Europe must unite, work with Middle East partners to bring end to Gaza hostilities: EU foreign policy chief Borrell

Josep Borrell said that the conflict between Israel and Hamas was the “most urgent geopolitical issue we have to deal with.” (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 13 January 2024
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Europe must unite, work with Middle East partners to bring end to Gaza hostilities: EU foreign policy chief Borrell

  • Josep Borrell said that the conflict between Israel and Hamas was the “most urgent geopolitical issue we have to deal with”

LONDON: The EU’s foreign policy chief said on Saturday that Europe had to unite and work with its Middle Eastern partners to push for an end to hostilities in Gaza.

After his trip to the Middle East to meet with leaders and officials to discuss the crises in the region, Josep Borrell said that the conflict between Israel and Hamas was the “most urgent geopolitical issue we have to deal with.”

Borrell said, after discussions with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, that he counted the Kingdom as one of the EU’s main partners — alongside Jordan, Egypt and the Arab League — in trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and bring the two-state solution back to the fore.

“With my Saudi interlocutors, we discussed the situation in Gaza,” he said.

“Our analyses converged on several critical points: The need for a rapid end to the fighting and the release of hostages, the need to avoid a forced displacement of Palestinians outside of the enclave and the need for a rapid withdrawal of Israeli forces at the end of the military operation,” he added.

Borrell added that he also discussed with Saudi officials the efforts being taken to halt Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping.

“We also discussed the risks of the conflict spreading to the wider region. This included the precarious situation in the Red Sea as a result of attacks by Houthi rebels on merchant ships,” he said.

“For our part, we are discussing options to help restore freedom of navigation, including the creation of a new European maritime operation alongside mission Atalanta, which is already operating off the coast of Somalia,” he added.

During his visit to Lebanon, Borrell spoke with caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati and other political figures about the need to avoid the country being drawn into a wider conflict with Israel.

“I conveyed to all my interlocutors our deep concern at the risk of seeing Lebanon drawn into a conflict with Israel, and our desire to help prevent such a disastrous development,” he said.

“All of them, including the representative of Hezbollah, told me they were equally eager to avoid being pulled into such a downward spiral.”

Borrell also spoke to UNRWA Commissioner General Philipe Lazzarini, reiterating the EU’s support for the humanitarian organization, its opposition to the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and its backing for more aid to be allowed into the enclave.

Lazzarini on Saturday said that the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was “staining humanity,” as the conflict moved into its 100th day.

“The massive death, destruction, displacement, hunger, loss and grief of the last 100 days are staining our shared humanity,” he said in a statement as he visited the Gaza Strip.

“It’s been 100 days since the devastating war started, killing and displacing people in Gaza, following the horrific attacks that Hamas and other groups carried out against people in Israel. It’s been 100 days of ordeal and anxiety for hostages and their families.”

Borrell also said that following his trip to the Middle East, he was confident the EU and its regional partners can work together toward resolving the crises.

“Returning from this mission, my conviction has only deepened on the urgency for the EU to intensify its involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, I am also more convinced than ever of the feasibility of doing so in close cooperation with our regional partners,” he said.

“Since Oct. 7, there have been divergent views within the EU on how to react to the conflict in Gaza. This lack of consensus has weakened the EU in the region and prevented us from having influence on events, despite the fact that we are very directly impacted by this conflict and its consequences.

“The time has come for us to unite and shoulder our responsibility to push for an end to the hostilities in Gaza, and work with our partners to actively pursue the implementation of the two-state solution.”


Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

Updated 7 sec ago
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Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

  • Defense Minister Margarita Robles says Spain’s recognition of Palestine is not a move against Israel, adding that it is designed to help end violence in Gaza

MADRID: The Spanish defense minister said on Saturday that the conflict in Gaza is a “real genocide” as relations between Israel and Spain worsen following Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel has strongly rejected accusations made against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide against Palestinians, saying it is waging war on Hamas.

The remark by Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles in an interview with TVE state television echoed a comment by Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, who earlier this week also described the Gaza conflict as a genocide.

“We cannot ignore what is happening in Gaza, which is a real genocide,” Robles said in the interview, during which she also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in Africa.

She also said Madrid’s recognition of Palestine was not a move against Israel, adding that it was designed to help “end violence in Gaza.” 

“This is not against anyone, this is not against the Israeli state, this is not against the Israelis, who are people we respect,” she said.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and destroyed much of the enclave. Israel launched the operation to try to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Spain, along with Ireland and Norway, declared this week it would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel, which said it amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.

Judges at the ICJ, the top UN court, on Friday, ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in the case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

On Saturday, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that Israel must obey the court’s ruling.

In a post on the social media site X, he said, “The International Court of Justice’s precautionary measures, including the cessation of Israel’s offensive in Rafah, are mandatory. We demand their application.”

South Africa has accused Israel of failing to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel rejects the accusation, arguing it is acting to defend itself and fighting Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that if more nations recognized the Palestinian state, it would add to international pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.


Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

Updated 25 May 2024
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Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

  • Media expert Hassan Makawi says simple Internet search would have uncovered ‘appalling mistake’
  • He says fiasco shows Israeli media reports ‘must be scrutinized closely’

CAIRO: Egyptian sports critic Mohamed Shabana plans to sue authorities in Israel for defamation after Israeli security agency Shin Bet published his photograph by mistake instead of an image of a Hamas leader in Rafah who it believed had been killed.
Shabana said he would demand substantial compensation for the damage inflicted on him, his family, and his audience in the Egyptian media.
He also said his political career was being damaged following the incident.
He said he would donate the compensation to the “Palestinian cause — a cause we all fight for.”
Shin Bet sparked controversy on social media after posting a picture of Shabana, claiming that he was a Hamas leader killed in Rafah.
Local Israeli media initially reported the assassination of Mohammed Shabana in Rafah, a leader of the Rafah brigade of the Al-Qassam Brigades, using an image of the Egyptian media personality.
However, the Israeli media immediately corrected the error, acknowledging the failure of the assassination attempt, as reported by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The blunder sparked an initial social media uproar, with the Egyptian sports audience recognizing Shabana, making a mockery of the incident.
The fiasco also raised doubts about the capabilities of Shin Bet, which not only posted the incorrect image of a Hamas leader but also failed in the assassination attempt.
Shabana told Arab News that he came across a photo of himself trending on social media, accompanied by sarcastic comments about the Israeli army.
He said: “I did not understand what was happening and began reading to grasp what had occurred.”
Shabana said some friends and family also contacted him over the phone to express their disbelief.
He added: “They joked that the Israeli security service had assassinated me, which made me laugh too. But it did not take long before I realized how ignorant and backward the Israeli security agencies were, fabricating events, which makes me doubt everything they say.
“I know that Shin Bet is one of the strongest security agencies in Israel, and it’s unnatural for them to make such a mistake.
“But I think the chaos in the Israeli state made them fabricate or even mishandle the accuracy of their publications.
“Perhaps they Googled the name Mohammed Shabana, the leader in Hamas, and my photo popped up, so they published it, which is quite ridiculous.”
Media expert Hassan Makawi said: “What happened is a major blunder for the Israeli security forces. But the bigger blunder, in my opinion, is that of the Israeli media, which followed its agency without verifying the facts.”
Makawi said a simple Internet search would have “uncovered their appalling mistake.”
Makawi told Arab News: “It’s clear that Israel is not as strong as they claim, nor is their media as reliable as it describes itself.
“Therefore, we must scrutinize their statements and publications as they may contain many lies.”


Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Updated 25 May 2024
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Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

  • No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional

TAMPA: Heavy seas battered the US maritime humanitarian mission to Gaza on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said, with four vessels serving a floating aid delivery pier breaking free from their moorings.

No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional, CENTCOM said in a statement, adding that no US personnel would enter Gaza.

Two of the affected vessels were now anchored on the beach near the pier and the other two were beached on the coast of Israel near Ashkelon, CENTCOM said, adding that efforts to recover the vessels were under way with assistance from the Israeli Navy.


Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

Updated 25 May 2024
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Rising cost of medicine in Egypt poses risk to ‘thousands of pharmacies’

  • That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications
  • The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi

CAIRO: Pharmacy owners in Egypt have voiced concerns about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals in the country as they prepare for another price increase following the Egyptian Drug Authority’s recent review.
That review followed pharmaceutical companies’ request for price increases for various medications to “offset the rising costs of production, which have been exacerbated by the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar.”
The EDA’s “decisions over (recent) years to raise the prices of certain types of medicine have resulted in the closure of about 1,500 pharmacies,” said Dr. Hatem El-Badawi, secretary-general of the Pharmacy Division at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, adding that the “uncontrolled” rise in medicine prices has not been matched by a corresponding increase in profit margins for pharmacists.
“We anticipate more closures in 2024,” he added. “In February, the General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce appealed to the Central Bank governor to reactivate the low-interest rate loan of 5 percent for small and medium-sized pharmacies, capped at EGP500,000 ($10,600) per pharmacy.
“The goal was to safeguard pharmacies from economic challenges such as low purchasing power, cash payment demands from pharmaceutical companies, limited liquidity, rising operating costs, and shrinking profit margins.”
That proposal was rejected, however, and loans are currently only available at a 15-percent interest rate, which is, El-Badawi said, “far higher than a pharmacist’s profit margins and thus constitutes a loss.”
Pharmacy owner Dr. Sami Saad told Arab News: “We face several problems due to price increases, including reduced profit margins for pharmacists, dual pricing for drugs, and pharmaceutical companies not recalling expired products. All these issues could force us to close at any time because we are not making any profit.”
Saad added the Egyptian Drug Authority had not considered pharmacists’ demands or the crises they are facing.
“Every day is a struggle. And although I heard that the head of the authority plans to intervene to resolve these issues, there has been no progress so far,” he said.
Dr. El-Badawi reiterated: “I fear for the closure of pharmacies — a difficult situation that will only get worse. I am concerned for the 85,000 pharmacies across the country.
“The health of Egyptians is at risk,” he added. “I urge all responsible authorities to intervene.”


More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

Updated 25 May 2024
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More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

  • 27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty
  • “Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, the World Bank said

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.
The World Bank published two new reports on Syria, which found that “27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty.”
“Extreme poverty, while virtually non-existent before the conflict, affected more than one in four Syrians in 2022” and might have further deteriorated after a deadly earthquake last year, one of the reports said.
The quake killed about 6,000 people in the country.
According to the United Nations, about 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, while it previously estimated that around 2 million lived in extreme poverty after more than a decade of war.
The report cited neighbor Lebanon’s economic meltdown in late 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as having eroded the welfare of Syrian households in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has also ravaged the economy, infrastructure and industry, while Western sanctions have added to the country’s woes.
“Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, already coping with “soaring prices, reduced access to essential services and rising unemployment,” the World Bank said.
The UN told AFP previously that its humanitarian response plan for Syria for 2024 requires more than $4 billion but that it is only six percent funded.
The international community is set to meet in Brussels Monday to try and muster funds for Syria at a yearly pledging conference.
A lack of opportunities and dwindling aid has pushed many Syrians to rely on money sent from relatives abroad to survive, with the World Bank estimating that “in 2022, the total value of remittances received by Syrian households reached about $1.05 billion.”
Syria’s estimated GDP stood at around $6.2 billion in 2023.
Syria’s “real GDP is projected to contract by 1.5 percent in 2024, extending the 1.2 percent decline in 2023,” the report said.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 due to the pass-through effects of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential further subsidy cuts (for) food and fuel,” it said.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.