Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks

Macron will on Friday host the foreign ministers of four key Arab states for talks on the war in Gaza. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will on Friday host the foreign ministers of four key Arab states for talks on the war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, his office said.
Joined by his own top diplomat Stephane Sejourne, Macron will discuss the situation with Qatar’s Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, Ayman Safadi of Jordan and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Elysee said.


Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

Updated 10 min 34 sec ago
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Iraq eyes drawdown of US-led forces starting September, sources say

  • The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria
  • Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war

BAGHDAD: Iraq wants troops from a US-led military coalition to begin withdrawing in September and to formally end the coalition’s work by September 2025, four Iraqi sources said, with some US forces likely to remain in a newly negotiated advisory capacity.
The Iraqi position is being discussed with US officials in Washington this week at a security summit and there is no formal agreement on ending the coalition or any associated timetable yet, the Iraqi sources and US officials said.
US State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a news briefing that both sides were meeting in Washington this week to determine how to transition the US-led coalition’s mission based on the threat posed by Daesh, adding he had no further details.
US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled former leader Saddam Hussein and then withdrew in 2011, only to return in 2014 to fight Daesh at the head of the coalition.
The US currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq at the head of a more than 80-member coalition that was formed in 2014 to repel Daesh as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria.
They are housed at three main bases, one in Baghdad, one in western Anbar province and another in the northern Kurdistan region.
It is unclear how many troops would leave under a deal, with Iraqi sources saying they expected most to eventually depart but US officials saying many may remain under a newly negotiated advise and assist mission.
US officials are keen to have some military footprint in Iraq on a bilateral basis, in part to help support its presence across the border in Syria, where it has around 900 troops.
The issue is highly politicized, with mainly Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions looking to show that they are pushing out the country’s one-time occupier again, while US officials want to avoid giving Iran and its allies a win.
There are also concerns about Daesh’s ability to regroup.
The jihadist group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019 but still carries out attacks in both countries and is on track to double its attacks in Syria this year compared to 2023, the US military said.
The group and its affiliates have also in recent months carried out attacks in Iran and Russia, as well as in Oman last week for the first time.
While the coalition’s mission is to advise and assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Daesh, Western officials say the US and its allies also see its presence in Iraq as a check on Iranian influence.
Washington and Baghdad initiated talks on the future of the coalition in January amid tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed Shiite Muslim armed groups and US forces that were sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
An agreement to draw down the coalition could be a political win for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who has been under pressure from Iran-aligned factions to push out US forces but has sought to do so in a way that balances Iraq’s delicate position as an ally of both Washington and Tehran.

 

 


Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

Updated 39 min 22 sec ago
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Israel strikes on Yemen port: what is the damage?

  • The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants
  • The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for

DUBAI: Israeli strikes on Saturday hit a power plant and fuel storage facilities in Hodeida, the main port under the control of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Here is what we know about the damage caused by the attack, which set oil tanks ablaze for days and came a day after the first fatal strike by the Houthis in Israel.

Saturday’s long-distance strike, the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, hit the Hodeida harbor, a key gateway for fuel and international aid into Houthi-held parts of Yemen.

A satellite image shows a closer view of burning oil tanks after an Israeli air strike on Houthi military targets in Hodeidah, Yemen, July 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Houthis, who control swathes of the country including much of its Red Sea coast, said the attack struck fuel storage facilities at the harbor, killing six people, all of them port employees of the Yemen Petroleum Company.
A nearby power plant was also targeted, according to the rebels.
AFPTV images showed huge flames and black smoke spiralling into the sky from burning oil tanks at the port. Debris covered the dock where equipment was damaged.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area, which still appeared to be burning on Monday, according to an AFP correspondent.

Debris litters a loading dock a day after Israeli strikes on the port of Yemen's Huthi-held city of Hodeida on July 21, 2024. (AFP)

A Hodeida port employee who was at the harbor the day of the attack said several tanks exploded sequentially.
But “the port, with its dock, containers, and ships, is intact,” said the employee who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.
Analysis of satellite imagery from Planet by Dutch peace organization PAX showed at least 33 destroyed oil storage tanks, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a project leader with the organization.
“We expect (to find) more damage, as not all storage tanks are visible because of heavy smoke” from the fire and burning fuel, Zwijnenburg told AFP.

According to Zwijnenburg, the bombing has resulted in tens of thousands of liters of oil burning.
“Localized coastal pollution is expected from wastewater and leaking fuel,” said the expert, who specializes in the environmental impacts of war.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said satellite imagery following the strikes showed “extensive damage to the oil products storage facilities,” clarifying, however, that “the bulk terminal storage facilities appeared to be unaffected.”
The attack destroyed most of the port’s fuel storage capacity of 150,000 tons, leaving the Hodeida governorate with an overall capacity of 50,000, the US-based Navanti Group said, citing merchants.
The Israeli army on Sunday published a video showing them hitting two container yard cranes at the harbor.
The Navanti Group said five cranes are now “most likely non-operational.”
Ambrey said two merchant vessels were alongside the yard at the time the cranes were hit, but it did not specify if they were damaged.
The British agency had earlier observed four merchant vessels in the port at the time of the strikes and another eight in the anchorage.
“No vessel arrivals or departures have occurred since the Israeli attack on Hodeida,” Ambrey reported on Monday.

The World Food Programme on Monday told AFP that there had been “minor” damage to a crane on one of its aid vessels in the port and that its fuel storage facility was impacted.
The ship “remains operational,” but “all 780,000 liters of fuel stock was likely destroyed,” said Pierre Honnorat, WFP’s Yemen country director, adding that all the agency’s staff were safe and accounted for.
“WFP will source enough fuel supplies to ensure this loss has no significant effect on our operations,” he said.
Yemeni port authorities have said Hodeida “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
A Houthi transport official on Monday said “work is underway to receive and unload food and fuel shipments within 24 hours.”
While firefighting teams were still struggling to contain the blaze at the harbor, a fire that erupted at a nearby power plant was nearly under control on Monday, according to Mohammed Albasha, the Navanti Group’s senior Middle East analyst.
“Repairs have started” as electricity gradually returns to the city following outages over the weekend, the analyst said.
 

 


Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

Updated 55 min 53 sec ago
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Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

  • Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners

LONDON: Ukraine said on Monday it had reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors to restructure $20 billion of international bonds, bringing the war-torn country closer to an unprecedented debt rework.
Ukraine’s announcement comes just over a week before a two-year debt suspension agreement struck in 2022 is due to run out and marks the first time a country has embarked on a debt restructuring during a full-scale war.
“After months of engagement and hard work with our private bondholders, the IMF and our bilateral partners, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Ad Hoc Creditor Committee on the comprehensive restructuring of our public external debt,” Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said in a statement.
This was an important step to ensure Ukraine maintained the budget stability and cash resources needed to continue financing its defense, he added.
Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners.
The US presidential election in November and the risk of wavering commitment to maintain support for Ukraine under a potential Donald Trump presidency increased pressure for a debt restructuring, sources close to the talks and analysts said.
The proposal would see a 37 percent nominal haircut on Ukraine’s outstanding international bonds, saving Kyiv $11.4 billion in payments over the next three years — the duration of the country’s program with the International Monetary Fund set to expire in 2027, according to government statements.
The government said the IMF had confirmed that the deal was compatible with the parameters of its $122 billion support package, and that the country’s official lenders, the Group of Creditors of Ukraine (GCU), had also signed off on it.
A spokesperson for the Paris Club of creditor nations, which usually handles communications for the GCU, confirmed the group was comfortable with the proposal.
The IMF welcomed the agreement and confirmed it is consistent with the current program, adding that it will be “essential to bring Ukraine’s debt burdens to sustainable levels, thereby ensuring room for critical spending and supporting growth.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a message on the Telegram app that the deal would free up resources for urgent needs, including defense, social protection and recovery.
A source at the Germany finance ministry welcomed the draft agreement and said it was a key step to preserve the Ukraine government’s ability to act and plan ahead.
The Ad Hoc Creditor Committee, which holds 22 percent of the country’s sovereign bonds, called the agreement “swift and constructive.”
“We are pleased to be able to provide significant debt relief to Ukraine, assist its efforts to regain its access to international capital markets, and support the future reconstruction,” it said in a statement.
RACING TO THE FINISH
Under the proposal, some of the new bonds issued would start paying a 1.75 percent coupon from next year, with payments stepping up to as much as 7.75 percent from 2034 onwards. Bondholders are also in line to receive a consent fee.
Interest payments had been a sticky issue in the talks. Bondholders sought financial inducement to agree to a rework, while Ukraine’s international partners such as Group of Seven nations and the IMF objected to large amounts of money being funnelled to private lenders and away from strained government finances.
Payments to bondholders under the deal would amount to less than $200 million through to end-2025.
While the bonds have a face value of $19.7 billion, Ukraine owes around $23 billion with past due interest.
The international bonds soared more than 5 cents after the announcement, with most maturities trading around the 35 cents mark and at their strongest in about two years.
Ukraine’s $2.6 billion GDP warrants — fixed-income instruments with payouts linked to the strength of economic growth — were not part of the restructuring, though the government said it would “ensure the fair and equitable treatment of holders of the Warrants.”
Bondholders will vote on the proposal in coming weeks. If enough sign off, the government will issue new bonds.
A first payment in the wake of the two year moratorium is due on Aug. 1, but Ukraine last week passed a law allowing it to miss payments — and enter debt default, even temporarily — while the agreement is finalized.
The debt deal would be Ukraine’s second in a decade triggered by its neighbor: Ukraine restructured in 2015 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“Once completed, this restructuring will also pave the way for Ukraine’s market re-entry as soon as possible when the security situation stabilizes to fund our country’s swift recovery and reconstruction,” Marchenko said in the statement.


Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests

Updated 23 July 2024
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Israelis due in Doha for talks on Gaza truce requests

  • The source said the points were negotiable and an agreement was “doable,” provided Israel does not remain in Gaza “indefinitely” and a solution is found for the Philadelphi corridor, with Egyptian mediators leading these efforts

DOHA: An Israeli delegation will travel to Doha on Thursday to discuss new demands for a Gaza truce and hostage-prisoner exchange, a source with knowledge of the talks said.
The delegation would meet with mediator Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to discuss three Israeli requests, including control over the return of civilians to northern Gaza, the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talks.
Qatar, along with Egypt and the United States, has been engaged in months of behind-the-scenes efforts to broker a Gaza truce and a hostage-prisoner swap.
A proposed cessation of hostilities focuses on a phased approach, beginning with an initial truce.
Recent discussions have centered on a framework outlined by US President Joe Biden in late May, which he said had been proposed by Israel.
The source said Israel had requested its forces remain in the so-called Philadelphi corridor, a 14-kilometer (8.5-mile) stretch along the Gaza-Egypt border, and that it controls the return of displaced Gazan civilians to the north of the Palestinian territory.
Israel has also asked that its troop positions in Gaza be resolved before the truce begins, the source added.
The source said the points were negotiable and an agreement was “doable,” provided Israel does not remain in Gaza “indefinitely” and a solution is found for the Philadelphi corridor, with Egyptian mediators leading these efforts.
But the source said Israel’s return with extra demands was “a recurring theme” in the talks and Israel had “moved the goalposts.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington on Monday under significant domestic and international pressure to agree to a truce and hostage-prisoner exchange in Gaza.
Despite this pressure, Netanyahu maintains that increased military pressure on the militants is the best route to a deal.
On Sunday, the premier’s office said he was sending a negotiating team for new talks on a truce deal.
Except for a one-week truce in November, during which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, talks have repeatedly foundered over differences between the parties.
 

 


If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

Updated 17 sec ago
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If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

  • Arab American analysts assess the Democrats seeking to be the candidate who will challenge Donald Trump
  • Arab Americans alienated by Biden’s Gaza stance could prove decisive in key battleground states

NEW YORK CITY/CHICAGO: President Joe Biden’s decision to end his reelection campaign and drop out of the US presidential race has created sufficient momentum for Vice President Kamala Harris to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, according to three Arab American analysts.

Biden, who endorsed Harris in his withdrawal announcement on Sunday, was trailing former President Donald Trump in opinion polls amid a growing Arab American #AbandonBiden movement, and wider demands he drop out of the 2024 race following his disastrous debate performance on June 27 in Atlanta.

What was to be a coronation for the 81-year-old Biden at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on Aug. 19 has now become an open contest in which nearly 4,700 party delegates will vote by state for the nominee of their choice to challenge Trump, the Republican Party nominee.

Rana Abtar, a talk show host in Washington D.C. for Asharq News, expects Harris to become the Democratic nominee, although several other candidates might also be considered. However, she believes the Democrats “must show unity” if they are to win the November election.

“Today, what we are noticing is that Democrats are starting to support Harris, one by one,” she told Arab News. “There were some delegates in a couple of states who have already voted to support Kamala Harris. That means that their votes will reflect in the Democratic National Convention.

“The rest of the Democrats who have not supported Harris yet are expected to fall in line soon. At some point we will see all the Democrats, or most of the Democrats, line up behind Harris. It is very important for the Democrats to present a show of unity after the dilemma that their party was facing following President Biden’s announcement that he will not seek a second term.”

Biden’s withdrawal from the race frees up his convention delegates from the nation’s 50 states and provinces to support any candidate during the convention. Many alternative names are being floated, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Noting that Harris is popular among African American voters, a traditional core pillar of the Democratic Party support, Abtar said many still view her as a part of the Biden administration’s policies that fueled the #AbandonBiden movement, in which Arabs and Muslims voted in key swing state primaries for “uncommitted” or “no vote” options rather than for the president.

“Harris is not that popular in the polls,” Abtar said. “A lot of Democrats are worried that her chances against Trump are the same as the chances of President Biden against Trump. Of course, in the coming days we will see Harris getting out there, talking to the voters, because in the past, in her role as vice president, she did not speak directly to the American people on many occasions.

“Biden gave her the immigration matter, which by itself put her in a very awkward position, especially given that the Republicans’ main attack against Democrats concerns immigration and border security.

“But I do believe that the most important element here is not Harris. It will be who she will pick as her running mate because voters need excitement. Democratic voters need excitement to get out and vote.”

Abtar said third-party candidates, such as independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, are often viewed as “election spoilers” — people who might drain votes from Harris or even from Trump.

“Kennedy’s numbers are considered pretty high for an independent candidate and his voters might make a difference in the election season by taking away votes from … Trump or Harris … if she gets the official nomination,” Abtar said.

Any of the individuals currently being suggested as replacements for Biden could become nominees for vice president, including Pritzker, a billionaire with presidential ambitions of his own.

Amal Mudallali, a former ambassador to the UN and CEO of Bridges International Group, thinks Harris has a “problem of perception.”

She told Arab News: “The perception is that she was not a strong vice president, that she will not be a strong candidate and that she will not be able to defeat Trump.”

Although Democrats seemed to be moving fast to rally behind Harris, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement on Monday, Mudallali remains cautious.

“It’s all up in the air because there are still very powerful Democrats calling for an open convention and to have an open field for everybody to throw their hats into the ring, and to see if they can get the strongest candidate for the Democratic Party to be able to defeat Trump,” she said.

The impact of the independent candidates in the election cannot be written off either, she added.

“In very close elections, independent candidates can do a lot of harm. Because this election is a very close race — you are talking about a couple of thousands of, or a thousand, votes — that could make or break an election campaign,” Mudallali said.

“Let’s say if Kennedy was able to get a lot of votes from the Democrats, this could hurt Democrats more and that will be a big problem for them.

“But so far we don’t know who the Democratic Party candidate will be. If the individual is a very strong candidate, the party might be able to unite the anti-Trump constituency, which will overwhelmingly vote for the candidate on the Democratic side. In that case, the independents will not make a difference.”

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Harris is “all but certain” to replace Biden as the nominee, and suggested that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be her running mate on the first “all woman ticket.”

He told Arab News: “The speculation is heavily focused on who will be her vice-presidential running mate, including possibly an all-women ticket should she choose Whitmer. That’s unprecedented and carries risks. But Whitmer could help deliver the key swing state of Michigan, and an all-woman team could re-energize the currently largely demoralized Democratic base.”

He added: “Harris’s likability ratings with the American public have never been high. But at this point, the decision by the Democratic Party and President Biden to put her name forward is largely based on funding and finances. She is the only one who will be able to qualify for all the money, the hundreds of millions of dollars, that have been raised so far. Therefore, her choice for a running mate will also be key in terms of bringing around that Democratic base and for the general likability of that Democratic ticket.”

Maksad believes Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race, and speculation about Whitmer’s addition to the ticket, might hold sway over the strong Arab and Muslim vote in Michigan, many of whom voted against the Biden-Harris team in the Feb. 27 Democrat Party primary contest.

“Arab Americans are not monolithic,” he said. “They are a diverse group with differing priorities spread out across four battleground states. Michigan gets a lot of attention, but also Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“In Michigan, where there are 100,000 of them, they have strong feelings about the war in Gaza and President Biden not doing enough to stop the war. Having Biden step aside opens up the potential for the Democratic Party to make inroads among Arab Americans in Michigan again. And should the vice president (choice) in fact be the governor of Michigan, that will then give Democrats even more opportunities to make inroads and win Michigan over again, as a key battleground state.”