agency

RAMALLAH: US President Joe Biden vowed on Friday not to give up efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but offered no new proposals to restart stalled political dialogue.

After a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Biden admitted that the creation of an independent Palestinian state was a distant prospect with no likelihood of new talks with Israel.

“Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the US and my administration will not give up on trying to bring ... both sides closer together,” the president said.

“There must be two states for two peoples living side by side in safety and peace. Every people must live in dignity, but the goal of the two-state solution is out of reach because there are restrictions on movement and other restrictions imposed on the Palestinians.”



Biden acknowledged that after years of failed attempts to resolve the conflict, Palestinians living under onerous restrictions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza were suffering. "You can feel ... the grief and frustration," he said.“The Palestinian people feel sad, and we feel what they feel, but we will not give up on continuing our efforts for peace.

“The urgent needs of the Palestinians now are the best way to improve the situation. We are life partners to improve the lives of the Palestinians.”

Abbas urged Biden to reopen the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, and to remove the PLO from its terrorist list and reinstate its office in Washington. “The key to peace and security in our region begins with recognizing the state of Palestine and enabling the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights under legitimate international resolutions,” he said.

“The permanent status issues must be resolved, including the refugee issue, and the way forward begins with the end of the Israeli occupation of the land of the state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the 1967 borders. If Israel wants to be a normal state, it cannot continue to act as a state above the law, and this calls for Israel to end its occupation.”

Abbas also asked for US support to bring to justice the killers of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American citizen shot dead by Israeli soldiers during a raid on the West Bank city of Jenin. Biden said the US would continue to seek accountability for her death.

Before departing for Saudi Arabia, Biden visited a hospital in East Jerusalem and pledged a multiyear $100 million package of financial and technical help. There are also plans to upgrade telecoms networks in the West Bank and Gaza to 4G standards by the end of 2023, and other measures to ease travel between the West Bank and Jordan.

There will be a separate $200 million funding package provided through the UN relief agency UNRWA to help Palestinian refugees.

The atmosphere that greeted Biden in the occupied West Bank was very different from the warm reception he received in Israel, where he was greeted as an old friend and awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor.

As he was driven to the presidential palace in Bethlehem, signs saying “Mr President, this is apartheid” were displayed along the route. In Bethlehem, a large banner reading “Justice for Shireen” was spread out, and a seat symbolically left empty for the murdered journalist by former colleagues covering the meeting with Abbas.


Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti told Arab News that the Biden-Abbas meeting had brought nothing for the Palestinian people, but showed the US bias toward Israel. “Why does Biden dedicate three days of his visit to Israel and give only one hour to the Palestinians?” he said.

“Biden confirmed that he supports the two-state solution in the long-term, not the immediate perspective. When he does not pressure Israel to stop settlements? This perpetuates the Israeli apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories.

“After this disappointing meeting, we as Palestinians must unite our forces because there is no hope waiting for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations sponsored by the US.”

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Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

Updated 26 November 2022

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”

Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

Updated 26 November 2022

Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

DUBAI: Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in “riots” sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September.
The Basij force, affiliated with the country’s Revolutionary Guards, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. “They have sacrificed their lives to protect people from rioters,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.

No injuries in rocket attack against forces in Syria — US military

Updated 26 November 2022

No injuries in rocket attack against forces in Syria — US military

Two rockets targeted a US patrol base in northeastern Syria but did not result in any injuries or damage to the base, the US military said on Friday.
US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces visited the origin site of the rockets and found a third unfired rocket, the US military said in a statement.
The base was located in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.

US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

Updated 25 November 2022

US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

  • Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
  • The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger

BEIRUT: A US official in Syria on Friday called for an “immediate de-escalation” following days of deadly airstrikes and shelling along the Syria-Turkiye border, saying the actions destabilize the region and undermine the fight against the Daesh group.
Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups.
The groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say the Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the anti-Daesh fight.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that 67 civilians, gunmen and soldiers, have been killed in Turkish attacks in northern Syria since the airstrikes began.
Nikolas Granger, the US senior representative to northeastern Syria, said Washington “strongly opposes military action that further destabilizes the lives of communities and families in Syria and we want immediate de-escalation.”
The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger, who is currently in Syria, and added that the strikes also endanger US military personnel there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups. On Friday, he said Turkiye would continue its “struggle against all kinds of terror inside and outside our borders.”
Turkiye and the United States both consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terror group for the decadeslong insurgency and attacks the group has staged within Turkiye’s borders.
But they disagree on the status of the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Syrian Kurdish group has been a key US ally in the fight against Daesh.
Turkiye has carried out three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and its forces still control part of the country.
Kurdish officials in Syria have been warning that any new Turkish incursion would disrupt the fight against Daesh, which still has sleeper cells and has carried out deadly attacks in recent months against the Syrian Kurdish-led opposition forces as well as Syrian government forces.
“We take these threats seriously and prepare to confront any ground attacks,” Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told The Associated Press.

Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

Updated 25 November 2022

Iran bolsters border security to prevent ‘infiltration’

  • Deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq
  • Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades

BAGHDAD: Iran has sent additional units of special forces to fortify its northern border with Iraq and clamp down on what it says is infiltration by Kurdish opposition groups, Iranian state media reported on Friday.
Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, chief of ground forces of the paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said “armored and special forces” units had been deployed to west and north-west provinces to bolster existing border security, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The deployment aims to prevent infiltration and the smuggling of weapons in the north by Kurdish opposition groups exiled in Iraq that Tehran claims is orchestrating country-wide anti-government protests. It is a claim the Kurdish groups deny and to date Iran has not provided any evidence to support it.
Iran has several military bases near the Iraqi border and forces have been present there on a rotating basis for decades.
The troop movement also comes after Iraq issued directives for boosting security along its side of the border to prevent further bombardment by Iran, according to a statement issued by Iraq’s military spokesman Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasool. Kurdish opposition groups have bases in Iraq’s Kurdish-run northern region.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials were quoted in state-run media as saying they did not have plans to conduct a ground military operation to root out opposition groups from the bases, despite having reportedly threatened to do so during the visit by top general Esmail Ghaani to Baghdad last week.
Country-wide protests engulfed Iran in September following the death of a young woman in police custody for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. The protests have become one the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mahsa Amini, 22, died Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained.