Tension escalates at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Palestinians take part in an anti-Israel rally over tension in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, near the Israel-Gaza border fence in Gaza City September 26, 2022. (Reuters)
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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.


Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

Updated 9 min 17 sec ago

Our work in Syria is motivated purely by the humanitarian imperative, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway tells Arab News

  • Permanent representative to the UN says the goal is to “improve how we work and manage global taxpayers’ money”
  • Along with Ireland, Norway is the current penholder of the Syrian humanitarian file at the Security Council

NEW YORK CITY: While the world’s media may have stopped counting the dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the second largest number of internally displaced people in the world both drive home the point that the war is far from over.

Syria continues to endure one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive — an increase of 1.2 million compared to last year.

The collapsing economy coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine have added new layers of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking at Syria’s door.

“We are extremely worried,” Mona Juul, Norway’s permanent representative to the UN, told Arab News in an exclusive interview in New York.

According to the World Food Program, some 14.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance to survive. (AFP)

“We have been worried for many years. But now the situation seems to be continuously deteriorating. And of course, with winter coming up, that adds to the suffering of millions and millions of Syrian people that are in dire need, in acute need, of humanitarian assistance.

“This is pretty much across the whole country. But of course, we are also very concerned about the situation in the northwest, outside the government-controlled area.”

Especially alarming is the condition of 4.4 million people in the opposition-held northwest of the country who rely on foreign aid to survive and who are now unsure whether there will be sufficient bread on the table come January.

That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire and its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council. Diplomats fear the regime’s ally Russia will use its veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated aid gateway into Syria — Bab Al-Hawa on the Turkish border.

As the co-penholder of Syria’s humanitarian file in the Security Council, Norway, together with Ireland, is responsible for following up on the humanitarian situation in Syria by drafting resolutions, requesting emergency meetings, and organizing mission visits.

The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow for the delivery of UN aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria.

International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries go through the host government. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings — from Jordan, Iraq, and two from Turkiye.

Syria has suffered years of war sparked by anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. (AFP)

Until Dec. 2019, the UNSC renewed the mandate for these crossings without obstruction. However, in Jan. 2020, Russia used its veto to force the closure of all but one crossing: Bab Al-Hawa.

If this last remaining crossing is closed, humanitarian agencies fear an alternative would be near impossible to find.

“And that’s why we are working tirelessly to make sure that we can extend the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution that allows cross-border humanitarian assistance at Bab Al-Hawa,” said Juul.

Since 2020, the renewal has become the subject of much delicate negotiations, at a time when diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been all but shut, impacting every issue on the UNSC agenda.

“It is no secret that every time we have to renew this cross-border mechanism, the starting point is that at least one member of the Security Council does not want to have this resolution and this mechanism,” said Juul. “That has been the starting point since the mechanism was established back in 2014.”

Moscow argues the international aid operation violates Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Since Syria has been “liberated,” it says all aid destined for the north should go via the capital, Damascus.

Although internal shipments from Damascus to opposition-held areas would provide a welcome addition to the cross-border lifeline, Juul says they are no substitute. Even if deployed regularly, such convoys could not replicate the size and scope of cross-border operations.

Although the UN says its internal aid delivery operations are conducted in a “transparent and principled” manner, aid agencies say assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose the Assad regime.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the UNSC to approve the use of four aid crossings. (AFP)

A recent investigation into the UN’s procurement operations in Syria, conducted by the Syrian Legal Development Program and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, found around 50 percent of UN procurement involves actors linked to the regime, many of them implicated in rights violations and war crimes.

Asked to comment on the report’s findings, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, told Arab News the UN is “well aware of the challenges” posed by working in such contexts.

He said the UN is engaging with the authors of the report, and that UN teams in Syria continue “to try to improve” their methods.

“The other thing I would say is that there is an increase in terms of the value of items that are procured outside of Syria, but there are items that can only be procured in-country, (such as) telephones, fuel, and so on.

INNUMBERS

• 4.1m People in northwestern Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.

• 80% Syrians receiving cross-border aid who are women and children.

•* 1/3 Proportion of children under the age of 5 who are undernourished.

• 800 Average number of trucks delivering supplies via Turkiye per month.

“It is also important to note that we operate in Syria under the same rules that we operate in every country, in terms of currency exchange and vendors.

“So we are well aware of the challenges posed by us working in many countries, including Syria, and I think the general effort has been one of trying continuously to improve how we work and how we manage the global taxpayers’ money.”

For her part, Juul underscored her country’s advocacy for Syria is anchored in purely humanitarian values. “Our very, very strong argument is that this is not about aiding the opposition or helping the other side and not the government,” she said.

“We are (motivated) purely by the humanitarian imperative to help the people. It’s the people of Syria that we care about and that goes back to a very strong humanitarian tradition in Norway. We are almost always there when there is a humanitarian crisis and we want to help.”

That long tradition was at the heart of Norway’s message when it campaigned for a seat at the Security Council two years ago, and also expressed its willingness to take up the Syrian file.

“We have always had a pretty large portion of our foreign assistance purely for humanitarian work,” said Juul.

“So for us, going into the council, bringing that tradition with us, having for a long time been one of the largest humanitarian contributors to Syria, not only per capita, but in real terms, and having seen the merit of the cross-border operation, we were very much willing to take up that difficult file and Ireland the same.”

Long before it became a wealthy oil and gas producer, Norway had at one time been an aid recipient, and is no stranger to invasion, war and displacement.

“A third of the Norwegian population migrated to America to find livelihoods because we didn’t find it at home. Norway is a very cold country. It’s difficult to survive during winter if you’re poor. So we migrated,” said Juul.

“And then we were occupied by the Germans for five years. We were on the other, aid recipient end. We received Marshall aid from America. We know what it’s like to need aid. And then, of course, we now have the resources to contribute.

“So, there is this strong solidarity with the underdogs, those who are suffering. This is what drives us. We are not being naive about the political complexity in Syria, but we really see no alternative to continuing with the cross-border operation.”

Many Syrians have fled the war, heading to destination like Jordan, Turkiye and Europe. (AFP)

In the run-up to the last renewal vote in July, intensive negotiations went on behind closed doors. Juul and her Irish counterpart at that time, Geraldine Nason Byrne, were seen rushing between UN chambers trying to rally Security Council members to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.

Securing the coming renewal vote is unlikely to be any easier.

“One needs to work very hard in order to get it renewed, every time,” Juul told Arab News. “This has been a continuous challenge for the Security Council to be able to uphold this crucial mechanism.”

Although Norway and Ireland’s Security Council tenure is coming to a close by the year’s end, Juul vowed to continue to “do as much as possible to prepare the ground for extension.”

She draws hope from the successful renewal they achieved in July.

They accuse the government of deliberately withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war. (AFP)

“We had to go through a veto. It was really tough negotiations mainly between us and the Russians. But we managed in the end to find — I will not even call it a compromise — we found a way to agree that we extend it to January, but with a very clear intention that there will be another extension in six months.”

She added: “That is what diplomacy is all about. I dare say it is what diplomacy is all about when the situation is as it is.

“We cannot stop relating to those we disagree with on other files. Norway has been very clear on condemning Russia’s invasion and the war on Ukraine. But, at the same time, we see that it’s very important that the Security Council is not paralyzed on all the other files.

“And I think, so far, the council has proven that we have been able to do that.”

She added: “We also worked very much together with the other elected members. And we feel that this is an elected-member resolution. We have 100 percent support from all the elected members. And as we say, when the E10 agrees, we are the sixth veto power in the council.”


Russia sends reinforcements to northern Syria

Updated 30 November 2022

Russia sends reinforcements to northern Syria

  • The move by Damascus ally Moscow comes after Ankara launched air strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq on November 20
  • Residents of Tal Rifaat, a Kurdish-held pocket north of Aleppo, told AFP that Russian troop reinforcements had reached the city

QAMISHLI, Syria: Russia deployed troop reinforcements Wednesday to an area of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters and government troops, residents and a war monitor said, amid fears of a Turkish ground incursion.
The move by Damascus ally Moscow comes after Ankara launched air strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq on November 20, a week after a deadly Istanbul bombing that it blamed on Kurdish militants, who have denied responsibility.
Residents of Tal Rifaat, a Kurdish-held pocket north of Aleppo, told AFP that Russian troop reinforcements had reached the city.
Tal Rifaat lies 15 kilometers (nine miles) south of the border with Turkiye. Kurdish forces control the city and surrounding villages, and Russian troops were already present in the area.
Residents said Russian forces had set up roadblocks at a nearby village separating it from positions under the control of Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel proxies.
Turkish proxies control areas surrounding Tal Rifaat from the north, while Russian-backed Syrian troops control zones mostly to the south.
After carrying out a series of air strikes, Turkiye has threatened to launch a ground incursion into northern Syria, including the Tal Rifaat pocket as well as Kobani and Manbij further east.
Kobani and Manbij are under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which include the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), one of the groups Turkiye accuses of being behind the Istanbul bombing.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Russia was also reinforcing its troops at a government-controlled air base near Tal Rifaat.
The reinforcements could be an attempt “to stop or put off the Turkish operation,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria have called on Russia to dissuade Turkiye from launching a ground offensive against them, their commander said on Tuesday.
The Observatory said Russian reinforcements had also reached the outskirts of the border city of Kobani.
Russian troops deployed in some Kurdish-controlled border areas of northern Syria following a 2019 agreement that sought to avert a previous Turkish incursion threat.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkiye was more determined than ever to secure its border with Syria from attacks by Kurdish fighters, threatening a ground operation “at the most convenient time.”
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive operations against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have installed its proxies in several areas along the border.


Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 strikes southern Iran; felt in UAE — EMSC

Updated 30 November 2022

Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 strikes southern Iran; felt in UAE — EMSC

  • Iranian state TV reported that rescue teams were dispatched to the quake-hit area and added there were no casualties

DUBAI: An Earthquake of magnitude 5.6 struck southern Iran on Wednesday and was felt in the United Arab Emirates, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said.
Iranian state TV reported that rescue teams were dispatched to the quake-hit area and added there were no casualties.
The quake was at a depth of 10 km (6 miles) and about 88 km northwest of Ras Al Khaimah City in the UAE, EMSC added.


Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: Judiciary

Updated 30 November 2022

Three teens among 15 Iranians facing death penalty: Judiciary

  • Iran has been rocked by street violence since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini
  • A group of 15 people was charged with "corruption on earth" over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of the Basij paramilitary force

TEHRAN: Three Iranian teenagers are among 15 people who could face the death penalty over the killing of a pro-government paramilitary force member, the judiciary said Wednesday.
Iran has been rocked by street violence since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
A group of 15 people was charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of the Basij paramilitary force, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
Prosecutors allege Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman.
But on Wednesday, as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged with “corruption on earth” — a sharia-related charge that is a capital crime in the Islamic republic.
“Three of the accused are aged 17” and their cases would be dealt with by a juvenile court, the website added.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of security force members, and thousands have been arrested, among them around 40 foreigners.
More than 2,000 people have been charged with offenses, according to the authorities.
At least six people have so far been sentenced to death, their fates now depending on the supreme court which rules on appeals.


Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown

Updated 30 November 2022

Rights group: 47 children among at least 378 killed in Iran protest crackdown

  • The Islamic republic has been gripped by protests that erupted over Amini’s death on September 16
PARIS: Iranian security forces have killed at least 378 people — including 47 children — in a crackdown on protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, a rights group said in an updated toll Saturday.
The Islamic republic has been gripped by protests that erupted over Amini’s death on September 16, three days after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
The protests were fanned by fury over the dress rules for women, but have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 revolution.
“At least 378 protesters, including 47 children, have been killed by the oppressive forces since September 16,” Iran Human Rights director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.
The figure represents an increase of 36 since the Norway-based group issued its previous toll on Wednesday.
It includes at least 123 people killed in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, 40 in both Kurdistan and Tehran provinces and 39 in West Azerbaijan province.
Iran Human Rights warned that the regime had been mounting a “campaign of spreading lies” ahead of a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council next week.
“They have two goals by attributing the killing of the protesters to terrorist groups like Daesh,” Amiry-Moghaddam said, referring to the Daesh group.
“They want to use it as an excuse for more widespread use of live ammunition,” he said.
“And they also want to influence countries in the UN Human Rights Council who will gather on November 24 in a special session considering establishing an independent investigation and accountability mechanism” over the crackdown in Iran, he added.