Leaders of UN and Arab League discuss Palestinian cause in New York

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. (Twitter: @arableague_gs)
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Updated 22 September 2022
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Leaders of UN and Arab League discuss Palestinian cause in New York

  • The issue was one of several Antonio Guterres and Ahmed Aboul Gheit talked about on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly

CAIRO: The Palestinian cause was among the topics discussed when Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, and Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, met on Wednesday on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.

Their representatives said the two officials talked about a number of matters related to international crises, along with the latest developments in the Middle East.

A spokesperson for Aboul Gheit said the Arab League chief expressed to Guterres his appreciation of the important role the UN leader has played during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Guterres reportedly spoke about the current situation in the Middle East and the role of the UN in Somalia, Yemen and Syria.

Aboul Gheit also highlighted the great frustration Palestinians feel as a result of the number of political obstructions to their cause. Both men agreed that the Palestinian issue remains a priority in efforts to achieve stability and prosperity in the region.

They expressed their commitment to working together as part of a coordinated approach to seek political solutions to the crises facing some countries in the region.

In a message posted on Twitter, Aboul Gheit wrote: “We agreed on the danger of ignoring the serious efforts to settle the Palestinian issue and the importance of continuing our joint work for this purpose.

“The international situation is very difficult and thorny, yet Guterres is working tirelessly on various political, environmental, developmental, and other fronts.”

Aboul Gheit also met Ian Borg, Malta’s minister of foreign and European affairs and trade on Wednesday, and congratulated him on his country earning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2023-2024. He said the Arab League is counting on Malta’s support for Arab issues on the council’s agenda during that time, especially those related to the Palestinian cause.

Last week, Aboul Gheit called on Spain to support Palestine’s bid for full membership of the UN, amid preparations for a new diplomatic drive for recognition. Palestine is currently afforded observer status by the UN. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is due to speak at the General Assembly on Sept. 23 and highlight the campaign for full membership.

A spokesperson said Abou Gheit leader had met Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares in Madrid to discuss issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.


Baerbock warns of ‘miscalculation’ risk on Lebanon-Israel border

Updated 6 sec ago
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Baerbock warns of ‘miscalculation’ risk on Lebanon-Israel border

“With every rocket across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, the danger grows that a miscalculation could trigger a hot war,” Baerbock said on X
“All who bear responsibility must exercise extreme restraint”

BEIRUT: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cautioned on Tuesday that “miscalculation” could trigger all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, urging the need for “extreme restraint” as tensions soar.
“With every rocket across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, the danger grows that a miscalculation could trigger a hot war,” Baerbock said on X during a visit to Beirut, referring to the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.
“All who bear responsibility must exercise extreme restraint,” she added.
Hezbollah claimed responsibility for multiple attacks on Israeli troops and positions on Tuesday, while Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported Israeli air strikes in parts of southern Lebanon.
Baerbock met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who said the best way to reach “a return to calm in south Lebanon is to put an end to the Israeli aggression... and fully apply United Nations Resolution 1701,” according to a statement from his office.
The resolution ended a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and called for the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers to be the only armed forces deployed in the country’s south.
Baerbock also met with her Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib during her brief trip to Beirut, which came after visits to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
She noted that Lebanon’s hosting of many refugees poses “major challenges,” referring to Syrians who have fled conflict in their country across the border since 2011.
“We will therefore provide another 18 million euros ($19 million) for humanitarian aid — specifically for food, accommodation and doctors,” she said in the statement.
On a previous visit in January, the German minister pledged 15 million euros to bolster the Lebanese army, which like other national institutions has faced funding problems since the country’s economy collapsed in late 2019.
Several Western diplomats have visited Lebanon in recent months, seeking to dial down cross-border tensions, including US envoy Amos Hochstein who last week called for “urgent” de-escalation.
On Tuesday, Canada urged its citizens in Lebanon to leave “while they can,” while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah could spark a regional war.
Eight months of cross-border violence has killed at least 481 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but also including 94 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.

Libya repatriates 170 Nigeria migrants, plans more returns

Updated 28 min 22 sec ago
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Libya repatriates 170 Nigeria migrants, plans more returns

  • The operation was announced by Mohammed Baredaa, head of the Libyan interior ministry organization tasked with halting irregular migration
  • These operations would “continue over the coming weeks,” he said

TRIPOLI: Libya said it repatriated 174 irregular migrants to Nigeria on Tuesday, including dozens of women and six children, with further returns planned in the coming weeks.
The operation was announced by Mohammed Baredaa, head of the Libyan interior ministry organization tasked with halting irregular migration.
Baredaa said the department had begun “to repatriate 174 irregular migrants of Nigerian origin,” including 39 women and the six children.
These operations, which are carried out by plane or road depending on the nationality, would “continue over the coming weeks,” he said.
The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, helps vulnerable migrants blocked in Libya or who wish to go home to do so through its voluntary humanitarian return program.
Smugglers and human traffickers have taken advantage of the climate of instability which has dominated Libya since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
Libya, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Italy, is a key departure point in North Africa for sub-Saharan migrants risking sea journeys to Europe.
“I have been in Libya for three years to work and earn money and move to Europe,” Zakaria Abubaker Shueib, a 20-year-old Nigerian migrant set to be repatriated, told AFP.
An IOM report said migrant deaths or disappearances rose to 4,984 last year on Middle East and North Africa routes, compared with 3,820 in 2022.
“Tunisia accounts for the highest number of incidents recorded followed by Libya with 683 recorded deaths” of migrants, the majority of whom left western Libya, said the report published in mid-June.


US warns Israel-Hezbollah conflict could spark regional war

Updated 46 min 31 sec ago
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US warns Israel-Hezbollah conflict could spark regional war

  • “Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war, with terrible consequences for the Middle East,” Austin said
  • Gallant said that “we are working closely together to achieve an agreement but we must also discuss readiness on every possible scenario”

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon on Tuesday, warning that a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah could spark a regional war and urging a diplomatic solution.
More than eight months of war in Gaza has heightened tensions across the region, with Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah exchanging fire on a near-daily basis.
“Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war, with terrible consequences for the Middle East,” Austin said. “Diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation.”
Gallant, speaking at the opening of the meeting with Austin, said that “we are working closely together to achieve an agreement but we must also discuss readiness on every possible scenario.
The Israeli army said last week that plans for an offensive in Lebanon were “approved and validated” amid escalating cross-border clashes, but Washington is seeking to lower the temperature and head off another major conflict in the Middle East.
Gallant is on a visit to Washington seeking to reaffirm the value of ties with Israel’s top ally after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly chastised the United States for what he said was a delay in weapons deliveries.
The US government insists that only one shipment of bombs has been held up over concerns about their use in populated areas, and that other arms deliveries are proceeding as usual.
The United States is Israel’s main supplier of weapons but the growing death toll from the Gaza conflict has piled pressure on President Joe Biden to take action and fueled tensions between his administration and Netanyahu.
Gallant met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington the previous day, with the top US diplomat calling on Israel to avoid escalation in Lebanon.
The Israeli minister also held talks with CIA chief Bill Burns, the key US point man in negotiations to free hostages from Hamas, which launched an unprecedented attack on Israel in October that sparked a devastating conflict in Gaza.
Netanyahu has said Israeli forces are winding up the most intense part of the Gaza war and will redeploy to the northern border, although he has cast the move as defensive.
Israel and Hezbollah last fought a full-scale war in 2006 when a cross-border Hezbollah attack sparked 34 days of fighting that took a heavy toll on Lebanon, especially the country’s south.


Gaza suffers near total breakdown of law and order, UNRWA chief says

Updated 25 June 2024
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Gaza suffers near total breakdown of law and order, UNRWA chief says

  • Local police are refusing to escort aid convoys for fear of being killed, Lazzarini added, while humanitarian truck drivers were regularly being threatened or assaulted
  • Among the other challenges, he named a near-drought in gasoline supplies which brought the UNRWA vehicle fleet to a halt on Monday

GENEVA: Chaos is taking hold in Gaza as smuggling bands form and add to the difficulties in delivering aid, the head of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency said on Tuesday.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said it had become “excruciating” to deliver aid and voiced concerns that such conditions would impact efforts to counter the high famine risk confirmed by a global hunger monitor’s report on Tuesday.
“Basically, we are confronted nowadays with a near total breakdown of law and order,” Lazzarini told reporters, blaming in part an increase in gangs who are attacking aid trucks in the hopes of finding smuggled cigarettes stashed among aid supplies. “It’s becoming more and more complicated (to deliver aid),” he added.
Local police are refusing to escort aid convoys for fear of being killed, he added, while humanitarian truck drivers were regularly being threatened or assaulted.
Among the other challenges, he named a near-drought in gasoline supplies which brought the UNRWA vehicle fleet to a halt on Monday. Israel vets fuel shipments into Gaza and has long maintained that there is a risk they are diverted to Hamas.
“We need sustainable, meaningful, uninterrupted aid in the Gaza Strip if we want to reverse the hunger situation,” Lazzarini said, adding that the operating environment is not conducive to doing so.
Israel, which launched its Gaza military operation after deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, says it has expanded efforts to facilitate aid flows into Gaza and blames aid agencies for distribution problems inside the enclave.
Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, UNRWA provides services including schooling, primary health care and humanitarian aid in Gaza and the region.
Earlier this year, 16 countries paused payments to the agency following Israel’s claims that some UNRWA staff were linked to Palestinian armed groups.
Lazzarini said all but two of those countries, the United States and Britain, had since resumed financing after a
review
of the agency’s neutrality showed Israel had yet to provide evidence for its accusations.
It now has enough funding to finance operations until the end of August, he added.


Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

Updated 25 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

  • Iranians choose a president on Friday in a tightly controlled election following Ebrahim Raisi’s death
  • The outcome expected to influence the succession to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top decision-maker

DUBAI: Iranians choose a president on Friday in a tightly controlled election following Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash last month, with the outcome expected to influence the succession to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top decision-maker.
With Iran’s supreme leader now 85, it is likely that the next president will be closely involved in the eventual process of choosing a successor to Khamenei, who has ensured candidates sharing his hard-line views dominate the presidential contest.
The election coincides with escalating regional tensions due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, increased Western pressure on Iran over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, and growing domestic dissent over political, social, and economic crises.
However, the looming succession to the fiercely anti-Western Khamenei is the overriding concern among Iran’s clerical elite.
The Guardian Council, a hard-line vetting body of clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei, has approved five hard-liners and one low-profile moderate candidate from an initial pool of 80.
Prominent among the hard-liners are Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, parliament speaker and former head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, and Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator.
The sole moderate candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, has the endorsement of Iran’s politically-sidelined reformist camp that advocates detente with the West.
The fiercely anti-Western Khamenei has not backed any candidate publicly. However, in a televised speech on Tuesday he said: “One who thinks that nothing can be done without the favor of America will not manage the country well.”
His adviser Yahya Rahim Safavi has urged voters to elect “a president whose views do not conflict with those of the supreme leader,” state media reported.
“The people should choose a president who considers himself the second in command ... The president should not create division,” said Safavi, a former chief commander of the Guards.
While the president’s role has a high international profile, real power rests with the supreme leader, who has the final say on state matters like foreign or nuclear policies and controls all branches of government, the military, media and the bulk of financial resources.
Raisi was widely seen as a potential successor to Khamenei, and his sudden death has sparked a race among hard-liners seeking to influence the selection of Iran’s next top leader.

Divided nation
An Iranian insider close to Khamenei, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the Supreme Leader “has no tolerance for political infighting when cohesion among those in power is essential.”
“A president, who is loyal and aligns completely with the supreme leader while also a trusted ally of the Revolutionary Guards, can significantly contribute to a seamless transition of power,” said the insider.
While devout supporters of the clerical establishment are expected to vote for hard-liners, many Iranians may choose to abstain amid limited electoral options, discontent over a crackdown on dissent, and anger over worsening living standards.
The chances of Pezeshkian, who is also strongly loyal to Khamenei, depend on attracting millions of disillusioned mainly young voters who have stayed home in elections since 2020 and also on persistent splits among the five hard-line candidates.
The reformists’ electoral strength remains uncertain, however, as some voters believe they failed to deliver greater freedoms during their past tenures in power.
Unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in custody in 2022, exposed a widening divide between reformists and their power base, after leaders distanced themselves from demonstrators who demanded a “regime change.”
Reformists remain faithful to Iran’s theocratic rule but advocate detente with the West, economic reform, social liberalization and political pluralism.
Khamenei called for a high turnout that he said “will silence the Islamic Republic’s enemies.”
Iranian dissidents, both domestically and abroad, have called for an election boycott, distributing the hashtag #ElectionCircus widely on the social media platform X, arguing that a high turnout would legitimize the Islamic Republic.
Narges Mohammadi, the imprisoned Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a message from Tehran’s Evin prison that the vote would be a “sham” election.
The government relied on repression to maintain power, and its aim in holding the election “is not to uphold democracy and people’s rights, but to reinforce power and tyranny,” she said.
However, prominent reformist politicians have warned that low voter turnout will allow hard-liners to maintain control over all arms of the state.
Raisi clinched victory in 2021 on a turnout of about 49 percent — a significant drop from the 70 percent seen in 2017 and 76 percent in 2013 — largely amid widespread voter apathy.
The five hard-line candidates have largely avoided discussing social and political freedoms during their campaigns and television debates, while acknowledging the country’s economic woes without offering specific plans to tackle the crisis.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old former health minister, advocates social freedoms and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities. He has pledged to foster a more pragmatic foreign policy.
If no candidate wins at least 50 percent plus one vote of all ballots cast, including blank votes, a run-off round between the top two candidates will be held.