Israel announces new rules for foreigners in West Bank

The policy imposes rules on foreigners who marry Palestinians or who come to the West Bank to work, volunteer, study or teach, but the rules don't apply to Israel's visitors. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2022

Israel announces new rules for foreigners in West Bank

  • COGAT stepped back from several controversial restrictions that had appeared in a draft published earlier this year
  • Many of the changes in the 90-page document appeared to be largely cosmetic

JERUSALEM: An Israeli military body has released a list of rules and restrictions for foreigners wanting to enter Palestinian areas of the West Bank, extending its control of daily life and movement in and out of the occupied territory.
COGAT, the Israeli body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs, stepped back from a number of controversial restrictions that had appeared in a draft of the rules published earlier this year, such as a requirement that people who form romantic relationships with local Palestinians register with Israeli authorities.
But many of the changes in the 90-page document released late Sunday appeared to be largely cosmetic. The US ambassador expressed concern over the rules, and critics said they merely entrenched Israel’s 55-year control over the Palestinian population in the territory.
“The Israeli military is proposing new restrictions in order to isolate Palestinian society from the outside world and keep Palestinian families from living together,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group that has challenged the rules in court.
“In response to criticism they have removed the most outrageous elements. Yet they are keeping the basic structure of this very invasive and harmful procedure in place,” she added. The rules are set to go into effect on Oct. 20.
The wide-ranging policy imposes rules on foreigners who marry Palestinians or who come to the West Bank to work, volunteer, study or teach. The rules do not apply to people visiting Israel or the more than 130 Jewish settlements scattered across the West Bank.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war — territories Palestinians seek for an independent state.
The initial draft included a requirement that a foreigner who forms a serious romantic relationship with a local Palestinian notify the Israeli military within 30 days of the “start of the relationship,” defined as an engagement, wedding or moving in together.
The 30-day notice was removed from Sunday’s rules. But it nonetheless says that if a foreigner starts a relationship with a Palestinian, “the appointed COGAT official must be informed as part of their request to renew or extend the existing visa.”
The new rules also dropped earlier limits on the number of foreign students and teachers allowed to study or work in the West Bank. The amount of time they can stay in the territory was also lengthened.
Yet COGAT continues to hold great discretion over who is allowed in. It must approve the academic credentials of a university lecturer invited by a Palestinian institution, and holds the right to screen potential students if there is “suspicion of misuse” of a visa.
Tough restrictions on foreign spouses of Palestinians also remain in place. Spouses are only entitled to short-term visits and can be required to deposit up to 70,000 shekels (about $20,000) to guarantee they will leave the territory.
The new rules offer some potential relief for foreign spouses, including a longer-term visa of 27 months that can be renewed and include multiple visits in and out of the territory. It also drops a previous “cooling off” period that required spouses to leave for lengthy periods between visas.
But these new and improved visas require an application through the Palestinian Authority to Israel — a process that is uncertain and notoriously opaque, Montell said. The document says a final decision also is subject to approval by Israel’s “political echelon.”
US Ambassador Tom Nides expressed disappointment with the rules, and said he had “aggressively engaged” with Israel on the draft and would continue to do so ahead of the rules’ formal implementation.
“I continue to have concerns with the published protocols, particularly regarding COGAT’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank, and the potential negative impact on family unity,” he said. “I fully expect the Government of Israel to make necessary adjustments” during a two-year pilot program to ensure “fair and equal treatment of all US citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank.”
Israel hopes to reach a visa-waiver program with the United States, which has long resisted the move in part because Israel treats Palestinian-Americans differently than other US citizens.
The European Union, which sends hundreds of students and professors on academic exchanges to the West Bank each year, did not immediately comment on the Israeli announcement.
COGAT officials declined further comment, while the Palestinian Authority had no immediate reaction. Montell said her group would continue its legal challenges.


Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution

Updated 09 December 2022

Iran faces condemnation, more protests after execution

  • Mohsen Shekari was hanged after being convicted for blocking Tehran street and wounding paramilitary
  • The announcement sparked international outcry and warnings

PARIS: Iran faced international condemnation Friday after carrying out its first known execution over protests that have shaken the regime for nearly three months, leading to calls for even more demonstrations.
Protests have swept Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died in mid-September after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Mohsen Shekari was hanged Thursday after being convicted for blocking a Tehran street and wounding a paramilitary on September 25, after a legal process that rights groups denounced as a show trial.
The judiciary said the 23-year-old was arrested after striking a member of the Basij — a paramilitary force linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — with a machete, a wound that required 13 stitches.
He was convicted last month of “moharebeh,” or “enmity against God” — a capital offense in the Islamic republic.
The announcement sparked an international outcry and warnings from human rights groups that more hangings were imminent.
Amnesty International said it was “horrified” by the execution, which followed Shekari’s condemnation in a “grossly unfair sham trial.”
“His execution exposes the inhumanity of Iran’s so-called justice system” where many others face “the same fate,” it added.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), urged a strong international reaction to deter the Islamic republic from carrying out more executions.
“Mohsen Shekari was executed after a hasty and unfair trial without a lawyer,” he said.
Shekari’s body was buried 24 hours after his execution in the presence of a few family members and security forces in Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, the 1500tasvir social media monitor reported.
His execution has triggered fresh protests and calls for more demonstrations.
Overnight, protesters took to the street where Shekari was arrested, shouting, “They took away our Mohsen and brought back his body,” in a video shared by 1500tasvir.
Elsewhere, chants of “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Sepah” were heard at a demonstration in Tehran’s Chitgar district, in reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Hamed Esmaeilion, an Iranian-Canadian activist who has organized mass protests in Berlin, Paris and other cities, said more demonstrations would be held at the weekend.
“Regardless of belief and ideology, let’s join these gatherings in protest against the brutal execution of #MohsenShekari,” he tweeted.
1500tasvir said Shekari’s execution happened with such haste that his family had still been waiting to hear the outcome of his appeal.
It posted harrowing footage of what it said was the moment his family learnt the news outside their home in Tehran, with a woman doubled up in pain and grief, repeatedly screaming the name “Mohsen!“
Western governments also expressed anger.
Washington called Shekari’s execution “a grim escalation” and vowed to hold the Iranian regime to account for violence “against its own people.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed indignation at “this unacceptable repression” which, she said, would not quash the protesters’ demands.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had a similar message.
“The threat of execution will not suffocate the will for freedom,” she tweeted, criticizing a “perfidious summary trial.”
“The Iranian regime’s contempt for human life is boundless,” Baerbock added.
Germany also summoned the Iranian ambassador, a diplomatic source said, without providing further details.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly expressed outrage and urged the world not to ignore “the abhorrent violence committed by the Iranian regime against its own people.”
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it deplored Shekari’s hanging.
According to rights group Amnesty International, Iran executes more people annually than any nation other than China.
IHR, which says the security forces have killed at least 458 people in the protest crackdown, this week warned Iran had already executed more than 500 people in 2022, a sharp jump on last year’s figure.
At least a dozen other people are currently at risk of execution after being sentenced to hang in connection with the protests, human rights groups warned.

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Lebanon detainees stuck in limbo as judges’ strike drags on

Updated 08 December 2022

Lebanon detainees stuck in limbo as judges’ strike drags on

  • Judges have suspended their work as rampant inflation eats away at their salaries, paralysing the judiciary and leaving detainees in limbo
  • Bureaucracy and rampant corruption have long delayed verdicts and judicial proceedings in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Taxi driver Youssef Daher has languished for months in prison without charge, one of scores stuck after Lebanese judges launched an open-ended strike in August to demand better wages in a collapsed economy.
Judges have suspended their work as rampant inflation eats away at their salaries, paralysing the judiciary and leaving detainees in limbo — the latest outcome of Lebanon’s years-long financial crisis.
From his jail cell in the northern city of Tripoli, Daher sends daily messages to his lawyer asking him whether judges have ended what is already the longest strike for their profession in Lebanese history.
“My family lost their sole breadwinner and must now rely on aid to survive,” he told AFP.
Daher has not seen his wife and three children since he was arrested eight months ago because they cannot afford transportation to get to the prison, he said.
Security forces arrested Daher after he gave a ride to a passenger accused of kidnapping — unbeknownst to him, he said.
Authorities did not press charges against Daher after questioning, so his lawyer requested his release. Then judges began their strike.
His request has been pending ever since.
Bureaucracy and rampant corruption have long delayed verdicts and judicial proceedings in Lebanon, where 8,000 people are estimated to be jailed, most of them awaiting a verdict.
But now, underfunded public institutions have taken a hit after the country’s economy went into free-fall in 2019, with basic state services like renewing passports or completing a real estate transaction often taking months to complete.
Although judges’ salaries are expected to triple as part of Lebanon’s 2022 budget, their wages are currently worth only around $160 on average due to soaring inflation.
“How can a judge live with his family on such a salary?” one striker asked, adding that some of his colleagues with chronic illnesses could no longer afford medication.
“Judges were forced to launch this strike because their financial situation has become unbearable,” he said.
Judges who spoke to AFP said they also wanted better working conditions as they had been forced to toil without electricity or running water and buy their own office supplies like pens and paper.
Lebanon’s state electricity provider produces an hour of daily power on average, forcing residents to rely on private generators that public institutions often cannot afford.
The judges’ strike has compounded an already bleak reality for detainees, many of whom spend months or years awaiting a verdict.
Lawyer Jocelyn Al-Rai said her client, a Syrian youth, was arrested two months ago on drug trafficking charges without a warrant and has yet to face questioning, because the public prosecutor’s office has stopped working.
Despite the strike, certain courts continue to function.
In Beirut on Thursday, a criminal court sentenced Hassan Dekko, a man known as the “Captagon King,” to seven years in prison with hard labor for producing and trafficking the stimulant, a judicial source said. Dekko had been arrested in April last year.
Yet the judges’ strike is also contributing to overcrowding in the already cramped prisons, stretching detention facilities that have seen increasing numbers of escape attempts, a source at the Palace of Justice in the Beirut suburb of Baabda told AFP.
“About 350 people used to be released from prison every month... that number has now been reduced to about 25,” said the source, adding that most are released after “mediators intervene with the judge handling the case.”
About 13 inmates who completed their sentences two and a half months ago have been stuck in the Palace of Justice’s cells because criminal courts have not met to sign off their release, he added.
A judicial source who declined to be named said detainees were bearing the brunt of the strike’s knock-on effects.
“Judges have a right to a decent life,” he said, but “detainees are also suffering from injustice, even those whose only crime was stealing a loaf of bread.”

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Protests in Sudan demand army leave power, reject deal

Updated 08 December 2022

Protests in Sudan demand army leave power, reject deal

  • Sudan has been in turmoil since an uprising overthrew its longtime autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir
  • In Khartoum, demonstrators headed for the Republican Palace before being intercepted by security forces who fired tear gas and water hoses at the crowds

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Sudan’s capital Thursday, demanding the ouster of its military rulers and rejecting a deal for the gradual transfer of power to civilian leaders.
Sudan has been in turmoil since an uprising overthrew its longtime autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir. A military coup in October 2021 abruptly ended a previous democratic transition agreement with protest leaders.
In Khartoum, demonstrators headed for the Republican Palace, the seat of the ruling military council, before being intercepted by security forces who fired tear gas and water hoses at the crowds. There are no confirmed reports of any casualties.
Thursday’s protest was led by the Resistance Committees, a grassroots group that has steadfastly rejected any negotiations with Sudan’s military leaders, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. The protest group has called for both men, who led last year’s coup, to be tried in court.
On Monday, the two military leaders signed a ‘‘framework agreement” with Sudan’s main pro-democracy group, the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change. But the agreement appears to offer only the vaguest outlines for how the country will resume its road to democracy. Various other political parties and organizations also signed the deal.
The Resistance Committees’ are one of a number of significant political players who have rejected the new agreement. Several former rebel leaders, who have formed their own political bloc, also boycotted the deal.
The agreement between military and civilian leaders also avoided sensitive political issues concerning transitional justice and reforming the military, a policy that promises to see various armed factions within Sudan integrate into one fighting force.
Another uncertainty is how the agreement would balance power between a new civilian government and the military. According to the deal, a reformed military will form part of a “security and defense council” overseen by a new prime minister. However, commentators have cast doubt on whether the military will properly follow through on this pledge.
Further negotiations for a more inclusive agreement are expected.
The United Nations and the US have brokered months of cross-party negotiations in Sudan, along with several other international actors. Both actors have acknowledged the fragility of the agreement and called for further talks.
On Wednesday the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken threatened to impose a travel ban on any Sudanese figures who try to derail the democratic transition.


Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal

Updated 08 December 2022

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal

  • Deal announced overnight promises the Shas party five ministerial jobs in Netanyahu’s incoming government

JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime-minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Thursday on allocating cabinet jobs in a key step toward forming a government ahead of a looming deadline.
The deal announced overnight promises the Shas party five ministerial jobs in Netanyahu’s incoming government, which is expected to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
“We have achieved another step toward forming a government,” said Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, whose victory in a November 1 election set him up to retake power after just 14 months in opposition.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has already signed coalition deals with three controversial extreme right parties — Religious Zionism, Jewish Power and the virulently anti-LGBT Noam.
Likud’s agreements with Shas and another ultra-Orthodox bloc, United Torah Judaism, are provisional, not binding coalition deals. Additional pacts will be required before a government is announced, the parties have said.
One complication is that Shas leader Aryeh Deri has been convicted of tax offenses, which, according to Israel’s attorney general, bars him from serving in cabinet.
Israel’s parliament, where Netanyahu and his allies now control a majority, may seek to pass legislation allowing Deri to serve in cabinet before firming up a coalition deal.
Under the Shas-Likud deal, Deri will be both interior minister and health minister in Netanyahu’s next government, in addition to being named deputy prime minister.
If confirmed, Deri would become Israel’s first ultra-Orthodox Jewish deputy premier.
Last month’s election put Netanyahu and his allies in a position to form a stable, right-wing government, ending an unprecedented period of political deadlock that forced five elections in less than four years.
Some Israeli political analysts had forecast that Netanyahu would move to announce a coalition days after receiving his mandate from President Isaac Herzog on November 13.
But the coalition talks have proved complex, with Netanyahu forced to give sensitive portfolios to controversial figures, including Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been promised the national security ministry with responsiblity for the border police in the occupied West Bank despite his fiercely anti-Arab rhetoric.
Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate from Herzog expires at midnight (2200 GMT) Sunday.
He is widely expected to seek a two-week extension, as several issues remain unresolved, including the allocation of portfolios within his own Likud party, according to Israeli media reports.


Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests

Updated 08 December 2022

Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests

  • Iran accused the man of blocking street and attacking security officer with machete

DUBAI: Iran said Thursday it executed a prisoner convicted for a crime allegedly committed during the country’s ongoing nationwide protests, the first such death penalty carried out by Tehran.
The execution comes as other detainees also face possible death penalty for their involvement in the protests, which began first as an outcry against Iran’s morality police and have expanded into one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Activists warn others could be put to death as well soon since activists say at least a dozen people so far have received death sentences over their involvement in the demonstrations.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk expressed strong regret over Mohsen Shekari’s execution and fear for other demonstrators that have been sentenced to death in Iran.

“We deplore the hanging of Mohsen Shekari — the first person executed regarding the latest protests – and fear for another 11 protesters sentenced to death,” he said.

“We call for an immediate halt to executions,” he added. “The death penalty is incompatible with human rights and cannot be reconciled with the right to life.”

 

 

The “execution of #MohsenShekari must be me with STRONG reactions otherwise we will be facing daily executions of protesters,” wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Oslo-based activist group Iran Human Rights. “This execution must have rapid practical consequences internationally.”
Iran’s Mizan news agency reported the execution. It accused the man of blocking a street and attacking a security force member with a machete in Tehran.
The Mizan news agency, run by the country’s judiciary, identified the executed man as Mohsen Shekari. It said he had been convicted in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which typically holds closed-door cases that have been internationally criticized in other cases for not allowing those on trial to pick their own lawyers or even see the evidence against them.
Mizan said Shekari had been arrested Sept. 25, then convicted Nov. 20 on the charge of “moharebeh,” a Farsi word meaning “waging war against God.” That charge has been levied against others in the decades since 1979 and carries the death penalty.
Iran has been rocked by protests since the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained by the country’s morality police. At least 475 people have been killed in the demonstrations amid a heavy-handed security crackdown, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been monitoring the protests since they began. Over 18,000 have been detained by authorities.
Iran is one of the world’s top executioners. It typically executes prisoners by hanging. Already, Amnesty International said it obtained a document signed by one senior Iranian police commander asking an execution for one prisoner be “completed ‘in the shortest possible time’ and that his death sentence be carried out in public as ‘a heart-warming gesture toward the security forces.’”

(With AP)

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