How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

The Dead Sea bordering Jordan and Israel recedes about a meter every year, leaving vast stretches of salt and mineral plains as a result of the water’s high salinity. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.




The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”




If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.

FASTFACTS

• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.




“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.




Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.




The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.


Israeli troops kill Palestinian driver as car speeds off: army

Updated 56 sec ago

Israeli troops kill Palestinian driver as car speeds off: army

  • Killing marks the latest bloodshed in spiraling violence that comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region

HEBRON: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian driver in the occupied West Bank Monday, officials on both sides said, with the army saying the car had hit a soldier’s leg before speeding off.
Nassim Naif Salman Abu Fouda, 26, died from “a bullet wound to the head fired by the occupation (Israeli) soldiers in Hebron this morning,” the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said that soldiers had “identified a suspicious vehicle” and “asked the driver to stop the vehicle in order to inspect it.”
“A soldier approached the vehicle and the driver rammed into his leg,” it added.
Troops then “fired toward the vehicle as it attempted to flee the scene and hits were identified,” the army statement said. “The vehicle continued driving and then crashed.”
An eyewitness told AFP that “four or five soldiers surrounded him (Abu Fouda) when he was in his car, front and behind.”
“They started shooting at him, then he was hit,” added the witness, Hazem Abu Sneineh.
The army said the driver was taken from the car by Palestinian medics and “was later declared dead.”
Abu Fouda’s body was wrapped in a green Islamic prayer rug as it was carried from a mosque in central Hebron for burial, surrounded by hundreds of mourners.
He is the 35th Palestinian killed in the conflict this month, in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — including militants, civilians and several children — according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967.
The funeral in Hebron was held just before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel for a visit that will also include talks with the Palestinian leadership, amid one of the conflict’s deadliest phases in years.
Israel is reeling after a Palestinian killed six Israelis including a child and one Ukrainian citizen in a shooting on Friday outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem.
The attack came a day after Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp, in a raid the army claimed targeted operatives from Islamic Jihad.
On Sunday, CIA Director Williams Burns held talks in the West Bank with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to discuss the “dangerous developments,” the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
The US embassy declined to comment to AFP on CIA chief’s meeting.


Iran summons Ukraine envoy over top aide’s drone strike remarks

Footage shows what is said to be the moment of an explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran. (Reuters)
Updated 21 min 40 sec ago

Iran summons Ukraine envoy over top aide’s drone strike remarks

  • Podoliak linked in a tweet on Sunday Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of his country with the night-time strike on a military site

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday summoned a Ukrainian diplomat to protest “biased” remarks by a presidential aide in Kyiv over a recent drone strike in Iran, the Islamic republic’s foreign ministry said.
Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, linked in a tweet on Sunday Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion of his country with the night-time strike on a military site.
“Explosive night in Iran — drone and missile production, oil refineries,” he said. “War logic... bills the authors and accomplices strictly.”
“Ukraine did warn you,” Podoliak added.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran had been summoned to provide “an official and immediate explanation from the Ukrainian government.”
It called Podoliak’s remarks “strange and biased,” adding in a statement it hoped “such positions will not be repeated.”
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday night that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in the central Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Dramatic video footage widely shared on social media and published by Iranian state media showed a fireball lighting up the night sky, with people outside seen running and emergency service vehicles speeding toward the site.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Iran of supplying military drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine, a claim that is denied by Tehran.


Blinken reaffirms need for two-state solution on arrival in Israel

Updated 55 min 16 sec ago

Blinken reaffirms need for two-state solution on arrival in Israel

  • Since the start of the year, Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed lives of 35 Palestinian adults, children
  • Over the same period six Israeli civilians, including a child, and a Ukrainian civilian have been killed

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel and Palestinians to calm tensions as he visited on Monday during the worst violence in years, reaffirming a long-stalled peace vision as the “only path” forward.
While focusing censure on a Palestinian gun spree outside a synagogue that has put Israel on high alert, Blinken also cautioned against any celebration or avenging of such bloodshed.
Seven people were shot dead in Friday’s attack by an East Jerusalem man who was himself killed by police. Lionized by many fellow Palestinians, he had no known links to militant groups.
A day earlier, Israel carried out an unusually deep raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, killing 10 residents, most of them gunmen. At least 35 Palestinians, including fighters and civilians, have died in violence surging since Jan. 1, medical officials say.
“It is the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them,” Blinken told reporters after landing in Tel Aviv.
Friday’s rampage, he said, “was more than attack on individuals. It was also an attack on the universal act of practicing one’s faith. We condemn it in the strongest terms.
“And we condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take innocent lives, no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Blinken will meet later on Monday, has called for more citizens to carry guns as a precaution against such street attacks. But he has also warned Israelis not to resort to vigilante violence.
Blinken is due to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.
Palestinian officials said Israeli settlers had set fire on Monday to two cars near the northern West Bank city of Nablus and thrown stones at a house near Ramallah, following a similar attack on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed a 26-year-old man at a checkpoint. The army said troops opened fire on the man’s car after he rammed into one of them and attempted to flee an inspection.
The last round of US-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state alongside Israel stalled in 2014.
Netanyahu’s new hard-line government includes partners who oppose Palestinian statehood, and control over the Palestinian territories is divided between Abbas, who favors diplomacy, and rival Hamas Islamists, who are sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Washington remains “a stalwart believer in the negotiated two-state solution — the only path to a lasting resolution for the conflict,” Blinken said in earlier remarks in Cairo.
Recent data, though, indicates that public support for a two-state solution has reached a historic low. According a survey published last week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, just 33 percent of Palestinians and 34 percent of Israeli Jews say they support it, marking a significant drop from data collected in 2020.
Two-thirds of Palestinians and 53 percent of Israeli Jews said they were opposed to the two-state solution.
The US has voiced support for Israel’s security and for Palestinians to enjoy equal measures of dignity.

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Ten dead in new toll after fresh Syria strikes

Updated 30 January 2023

Ten dead in new toll after fresh Syria strikes

BEIRUT: A total of 10 people were killed in a series of drone strikes targeting pro-Iran factions in eastern Syria, including three dead in strikes on Monday, a war monitor said.
A pro-Iran commander was among the three killed in the drone strikes Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that they had been inspecting the site of strikes that had killed seven others the previous evening.
"A commander in an Iran-backed group and two of his companions, all of them non-Syrian, were killed this morning after renewed drone strikes," the Observatory said Monday.
Pro-Iran factions, including Iraqi groups as well as Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah, have a major presence around the Iraq-Syria border, and are heavily deployed south and west of the Euphrates in Syria's Deir Ezzor province.
The commander's pick-up truck was targeted while he was inspecting the site of the Sunday evening strike that destroyed a convoy of six refrigerated trucks transporting Iranian weapons to Syria from Iraq.
The convoy was struck in the Albu Kamal border region, said the Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.
The seven killed Sunday were truck drivers and their assistants, all of them non-Syrians, the Observatory said, adding that they were "killed as a result of unidentified aircraft targeting a convoy of Iran-backed groups".
The monitor could not verify the identities of the victims.


An Iraqi border official however told AFP that the vehicles targeted in Sunday's attack were Iraqi trucks.
But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press, said that the trucks were not transporting Iraqi goods and had crossed illegally into Syria.
"Iraq does not export anything to Syria," he said Monday.
No country claimed the assault, but Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes against Iran-backed and government forces in Syria, where the US military is also active.
"The trucks were transporting Iranian weapons," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman had told AFP Sunday.
Tehran provides military support to its ally Damascus in Syria's civil war, including through armed factions.
The strikes hit a convoy of trucks, but also the headquarters of Iran-backed groups in the area, activist Omar Abu Layla, who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet, told AFP Monday.
"There was heavy damage in the area that was struck," he said.
A pro-Syrian government radio station had reported Sunday that "unidentified war planes targeted, in a number of raids, six refrigerated trucks", without providing further details.
The Syrian government did not immediately comment on the strikes.


The Observatory said at least two similar convoys had entered Syria from Iraq this week, offloading their cargo to pro-Iran groups in the eastern town of Al-Mayadeen.
Both Albu Kamal and Al-Mayadeen are in Deir Ezzor, and Albu Kamal has seen similar strikes in the past.
The Observatory said in November that a strike in the area hit a pro-Iran militia convoy of "fuel tankers and trucks loaded with weapons", killing at least 14, though an Iraqi border guard official said there were no casualties.
In December, Israel's then-military chief Aviv Kohavi said his country had launched the raid, adding that the convoy was carrying weapons bound for Lebanon, where Hezbollah has an influential role.
Israel rarely comments on individual raids but has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of air and missile strikes in Syria since civil war broke out in 2011.
A US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria has also carried out strikes on pro-Iran fighters in Syria in the past.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which has also displaced about half of the country's pre-war population.


Turkiye’s opposition pledges to strip president of powers

Updated 30 January 2023

Turkiye’s opposition pledges to strip president of powers

  • The opposition pledged to change the constitution back to the way things worked throughout most of Turkiye’s post-Ottoman history
  • The program was unveiled at a ceremony attended by cheering crowds thirsting for a chance to reverse Erdogan’s transformation of Turkiye into a more religiously conservative country

ANKARA: Turkiye’s opposition vowed on Monday to crimp the president’s powers and broadly expand democratic rights if they seize power in May 14 presidential and parliamentary polls.
The six parties that are united against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also pledged to agree on February 13 to a joint candidate for the crucial vote — widely seen as Turkiye’s most consequential in generations.
The opposition’s long-awaited election program aims to roll back many of the powers Erdogan has amassed over his two-decade rule.
It limits the president to a seven-year term and makes a powerful new prime minister accountable to parliament.
“We will shift to a strengthened parliamentary system,” the program says.
“We will put an end to the president’s power to issue decrees.”
Erdogan began his rule in 2003 as prime minister and was elected president — at the time a more ceremonial post — when his mandates ran out in 2014.
He then rammed through constitutional changes in 2017 that eliminated the premiership and created a powerful new executive that allowed the president to effectively rule by decree.
The opposition pledged to change the constitution back to the way things worked throughout most of Turkiye’s post-Ottoman history.
Constitutional changes can be ratified by 400 votes in the 600-seat parliament.
They can also be put up for a national vote if the opposition gathers the 360 votes needed to trigger a constitutional referendum.
The opposition’s pledge to rewrite the constitution adds particular importance to the parliamentary vote.
Erdogan briefly lost control of parliament during his second decade in power and now relies on support from a far-right party that has seen its support slip in the past year.
Opinion polls point to a tightly contested election that is too close to call.
The opposition pledged to “urgently” amend the constitution and “put an end to the vague and arbitrary restriction of the freedoms of assembly and demonstration.”
“We will strengthen the freedoms of thought, opinion and expression,” it added.
Erdogan unleashed sweeping purges after a failed 2016 coup attempt that curbed many of the freedoms enjoyed under his more prosperous and publicly popular first years of rule.
Analysts estimate that 90 percent of Turkiye’s media are now under government or its business allies’ control.
Thousands of activists — many of them Kurds — are languishing in prison on terror-related charges that rights groups believe Erdogan is using to crack down on political dissent.

The program was unveiled at a ceremony attended by cheering crowds thirsting for a chance to reverse Erdogan’s transformation of Turkiye into a more religiously conservative country that was slowly losing support from the West.
Some of the biggest applause came from promises to crack down on corruption and restore the strength of Turkiye’s traditional institutions — including its state media.
The opposition vowed to make Turkiye’s TRT national broadcaster and Anadolu state news agency abide by “the principles of independence and impartiality.”
Its foreign policy section stressed the importance of restoring “mutual trust” with the United States and achieving Turkiye’s stalled goal of gaining “full membership in the European Union.”
It made no direct mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We will maintain relations with the Russian Federation with an understanding that both parties are equal and strengthened by balanced and constructive dialogue at the institutional level,” the program said.
Erdogan’s refusal to join Western sanctions on Moscow has turned Turkiye into a key route for Russia to access Western goods and services.
The resulting boom in bilateral trade has added to Erdogan’s tensions with Washington and the European Union.