UN to hold emergency meeting on Israeli visit to holy site

The symbol of the United Nations is displayed outside the Secretariat Building, on February 28, 2022, at the United Nations Headquarters, US. (Photo courtesy: AP/File)
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Updated 05 January 2023
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UN to hold emergency meeting on Israeli visit to holy site

  • Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s visit to the holy site in September 2000 led to a Palestinian uprising known as Second Intifada
  • Palestinian ambassador to the UN says his people ‘will not be satisfied with beautiful statements which will be uttered’ at UNSC

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting Thursday at the request of the Palestinians and other Islamic and non-Islamic nations to protest the visit of an ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister to a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site and demand an end to Israeli extremist provocations and respect for the historic status quo at the site revered by Muslims and Jews.

Tuesday’s visit by Israel’s new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler leader who draws inspiration from a racist rabbi, to the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, Arabic for the Noble Sanctuary, drew fierce condemnation from across the Muslim world, a strong rebuke from the United States, and fueled fears of unrest as Palestinian militant groups threatened to act in response.

The Palestinian UN ambassador, Riyad Mansour, told reporters Wednesday after meetings with Arab ambassadors, representatives of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 120-member Nonaligned Movement and others that there is not only widespread condemnation of Ben-Gvir’s visit but also of the broader “environment of extremism” surrounding the most extremist government in Israel’s history.

He accused Israel of committing “aggression” not only against Muslim holy sites including the Al Aqsa Mosque but against Christian sites including graveyards.

The site is the holiest site in Judaism, home to ancient biblical temples. Today, it houses the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Since Israel captured the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there.

Describing the Temple Mount as “the most important place for the Jewish people,” Ben-Gvir decried what he called “racist discrimination” against Jewish visits to the site.

With the Dome of the Rock, the Islamic shrine, in the background and waving his fingers at the camera, he said the visits would continue. As for threats from Gaza’s Hamas militant group, Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and provocative stunts, said in a video clip taken during the visit: “The Israeli government won’t surrender to a murderous organization, to a vile terrorist organization.”

Mansour, flanked by ambassadors from about 20 countries, said that at Thursday’s emergency Security Council meeting, also supported by the United Arab Emirates, China, France and Malta, “we will not be satisfied with beautiful statements which will be uttered.”

“We want them to be implemented in a concrete way,” he said. “We want this behavior not to be repeated in Al Aqsa Mosque and Al-Haram Al-Sharif, and we want a guarantee of honoring and respecting the historic status quo in deeds, not only in words.”

Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Khaled Khiare will brief the Security Council at Thursday's meeting, UN spokesman Stepane Dujarric said.

Jordan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud said his country, whose ruler King Abdullah II is custodian of the Islamic and Christian holy sites, is “extremely concerned at the incursion” by minister Ben-Gvir and the Israeli government.

“This is an action of extremism that purports to create a new cycle of violence,” he said. “The Security Council has to take its responsibility seriously and stop such attempts.”

Hmoud said Israel has made a commitment to respect “the historic legal status quo” and its obligations under international law, but unfortunately Ben-Gvir made an incursion into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in violation of Israel’s legal obligations.

“There has to be a firm stand by the international community against this because it will happen again, and once it will happen again, a new cycle of violence will ensue,” he warned.

Hmoud recalled that in September 2000 Ariel Sharon, then Israel's opposition leader, visited the holy site, which helped spark clashes that led to a full-fledged Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. The Security Council deplored Sharon’s visit, which it called a “provocation.”

Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators in and around the site also fueled an 11-day war with Hamas in 2021.

Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office last week for his sixth term as prime minister, leading the most religious, right-wing government in the country’s history. Its goals include expanding West Bank settlements and annexing the occupied territory.

Responding to the outcry over Ben-Gvir’s visit, Netanyahu late Tuesday said Israel remains committed to “strictly maintaining the status quo” at the site.

“The claim that a change has been made in the status quo is without foundation,” he said.

 


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 11 sec ago
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.

Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.


UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

Updated 23 February 2024
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UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

  • Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force
  • It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Friday signed an agreement with the EU border agency Frontex to jointly crack down on irregular immigration, the government in London said.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping migrants from crossing the Channel on boats from France a priority before a general election due this year.
Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force to help disrupt people-smuggling gangs, Britain’s interior ministry said in a statement.
It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added.
UK Border Force director general Phil Douglas and Frontex executive director Hans Leijtens signed the arrangement in London, witnessed by UK interior minister James Cleverly and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
“Organized immigration crime and people smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions,” Cleverly said.
“Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.”
The UK government says the number of migrants arriving on England’s south coast in rudimentary vessels fell by a third last year from a record high of 45,000 migrants in 2022.
The UK government called the deal “the latest step” in its “plan to tackle illegal migration and criminal gangs,” with the issue set to feature prominently in the general election campaign.


New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

Updated 23 February 2024
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New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

  • Testimonies of Indians in Russian army sent shockwaves across the media this week
  • Government urges Indian nationals to ‘stay away’ from Russia’s conflict

New Delhi: India's Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday it was in contact with Moscow regarding the release of Indian nationals, who according to media reports have been deployed in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Testimonies of Indian men hired as “army security helpers” for Russian troops, their families and an agent involved in their employment sent shockwaves across the Indian media after The Hindu daily broke the news earlier this week.
A few Indians are known to have volunteered to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine created to counter Russia’s invasion since February 2022, but until The Hindu’s report, there was no indication of Indian nationals fighting on the Russian side.
Those who spoke to the newspaper said they had been given basic army training and expected to continue as kitchen helpers, but later were sent to the front instead.
Most of the men came from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, and said they had been told they would not be sent to the battlefield.
The Indian government was “aware that a few Indian nationals have signed up for support jobs with the Russian army,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement.
“The Indian Embassy has regularly taken up this matter with the relevant Russian authorities for their early discharge. We urge all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict.”
The issue has been flagged on social media by lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, who had been approached by some of the men’s relatives.
On Wednesday, Owaisi made a plea to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in an X post, which has since gone viral.
“Kindly use your good offices to bring these men back home,” he said. “Their lives are at risk & their families are justifiably worried.”