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.

Mideast ‘on cusp of historic peace’: Israeli PM

Updated 27 sec ago

Mideast ‘on cusp of historic peace’: Israeli PM

  • Israel, Saudi Arabia close to ‘dramatic breakthrough’ that would ‘transform’ region
  • Netanyahu: ‘Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict’

NEW YORK: The Middle East is “on the cusp of a historic peace,” Israel’s prime minister said on Friday, referring to US-brokered efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia.
Addressing the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu said he believes Israel and Saudi Arabia are close to a “dramatic breakthrough” that would not only secure peace between the two states but “transform” the entire region and create “a new Middle East.”
He added: “Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, and will encourage other Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel while also enhancing the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.”
Should an agreement be finalized, it would build on the Abraham Accords, signed in 2020 between Israel on one hand and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan on the other.
Speaking two days after meeting US President Joe Biden in New York, Netanyahu said he felt that the Biden administration could secure a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia in the same way that the Trump administration had facilitated the Abraham Accords.
“The Abraham Accords were a pivot of history and today we see the blessings, with trade and investment with our new peace partners booming as our nations cooperate in commerce, energy, water and agriculture, climate and many other fields,” Netanyahu added.
“In the G20 conference, President Biden, (Indian) Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, and European and Arab leaders announced plans for a visionary corridor that will stretch across the Arabian Peninsula and into Israel.
“It will connect India to Europe with maritime, railroads, energy pipelines, fiber optic cables. This corridor will bypass maritime checkpoints, or choke points rather, and dramatically lower the cost of goods, communication and energy for over 2 billion people.”
However, he warned that the progress made in recent years could be undone by a “fly in the ointment,” saying Iran continues to spend significant amounts on its military and has made efforts to extend its influence worldwide.
“Iran’s aggression is largely met by indifference in the international community, and despite Western powers pledging that they’d snap back sanctions if Iran violated the nuclear deal, that hasn’t been the case,” he added.
“Iran is violating the deal, but the sanctions intended to stop its nuclear ambitions haven’t been re-imposed.
“This policy must change, the sanctions must be snapped back, and above all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat.”

Libya’s flood-hit Derna to host reconstruction conference: authorities

Updated 22 September 2023

Libya’s flood-hit Derna to host reconstruction conference: authorities

  • The government invites the international community to participate in the conference planned for October 10 in Derna
  • The conference is being held in “response to the demands of residents of the stricken city of Derna and other towns that suffered damage”

BENGHAZI, Libya: Libya’s eastern-based administration said on Friday that it would host an international conference next month in the flood-hit port city of Derna to aid reconstruction efforts.
A tsunami-sized flash flood broke through two aging dams upstream from Derna after a hurricane-strength storm lashed the area on September 10, razing entire neighborhoods and sweeping thousands of people into the sea.
“The government invites the international community to participate in the conference planned for October 10 in Derna to present modern, rapid projects for the reconstruction of the city,” the administration said in a statement.
It said the conference was being held in “response to the demands of residents of the stricken city of Derna and other towns that suffered damage” during the flooding.
Wracked by divisions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed veteran dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has for years been ruled by two administrations vying for power.
A UN-backed, internationally recognized administration in the capital Tripoli is run by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah, while a rival administration in the east is backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
The official death toll from the flood stands at more than 3,300 — but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.
The International Organization for Migration on Thursday said more than 43,000 people have been displaced by the flood.

Debris and dead bodies clutter flood-hit Libyan port

Updated 22 September 2023

Debris and dead bodies clutter flood-hit Libyan port

  • Tugboat captain Ali Al-Mismari, 60, recalled the night of September 10 when torrential rains caused by Storm Daniel battered the eastern Libyan city
  • Captain Mohamed Chalibta, head of the port authority’s crisis management committee, said the search was concentrated on “objects that had sunk in the port”

DERNA, Libya: Libya’s devastating flood has transformed Derna from a busy port welcoming fishing boats and ships loaded with goods and passengers into a dump brimming with rubble, car wrecks and dead bodies.
Tugboat captain Ali Al-Mismari, 60, recalled the night of September 10 when torrential rains caused by Storm Daniel battered the eastern Libyan city, bursting two dams and wiping out entire neighborhoods.
At first, Mismari told AFP, he wanted to take his boat, the “Irasa,” out of the harbor to avoid putting the crew at risk and to avoid damage to the vessel.
But in the chaos of the storm, with water levels rapidly rising, he was unable to see the seawalls surrounding the port and navigate a safe exit.
“There was nothing (to do) but pray,” he said.
When day broke, the scale of the devastation became clear.
Mismari said he saw “massive trucks, car tires, people, houses, entire palm trees... heaters, washing machines, refrigerators” had all been washed into the harbor by the flash flood.
The official death toll from the disaster stands at more than 3,300 — but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.
Since the tsunami-sized flood lashed Derna, port workers, fishermen and passers-by have largely abandoned the seafront, and only a handful of vessels, the Irasa included, were still there.
The tugboat was enlisted along with local and foreign teams to clear the bottom of the harbor.
The walkways surrounding the port are now paved with items retrieved by divers.
Captain Mohamed Chalibta, head of the port authority’s crisis management committee, said the search was concentrated on “objects that had sunk in the port,” including cars with people still thought to be inside.
An Emirati team, equipped with boats and jet skis, scoured one part of the harbor.
But the water was dark brown, filled with mud brought by the flood, and there was virtually “zero visibility,” according to one of the divers.
The Emirati search mission chief, Col. Ali Abdullah Al-Naqbi, was giving directions to his team, stressing the need to take full precautions.
Two by two, scuba divers secured with safety ropes descended from their yellow boat.
One emerged from the muddy water after a short while, and said: “We tied (a rope) to a car. We can’t see anything.”
Another diver meanwhile found a second car.
Back on their boat, other team members helped the divers remove foliage that had become stuck on them and sprinkled fresh water on their faces.
The Emirati team, in coordination with Libyan authorities, called in a crane that pulled one of the mangled wrecks out the water.
As it was being removed, mud, water and what appeared to be human remains spilled out of the vehicle.
Lowered onto the dock, Libyan men in white coats, gloves and face masks took over to check the vehicle for bodies, but on this occasion they found none.
Officials expect the process of clearing the port to take a long time.
Rescuers are also searching the sea beyond the harbor, with maritime experts saying many bodies may have been carried eastward by the current.
Hafez Obeid, head of the Libyan forensic team, said the salinity of the water helps to preserve bodies, making the identification process easier than for corpses found on land.
Aboard the Irasa, captain Mismari said “private fishing boats were the first to rush to the rescue” on the night of the disaster.
Next to him, technician Taoufik Akrouch, 61, recalled that “the water level rose above the dock by about one and a half meters (five feet).”
The Irasa began tilting violently and the crew started its engines before cutting mooring lines.
At dawn, they heard a cry for help.
They found a survivor — a naked woman floating inside a refrigerator, according to two crew members.
They said she asked them: “Where is my sister?“
Another survivor rescued by Mismari’s team, an Egyptian, could not say how he got to the harbor.
“He had been sleeping, and then found himself there,” Mismari said. “Maybe he had been unconscious.”

SRMG Think’s MENA Forum launches on UNGA sidelines

Updated 22 September 2023

SRMG Think’s MENA Forum launches on UNGA sidelines

  • Event, hosted in partnership with Middle East Institute, themed ‘Reinforcing Global Resilience Through Sustainability’
  • Speakers include Jordanian, Egyptian, Emirati ministers and US envoy for Yemen

NEW YORK: SRMG Think Research and Advisory launches its second annual MENA Forum on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday, in partnership with the Middle East Institute.

The one-day event will host a raft of leading figures and voices on the Middle East and North Africa, addressing the forum’s theme “MENA: Reinforcing Global Resilience Through Sustainability,” including contributions from diplomats, state policymakers and private-sector players.

Among those set to contribute will be Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ayman Al-Safadi, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat, the UAE’s Climate Change and Environment Minister Mariam Almheiri, and US Special Envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking.

SMRG Think said the forum will address MENA’s evolving status as a “dynamic hub driving new trends and contributing to the global agenda,” as well as its growing leadership role on the world stage.

The forum will also deliver “unparalleled insights” into the region’s position on “energy transition, global peace and stability efforts, and economic sustainability.”

The event follows the recently published MENA Forum report “The case for cooperation beyond de-escalation,” which addresses key dynamics concerning regional cooperation amid political and economic tensions, focusing on geopolitics and security, economics and energy.

Neil Quilliam, director of energy at SRMG Think, said: “As (MENA) continues to achieve its development aspirations and evolves into an engine for global growth, it has become increasingly important for governments, businesses and decision-makers to understand the region.

“However, there is currently a lack of actionable insights that these entities and individuals can rely on. In light of this, a MENA-focused UNGA side event, featuring invaluable perspectives from the region, is more crucial than ever. 

“The MENA Forum fosters open and frank discussions on the economic, political, and environmental challenges and opportunities present in MENA through the lens of regional leaders and the brightest thinkers.” 

MEI President and CEO Paul Salem said: “As the world confronts challenges around energy transition, climate change, economic diversification, trade, and human security, the MENA region remains a focal point where all of these complex dynamics converge.

“It is critical to bring leaders and policy practitioners from the region to engage with the international community in order to build on common interests and opportunities for a better global future.”

L’Oréal-UNESCO celebrates decade recognizing pioneering Arab female scientists

Updated 22 September 2023

L’Oréal-UNESCO celebrates decade recognizing pioneering Arab female scientists

  • Saudi researcher ‘grateful to work in a country and a region that celebrates and promotes women in sciences’
  • Program essential to addressing the systemic gender bias by raising the profile of female scientists

DUBAI: While only 33 percent of global researchers are women, in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, countries like the UAE boast a notable 61 percent of female university STEM students.

This trend extends to Saudi Arabia, where 60 percent of science graduates are women.

On its 10-year anniversary, the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program, in partnership with Khalifa University of Science and Technology, celebrates female Arab scientists changing the landscape of scientific research in the region.

“The extraordinary accomplishments and dedication of women scientists in the region have paved the way for progress in various fields, influencing everything from healthcare and technology to environment sustainability and space exploration,” said Sarah Al-Amiri, UAE minister of state for public education and advanced technology and chair of the UAE Space Agency.

This year’s award ceremony marks a decade of supporting the research efforts of 51 female Arab scientists from the GCC with endowments totalling 3.4 million dirhams ($924,695).

Investing in and increasing the visibility of women scientists contributes to advancing research and addressing the region’s pressing challenges.

“My research is highly translational, driven by real-world problems affecting people’s health and wellness both locally and globally … enabling greater accessibility to high-quality minimally invasive healthcare tools for cancer diagnosis and precision medicine,” said Dr. Dana Alsulaiman, Saudi post-doctorate researcher and L’Oréal-UNESCO award winner.

According to Alsulaiman, miniaturized and cost-effective diagnostic tools developed at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology could transform the field of healthcare, and clinical decision making like early diagnosis, and effective therapy selection.  

In August 2023, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a new strategy for KAUST, focusing on turning research into economically beneficial innovations, including environmental sustainability research.

For Lila Ali Aldakheel, a Saudi doctoral student and L’Oréal-UNESCO award winner, whose research focuses on identifying sustainable solutions for plastic pollution, waste management and reduction of the environmental impact, “there is a noticeable deficiency in research concerning the examination of micro-plastic pollution in Middle Eastern oceans and mangrove soil, as well as its repercussions on the environment and human well-being.”

The L’Oréal-UNESCO Young Talents Program’s objective is to build a diverse and inclusive ecosystem enabling and celebrating research and scientific advancement. This year’s award ceremony recognized the achievements of women in science, from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

The program holds a unique position in the GCC. “While the program’s foundation remains the same globally, it is the distinct advancements of the GCC region concerning women in STEM that sets it apart,” declared Laurent Duffier, managing director of L’Oréal Middle East.

“The outstanding research quality and pioneering contributions of these women amplify the GCC’s leading stance. Instead of simply bridging the gender gap, the region, with the aid of our program, is setting a global benchmark for empowering women in science,” he added.

The GCC is home to what the award winners collectively highlight as key for success: access to adequate support, recognition, and the availability of opportunities to take their research beyond the lab stage.

“I’m grateful to work in a country and a region that celebrates and promotes women in sciences, particularly with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 emphasizing the importance of STEM in driving innovative solutions to global problems like cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases,” Alsulaiman told Arab News en franҫais.

The program is essential to addressing systemic gender bias by raising the profile of women scientists and supporting the growth of their careers, by providing access to resources, network, and mentorship.

“Equal representation matters because it brings diversity of perspectives, fairness and equity to the field, all of which are necessary to create a robust scientific community that can further innovation to counter societal challenges,” declared Dr. Tamara Elzein, the program’s jury president, and the secretary-general of the National Council for Scientific Research in Lebanon.

Associated to the program for the fifth consecutive year, the Khalifa University of Science and Technology underlines the essential role women play in driving scientific progress, technological innovation, and societal development.

“We need to continue creating such avenues of growth and support for (female scientists), which will lead to the long-term prosperity, security, and wellbeing in the region,” said Dr. Arif Sultan Al-Hammadi executive vice president of KU.

The program reflects the change in the regional landscape, the untapped potential of its human capital, and is an indicator of countries’ commitments to education.

“It is heartening to see the growing talent pool in the region, where women in many countries are graduating with STEM degrees at rates surpassing their US and European counterparts. We are looking to create a ripple effect, ensuring that the next decade and those beyond witness an even stronger wave of Middle Eastern women leading, innovating, and setting global standards in science,” added Duffier.


The 2023 Middle East Regional Young Talents

PhD students:

Sara Ishaq Alkhoori (UAE) — Research on examining eco-friendly biofuel production to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change, yielding universal benefits.

Lila Ali Aldakheel (Saudi Arabia) — Research on identifying groups of microorganisms that can break down plastic to manage waste and help the environment.

Post-Phd Researchers:

Dr. Noha Mousaad Elemam (UAE) — Research on developing early breast cancer biomarkers with the goal of understanding cancer progression and achieving better patients’ survival rates.

Dr. Dana Alsulaiman (Saudi Arabia) — Research on addressing challenges in cancer diagnosis through advanced biosensing platforms to enhance early disease detection and better prognosis globally.

Fatma H. Al-Awadhi (Kuwait) — Research on exploring the marine biodiversity in the gulf region for untapped therapeutic potential.