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Hier — 7 juillet 2020Middle East Eye

Fewer medical graduates from Muslim countries entering US under Trump

Par Umar A Farooq
Fewer medical graduates from Muslim countries entering US under Trump
Study finds the number of medical graduates from Muslim-majority countries has fallen by 15 percent since Trump took office, with warnings about future US physician shortages
Umar A Farooq Tue, 07/07/2020 - 17:29
The New York Immigration Coalition holds a news conference on Trump's Muslim ban in 2018.
The New York Immigration Coalition holds a news conference on Trump's Muslim ban in 2018 (AFP/File photo)

The number of medical graduates coming from Muslim-majority countries to become doctors in the US has fallen by 15 percent since Donald Trump became president, exacerbating shortages in America's physician workforce, a new study has found.

The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) on Monday, noted that the Trump administration's "Muslim ban", upheld through various iterations, played a part in discouraging international medical graduates (IMGs) from applying to practise medicine in the US.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued an executive order barring individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country.

After numerous iterations and court battles, it was upheld, with the current list of barred countries including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea.

The administration extended the ban earlier this year to exclude Sudan and Tanzania from participating in the diversity visa lottery scheme and barring individuals from Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

The study noted that the majority of IMGs to the US come from Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Nigeria, with nationals from these countries representing nearly one-fifth of all students.

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"International medical graduates, including those who were citizens of Muslim-majority nations at entry to medical school, make up a large part of the US physician workforce," the study said.

"Even the perception of a Muslim ban in the US, whether the legislation is upheld in the courts, could dissuade some medical students and graduates from attempting the ECFMG [Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates] certification process."

The study noted that since IMGs helped fill existing gaps in the physician workforce, "this decrease - or even a change in the characteristics of the IMG residency pipeline - could certainly have some future consequences for the US workforce".

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that there was a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors in the US this year.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has warned that gulf could widen to 122,000 doctors by the year 2032.

The study said "the attractiveness of the US as a destination for medical training has waned compared with other countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK".

"To the extent that citizens from some countries no longer seek residency positions in the US, gaps in the physician workforce could widen," it added.

The United States is one of the worst-affected countries in the world by the coronavirus pandemic, with cases surpassing 2.9 million infections, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has also claimed the lives of at least 130,000 Americans.

Muslim doctors have been on the frontlines across the country, with the study noting that more than 70 percent of medical graduates from Muslim-majority countries were involved in direct patient care, with one of the largest concentrations of these individuals based in New York, which at one point faced one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the world.

Washington
  • 7 juillet 2020 à 18:29

Palestinians lose legal battle to save Jaffa's 200-year-old Muslim cemetery

Par MEE staff
Palestinians lose legal battle to save Jaffa's 200-year-old Muslim cemetery
Tel Aviv court rejects an appeal by Jaffa's Islamic Council to halt construction of a homeless shelter on grounds of Al-Isaaf Muslim cemetery
MEE staff Tue, 07/07/2020 - 16:43
Palestinians had protested for weeks against the construction of a homeless shelter over the 18th-century Muslim burial ground (AFP)

A Tel Aviv court has rejected an appeal by Jaffa's Islamic Council to stop the city from building a homeless shelter on the site of an 18th-century Muslim cemetery. 

Judge Limor Bibi from the Tel Aviv district court revoked a restraining order on Tuesday that had stopped the city from building the shelter and ordered the Islamic Council to pay $2,200 in legal fees.

The Jaffa Islamic Council had filed a legal case claiming that the Tel Aviv municipality - which has jurisdiction over Jaffa - did not have a valid permit to build over the 200-year-old Al-Isaaf cemetery.

Last month an Israeli court ruled that the construction of the homeless shelter would be halted until a hearing on 22 July after weeks of protests during which Israeli forces beat Palestinian citizens who accused the municipality of erasing its heritage.

But the hearing was moved up to Sunday after the Tel Aviv municipality claimed a delay caused by the Islamic Council's appeal had negatively impacted the municipality's finances.

Palestinian citizens of Israel protest to save Jaffa cemetery
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Tarek Ashkar, director of the Islamic Council, dismissed the Tel Aviv court's ruling and said it was "legal acrobatics" and an example of how it was discriminatory towards Palestinians. 

"They could have said the permit was valid, but they didn't say that," Askar told Haaretz, who added that the city provided no further documentation for its claims. 

"The system is tipping the scales for the benefit of Tel Aviv's municipality."

Tel Aviv's Mayor Ron Huldai welcomed the decision and said the "court decision proves that the city has worked and continues to work with sensitivity and according to the law".

Al-Isaaf cemetery, which lies just north of the walls of Old Jaffa near the Hassan Bek Mosque, was built almost 200 years ago. Despite not being in active use for nearly 90 years, the cemetery holds hundreds of Palestinian tombs.

Jaffa was once an epicentre of the Palestinian economy, with some 120,000 people living in and around the flourishing city on the Mediterranean Sea in 1948.

Almost 95 percent of the Palestinian population of Jaffa and its surrounding villages were expelled by Zionist militias during the Nakba, or the catastrophe, that year.

Over the decades, Jaffa's historic neighbourhoods were progressively demolished and the city shrank into a small town that was then absorbed by the municipality of Tel Aviv.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 17:43

Egypt parliament approves law restricting soldiers from running for office

Par MEE and agencies
Egypt parliament approves law restricting soldiers from running for office
Amendments require current and former officers to seek the approval of top military council before running for election
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 15:43
Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (L) and parliament speaker Ali Abdel Aal (Reuters/file photo)

Egypt’s parliament has approved amendments to a law that would restrict current and former members of the armed forces from running for office without consent from top army leaders. 

The law comes one year after the passing of constitutional amendments that allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former army general, to stay in office until 2030.

The new amendments to law no. 232 from 1959 will require all current and former officers from all ranks to seek the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) before running for local, parliamentary or presidential elections. 

Egypt passes electoral changes that will bolster Sisi's influence in parliament
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Egypt is due to hold elections for a new second parliamentary chamber on 11-12 August, and the House of Representative elections are scheduled for November. 

The new amendments could be an attempt to prevent the rise of future rivals of Sisi from within the army. 

Sisi came to power after ousting his democratically-elected civilian predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a military coup, which he led while serving as minister of defence. 

He became president in 2014 after highly contested elections in which most of the other candidates were arrested or excluded. 

Sisi 'shielding himself'

Since his election, Sisi has embarked on a continuous purge of the army, retiring or arresting officers who were not perceived as allies. 

One of them was Lieutenant General Sami Anan, who was arrested after deciding to run against him during the presidential election in early 2018.

Anan was arrested on the grounds that he violated the law that required him to seek SCAF permission before running. 

Anan was released two years later, but remains under house arrest, according to Egyptian sources who spoke to Middle East Eye on condition of anonymity. 

Sami Anan: Presidential hopeful to enemy of the state in three days
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A military court also jailed a former soldier in December 2017 for six years for announcing his decision to enter the presidential race as a potential candidate in a video he posted on YouTube.

The new amendments also prohibit officers from publicly divulging information about the army during their service or joining political parties without the permission of SCAF.

The new amendments will be the first attempt to enshrine such bans on members of the armed forces in Egypt’s civil law. Other bans in place were stipulated in military bylaws, said Mahmoud Gamal, a military analyst.

“Sami Anan’s defence had argued that the law banning him from running was not a civil law, now Sisi is attempting to correct the legal loopholes that were used to justify his running for office,” he told MEE.

Gamal added that the new amendments, unlike the ones passed in 2018, are designed to include officers from all ranks, as well as those who left the army. 

“Sisi is shielding himself against all potential future rivals,” he said.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 16:43

'A man of conviction': Grief and fury greet assassination of Iraqi analyst

Par Alex MacDonald
'A man of conviction': Grief and fury greet assassination of Iraqi analyst
Hisham al-Hashemi was shot dead on Monday night near his home in Baghdad, with Iran-backed paramilitary Kataeb Hezbollah suspected as the likely perpetrator
Alex MacDonald Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:42
Iraqi analyst Hisham al-Hashemi speaking during an interview in Baghdad (AFP)

An outpouring of grief and anger has greeted the apparent assassination of the Iraqi analyst and political advisor Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead on Monday evening in Baghdad.

Although no group has officially claimed responsibility, there has been much speculation, and many in Iraq have seen the killing as yet another indication that armed groups can act with impunity in eliminating their opponents in the country.

Video footage released on social media and news outlets appeared to show gunmen waiting outside Hashemi's home in Zayouna, where they launched the ambush.

A vigil was set to take place for the 47-year-old on Tuesday evening in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. A small procession comprised of a few friends and family members carried Hashemi's body at his funeral on Tuesday morning. He was buried in the holy city of Najaf.

The US embassy in Baghdad called on the government to bring "swift justice" over the killing, while the Iranian embassy condemned it as a "criminal act".

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said he would "not sleep" until the killers of Hashemi were in custody and announced a street in Baghdad would be renamed in his honour.

"Those involved in [spilling] Iraqi blood will face justice, and we will never allow the politics of chaos and the mafia," he told a meeting of his cabinet.

Mourners carry the coffin of slain Iraqi expert Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead yesterday outside his house in the Iraqi capital, during his funeral in Baghdad’s Zayouna district (AFP)
Mourners carry the coffin of slain Iraqi expert Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead yesterday outside his house in the Iraqi capital, during his funeral in Baghdad’s Zayouna district (AFP)

Many journalists, analysts and politicians who worked with Hashemi over the years praised his in-depth knowledge of Iraqi affairs, and particularly the workings of militant groups such as the Islamic State (IS).

Hanar Marouf, another Iraqi analyst who described Hashemi as a "dear friend", said she was still shocked by the incident.

"He was a very dedicated person to his work, an independent person who saw the problems with true loyal Iraqi eyes," she told Middle East Eye.

'He was a very dedicated person to his work, an independent person who saw the problems with true loyal Iraqi eyes'

- Hanar Marouf, analyst

"He knew almost all the political figures and had a very respected professional friendship with them. His loss is a very hard one for Iraq, where a personality like Hisham might very rarely exist again."

Journalist Stephane Kenech, who previously worked with Hashemi in Iraq and Europe, said he was an "essential source of information for many western journalists".

"I have memories of a brilliant man, always smiling - a man of conviction," he told MEE.

Lawk Ghafuri, Iraq correspondent for Kurdish news outlet Rudaw, told MEE he was a "very smart and intelligent man" who had been a keen advocate of Iraq's anti-government protest movement and their concerns.

"He was always telling me to keep giving the voiceless protesters a voice and make their voices to be heard," said Ghafuri.

Death threats

Hashemi had enemies in Iraq, both among Sunni militant organisations such as IS, and the paramilitaries - many backed by Iran - that he often criticised.

Last November, he disappeared from the media for a period after being threatened by the armed group Kataeb Hezbollah (KH), according to the Washington Post.

Since Kadhimi came to power in May, however, he had made more frequent appearances.

'It all begins with the brazen threats they make on public fora such as Facebook and Twitter, then with the act of murder'

- Ruba al-Hassani, analyst

A journalist who had spoken to Hashemi less than two weeks before his death also anonymously told the Alhurra news outlet on Monday that Hashemi had been directly threatened by Kataeb Hezbollah's media spokesperson Abu Ali al-Askari, who allegedly told him: “I will kill you in your house.”

Social media accounts linked to Kataeb Hezbollah appeared to praise the killing of Hashemi on Monday night.

Some circulated a fake screenshot from the IS group's Amaq news agency in which the militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kataeb Hezbollah has been under pressure in recent weeks after Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) launched a raid on one of their bases, arresting 14 members.

The raid came in response to a series of rocket attacks against US interests in the country, which Washington has blamed on the Iran-backed armed group.

Though the operation was the most overt attempt to clamp down on a paramilitary force in Iraq to date, all but one of the detainees were released days later.

The Baghdad raid that put Kadhimi and Kataeb Hezbollah on a collision course
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"Armed groups are able to reach many people. It all begins with the brazen threats they make on public fora such as Facebook and Twitter, then with the act of murder," said Ruba al-Hassani, a socio-legal academic researcher at Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada.

"The mere fact that they can get away with making public threats means they're confident no government or security official will prevent them from following through with the murder."

Assassinations of politicians and campaigners have been commonplace in Iraq since the 2003 invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

In the last two years, anti-government activists have been particularly targeted, with dozens of often unexplained disappearances and killings taking place in Baghdad, Basra and other cities.

In one of the last articles he wrote before he died, Heshami warned that armed factions possessed "economic, military, media and societal strength that makes [the factions] able to deter everyone who tries to threaten their interests".

He said it would be dangerous if the militias believed Kadhimi's attempted crackdown constituted "a crisis that threatens their survival".

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 11:42

Influential Egyptian general Mohamed el-Assar dies of illness

Par MEE and agencies
Influential Egyptian general Mohamed el-Assar dies of illness
Close ally of Sisi and minister of military production receives grand funeral on Tuesday attended by the president
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 14:42
Assar, 74, had led Egypt’s international arms deals since 2002, including those with the United States, Russia and France (Reuters)

Egypt’s minister of military production, Mohamed el-Assar, one of the country’s most influential army figures, died on Monday at the age of 74. 

Local media said he died as a result of a long illness.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and senior government figures participated in Assar’s funeral on Tuesday, wearing masks as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

Egypt’s president @AlsisiOfficial, PM, Speaker, and ministers in the funeral of late Minister of State for Military Production Mohamed al-Assar#EgyptToday #BreakingNews #Egypt #Military | #وزير_الانتاج_الحربي #الفريق_العصار #محمد_العصار pic.twitter.com/vwOGYI4T0q

— Egypt Today Magazine (@EgyptTodayMag) July 7, 2020

Born on 3 June 1946, Assar was a high-ranking member of the Egyptian armed forces and a close ally of Sisi, who promoted him last month to honorary lieutenant-general.

Assar has served as minister of military production from 2015. Prior to that, he was the head of the Armed Forces Armament Authority and a foreign relations adviser to the minister of defence.

Assar has led Egypt’s arms deals with foreign countries since 2002, including those with the United States, Russia and France. 

He was also a prominent member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which briefly ruled Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. 

In his capacity as a member of SCAF, he was among the top military generals who backed Sisi’s military coup against his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

It remains unclear who will succeed Assar as minister of military production. 

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 15:42

Israeli press review: Journalist known for Netanyahu scoops sacked by TV station

Par MEE staff
Israeli press review: Journalist known for Netanyahu scoops sacked by TV station
Meanwhile, Haaretz investigations lead to military officer's removal and second wave of coronavirus threatens Israel
MEE staff Tue, 07/07/2020 - 14:29
Barak Ravid is known for his scoops and coverage of the Netanyahu government (Wikicommons)

Channel 13 dismiss prominent staff 

Israel’s Channel 13 has dismissed 37 employees due to financial cuts, including the prominent and well-known diplomatic reporter Barak Ravid.

Ravid is famous for his scoops and coverage of the foreign affairs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As Channel 13's diplomatic correspondent, Ravid interviewed Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and adviser of US President Donald Trump, and the foreign minister of Bahrain, which has no official ties with Israel.

Ravid’s reporting had upset Netanyahu, according to the Times of Israel.

He received a dismissal letter from Channel 13 along with anchorwoman Tali Moreno, veteran weatherman Danny Roop and Akiva Novick, a political correspondent, all of whom are considered household names.

Anshel Pfeffer, a friend and former colleague of Ravid, wrote in Haaretz that Russian-British billionaire Len Blavatnik, Channel 13 TV's main shareholder, is “known to be close to the prime minister” Netanyahu.

Pfeffer said that Channel 13 legal and criminal teams were on top of reporting Netanyahu’s corruption charges.

“Channel 13 is still publishing hard-hitting reports nightly on the latest revelations from Netanyahu’s corruption investigations,” he wrote.

“Its small, determined team of legal and crime reporters, and commentators, is still driving the prime minister’s residence mad, yet none of its members have been fired.”

Channels 13 said in a statement that it’s going through a financial streamlining process, and it had to “bid farewell” to some of its prominent staff.

Israeli officer removed 

An Israeli officer has been removed from his combat duty post, following Haaretz reports revealing Israeli soldiers and commanders’ misconduct in the occupied West Bank and Syria.

The soldier is part of the Golani Brigade, an elite unit in the Israeli army.

Over the past two years, Haaretz published a set of reports into military scandals, revealing a “hate crime” against Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus, an accident that led to the killing of three Israeli soldiers after disregarding army procedures, the forging of documents and an unauthorised rogue operation in Syria.

Guy Eliyahu, a team commander and lieutenant in the Golani Brigade, was reportedly involved in this string of incidents, and has now been removed from combat duty, and can only serve as a staff officer if he remains in the army.

Major-General Amir Baram, head of the army’s Northern Command, is also reprimanding a battalion commander, Shimon Siso, for failing to provide his seniors with a full picture regarding the incidents.

Netanyahu suffers second wave of coronavirus

After a delay for plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a fresh problem as his government struggles to contain a second wave of coronavirus.

Israeli analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz that Israel will face economic repercussions affecting the lives of thousands of people, after the government decided to close gyms, nightclubs, bars and parks, as well as halt cultural events and limit time for beachgoers, in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“The prime minister is a serial worker, putting his all into achieving one main goal until it’s done and ignoring other issues,” Harel wrote.

“That, unfortunately, is what happened to him for a month and a half, when he was preoccupied with the ill-conceived notion of annexing parts of the West Bank.”

Netanayhu hoped to reveal his annexation plans on 1 July, but pressure from international allies and within his own government have stalled him.

Israel was relatively successful in tackling the first wave of coronavirus. The country has recorded 31,271 and cases of coronavirus and 338 deaths.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 15:29

Media sites hoodwinked by Middle East propaganda ruse using fake journalists

Par MEE staff
Media sites hoodwinked by Middle East propaganda ruse using fake journalists
Multiple outlets published articles by fake analysts lauding the UAE and advocating for a tough line against Qatar, Turkey and Iran
MEE staff Tue, 07/07/2020 - 14:00
Raphael Badani's profile photos were stolen from the blog of a San Diego startup founder (Screengrab - Newsmax)

The placing of scores of opinion pieces about the Middle East in conservative media outlets by a mysterious network of supposed analysts who were actually fake journalists has been exposed by a US website.

The Daily Beast found that at least 19 fake personas had spent the last year placing nearly 100 articles in almost 50 different publications, including the Jerusalem Post and Al Arabiya.

The articles lauded the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and urged a tough line against Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon.

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On Monday, Twitter suspended 16 accounts for violating the company’s “policies on platform manipulation and spam” after the Daily Beast shared the results of its probe into the network.

“Using technology, human review, and partnerships with researchers and other independent organizations studying these issues, we work to identify platform manipulation on our service and take action,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Daily Beast in a statement. 

“As is standard, if we have reasonable evidence to attribute any activity to a state-backed information operation, we’ll disclose them - following thorough investigation - to our public archive.”

Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, first noticed the suspicious posts by members of the network.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Jones said: "There are real commentators who hold similar views, but perhaps not as many as some people might like, and certainly not commentators who can claim to be 'independent'. 

"This operation is designed to give the illusion that a plurality and diverse array of commentators from across the world all have similar perspectives on Middle East politics. 

"It's almost like the journalistic equivalent of astroturfing, done on a global scale."

'This op-ed has been removed'

One of the Twitter accounts closed down was attributed to a "Raphael Badani," whose biography on the US news and opinion website Newsmax describes him as currently specialising in "geopolitical risk in the Middle East".

In fact, his profile photos were stolen from the blog of a San Diego startup founder, while his LinkedIn profile falsely described him as a graduate of George Washington and Georgetown, the Daily Beast found.  

Following the US website's investigation, the Washington Examiner removed an article authored by Badani last month, arguing that the IMF's bailout of Lebanon should be contingent on reducing Hezbollah's influence in the country.

In its place, the Examiner left an editor’s note saying: “This op-ed has been removed after an investigation into its provenance and authorship.”

Other outlets where articles that were critical of Qatar and supportive of tougher sanctions on Iran were placed included North American sites Human Events and The Post Millennial, and Asian newspapers such as the South China Morning Post.

AI-generated avatars

The personas in the network used a mixture of stolen or AI-generated avatars and fake biographies.

All of the stolen avatars were mirror-image reversed and cropped from their originals, making them difficult to find through common Google reverse image searches.

Amid coronavirus crisis, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are pushing fake news
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The personas identified by the Daily Beast were generally contributors to two linked sites, The Arab Eye and Persia Now.

The Arab Eye describes itself, ironically, as a bulwark against “‘Fake News’ and biased narrative” with a mission that “now more than ever it is crucial to hear opinions from the other side of the aisle on matters pertaining to the Middle East”.

Like the majority of their contributors, the sites themselves, which are hosted at the same IP address, appear to be fake. 

One common trait of the fake personas was their praise of the UAE, including its “exemplary resilience” to the coronavirus pandemic, its “strong diplomatic ties” to the European Union, and supposed support of gender equality through the, now postponed, Expo 2020 in Dubai.

Jones said: "The perspectives issued by the fake journalists reflect a UAE-Saudi foreign policy (anti-Turkey, anti-Iran, anti-Qatar), suggesting that the operation is run by an entity connected to those countries. 

"In terms of policy position, this is quite specific, making it a fairly high likelihood." 

'The antithesis of good journalism'

Most recently, the network has focused on attacking Facebook over its decision to appoint Tawakkol Karman, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islah Party in Yemen, to its oversight board. 

In articles for the Jewish News Service, Asia Times, Politicalite, and Middle East Online, the network described Karman as a “nefarious political actor with a questionable past” who will make Facebook the “platform of choice for extreme Islamist ideology”.

While none of the Twitter accounts connected to the network ever passed more than a few dozen followers, a few still managed to garner high profile endorsements for their writing. 

An article by “Joyce Toledano” in Human Events about how Qatar is “destabilizing the Middle East” was lauded by Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier’s nearly one million-follower Twitter account and French Senator Nathalie Goulet promoted "Lin Nguyen’s" broadside about Facebook and Karman.

Jones said: "Media outlets absolutely need to be more vigorous when screening for journalists. 

"It is imperative that they are not just broadcasting propaganda written on behalf of opaque actors for the sake of generating content. This is the antithesis of good journalism."

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 15:00

Syrian, Russian air strikes in Idlib amount to war crimes: UN

Par MEE and agencies
Syrian, Russian air strikes in Idlib amount to war crimes: UN
UN Commission on Syria also accused militant group HTS of torture and indiscriminate attacks against civilians
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 13:33
Russia denied it struck the Al-Shami hospital in Ariha which served the entire population in the Ariha district (MEE/Ali Haj Suleiman)

A United Nations investigation has concluded that Syrian and Russian air strikes on schools, hospitals and markets in Idlib province amounted to war crimes. 

UN investigators condemned the "indiscriminate bombardment" by pro-government forces between November 2019 and June 2020 that led to the displacement of nearly one million civilians and claimed the lives of hundreds of people fleeing for their lives. 

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also accused Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group that controls part of northwest Syria, of firing artillery into civilian areas "with no apparent legitimate military objective".

Fighters from HTS,  formerly known as Nusra Front, have tortured and executed detainees, it added.

"Children were shelled at school, parents were shelled at the market, patients were shelled at the hospital…and entire families were bombarded even while fleeing,” Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the commission said in a statement. 

"What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians.”

The UN commission report was based on overflight data and witness testimony.

It examined 52 "emblematic attacks" in northwest Syria, including 47 attributed to the Russian-backed Syrian government.

The report stated that Russia was solely responsible for an air strike on 5 March on a poultry farm near Maarat Misrim that sheltered displaced people and three strikes on a hospital in a rebel-held town of Ariha on 29 January. 

Middle East Eye reported on 30 January that suspected Russian warplanes had struck Al-Shami hospital and a medical clinic in Ariha, where medical workers described the scene as "hopeless".

"We had to pull children out of the rubble and work quickly before the area was struck again," Walid Aslan, the local director of the civil defence unit in Ariha told MEE at the time. 

Russia had denied its involvement in the air strikes on medical facilities in Ariha. 

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 14:33

Two dead, three injured in pre-dawn explosion at Iranian factory

Par MEE and agencies
Two dead, three injured in pre-dawn explosion at Iranian factory
The blast is the latest incident in a string of fires and explosions reported in Iran in recent weeks
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 13:17
Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility, seen here on 2 July after a fire, is among several locations in the country hit by fires or explosions in recent weeks (Reuters/ WANA)

Two people died and another three were injured in a pre-dawn explosion that rocked a factory south of Tehran on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, the latest in a string of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites.

The blast in "a completely industrial zone" of Baqershahr, 23 kilometres from the capital, was caused by "workers being negligent whilst filling oxygen tanks", the town's governor was quoted as saying by Iran’s state news agency IRNA. 

"The explosion... was so powerful that the walls of the Saipapress factory nearby were also totally destroyed," Amin Babai said, without giving details on the function of the factory.

The incident took place inside the Oxijen factory at 3:03am local time (22.33 GMT Monday), an emergency services spokesperson told AFP, adding that all the casualties were male and that two of those wounded had been admitted to the hospital.

Babai said that "firefighters had been on the scene" since shortly after the explosion and "prevented further fires and explosions”.

String of incidents

There have been several other incidents of explosions across the country recently.

On 26 June, an explosion occurred east of Tehran near the Parchin military and weapons development base that the authorities said was caused by a leak in a gas storage facility in an area outside the base.

Iran prepared to retaliate after 'possible cyber-attack' on nuclear site
Read More »

Last Tuesday, 19 people were killed in an explosion at a medical clinic in the north of the capital Tehran. The fire service blamed a fire that had set light to gas canisters.

On Thursday, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEoI) reported that an "incident" had occurred at Natanz, a mostly underground uranium-enrichment site some 250 kilometres south of Tehran, which is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA said the location of the fire did not contain nuclear materials and that none of its inspectors was present at the time.

Iran's top security body said that the cause of the incident at the Natanz nuclear site had been determined, but "due to security considerations," it would be announced at a convenient time. 

Two more incidents were reported on Saturday, including a fire that broke out at a power station in Natanz, a city in the country's southwest, and a chlorine gas leak that occurred at a unit of the Karoon petrochemical plant near the port of Bandar Imam Khomeini on the Gulf, injuring dozens.

#Iran dismisses rumors on explosion in Yazd nuclear complex https://t.co/MjDcnVXzdL pic.twitter.com/yUp6SxkRc1

— IRNA News Agency (@IrnaEnglish) July 7, 2020

On Tuesday, AEoI issued a statement dismissing reports of "an alleged explosion taking place in Shahid Rezaei Nejad nuclear complex in Yazd [province]", according to IRNA.

The organisation said "no explosion has taken place in the complex", adding that satellite images circulating on social media are not of the Shahid Rezaei nuclear site.

Israel involvement?

A Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the Nantanz incident told The New York Times that Israel was responsible for the attack on the nuclear complex using a powerful bomb.

Israel has worked to disrupt Iran's nuclear programme in the past, including the Stuxnet cyberattack in 2010 that targeted Iran's nuclear centrifuges and was blamed on Israel and the US.

A member of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told the Times that authorities had ruled out the possibility of a cyberattack, while the country's Civil Defence Organisation said authorities were looking at possible sabotage following recent blasts at several key Iranian sites.

Following the Nantanz incident, when asked about recent incidents reported at strategic Iranian sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: "Clearly we can't get into that."

The Israeli military and Netanyahu's office, which oversees Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad, did not immediately respond to media queries on Friday.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 14:17

UK to resume Saudi Arabia arms sales despite 'possible' war crimes

Par MEE staff
UK to resume Saudi Arabia arms sales despite 'possible' war crimes
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said government regarded rights abuses as 'isolated incidents'
MEE staff Tue, 07/07/2020 - 12:57
Workers search through debris at a warehouse, after it was reportedly hit in an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition, in the Yemeni capital Sanaa (AFP)

The UK has announced the resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite evidence of "possible" war crimes.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon, saying the government regarded any breaches of international law as "isolated incidents".

She said the government had completed a review of how arms export licences were granted, complying with an earlier court ruling that suspended sales over rights abuse concerns.

"The incidents which have been assessed to be possible violations of international humanitarian law occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons," she said in a statement.

'We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it'

- Andrew Smith, Campaign Against the Arms Trade

"The undertaking that my predecessor gave to the Court - that we would not grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen - falls away."

The Court of Appeal in June 2019 ruled that the government had acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi-led forces in Yemen without undertaking an assessment of whether past incidents amounted to breaches of international humanitarian law.

The government said it would not approve new licences prior to a review.

In a statement, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) slammed the decision as "morally bankrupt".

"The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms may have played a central role on the bombing," said CAAT's Andrew Smith.

"We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it."

Benjamin Ward, UK Director at Human Rights Watch, also condemned the move.

“To justify its cynical resumption of arms sales to Saudi Arabia the UK government claims that abuses by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are ‘isolated incidents.’" he said in a statement.

"The truth is that the coalition in Yemen has repeatedly struck homes, schools, markets, weddings and funerals with utter contempt for civilian life.”

The UK has licensed at least £5.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015.

Millions at risk

Unicef said in June that millions of children in Yemen were facing starvation due to a lack of aid for the country.

The war has devastated the country's health system and displaced 3.3 million people into disease-infested displacement camps

Saudi Arabia first intervened in March 2015, leading a coalition in support of government forces against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Since then, air strikes and raids have killed tens of thousands of civilians, including hundreds of children.

Denisa Delic, the Head of Children and Armed Conflict at Save the Children, described the decision as "indefensible".

"Our Government says they want to be a 'global force for good'. But today they decided that killing and injuring thousands of children in Yemen does not constitute a 'pattern of harm'.

"The decision must be reversed and arms sales to the Saudi and Emirati-led Coalition must stop.

"The Government has called for peace but continuing to sell weapons that will fuel this devastating conflict sends the opposite signal. Suspending arms sales is a vital step towards reaching a political solution and ending the world’s worst humanitarian crisis."

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 13:57

Libya war crimes probe: More bodies exhumed from Tarhuna's mass graves

Par Mohammad Ayesh
Libya war crimes probe: More bodies exhumed from Tarhuna's mass graves
Hundreds of corpses recovered since Haftar's forces withdrew from western city, according to latest GNA figures
Mohammad Ayesh Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:38
Members of a recovery team search the site of a mass grave in Tarhuna on 10 June 2020 (MEE)

Editor's note: This story contains graphic video and images that some users may find disturbing. 

More grim details are emerging in Libya about atrocities allegedly carried out by militias allied to renegade general Khalifa Haftar prior to their withdrawal from the western city of Tarhuna last month.

Officials told Middle East Eye that hundreds of bodies and other human remains had now been recovered since the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) captured Tarhuna from Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) on 5 June.

“These cemeteries include hundreds of bodies including women and children. The government believes those victims have been killed by Haftar's militia,” said a GNA official.

“From 5 June to 28 June we found 208 bodies and remains of another unknown number of victims.”

Photos dating from 10 June seen by MEE showed bodies in shallow sandy graves, some of which appeared to have been buried with their hands tied. Other photos showed recovered body parts including limbs.

Abdul Aziz Al-Jaafari, a media spokesperson for the General Authority for Research and Identification of Missing Persons, said that forensic tests were being carried out on the corpses and body parts to identify them.

Libya's GNA regains last remaining Haftar stronghold near capital
Read More »

GNA forces also found at least 158 corpses, including the bodies of women and children, in Tarhuna hospital hours after Haftar's forces fled the city, according to GNA officials. They said the bodies appeared to have been executed and also displayed signs of torture.

The number of bodies recovered is growing by the day.

On Monday, the press office for the GNA-led military operation against Haftar's forces, known as Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage), said that the search of suspected mass grave sites was continuing.

Twenty-five bodies and other charred remains were found in southern neighbourhoods of Tripoli attacked by Haftar's forces, while five decomposing bodies were recovered from a well in the Al-Awa area, it said.

It put the total number of bodies recovered at 221, as well as an indeterminate number of other body parts.

The discovery of the mass graves has attracted the attention of the International Criminal Court.

In a statement on 22 June, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office had received “credible information regarding eleven alleged mass graves containing men, women and children”.

"These findings may constitute evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity," she said.

"I call on the Libyan authorities to take all the necessary measures to protect and secure the mass grave sites and to ensure that all actions taken in this regard are conducted in a manner that will not prejudice future investigations."

Tarhuna graves
A body is uncovered at a mass grave site in Tarhuna on 10 June 2020 (MEE)

Bensouda's statement came after GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj invited the ICC to send a team to Tarhuna to investigate allegations of “war crimes” committed by Haftar's forces.

Human Rights Watch has also called on Haftar to investigate allegations of abuse by his forces, including alleged torture, summary execution and the desecration of the corpses of enemy fighters.

The allegations concern the conduct of the Kaniyat, a Tarhuna-based militia aligned with Haftar and formally incorporated into the LNA as the 9th Brigade which the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in March linked to hundreds of reported cases of enforced disappearances, torture and killings in the city.

The local commander of the Kaniyat, Mohsin al-Kani, was killed in an air strike last September.

Muhammad Abdul Salam Ali, a man in his 60s, told MEE that unidentified militia forces had entered his house and killed his three sons, his son-in-law and a family friend.

“The militia killed my children next to this red car,” said Ali, pointing to an old red car parked in the yard of his house.

Muhammad Abdul Salam Ali
Muhammad Abdul Salam Ali said militia forces killed his three sons, his son-in-law and a family friend (MEE)

"I was sick and sat inside and did not know where the gunmen came from. They said they were military forces and they did not provide any other information about themselves, then they took my three sons to the backyard next to the car and killed them.”

Ali said his sons were named Faraj Mohamed, born in 1984; Abdulsalam Mohamed, born in 1986; and Ammar Mohamed, born in 1990.

The alleged atrocities in Tarhuna are not the first time that the conduct of Haftar's forces has been investigated by the ICC.

Libyan warlord faces ICC warrant: Is this a new era of open-sourced justice?
Read More »

In 2017, it issued an arrest warrant for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander in the LNA, who prosecutors accuse of personally committing or directly ordering the murder as a war crime of 33 people between 2016 and 2017 in the eastern city of Benghazi. The ICC issued a second arrest warrant for Werfalli in 2018 over the alleged executions of 10 people in Benghazi in January 2018.

GNA-aligned militia forces have also been accused of looting, arson and extrajudicial killings in Tarhuna and other areas recaptured last month from the LNA.

Footage on social media showed Mohsin al-Kani's family home being shot at, while a local activist told MEE that GNA fighters had shot a lion and gazelles which the late militia leader had kept in a private zoo.

“Everything you hear about what is happening in Tarhuna is true - the killings, the looting and the burning,” a local resident who had fled to the outskirts of the town told MEE last month.

“Everything is burned and destroyed, and everything has been stolen. We expect that anyone associated with the LNA who is captured will be assassinated, and there have already been many arrests.”

Tarhuna was the launchpad for the eastern-based Haftar's assault on Tripoli in early 2019.

Haftar is backed by countries including Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, but his forces have suffered a series of reverses since Turkey sent forces to support the GNA in November and have mostly fallen back to the central city of Sirte.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 11:38

Abuses in Sudan's Darfur spur mass protest and calls for Bashir's conviction

Par Mohammed Amin
Abuses in Sudan's Darfur spur mass protest and calls for Bashir's conviction
The sit-in in the town of Nertiti has grown over the past week as people across the country rally behind demands for security and justice
Mohammed Amin Mon, 07/06/2020 - 16:15
A demonstrator stands with a sign listing demands of the Nertiti sit-in during a protest outside the Sudanese Professionals Association in the Garden City district of Khartoum on 4 July 2020 (AFP)

A sit-in in a town of Sudan’s Central Darfur demanding justice and security after recent incidents of killings and looting have quickly become a rallying cry across the region whose people have suffered for decades from a lack of security in the area.

For over a week now, thousands of Sudanese, mostly internally displaced people from across Darfur, have joined the sit-in held in Nertiti town to demand a stop to ongoing attacks by pro-government militia, urging the transitional government to draw attention to their basic demands. 

The sit-in has received widespread solidarity from pro-democracy protesters all over Sudan, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has expressed support for people’s demands.

Surrounded by the Marra Mountains, the small town of Nertiti is situated in a fertile agricultural area inhabited by Fur tribe farmers who used to cultivate produce that supplied the majority of Sudanese markets before the eruption of the war in the region in 2003.

Demands

The sit-in, held in front of the army headquarters, was organised after unidentified armed men killed three farmers near the town. Protesters have demanded the protection of civilians, protection of the upcoming agricultural season, sacking of the local authority and the area’s army commander, and the withdrawal of militias from the area.

They have also raised slogans calling for the government to hand over former president Omar al-Bashir and former regime officials to the International Criminal Court.

The conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003 when mainly non-Arab African tribes, complaining of marginalisation, took up arms against Sudanese government forces under Bashir. 

Khartoum protesters demonstrate in front of council of ministers to support Nertiti people
Khartoum protesters demonstrate in front of the Council of Ministers in support  of the people of Nertiti (MEE/Mohammed Amin)

The fighting killed 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million others, according to the United Nations. 

Protester Gaafar Ishag told Middle East Eye over the phone from Nertiti that the aim of the sit-in is to make the voices of the victims and the grassroots of Darfur heard by the government.

He said that the attacks by the Janjaweed militias are ongoing in the town and in other places around the Mara Mountains in the centre of the region.

"The people of Darfur want to raise their voices and want to feel that they are first-class citizens because they have not felt any difference in their lives after the revolution," Ishag said, in reference to the protest movement that deposed longtime dictator Bashir last year.

Another protester, Fatima Adam, said there has been an increase in rape and sexual assaults against women after the revolution. 

"The government militias, especially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), want to drown our voices and distance us from the main national demands of justice, peace and freedom for the entire country,” she told MEE. 

Gathering of victims 

Another protester, Mohammed Nour Idriss, called on all Sudanese to support the people of Nertiti, saying their demands are fair and deserve the world's solidarity.

He told MEE that thousands of people from other cities in Darfur including El-Fasher, Nyala, Zalingei and El-Geneina have come to the town to support the protesters.

“The authorities have tried to prevent the people coming from other cities to join the sit-in, but the masses have opened the roads leading to Nertiti from different directions,” Nour Idriss said. 

Another protester, Adam Osman, from Abushok IDP camp, said that thousands of internally displaced people from other camps in different parts of region are now joining the sit-in. 

"This sit-in is very symbolic to the crisis of Darfur and the need for justice. It represents nearly three million IDPs who have been stranded across the region for nearly two decades now," he said.

“The demands of Darfuris are being represented in the local demands of the people of Nertiti, so I think this sit-in will extend to different parts of the region in the coming days.”  

Hamdok said people’s demands are justified and sent a delegation to deal with their issues on Sunday.

Protests erupt in Sudan as calls mount to 'correct' the revolution
Read More »

Addressing the media in Khartoum, government spokesman and information minister, Faisal Mohammed Salih, sent his apologies to the people of Nertiti for the government’s delay in responding to their demands.

A government delegation, including four ministers, travelled to Nertiti on Sunday to meet the people. However, the protesters said in a statement that they refuse to meet any delegation unless it has high-level presidential representation with full authority to solve the problem.

“We don’t like to loop in the same previous circles of the promises from the local government or even the centre, so we want a presidential delegation with strong authorisation to come and sit with us to solve the problems, especially the insecurity,” said a statement by the Nertiti protesters.

"We don't want to run in the same circle of promises by the local government or even the central [government], we want a presidential delegation with vast authority to take charge of the issue. as well as the security issue, and solve it," the statement said.

For its part, Darfuri rebel group the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-AW), which is led by Abdul Wahid al-Nur and has a strong military presence in the nearby Marra Mountains, has announced its full support for the Nertiti sit-in.

SLM-AW spokesman Mohammed Alnair told MEE that while the initiative by the civilian component of the transitional government was appreciated, it can’t solve the problem.

“We all know that the militias that attack civilians and control the situation in the region are in the hands of the army,” he said.

Last June, Sudan’s government and SLM-AW traded accusations of violating a ceasefire in Marra Mountains for the first time since Bashir’s overthrow.

Civic movement

In Khartoum and other cities of Sudan, political parties, unions and resistance committees have expressed their solidarity with the people of Nertiti, calling on the government to meet their demands immediately.

The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), resistance committees and other protesters organised a march in Khartoum on Sunday in support of the sit-in.

The protesters gathered in front of the Council of Ministers headquarters in Khartoum and submitted a petition to Hamdok, urging him to respond to the people in Nertiti.   

The protesters raised slogans against racism, paramilitary militias and widespread insecurity in Darfur, especially Nertiti.

“Stop racism...all Sudan is Darfur,” they chanted. 

Darfur sit-in
Badria Saleh, a Darfuri refugee whose husband and brother were reportedly killed by militia leader Ali Kushayb, sits inside a shack at al-Serif camp, west of Nyala (AFP)

Malik Dahab, a Sudanese political analyst based in El-Fasher city, told MEE that the sit-in in Nertiti is historical and marks the first civic movement in a region considered one of the world’s conflict hotspots. 

“The people of Darfur are really tired of the ongoing violence they have been witnessing for around two decades, so they decided to use the peaceful means of struggle to achieve their rights,” he said.

Dahab noted that the sit-in is expected to extend to all of the troubled region as the feeling of injustice and people’s demands are the same across the area.

“The demands of the Nertiti people represent the demands of the region’s IDPs, including security, justice, disarming of militias, dismantling of old regime institutions and reconciliation that would enable them to return to their homelands,” he said.

Khartoum
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 17:15

Egyptian man in custody after social media campaign exposing alleged sex crimes

Par MEE staff
Egyptian man in custody after social media campaign exposing alleged sex crimes
Prosecutors say suspect has confessed to multiple offences after being targeted by campaign group 'Assault Police'
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 15:20
The coming issue of Al-Azhar magazine will urge women to report on sexual abuse incidents (AFP/file photo)

Egypt's public prosecutor's office has ordered the pre-trial detention of a man whose alleged sexual crimes against women and minors have been exposed in an online campaign against sexual harassment.

The prosecutor's office said in a statement on Monday that the man, who it named as Ahmed Zaki, had confessed to six complaints made against him including the alleged attempted rape of a minor and sexual blackmail.

It ordered him to be held in detention for 15 days pending further investigation into the allegations.

According to the prosecutor's office, Zaki has admitted initiating relations with women via a social media site and threatening to send their nude pictures to their families if they decided to break up with him. He also admitted the attempted rape of a girl aged under 18, it said.

Neither Zaki, his family nor lawyers representing him have made any statement about the prosecution's charges.

Egypt's embattled feminism: Fighting violence, harassment and FGM under Sisi
Read More »

Zaki was arrested on Saturday after a number of anonymous social media posts surfaced on social media, from the beginning of July, accusing him of sexual offences. 

Independent Instagram and Twitter accounts run by a campaign titled "Assault Police" encouraged his alleged victims to share evidence of his behaviour with the account's administrators to be used during investigations.

The accounts have so far received more than 100 complaints related to Zaki, dating back to his high school years.

Egypt's National Council for Women (NCW) also worked with the Assault Police team to collect evidence and lodged an official complaint calling on the public prosecutor to investigate the allegations. 

The council said that several victims who reached out to it recounted that Zaki had "blackmailed and threatened to defame them using photos and clips documenting his heinous crimes". 

The NCW also encouraged the women to submit official complaints to the prosecutor.

Expulsion from EU Business School

While little is known about Zaki, it emerged on Monday that he had recently been studying online at the EU Business School in Barcelona after the Spanish university said in a statement that it was expelling him from its programme.

According to a statement by the school, an internal investigation in collaboration with the Assault Police campaign led to it receiving "documented formal complaints of online harassment from some students". 

The school's board subsequently decided to expel Zaki, who it said had spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus in February.

The school also said it had formally approached Spanish police on Monday to investigate the matter.

"EU Business School has gone further in its actions and filed a criminal complaint with the Spanish police in order to enable the justice system to fully investigate and uphold the law for our community. In collaboration with @AssaultPolice, it has requested a full enquiry to ensure that Ahmed Zaki is held responsible for his actions," the statement said. 

Middle East Eye has approached the school for comment.

Religious authorities denounce harassment

Zaki's case has drawn reaction from leading religious authorities in Egypt, including al-Azhar, which announced that it would highlight the problem of sexual assault in a forthcoming issue of its magazine in which it said scholars would encourage women to report attacks.

Al-Azhar, Egypt's top Islamic institution, has previously denounced sexual harassment and said that perpetrators should be punished. 

Egypt's al-Azhar calls for 'criminalising harassment' of women
Read More »

Additionally, Dar al-Iftaa, an organisation tasked with issuing official Islamic opinions on public affairs, has reacted to Zaki's detention, describing harassment as “a major sin” and that “Islam has waged a war on it”.

The organisation also denounced arguments that put the blame on the victims based on their clothing. “Under all circumstances, a Muslim is required to refrain from looking at any prohibited sights,” it said.

Monday's statement by the prosecution said that the victims have initially refrained from talking about their cases for fear of being blamed for the assaults. They decided to come forward, however, after the online campaign against him. 

The case has sparked a renewed online campaign against sexual harassment in Egypt, with several public figures coming forward to recount cases of sexual harassment they encountered in the past, and announcing their backing for Zaki's alleged victims. 

Prevalence of harassment

Egypt criminalised sexual harassment in 2014, but rights groups say the law is rarely put into action.

Despite legislation and civil society efforts to address the problem, surveys have shown that nearly 60 percent of women have been the target of this form of violence in public spaces, and an equal proportion of men have admitted to harassing women in public.

Amr Warda: Sexual harassment claims against Egyptian striker spark row
Read More »

A 2013 research by the UN, meanwhile, estimated that 99 percent of women in Egypt had been subjected to some form of sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime.

Last year, the issue came under the spotlight after multiple women came forward to accuse Egyptian footballer Amr Warda of online harassment. 

While Warda admitted to sexual misconduct and was suspended from the national football team as a result, several of his teammates controversially showed support for him and urged forgiveness for his behaviour.

The reaction of the players, including that of Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, sparked a heated debate on social attitudes towards sexual harassment and the necessity of accountability for sexual crimes. 

At the time, Dar al-Ifta was also caught up in the debate when it tweeted a message praising those who protect offenders from scandal, which some interpreted as siding with Warda. 

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 16:20

Qassem Soleimani's killing by US drone strike was 'unlawful', says UN expert

Par MEE and agencies
Qassem Soleimani's killing by US drone strike was 'unlawful', says UN expert
Report says US has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing, or imminent, attack against its interests to justify attack
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 07:53
The attack on Soleimani's convoy as it left Baghdad airport violated the UN Charter, Agnes Callamard wrote in her report (AFP)

The January US drone strike in Iraq that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and nine other people represented a violation of international law, a UN human rights investigator said on Monday.

The United States has failed to provide sufficient evidence of an ongoing, or imminent, attack against its interests to justify the strike, said Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

'False, plain and simple': Trump administration accused of lying about Soleimani threat
Read More »

The attack on Soleimani's convoy as it left Baghdad airport violated the UN Charter, Callamard wrote in a report, calling for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons.

"The world is at a critical time, and possible tipping point, when it comes to the use of drones... The Security Council is missing in action; the international community, willingly or not, stands largely silent," Callamard told Reuters.

She is due on Thursday to present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council, giving member states a chance to debate what action to pursue. 

The US is not a member of the forum, having quit two years ago.

Trump arrest warrant

Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, was a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran's campaign to drive US forces out of Iraq, and built up Tehran's network of proxy armies across the Middle East. 

Washington had accused Soleimani of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on US forces in the region.

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump over Qassem Soleimani killing
Read More »

"Major General Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful," Callamard wrote in the report.

The 3 January drone strike was the first known incident in which a nation invoked self-defence as a justification for an attack against a state actor in the territory of a third country, Callamard added.

Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase where US forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant for US President Donald Trump and 35 others over Soleimani's killing and has asked Interpol for help, Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr said last month, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 08:53

Coronavirus: Take in-person classes or go home, US tells international students

Par Ali Harb
Coronavirus: Take in-person classes or go home, US tells international students
New directive by Trump administration says student visa holders cannot take online classes exclusively despite Covid-19 pandemic
Ali Harb Tue, 07/07/2020 - 03:15
Handling the pandemic became a political issue in the United States (AFP/File photo)

The Trump administration has issued a directive threatening to deport student visa holders attending universities that are not offering in-person classes at the start of the new academic year, in the latest attack on the US immigration system that critics say aims to advance a white supremacist agenda.

With many universities refraining from offering in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency in charge of enforcing immigration regulations, said on Monday that foreign students "attending schools operating entirely online may not take full online course load and remain in the United States".

The regulation will apply to future applicants as well as students already in the US on F-1 and M-1 visas, which allow students to stay in the country for vocational and academic programmes. It does not apply to J-1 visa holders who can work while studying.

"Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status," ICE said in a statement. 

"If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings."

MENA students at risk

Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said the intent of Donald Trump was to force students on temporary visas to leave the country as most campuses have announced they will not be holding in-person fall classes.

"This is another attack on the immigration process and on immigrants in the US. It is a backdoor way to attack student visa holders, something that the administration has been targeting for a while now," he told MEE.

Ayoub said the new decree will disproportionately impact Arab students who have saved money to stay in the United States for the duration of their studies.

"Circumstances at home are always changing. You have students from Lebanon, for example, who may not be able to return to a country they knew before they came here," he said.

Lebanon's economy took a sharp downturn earlier this year, with local currency losing as much as 80 percent of its value compared to the US dollar causing shortages in basic goods, including fuel and food.

The crisis has deepened existing power cuts with some areas seeing merely a few hours of electricity daily.

"Students have taken every step to be here, so going back really burdens them and makes their life difficult," Ayoub said. 

"Let's say a Lebanese student has to go back to take online courses, how are they going to do that when the country of Lebanon doesn't even have power. How is the person who's taking online classes supposed to connect to the internet - something you take for granted here."

'Targeting people of colour'

Lebanon is far from the only country in crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region. Neighbouring Syria is also suffering from a stark economic downfall on top of its ongoing civil war; the conflict in Yemen is still raging; oppression is escalating in Egypt; and Iran is suffering from a possible second wave of Covid-19.

Azadeh Shahshahani, legal director at the Atlanta-based Project South, described the move as "truly awful", saying that it demonstrates the administration's attempt to advance its white nationalist agenda.

Coronavirus: How Michigan's Arab Americans are responding to Covid-19
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"International students are being forced to choose between their safety and leaving the United States and their studies behind. Only a government motivated by racism and xenophobia would come up with such a harmful policy," Shahshahani told MEE.

"From the Muslim ban to asylum restrictions to suspension of work visas to green card restrictions, every day there's a new thing targeting people of colour."

According to the Institute of International Education, there are more than 81,000 international students from the Middle East and North Africa at American universities.

International students attending US universities are generally prohibited from taking online classes exclusively, but the Trump administration suspended those conditions earlier this year amid the spread of the pandemic.

However, while certain countries have managed to curb the spread of the virus, Covid-19 cases are still on the rise in many places, including several US states.

Students fearful

Maria Pia Matos, a 22-year-old student of law and public policy at East Los Angeles College, said she simply cannot return to her native Peru with loans to pay back and a lease to fulfil.

"I don't know what to do honestly. If I go back home. I’ll lose everything and might not be able to come back again in a long time," Matos told MEE.

She said the US administration is "totally heartless".

"I'm disappointed to see all the effort I put on my career to be completely destroyed by this cruel man," she said referring to Trump. "I still need to wait for my school to say something about it. But I’m very scared."

Coronavirus is changing how American Muslims hold funerals
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Moreover, Matos said her family is no longer in the South American country.

"My mom and brother moved to Italy last year and now Italy has banned anybody that comes from America," she said. "I have nowhere to go, it would be fine for me if we weren't in this pandemic. I'm afraid for my own safety."

Critics of the new policy are already calling on universities to establish in-person classes that would allow foreign students to meet the requirements to remain in the country.

"Every university or college fully online must now create a course entitled 'That was America' to be offered for only two one-hour in person sessions a semester for international students only. Masks must be worn. Do it," former Obama administration official Juliette Kayyem said in a tweet.

But with positive Covid-19 cases on the rise, gathering in classrooms remains a risky prospect for many teachers and students.

'Unjust rule'

Matthew Stiffler, a lecturer in Arab and Muslim American studies at the University of Michigan, said ICE is trying to enforce an "unjust rule" that puts a strain on the entire academic system.

He said besides being cruel to students, the directive puts additional pressure on universities and professors, many of whom have families and may be vulnerable to the virus.

"My hands are tied, and it's just an awful position to be in that I can't help my students," Stiffler told MEE.

Mahsa Khanbabai, an immigration lawyer based in Boston, told MEE that the directive will "particularly affect Middle Eastern and Chinese students.

"The chances that they'll be able to get a visa to come back are nearly non-existent."

The American Civil Liberties Union, an advocacy group, was quick to condemn the new directive.

"Once again, this administration is exploiting the pandemic to target even more people, simply because they are immigrants," the group said on Twitter.

"ICE should immediately rescind this guidance and let students continue their education."

US politics and the pandemic

The handling of the pandemic became a political issue in the US since the early days of the outbreak, with Democrats accusing Trump of not doing enough to slow down the spread of the virus and Republicans arguing that liberal governors were overreaching in their lockdown orders.

Even the simple act of wearing a mask has become a partisan matter with many conservatives criticising face-covering regulations.

In fact, hours before ICE released its statement on Monday, Trump called for schools to reopen. He wrote on Twitter: "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!"

Many top Democrats denounced the administration's move on Monday. 

"The cruelty of this White House knows no bounds. Foreign students are being threatened with a choice: risk your life going to class in-person or get deported," said Senator Bernie Sanders. "We must stand up to Trump's bigotry. We must keep all our students safe."

Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Senate Democrat, said the policy was "senseless, cruel, and xenophobic.

"Kicking international students out of the US during a global pandemic because their colleges are moving classes online for physical distancing hurts students," she said on Twitter.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 04:15

Iraqi expert on Islamic State group shot dead in Baghdad

Par MEE and agencies
Iraqi expert on Islamic State group shot dead in Baghdad
Hisham al-Hashemi was shot dead by unknown gunmen near his home in the Iraqi capital
MEE and agencies Tue, 07/07/2020 - 01:20
Hisham al-Hashemi giving an interview in Baghdad. The Iraqi historian was shot dead on Monday.
Hisham al-Hashemi was a leading Iraqi expert and historian on the Islamic State and other armed groups (AFP/File photo)

A leading Iraqi expert on the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias, security and interior officials said.

Hisham al-Hashemi, 47, was shot near his home in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad and pronounced dead at a hospital, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

"Yes, he passed away and his body is now in the hospital freezer," said Saad Maan, head of the interior ministry's media relations department.

A medical source at the hospital confirmed to AFP news agency that Hashemi had suffered "a hail of bullet wounds in several body parts".

The investigator assigned to the killing told AFP that Hashemi, 47, walked out of his home and was getting into his car when three gunmen on two motorcycles fired at him from metres away.

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Hashemi was wounded and ducked behind his car, but the gunmen approached and shot him four times in the head at close range, the investigator said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing.

However weeks before his death, Hashemi told confidantes he feared Iran-backed militia groups were targeting him. Friends had advised him to flee to the northern city of Irbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

His death comes as the government grapples with a spate of rocket attacks targeting US interests in the country believed to be orchestrated by Iran-backed militia groups. A raid last week detained 14 members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah group. All but one were released.

Al-Hashemi was a strong supporter of the popular protests that swept across Baghdad and Iraq's Shia-majority south in October - protests that had slammed the government as corrupt, inefficient and beholden to neighbouring Iran.

More than 500 people lost their lives in protest-related violence, including several prominent activists who were shot in Baghdad, Basra in the south and other cities.

But high-profile political killings have otherwise been rare in recent years.

"Cowards killed my friend and one of the brightest researchers in Iraq, Hisham al-Hashemi. I am shocked," wrote Harith Hasan, who was an academic researcher before becoming an adviser to Iraq's current premier.

  • 7 juillet 2020 à 02:20

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia releases health guidelines for Hajj pilgrims

Par MEE staff
Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia releases health guidelines for Hajj pilgrims
Regulations include mandating masks, temperature checks and a ban on touching the Kaaba
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 22:55
Muslims are required to perform Hajj in Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, at least once in their lifetime if it is within their capacity (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has released a series of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the upcoming Hajj, including a ban on worshippers from touching the Kaaba and mandatory face masks throughout the five-day pilgrimage.

The guidelines, released on Monday by the Saudi Health Ministry, also say that authorities will establish checkpoints at the entrances of holy sites, where all pilgrims will have their temperatures taken. 

Pilgrims with coronavirus symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath, loss of smell and taste, cough or a runny nose will be isolated and only allowed to continue the pilgrimage after they recover and obtain a doctor's note ensuring they do not have the virus.

Riyadh decided last month to drastically limit the Hajj to only those who reside in the kingdom. Only 10,000 Muslims will be able to perform the Hajj later this month, down from the 2.4 million people who performed it last year.

The kingdom suspended the Umrah, a pilgrimage which can be performed at any point, earlier this year. Images of the empty Grand mosque in Mecca, which is usually teeming with worshippers, demonstrated the impact of the disease effects on public interactions. 

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The ministry said that this year's pilgrims will be introduced in small groups to the Grand mosque in Mecca to ensure social distancing during the ritual of tawaf, when worshippers circumbulate the Kaaba seven times. Pilgrims must remain 1.5m away from one another.

The guidelines also prohibit food from entering the holy sites, with strict regulations requiring communal areas to be regularly sanitised.

Communal prayers will be allowed as long as social distancing rules are observed, the ministry said.

Muslims are required to perform Hajj in Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, at least once in their lifetime if it is within their capacity. It takes place in the shape of a chain of rituals during Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. 

Hajj ends with pilgrims, usually numbering in the millions, standing together on Mount Arafat outside Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon.

Muslims across the world celebrate Eid al-Adha holiday, marking the conclusion of the pilgrimage annually.

So far, the kingdom has registered more than 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with close to 2,000 deaths.

Saudi Arabia releases health guidelines for domestic Hajj pilgrims
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 23:55

Arab leaders will not take action against Israel over annexation: Report

Par MEE staff
Arab leaders will not take action against Israel over annexation: Report
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several Gulf states will not take meaningful action and only issue verbal condemnation, Israel Hayom reports
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 21:56
Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron burn Israeli and US flags along with pictures of Arab leaders (AFP/File photo)

Senior officials from several Arab states have said they will not take any action against Israel if it goes ahead with plans to illegally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported.

The right-wing newspaper reported on Sunday that during recent diplomatic talks with Israel, high-level officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries said they had no plans to take meaningful action and will only issue "declarative condemnations," despite previously criticising Israel's annexation plans.

The decision not to act, however, partially depends on the reaction of each country's respective population, the newspaper said, indicating that if annexation were to cause unrest at home, then governments would need to re-strategise. 

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So far, Jordan's King Abdullah is the only Arab head-of-state to condemn it outright, warning it could trigger a "massive conflict," the paper reported.

Israel's plans to annex approximately one third of the West Bank was given the greenlight in January in US President Donald Trump's so-called so called 'deal of the century,' despite global criticism over the illegal move.

The plan also envisages the creation of a Palestinian state with no control over its borders or airspace.

The Palestinians rejected the proposal and voiced outrage at Israel's proposed annexation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed his self-imposed 1 July deadline to start the process, with fraught talks with the United States having yet to yield results.

Last Week, Netanyahu's coalition partner Benny Gantz told a US envoy that annexation would have to wait while the country deals with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters

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Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters
Read More »

The annexation of the Jordan Valley could effectively kill whatever hopes remain for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict as it would render completely impossible the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement with his rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government that seek to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Legislature could be discussed from 1 July.

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the occupied West Bank (almost 2,400 square kilometres), where 30 Israeli agricultural settlements house around 11,000 settlers.

Some 56,000 Palestinians also reside in the Jordan Valley, including in the city of Jericho, where their daily lives are deeply impacted by Israeli occupation policies. 

The area is rich in minerals and agricultural soil and is a highly strategic area, as it lies along the Jordanian border.

Jordan, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and senior officials in the European Union openly oppose the annexation plan, while the administration of US President Donald Trump has encouraged such moves.

Arab countries have long seen a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their condition for normalising relations with Israel, but Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently begun to shift their policies. 

Last month Israel announced a new partnership with the United Arab Emirates against coronavirus, despite public outcry from Palestinian leaders, who notably refused the medical aid from the UAE because the shipments were received at Israel's airport in Tel Aviv instead of the West Bank's border with Jordan or Gaza's border with Egypt. 

Encouraged by the United States, efforts to normalise relations with Israel have also been heightened amid shared concerns over Iran.

In January, Middle East Eye revealed that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt had agreed on a plan with Israel to welcome Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League in order to marginalise the regional influence of  Iran, as well as Turkey. 

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 22:56

Kuwait expat bill could force 800,000 Indians to leave Gulf country

Par MEE staff
Kuwait expat bill could force 800,000 Indians to leave Gulf country
Proposed bill, which aims to reduce the Kuwait's expat community, may come into effect later this year
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 21:50
The bill passed in Kuwait's National Assembly says Indians should not be more than 15 percent of the population (AFP/File photo)

A new bill approved by Kuwait's parliament could see hundreds of thousands of Indian residents forced to leave the country.

The bill, passed by Kuwait's National Assembly on Monday, states that Indians should not make up more than 15 percent of Kuwait's population.

Currently, there are 1.45 million Indians that reside in the country, making up roughly 30 percent of the population. As a result, as many as 800,000 Indian nationals could be forced to leave the country once the law is implemented later this year.

Kuwait vows to slash migrant population amid economic woes
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Low oil prices and the coronavirus lockdown have severely impacted Kuwait's economy, prompting demands that the government reduce the number of expatriates in the country and provide more jobs for Kuwaitis.

Kuwaiti nationals themselves constitute only 30 percent of the population, with the total expatriate population standing in at 3.4 million.

On Sunday, Kuwait Times quoted Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanem as saying that the bill would help Kuwait focus on recruiting "skilled labourers" instead of some 1.3 million workers who "are either illiterate or can merely read and write".

According to al-Ghanem, the new draft law would also impose a limit on the number of expats that businesses can recruit each year and include regulations based on their specialisations.

His comments came Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah promised to reduce the number of expatriates from 70 percent of the population to 30 percent, last month.

It was unclear when the law would come into effect, but reports indicate that the Kuwaiti parliament aims to complete the legislation by October this year, just in time for the country's parliamentary elections that are slated for November 2020.

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 22:50

Israel blamed for explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility: Report

Par MEE staff
Israel blamed for explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility: Report
Unnamed Middle East intelligence official said Israel was behind Thursday's attack claimed by the mysterious 'Homeland Panthers' group
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 19:25
A photo handout shows the damage done to the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.
The fire at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran was initially labelled an accident by Tehran (AFP/File photo)

Israel has been accused of carrying out last week's attack on Iran's Natanz enrichment facility that caused "significant damage" and could slow the production of advanced centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

A Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the incident told The New York Times that contrary to the Iranian government's initial statement that it was an accident, a "powerful bomb" caused Thursday's fire.

Israel has worked to disrupt Iran's nuclear programme in the past, including the Stuxnet cyberattack in 2010, which targeted Iran's nuclear centrifuges and was blamed on Israel and the US.

A member of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps told the Times that authorities had ruled out the possibility of a cyberattack, while the country's Civil Defence Organisation said authorities were looking at possible sabotage following recent blasts at several key Iranian sites.

Iran prepared to retaliate after 'possible cyber-attack' on nuclear site
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Following the fire at the Natanz nuclear facility, a fire broke out at a power station in the country's southwest, and a chlorine gas leak occurred at a unit of the Karoon petrochemical plant near the port of Bandar Imam Khomeini on the Gulf, injuring dozens.

On 26 June, there was an explosion near the Parchin military and weapons development base, east of Tehran. Authorities said it was caused by a leak in a gas storage facility in an area outside the base.

"Considering we are in a serious economic war with the United States and we have conflicts in various fields, the first hypothesis is that these accidents could be a threat and caused by the enemy's moves," General Gholam Reza Jalali, the head of Iran's Civil Defence Organisation, said on Friday.

Hostile acts by "anti-revolutionary elements" were also a possibility, he said, referring to domestic opposition groups.

The Middle Eastern intelligence official told The Times, on condition of anonymity, that Israel was behind the Natanz blast but not any of the other incidents.

Hours before Iranian authorities announced the fire, a mysterious group calling itself the "Homeland Panthers" claimed responsibility for the attack in a series of emails sent to BBC Persian journalists.

The group told the BBC that the attack was carried out by elements within Iran's security forces.

Leiberman calls to gag official

In Israel, former Defence Minister Avigdor Leiberman appeared to call out Mossad chief Yossi Cohen for leaking Israel's alleged role in the blast to the press.

While not naming Cohen, Lieberman said: "everyone knows who that intelligence official is".

"I expect the prime minister to shut the [leaker’s] mouth, particularly as he has started his Likud primary election campaign,” Leiberman added. Cohen has been mentioned as a possible successor to Netanyahu.

"It just cannot be that that official not only explains what we did, but also what we didn't do."

Iran announced last year it would progressively suspend certain commitments made under a 2015 nuclear deal that the US walked away from in 2018.

One of those commitments was to put on hold its activities at Natanz. Tehran restarted enriching uranium at the nuclear facility in September.

The incident at the Natanz site comes just a few months ahead of the expiry date on a United Nations arms embargo on Iran, of which both the US and Israel are lobbying the UN Security Council to extend.

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 20:25

Saudi crown prince preparing new charges against Mohammed bin Nayef: Report

Par MEE staff
Saudi crown prince preparing new charges against Mohammed bin Nayef: Report
Mohammed bin Salman is demanding a $15bn settlement from the detained former crown prince, Washington Post reports
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 17:30
Mohammed bin Nayef sitting down at the Saudi Royal Palace in 2017.
Mohammed bin Nayef at the Saudi Royal Palace in 2017. He is currently in jail for charges of plotting a coup (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in the process of levelling corruption and disloyalty charges against his predecessor Mohammed bin Nayef, in a bid to shore up his rule and permanently take down a former competitor for the throne, according to a report by the Washington Post.

The newspaper reported on Sunday that an "anti-corruption committee" will level charges against bin Nayef for allegedly siphoning billions of dollars through a network of front companies and private accounts when he was in charge of the interior ministry.

Sources told the newspaper that the former crown prince will be asked to re-pay more than $15bn they claim he stole.

Associates of the prince have contested the charges, saying his activities at the ministry were authorised by a 2007 royal decree.

Internal Saudi documents provided by one of bin Nayef's associates and reviewed by the newspaper support the claim that his financial activities were approved, at least in broad outlines, by the late king.

The decree, seen by the Post, references a secret fund managed by bin Nayef and authorises the creation of "appropriate vehicles in the private sector" to disguise covert counter-terrorism initiatives.

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A 2013 spending report shows that requests to spend $1.3bn had been approved by Khaled al-Tuwaijri, the chief of the royal court.

Former CIA officials said they were aware of bin Nayef's control over the secret counter-terrorism fund at the time and that he had used the accounts to help finance joint US-Saudi projects.

In another document seen by the Post, bin Nayef told his aides that by creating a network of cover companies, he was "emulating the standard followed by international security agencies".

A major difference in this from western standards was that two aides managing the network were promised five percent of the companies' annual profits as compensation.

"The interior ministry was provided with a budget so they could build up capabilities, recruit personnel and develop intelligence service contacts to penetrate al-Qaeda," former CIA director John Brennan told the Post.

"[King] Abdullah's view was that he had to be invested in the activities that [bin Nayef] was leading. [Bin Nayef] was one of his favourites."

"Over the course of my interaction with [bin Nayef], he wasn't someone I thought was engaged in corrupt activity or was siphoning off money," added Brennan, who worked closely with the former crown prince for more than a decade.

A former senior US official stationed in Riyadh added: "Everybody in the US government understood that [bin Nayef] had the broadest spending authority from the king."

Prison

Bin Nayef, 60, was named as successor to King Salman shortly after he took the throne in 2015, with bin Salman designated deputy crown prince. 

Associates said bin Nayef understood that his privileged and trusted position under the former king had ended and he began liquidating the secret network of front companies, transferring their ownership to the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the country's sovereign wealth fund.

In 2017, bin Nayef was summoned by his deputy, bin Salman, and told to resign. With his rival backed by prominent princes, bin Nayef submitted and swore allegiance to the young crown prince.

After his unseating as crown prince, bin Nayef had his entourage, mobile phones and allowances stripped and was not allowed to travel.

Sources told MEE earlier this year that the prince had complained bitterly to friends and in letters to the king about the withdrawal of his royal allowances.

Finally, he was jailed earlier this year along with his uncle, Prince Ahmed, accused of plotting a coup.

In May, Saudi Arabia's Prisons Authority tweeted that bin Nayef was hospitalised after "suffering a heart attack". 

The post was later deleted and replaced by a tweet stating that the account had been breached, suggesting a hack.

Saudi crown prince preparing new charges against Mohammed bin Nayef
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 18:30

Egypt frees American student who protested for release of political prisoners

Par MEE staff
Egypt frees American student who protested for release of political prisoners
Mohamed Amashah, who suffers from an autoimmune disease and asthma, was arrested more than 400 days ago at a protest in Cairo
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 17:27
Mohamed Amashah arrives at Dulles International Airport airport near Washington, 5 July (Photo courtesy of the Freedom Initiative)

An American medical student who was held without trial in an Egyptian prison for more than 400 days has been freed and returned to the United States, an advocacy group for political prisoners said in a statement on Monday.

The Freedom Initiative said that Mohamed Amashah, who was arrested in April 2019 after he held up a sign in Cairo's Tahrir Square reading "freedom for all prisoners", arrived at Dulles International Airport airport near Washington on Sunday before returning to his home in New Jersey.

Mohamed Soltan, a US citizen who was imprisoned by Egypt and works with the Freedom Initiative, said Amashah's friends and supporters were "ecstatic" about his release.

'His release is welcomed progress and a step forward in the right direction'

- statement from the Freedom Initiative

"His release is welcomed progress and a step forward in the right direction that we hope is built on for the release of other political prisoners in Egypt, including American citizens," the group said in a statement.

According to the New York Times, Amashah, who suffers from an autoimmune disease and asthma, had been awaiting trial for over a year on charges of misusing social media and assisting a terrorist group.

"We welcome the release of US citizen Mohamed Amashah from Egyptian custody, and thank Egypt for its cooperation in his repatriation," a State Department spokesperson told MEE on Monday. 

Rights groups and US legislators had repeatedly called for Amashah's release, citing his health.

60,000 political prisoners 

The Egyptian government, which has imprisoned around 60,000 dissidents since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup, released Reem Desouky, another American citizen, in May.

Desouky, an Egyptian-American art teacher who lives in Pennsylvania, was detained for 301 days over her social media posts critical of Sisi's government.

US should reduce military aid to Egypt's 'authoritarian regime', report says
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Last week, Egyptian authorities also freed Canadian national Yasser Ahmed Albaz, who had been detained for 16 months.

Early in 2020, Cairo faced outrage after the death of Moustafa Kassem, a 64-year-old dual Egyptian-American citizen who had been detained since 2013 in a post-coup crackdown on perceived opposition activists. 

Kassem, who repeatedly insisted that he was not involved in any political activities, had pleaded with the US government to secure his release before embarking on a prolonged hunger strike.

In January, top US diplomat David Schenker described Kassem's death in Egyptian custody as "needless, tragic and avoidable".

Exploiting the pandemic

Members of the Donald Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, have in the past publicly raised the issue of American political prisoners in Egypt.

But Trump himself has lavished praise on Sisi every time the two leaders have met. Last year, the US president referred to his Egyptian counterpart as "my favourite dictator" after a bilateral meeting in France, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The Trump administration and US legislators have also resisted calls for imposing conditions on US aid to Egypt in order to push Cairo to improve its human rights record.

Egypt receives  $1.3bn in US assistance annually.

Despite calls for freeing detainees to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in prisons, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Egyptian authorities of using the virus to further tighten its grip on political freedoms. 

"President al-Sisi's government is using the pandemic to expand, not reform, Egypt's abusive Emergency Law," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said in a statement in May. 

"Egyptian authorities should address real public health concerns without putting in place additional tools of repression."

Washington
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 18:27

Arabic press review: Sudan investigates Bashir's secret multi-million deposit

Par Mohammad Ayesh
Arabic press review: Sudan investigates Bashir's secret multi-million deposit
Meanwhile, Morocco's Othmani accuses UAE of meddling in domestic affairs, Jordan faces public anger over coronavirus-hit economy, and Kuwait to release more prisoners to combat pandemic
Mohammad Ayesh Mon, 07/06/2020 - 15:08
Sudan's deposed president Omar al-Bashir during his corruption trial on 24 August 2019 (AFP)

Sudan investigates Bashir's secret multi-million deposit

Former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir refused to answer questions about a secret account which was receiving a deposit of $20m in “petty cash” every month during his reign, after Sudanese authorities launched an investigation looking into the matter, Al Taghyeer newspaper reported.

“Bashir is being investigated about a secret account of the presidency in which he deposited $20m to be spent as petty cash for the president of the country,” Al Taghyeer reported on Sunday, adding that Bashir was transferred from his prison to a special committee session in the capital centre amid tight security. 

Bashir, who swept to power in a coup in 1989 and was deposed in April 2019, is being held in Khartoum’s Kober prison after being convicted of money laundering and corruption in December.

“This account has been recently disclosed by the Sudanese Anti-Corruption Commission, which is a committee specialised in restoring money from the previous regime symbols, and has a special prosecution,” the paper said.

A legal source told the Sudanese newspaper that Bashir “refused to answer the accusations he faced regarding the secret account that contained $20m and that was owned by the presidency of the republic”.

“It seems that the deposed president is pursuing his own way in dealing with the investigation committees by providing no information, following his lawyers' advice,” the source added.

Last August, at the beginning of Bashir’s corruption trial, the former autocrat admitted taking $90m in cash from Saudi Arabia's rulers, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also admitted that he had earlier received two payments from Saudi’s King Abdullah for $35m and $30m, which he had spent, according to the investigations.

In December, Bashir was found guilty of corruption and illegal possession of foreign funds and was sentenced to two years in a community reform centre on account of his old age.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), will be handed over to the Hague where he is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes, a member of Sudan's ruling Sovereign Council said in February.

The former leader is primarily wanted over actions taken during the conflict in Darfur. The UN has said the conflict left at least 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million others.

Morocco's Othmani accuses UAE of meddling

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el-Othmani has accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of trying to meddle in Morocco’s domestic affairs, the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported.

“There are unjust campaigns financed from abroad that tried to distort Morocco," Othmani, speaking to a youth forum organised by his party on Saturday, stated without naming the UAE directly.

Othmani’s comment comes weeks after an online confrontation between Morocco and the UAE, in which Rabat accused Abu Dhabi of sponsoring “electronic flies” that planted troll-like social media accounts that pumped out propaganda messages critical of the prime minister and his government, from the handling of the coronavirus pandemic to rumours of Morocco heading into a famine.

In response, Moroccan media launched the hashtag “Thank you Othmani”, which went viral.

The prime minister said there were countries "envious of Morocco for its successes” that tried to interfere in its affairs and attack its leaders, adding that the Moroccan people were “united to face these attempts”, according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

The paper said the UAE has been applying pressure on Morocco since the 2011 parliamentary elections saw an Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party, win the largest bloc. It also said that Abu Dhabi has not been “satisfied” with Morocco's neutral stance toward the Saudi-UAE blockade of Qatar in 2017.

In March, local newspaper Assabah reported that Morocco had withdrawn its ambassador from the UAE in what it called an “unprecedented crisis” between the two countries, which has been deepened by the more than year-long absence of the UAE ambassador in Rabat.

Morocco has not officially announced the withdrawal of its ambassador from Abu Dhabi, nor has the UAE officially recognised the tension between the two countries.

Jordan faces public anger over virus-hit economy

The Jordanian government is facing mounting criticism over its failure to deal with the economic fallout due to the coronavirus pandemic and protect the livelihood of its citizens, according to a report published in the London-based newspaper Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed.

Public anger grew after reports emerged that a number of government employees were paid “enormous salaries”, despite official decisions taken at the beginning of the pandemic that stipulated a freeze on salary increases for employees and military personnel, as well as the suspension of all post nominations until the end of the current year. 

The already difficult economic situation in Jordan has been exacerbated by the pandemic, Jordanian MP Musa Hantash said, adding that the economic growth rate is expected to fall by more than five percent this year, according to Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed.

Hantash accused the government of making decisions that “do not serve the economic situation” and instead generate anger in the street, referring to the recent payment of “enormous salaries that are beyond the qualifications and abilities of the appointees”.

Jordan’s economy took a hit under tough measures imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, before policies eased in early June. 

The kingdom has so far registered 1,147 coronavirus infections, with only 10 deaths. 

Still, health authorities have been reporting new cases recently among Jordanians and foreigners entering the country. They have also maintained measures including social distancing and the compulsory use of face masks in most public places, with those breaking the rules fined.

Kuwait to release more prisoners to combat Covid-19

Kuwait will release 1,200 prisoners in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus among inmates, according to Al Khalij Al Jadid website.

The amnesty announcement was made on Sunday by Adel al-Dukhi, head of the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly of Kuwait. He said the number of prisoners had already been reduced to just over 5,000, with 2,000 prisoners released in February and another group to be released soon.

This decision was part of the measures taken by the Kuwaiti government to reduce overcrowding in prisons amid the pandemic.

Arabic press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 16:08
À partir d’avant-hierMiddle East Eye

Palestinian prisoner Saadi al-Gharably dies in Israeli prison

Par MEE staff
Palestinian prisoner Saadi al-Gharably dies in Israeli prison
The 75-year-old from Gaza's Shejaiya neighbourhood had spent 26 years in Israel's prisons
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 14:54
Saadi al-Gharably, 75, had suffered from prostate cancer and medical negligence inside Israel's Eshel prison (Screengrab)

A Palestinian prisoner from the besieged Gaza Strip died on Monday in Eshel prison in Israel's southern Negev desert, the Palestinian Authority's Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees' Affairs and his family said.

Saadi al-Gharably, 75, suffered from a number of health conditions and his family accuse the Israeli prison authorities of negligence.

His son, Issam al-Gharably, told Middle East Eye that the family has been prevented from visiting him since 2020.

"My father’s health conditions deteriorated due to the unhealthy treatment inside the occupation's prisons, which started with major diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and weak heart muscle, to prostate cancer, which has spread to his weakened body and caused his death," he said.

'My father’s health conditions deteriorated due to the unhealthy treatment inside the occupation's prisons'

- Issam al-Gharably, son

The son said they have repeatedly called for an international or Palestinian medical committee to follow up on his father's condition, but been refused by the Israeli authorities. He accused medical centre of Ramlah prison of refusing to treat his father's condition.

Gharabaly was from Gaza's Shejaiya neighbourhood and had spent 26 years in Israeli prisons after being convicted of killing an Israeli officer in Jaffa in 1994. "He spent a third of his life in prison," his son said.

Another son, Ahmed, was killed aged 20 during armed clashes when Israeli forces raided the city of Ramallah in 2002.

With Gharably's death, the number of Palestinians to have died in Israeli prisons has risen to 223.

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 15:54

Khashoggi: UK imposes sanctions on Saudi suspects

Par MEE staff
Khashoggi: UK imposes sanctions on Saudi suspects
Officials linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman listed, including Saud al-Qahtani, Ahmed al-Asiri and Maher al-Mutreb
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 14:20
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as he makes a statement in the House of Commons (AFP)

The United Kingdom has announced sanctions on 19 Saudi Arabians suspected of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, including former top royal aide Saud al-Qahtani.

Qahtani is listed alongside Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy head of military intelligence, and Maher al-Mutreb, a senior intelligence officer who served as bodyguard to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the new sanctions regime, which also listed Russians and North Koreans, would initially target individuals or organisations accused of human rights violations around the world, along with those who profited financially from those abuses.

'We will not look the other way, you cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched, ill-gotten gains if you try'

- Dominic Raab, foreign secretary

He told MPs that the new sanctions would make it "crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimagineable suffering: we will not look the other way, you cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched, ill-gotten gains if you try".

Khashoggi, a former columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. 

Five people have been sentenced to death for his killing in Saudi Arabia, though were pardoned by Khashoggi's family in May.

However, in Turkey 20 suspects including all those listed by the UK are currently on trial in absentia.

Those sanctioned by the UK are Meshal Saad al-Bostani, Fahad Shabib al-Balawi, Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi, Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, Mohammed Saad al-Zahrani, Naif Hassan al-Arifi, Mansour Othman M. Abahussain, Waleed Abdullah al-Shehri, Turki Musharraf al-Shehri, Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, Badir Lafi al-Otaibi, Muflis Shaya al-Musleh, Ahmed Abdullah al-Muzaini, Saad Muid al-Qarni, Mustafa Mohammed al-Madani, and Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, as well as Qahtani, Mutreb and Asiri.

Qahtani was a confidant and senior adviser to Mohammed bin Salman, and held much influence inside the crown prince's inner circle. 

Following Khashoggi's death, Middle East Eye revealed that Qahtani was part of the command structure of the Saudi death squad, which operated under the guidance and supervision of Mohammed bin Salman.

In the aftermath of the murder, Qahtani was banned from leaving Saudi Arabia and publicly fired from his role as a senior adviser to the crown prince. 

Several Saudis in the hit squad sent to intercept Khashoggi were members of the Tiger Squad, an elite unit linked to Asiri and Qahtani.

Khashoggi murder trial: Who are the suspects?
Read More »

The Tiger Squad has been used for assassinations in the past, Middle East Eye revealed, and was named after Asiri himself.

"Asiri is well-known among his colleagues as 'the Tiger of the South'. Since the coalition's war [on Yemen] the Saudi media also started calling Asiri 'the Beast', and he liked this nickname," a Saudi source with intimate knowledge of the unit told MEE.

Previously, the UK had imposed sanctions jointly with other EU countries. But with the country officially leaving the multi-national bloc this year, the British government is introducing a new sanctions framework.

Saudi Arabia has also been at the centre of a controversy over a bid by the kingdom's Public Investment Fund - which is chaired by the crown prince - to take over Newcastle United football club.

A United Nations investigation and the CIA both concluded that the operation that killed Khashoggi was almost certainly signed off by the crown prince. Riyadh denies Mohammed bin Salman had any knowledge of the plot or its botched cover-up.

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who waited in vain for him to exit the Istanbul consulate on 2 October 2018 as he sought documents necessary to marry, has appealed to Newcastle's fans and the Premier League to reject the Saudi bid.

Cengiz also gave testimony on Friday at the opening of the Turkish trial into Khashoggi's murder.

Campaigners and politicians have also attempted to block the Newcastle bid over concerns about Saudi human right abuses, as well as a ruling by the World Trade Organisation which found that “prominent Saudi nationals” promoted pirate network beoutQ, which illegally streamed content from Qatar's beIN Sports. Qahtani is implicated in the piracy.

Washington welcomed the UK government's broader sanction programme on Monday, saying that it "commends the UK’s continued global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights".

"This sanctions regime marks the beginning of a new era for UK sanctions policy and cooperation between our two democracies," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "The UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime will give the UK a powerful new economic tool to promote accountability for human rights abuse on a global scale.

UK imposes sanctions on Saudis suspected of Khashoggi killing
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 15:20

Hagia Sophia: Russia warns Turkey on mosque conversion plan

Par MEE staff
Hagia Sophia: Russia warns Turkey on mosque conversion plan
Head of Russian Orthodox Church says former church is one of the 'greatest monuments of Christian culture'
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 13:44
People visit the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, on 2 July 2020 (AFP)

Russia has issued a stern warning to Turkey against turning the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, a proposal that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pushing in recent months.

A ruling is expected from Turkey's top court in the coming days on the status of the building, which was originally built as an Orthodox Church before being converted into a mosque after the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.

It was later turned into a museum under the secularising reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey.

Both Russian officials and the Russian Orthodox Church expressed concerns about the possibility of the Hagia Sophia being turned back into a mosque.

Russia's Patriarch Kirill said he was "deeply concerned" by the move, saying the Hagia Sophia was "one of the greatest monuments of Christian culture".

"A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the whole of Christian civilisation, and therefore to our spirituality and history," the Orthodox church leader said in a statement on Monday.

"To this day, for every Russian Orthodox person, Hagia Sophia is a great Christian shrine."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that although the Hagia Sophia was a domestic Turkish issue, he hoped the status of the building - which he described as having "sacred value" for Russia - as a World Heritage Site would be "taken into account".

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin also told reporters that Russia hoped "the global significance of the object will be taken into account".

Tensions rising

The move to convert the building has angered Christians and heightened tensions with the European Union, especially neighbouring Greece.

While spats with Europe are nothing new for Erdogan's government, the warning from Russia is a rare rebuke from a country that has maintained a generally cordial and cooperative relationship with Turkey in recent years.

Both countries have been involved in diplomatic talks over attempting to resolve the Syrian civil war, despite supporting opposite sides in the conflict.

In recent months, however, the increasing involvement of both Turkey and Russia in the conflict in Libya has seen a deterioration in their relationship.

Turkey backs the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, while Russia supports military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been leading a military campaign against the GNA.

Discussions between Turkey and Russia on resolving the Libya crisis set for mid-June were postponed, nominally due to the launch of a GNA-led military campaign to retake the coastal city of Sirte.

  • 6 juillet 2020 à 14:44

Israeli police beat and taser young man for not wearing coronavirus mask

Par MEE staff
Israeli police beat and taser young man for not wearing coronavirus mask
Brutal footage from Tel Aviv's Holon causes uproar on social media, as 24-year-old hospitalised after arrest
MEE staff Mon, 07/06/2020 - 13:02
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  • 6 juillet 2020 à 14:02

Libya: Turkey vows 'retribution' for attack on its positions at al-Watiya airbase

Par Ragip Soylu
Libya: Turkey vows 'retribution' for attack on its positions at al-Watiya airbase
Turkish officials reticent to blame anyone outright for the raid, though indications UAE aircraft were responsible are increasing
Ragip Soylu Mon, 07/06/2020 - 13:02
Member of the armed forces of the Government of National Accord next to a MiG-23 aircraft after the seizing of al-Watiya airbase in May (AFP)

Turkey is incensed by Saturday's attack targeting the strategic al-Watiya air base in Libya that damaged Turkish air defence systems, with officials warning it will likely escalate the conflict in the North African country.

Although Turkey is cautious about openly declaring who it believes responsible, it has no qualms about displaying its fury for eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces Ankara has been fighting.

“The only thing I can say is this: whoever did this made a big mistake,” a Turkish official familiar with the issue told Middle East Eye. “There will be retribution.”

'The only thing I can say is this: whoever did this made a big mistake'

- Turkish official

A second official said the aircraft that targeted the base were likely to be Dassault Mirage fighters belonging to the United Arab Emirates which, along with Egypt and Russia, militarily supports Haftar. “No human casualties,” the official added.

The attack damaged some Turkish air defence systems in the base. Open source intel reports indicate Turkey last week deployed MIM-23 surface-to-air missiles in the area.

Several sources told MEE last month that Turkey was planning to establish a permanent presence at the al-Watiya base. The attack on Saturday evening came hours after Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had paid a visit to Libya. 

Thare are other signs that the UAE might have conducted the attack against the Turkish forces.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor and part-time adviser to the Emirati royal family, said in now deleted tweet that “the UAE has taught a lesson to Turks”.

An advisor to the Emirati Royal family, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah[@Abdulkhaleq_UAE] admits that the UAE has conducted airstrike on Al-Watiya airbase in #Libya.

"On behalf of all Arabs, the UAE has taught a lesson to Turks," he said in a tweet.
pic.twitter.com/rpr8CywmyA

— EHA News (@eha_news) July 5, 2020

Several Libyan sources close to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which Turkey is backing against Haftar, also said the likely perpetrator was the UAE, which possibly flew the aircraft from a base in Egypt.

The UAE has been one of Haftar's chief backers and has provided military support, cash, intelligence and weaponry to the commander's Libyan National Army (LNA).

In 2016, MEE revealed air traffic control recordings showing Emirati fighter pilots taking part in operations in support of Haftar.

Emrah Kekilli, a security analyst specialising in Libya at Ankara-based think-tank Seta, viewed the attack as a form of “harassment” to stop the GNA’s ambitions to retake the central city of Sirte, which sits near the oil crescent, and the strategic al-Jufra air base.

He said the al-Watiya attack should be taken into consideration alongside Egypt's recent declaration that Sirte constituted a "red line", aggressive French action against Turkey in Nato and Russian steps to take control of oil fields.

“All they want is to stop the GNA progress,” he said. “They could continue to harass Tripoli, Misrata and other areas if they keep Jufra in their hands. They clearly don’t want a meaningful political track."

'All they want is to stop the GNA progress. They could continue to harass Tripoli, Misrata and other areas if they keep Jufra in their hands'

- Emrah Kekilli, analyst

Turkey recently declared that the political track cannot work with Haftar, saying a replacement that could uphold its promises was needed.

Many observers in Ankara believe Haftar and his backers want a ceasefire to momentarily freeze the conflict, regroup and later ignite a second wave of fighting to push back into GNA territory in the west.

“Could you tell me what could convince Haftar to lay down arms and join the legitimate government,” Kekilli asked. “We all know that he won’t accept anything besides the full takeover of the country.”

Turkish officials say Russian attempts to broker an immediate ceasefire are meaningless because Haftar twice failed to sign a similar deal earlier this year in Moscow and Berlin.

Al-Watiya was recaptured by the GNA last month with Turkish military assistance, one of a series of victories against the LNA that has seen the eastern commander's yearlong offensive in western Libya crumble.

Despite a UN weapons embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armoured vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support the government, which was struggling to fight off Haftar's UAE-, Egypt- and Russia-backed forces.

Last month, Turkey's military conducted an eight-hour long air drill off the Libyan coast to show that it could rapidly and easily deploy several F-16s and early warning aircraft to the country if needed. 

Ankara
Turkey vows 'retribution' for attack on its positions at Libya's al-Watiya airbase
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 14:02

Casino du Liban: Could cash-strapped Lebanon sell its historic attraction?

Par Kareem Chehayeb
Casino du Liban: Could cash-strapped Lebanon sell its historic attraction?
When business is good, the prized casino is a cash cow for the flagging state. But with the economy in freefall, the government needs ways to raise funds fast
Kareem Chehayeb Mon, 07/06/2020 - 08:11
Stairs to La Martingale Terrasse at Casino du Liban (MEE/Rita Kabalan)

Lebanon’s iconic Casino du Liban was once where the richest of the region came to play. Standing on the cliffs above the Mediterranean, 20 kilometres north of Beirut, it has been dubbed as the Monte Carlo of the Middle East.

Though much-loved and revered as a monument to Lebanon’s better days, the casino, which is part-owned by the state, could find itself soon out of the public’s hands.

Lebanon’s economy is in freefall. The currency has lost some 80 percent of its value in recent months and officials are eyeing ways to raise liquidity, including selling off some of the state’s most prized assets, such as the casino.

Like the rest of the country, Casino du Liban is emerging from a coronavirus lockdown. A disinfectant booth greets visitors at the entrance, and men in jumpsuits busy themselves outside, preparing for another round of sanitisation.

'These assets have untapped potential. Managing them properly can unlock sizeable income streams for Lebanon'

- Mohamad Faour, finance expert

Portraits of former Lebanese heads of states and international celebrities in the entrance hall put the casino front and centre of the country and region’s history.

Lebanon’s casino has hosted a slew of high-ranking officials and celebrities, including the shahs of Iran, King Abdullah of Jordan, and even Osama bin Laden.

It was considered “impressive culturally, but also socially”, Mona Fawaz, professor of urban studies and planning at the American University of Beirut, told MEE.

But aside from flaunting social status and enjoying cultural events, it was also a place to do business and “meet important people”, she said.

In fact, Fawaz said, business networking at Casino du Liban was integral to commence major development projects in Lebanon, like in Hay El-Sellom, the country’s largest informal settlement just south of Beirut.

“Back in the 1950s, [the developer] knew he had to go there to meet important people to get services and other supplies to the neighbourhood,” Fawaz says. “That’s how he met all these important people to bring in asphalt and other things to that neighbourhood.”

La Martingale Restaurant at Casino du Liban is currently closed due to Covid-19 precautions but hopes to reopen in July. (MEE/Rita Kabalan)
La Martingale Restaurant at Casino du Liban is currently closed due to Covid-19 precautions but hopes to reopen in July (MEE/Rita Kabalan)

Nothing of the sort has been possible in recent months, however. Coronavirus forced an 80-day closure, and though scores of mask-wearing men and women can be seen playing the slot machines, the casino’s restaurants are still shut, as are other gaming areas.

The return of income will be welcome to Casino du Liban, as well as the government.

Casino du Liban, 52 percent of which is owned by a joint-stock company with government shares, is a cash cow for the Lebanese state.

Fifty percent of all revenue goes to the government before a single tax or salary is paid. After that, a portion of the profit goes to the government’s share in the joint-stock company via the finance ministry and central bank respectively.

The remaining 15 and 32 percent are owned by Abela Tourism and Development Company and unnamed private investors, respectively.

Having just opened at a reduced capacity on 1 June as Lebanon’s Covid-19 lockdown eases, it has been a race against time to generate new revenue.

Clothes for baby formula: Lebanese resort to barter amid devastating crisis
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The casino has been working on launching an online gambling platform and opening a bingo hall to diversify its customer base, as the economy continues to take a turn for the worse. 

“Online [gambling] can be a source of fresh money into the country,” chairman and general manager Roland Khoury told MEE with cautious optimism.

“This is especially with the Lebanese diaspora; those who want to play and gamble can go to Casino du Liban’s platform.”

Coronavirus hasn’t been the casino’s only woe.

The business saw a staggering $12m drop in revenues less than a month into the country’s popular uprising, which was sparked last October by a currency crisis, rampant corruption, high unemployment and political stagnation.

Khoury has previously blamed the drop in custom on roadblocks, a common tactic used by protestors, which he said made it difficult for casino staff and customers alike to arrive.

It was only able to function at a partial capacity until President Michel Aoun called the CEO in March, asking him to close the casino to prevent the spread of Covid-19, days before the country went into lockdown.

With revenues drying up, officials have begun wondering whether it wouldn’t be better to just sell up altogether.

Corruption allegations

Sitting in his office overlooking the green foothills of Mount Lebanon and the arching Jounieh Bay, Khoury tells MEE that it had been a “dream” of his to run the casino, but the period before he took over was marred by mismanagement.

“The first day I arrived, I wanted to leave - no really,” he says, laughing in disbelief. “There were those red plastic buckets collecting water dropping from the air conditioners everywhere, like the ones your mother would use to clean the floors at home.”

The six years preceding Khoury at Casino du Liban were marked by freefalling revenue and skyrocketing costs, and a decline in tourism, especially from wealthy nationals that frequently tried their luck at the casino.

“Eighty percent of our revenue comes from 15 percent of our customers,” Khoury says. “This 15 percent is mostly tourists and major players from abroad.”

But there were also allegations of rampant corruption with the previous administration of Casino du Liban via political interference and nepotism in the staff hiring process. In February, an arrest warrant was issued in absentia for former chairman Hamid Kreidy, who had since fled to Switzerland following a probe into corruption in 2017.

View from the terrace of Casino du Liban, Lebanon (MEE/Rita Kabalan)
View from the terrace of Casino du Liban, Lebanon (MEE/Rita Kabalan)

It appears that like many Lebanese institutions, hiring was based on political patronage, with some reports claiming that many staff only showed up to receive their paycheques. The chairman admitted that this was a serious problem, describing the casino as a “microcosm of Lebanon”.

“Everyone was here through wasta [connections],” Khoury said, adding that there are roughly 400-450 redundant staff. He isn’t planning on letting them go though, and hopes that projects to generate more revenue would allow them to have more productive roles, such as the aforementioned bingo halls and online gaming.

With all that said, Khoury was able to turn that negative financial projection around, with Casino du Liban generating $194m in revenue in 2018 – a far cry from almost $282m in 2011, but a return to a positive trend for the first time in half a decade.

That positive trend has been brought to an abrupt halt, only encouraging calls for it to be sold off.

The finance ministry in April initiated the appraisal process to value state assets at the current market rate, but the casino’s chairman thinks it’s a terrible idea.

He called on economists and others who promote the selling of the casino to “have a conversation”, adding that they are unaware of how much the state benefits financially from the establishment.

“It benefits from the taxes and profits,” a defiant Khoury said.

Fire sale

Khoury is not alone in his opposition to selling off Casino du Liban and other state assets. 

Mohamad Faour, a postdoctoral researcher in finance at University College Dublin, says selling them in the country’s current financial climate would be a “fire sale”.

“[They] would end up being sold for much lower prices,” Faour tells MEE. “Given corruption in Lebanon, [sold assets] would also likely go to cronies.”

He adds that regardless of whether or not the state should sell these assets, the underlying problem is mismanagement, which Faour says gets in the way of maximising revenue for the cash-strapped country.

“These assets have untapped potential,” Faour says. “Managing them properly can unlock sizeable income streams for Lebanon … if privatisation of some assets happens later for whatever reason, it will be on much better terms price-wise than privatising them now.”

Seating at The Theater of Casino du Liban. For decades it hosted national and international artists, but is currently closed (MEE/Rita Kabalan)
Seating at the theatre of Casino du Liban. For decades it hosted national and international artists, but is currently closed (MEE/Rita Kabalan)

Setting numbers aside, Khoury added that Casino du Liban is one of its kind in the entire region, and a unique component of the identity of Lebanon’s tourism industry.

“What still distinguishes us from regional and Arab states? We only have two things left in this country when it comes to tourism,” the chairman says.

“You have the tourism where you can go to the mountains and see beautiful areas that are unlike other Arab countries, and you have the casino … so we have to take care of the casino.”

“Our environment is being destroyed, and now the same might be done with the casino,” Khoury adds, pointing at the picturesque scene of rolling mountains seen from his office window. “Please let us have something in our country that allows us to stand out from our surroundings.”

Maameltein, Lebanon
  • 6 juillet 2020 à 09:11

Pompeo urged by US congressmen to rethink Mauritania policy over human rights abuses

Par Amandla Thomas-Johnson
Pompeo urged by US congressmen to rethink Mauritania policy over human rights abuses
Mauritanian government rights commission rejects allegations of racism, slavery and ethnic cleansing
Amandla Thomas-Johnson Sun, 07/05/2020 - 21:24
Black Mauritanians say they face widespread racial discrimination (AFP)

Five US congressmen have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Washington to reconsider its relationship with Mauritania amid evidence of racism, human trafficking and slavery, prompting a response from the West African nation’s governmental human rights commission that staunchly defended its record.

The country’s treatment of its Black population was further called into question last week when political opposition parties and civil society groups urged visiting French President Emmanuel Macron to pressure the government to dismantle what they described as a system of “disguised apartheid".

These efforts to lobby what are two of the country’s most stalwart allies come as Mauritanian activists make renewed calls for the government to address racial injustices amid a global groundswell of Black Lives Matter protests.

Mauritania has for years been a key ally in the US "war on terror" across the restive Sahel region. In March, it hosted Flintlock, an annual US-led military training exercise attended by several African and European partners.

Relations between the two nations stretch back to 1960 when the US became the first country to recognise Mauritania’s independence from France. 

The US is also home to the second-largest Mauritanian diaspora community after France, many of whom are Black Mauritanians who fled racial pogroms in the late 1980s. 

Black Mauritanians protest against US racism, after fleeing racial violence at home
Read More »

Still, in the strongly worded letter, the congressmen urged Pompeo to put human rights front and centre of the US relationship with the Saharan nation.

“While Mauritania remains an important partner in our fight against terrorism in the Sahel, we believe that it is critical to also keep human rights at the forefront of bilateral relationship,” they wrote.

The congressmen said that “impunity for racial discrimination, including ethnic cleansing” and “hereditary slavery and human trafficking constitute grave violations of human rights that the United States should work to remedy through our engagement with the country".

Dated 25 June, the letter was signed by Republican representatives Steve Chabot, Christopher H Smith, Ron Wright, F James Sensenbrenner Jr and Tim Burchett.

Mauritania’s office of the commissioner for human rights responded with a lengthy statement about the letter after an inquiry from Middle East Eye: “With all due respect to Congressmen’s viewpoint, we do not share their opinion on the country’s human rights record, and formally reject the ungrounded allegations of human rights abuses the letter contained.”

The congressmen's letter said: “Mauritania has a long history of hereditary slavery based on ethnic and racial discrimination against Black Mauritanians.” The country formally abolished the practice in 1981 but criminalised it only in 2007, and in 2018 the Global Slavery Index estimated that 90,000 people in Mauritania were living under modern slavery. 

The commission said that Mauritania had made “remarkable progress” in combatting slavery and trafficking, pointing out that the US State Department had last month upgraded it to a tier 2 country in the fight against trafficking, meaning that it was making significant efforts to comply with international standards.

'With all due respect to Congressmen’s viewpoint, we do not share their opinion on the country’s human rights record'

- Mauritania's commission for human rights

The country’s previous status as a tier 3 country - one that was not attempting to comply with basic standards -  led the Trump administration to suspend non-humanitarian and non-trade-related foreign assistance in 2018.

The State Department’s latest report on human trafficking, released on 25 June - the same date that the congressmen wrote to Pompeo - acknowledged that Mauritania had made some progress since last year by convicting five slaveholders and taking steps to reduce child trafficking.

Despite this, the report said that “the government has rarely imprisoned convicted slaveholders, and the government did not proactively identify any trafficking or hereditary slavery victims”.

The congressmen also criticised the lack of accountability for purges by state forces of Black African Mauritanians between 1989-1991, in which tens of thousands - about eight percent of the community - were deported or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. “Mauritania has not provided accountability for mass murders, repression and unwarranted deportations,” their letter said. 

Most of those purged from the country were subsistence farmers working on the little arable land Mauritania has, which lies along the Senegal River valley in the south. Others were intellectuals, businesspeople and professionals, members of the thriving urban elites who were pushed out as the government pursued a sectarian Arab-nationalist ideology.

Crossing the river: Black Mauritanians haunted by mass expulsion to Senegal
Read More »

Black Africans make up about a third of the country’s population, as do Arab-Berbers, the dominant group. Haratin, the Black descendants of slaves once owned by Arab-Berbers, account for the rest.

Despite the violence, a law was passed to shield the perpetrators from justice and an amnesty was granted to the security forces involved.

“This impunity has left several Mauritanians without recourse for wrongs they and their families suffered almost three decades ago,” the letter said.

Still, Mauritania’s rights commission said that the government had “taken the necessary measures to address the issue and settle its aftermath".

About 25,000 Mauritanian refugees in Senegal were able to return home in a “dignified and organised manner to their homeland”, the commission said, adding that it had made efforts to “ensure that the returnees become property-owners”.

It said the government “did acknowledge that state agents committed grave abuses”, but stopped short of saying anyone had been held accountable.

The commission further claimed that “justice and reparations have been adequately delivered to the victims and measures have been taken since then to compensate victims and survivors".

Yet almost 30,000 Black Mauritanians who fled the violence still live in a number of refugee camps in Mali and Senegal, unable to work and with little medical care. 

'Mauritania has not provided accountability for mass murders, repression and unwarranted deportations'

- US congressmen

According to a 2018 survey of refugees in both the neighbouring countries taken in by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), only 1.5 percent of respondents said they would opt to return to Mauritania. 

Refugees in Senegal told MEE last year that the prospect of facing racial violence on their return was key among the reasons. 

Activists said that refugees have often returned home to find their property and the land they abandoned when they were forced to flee now occupied by others.

The commission failed to address concerns in the letter that “Mauritania has continued to strip the citizenship of tens of thousands of Black Mauritanians” since the purges.

Mauritanian police accused of racism after kneeling on neck of Black man
Read More »

Nevertheless, the commission claimed that “the principle of non-discrimination is established in the Constitution” and that there was “equality of treatment in access to justice and equal access to public services”.

In practice, things are far different, five political parties and civil society groups said last week in a letter to France's Macron, who was headed to the capital Nouakchott to attend a key meeting of the G-5 Sahel, a French-backed regional counter-terrorism force headquartered there.

“Mauritania, which you are going to visit as part of the G5-Sahel, is a country in which there is a 'disguised apartheid', not codified as it was in South Africa,” the letter said.

“Unwritten laws, in effect, confine the Mauritanian Black man at best, to the rank of second-class citizen, at worst, a victim of the denial of humanity through slavery.”

The letter, which was also signed by Alassane Dia, a prominent anti-racist activist, added: “Apartheid was fought by the free world in its time, thus, you cannot keep a low profile on what is happening with us.”

Abdoulaye Sow, a Mauritanian-American activist who fled the racial pogroms of the late 1980s, told MEE: “To be honest, we don’t want any measures to be taken that will harm the Mauritanian people.

'Mauritania, which you are going to visit as part of the G5-Sahel, is a country in which there is a 'disguised apartheid', not codified as it was in South Africa'

- Letter to President Macron

“We just want countries who have good relationships with Mauritania to tell them that there is something fundamentally wrong within this country and that they should take this into consideration when dealing with it,” said Sow, who spoke to MEE from Texas. 

“It is as valid for the United States as it is for France.”

Speaking from Cincinnati, Ohio, activist Papis Wane said members of the Black Mauritanian community had approached the congressmen months ago, but that the Black Lives Matter movement had given their case added momentum.

“This is one global movement against racial justice. We’ve been trying hard to make sure that everyone sees it that way, " he said.

Dakar, Senegal
  • 5 juillet 2020 à 22:24

Italy agrees to take in 180 migrants rescued in Mediterranean

Par MEE and agencies
Italy agrees to take in 180 migrants rescued in Mediterranean
Those on board explode with joy at announcement their ordeal amid cramped conditions on Ocean Viking will soon be over
MEE and agencies Sun, 07/05/2020 - 20:56
Migrants react on Sunday aboard Ocean Viking rescue ship after Italy announces they will be authorised to land (AFP)

Italy on Sunday authorised charity vessel Ocean Viking to transfer 180 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to a ship in Sicily for quarantine, the ship's operator and the government said.

Those on board exploded with joy at the announcement that their ordeal amid the cramped conditions on the Ocean Viking would soon be over, with migrants singing, applauding and taking selfies.

"We have received instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to disembark those on board in Porto Empedocle," a spokesman for the charity SOS Mediterranee told AFP, which has a correspondent on board.

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"We're very happy! We've come a long way, Libya was like hell and now at least we can see the end. I need to tell my family that I'm still alive," said Rabiul, 27, from Bangladesh.

Last week, a group of human rights activists and lawyers took a case to prosecutors at a court in Rome, asking them to determine whether the Italian authorities were complicit in an incident involving a migrant boat on Easter Sunday in which 12 people drowned and the 51 survivors were taken back to Libya, according to the InfoMigrants website.

The Ocean Viking is now heading for the port where the migrants will be transferred to the government-chartered ship, the Moby Zaza, for 14 days of quarantine.

"I can confirm that they're authorised to move to the Moby Zaza, likely tomorrow morning," interior ministry spokesman Dino Martirano said.

They have been on the Ocean Viking for more than a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting the charity to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port. 

Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by an AFP reporter, with the migrants increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught at not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe.

A member of the crew, Ludovic, said that he had never witnessed such violence on board a rescue vessel, after a spate of fights between migrants and threats of suicide. 

The migrants, who include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on 25 and 30 June. 

"Now, a second life is in front of us, after everything we went through in Libya. Thank you Italy for offering us a second life, and to SOS Mediteranee for saving the first," said Emmanuel, 32, from Ghana.

Migrants and NGO

The migrants include 25 children, most of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and two women, one of whom is pregnant.

At times, all the members of the SOS Mediterranee rescue team have been on deck in order to calm tense situations. Some of the threats were directed at the rescuers themselves. 

Rumours abounded among the groups of migrants, including that the NGO was in cahoots with Italian authorities, earning money each day the migrants were kept on board. 

On Thursday, two migrants threw themselves into the Mediterranean but were rescued.

More than 18,000 people have drowned or disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe since 2014, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. 

The arrival of summer and more favourable conditions at sea may lead to an increase of attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 21:56

Iran is negotiating 25-year strategic accord with China, Zarif says

Par MEE and agencies
Iran is negotiating 25-year strategic accord with China, Zarif says
Iranian media have highlighted possibility that agreement would see Iran benefit from China’s robust economy
MEE and agencies Sun, 07/05/2020 - 19:22
Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, left, and Miao Lu, secretary-general of Center for China & Globalization, at Doha Forum in Qatar last December (AFP)

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday that Tehran has been negotiating a 25-year accord with China whose terms will be announced once a deal is struck.

"With confidence and conviction, we are negotiating a 25-year strategic accord with China," Iran's top trading partner, he told a stormy session of parliament.

China is also a key market for Iranian crude oil exports, although those have been dampened by US economic sanctions imposed after Washington's 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran, AFP said.

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An accord with China has been a hot topic on Iranian social media since populist ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad last month denounced negotiations that were underway with a foreign country.

The agreement was raised by Ahmadinejad during a recent political visit to Gilan province, where he alleged that there was a secret agreement and argued against recognising the contract, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Still, Zarif, who came under fire over the 2015 nuclear accord that Iranian conservatives had opposed, insisted there was "nothing secret" about the China deal.

The nation will be informed "when an accord has been concluded", he said, adding it had already been made public in January 2016 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tehran.

In the last several days, Iranian media have highlighted the possibility that the agreement would see Iran benefit from China’s robust economy and help increase the partnership between the two countries, the Jerusalem Post noted.

The two countries already have warm relations and Beijing may be keen to knit Iran more deeply into its various economic plans at a time when Iran has turned to China and other countries in its struggle against damaging US economic sanctions.

Washington is also currently pushing to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October.

The US already has the support of Saudi Arabia and Israel, but China, Russia, Germany, the UK and France - all members of the UNSC and signatories to the nuclear deal with Iran - have publicly expressed their opposition to the extension plan.

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 20:22

'Wake-up call to the world': Pal Expo 2020 digital event dominated by annexation fears

Par Nadda Osman
'Wake-up call to the world': Pal Expo 2020 digital event dominated by annexation fears
Forced online by the coronavirus, Europe's biggest Palestinian heritage event discussed topics ranging from Israeli policy to Black Lives Matter
Nadda Osman Sun, 07/05/2020 - 14:44
The online event, which hosted a wide range of academics and speakers, discussed a number of key issues, including annexation (Screengrab/YouTube)

Palestine Expo, an event held to raise awareness on key Palestinian issues as well as celebrating the culture of its people, moved online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The conference, now in its fourth year and the biggest Palestine heritage event in Europe, is organised by the UK-based non-profit organisation Friends of Al-Aqsa. 

Covering an array of topics, including history, food, arts and culture, the two-day event, with over 350,000 people tuning in, gave viewers an insight into the Palestinian experience and heritage. 

However, it was the issue of Israel's planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank that dominated much of the proceedings.

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Some of the most notable speakers at this year’s event included Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the UK Labour Party; Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2005; and Wadah Khanfar, the co-founder of the Sharq Forum and former director of the Al Jazeera network. 

A panel discussion was held on the battle for survival of the Palestinians, who were expelled and displaced from their homes in 1948, known as the Nakba. 

The panel also looked at the plight of Palestinians in Israel, including political persecution and discrimination in daily life. 

Ilan Pappe, a professor at the University of Exeter and writer on the history of Israel, Britain and the Arab-Israeli conflict, discussed the historical background of Palestinian communities in Israel.

“The Zionist movement is no different from the movement which genocided the Native Americans in North America and the aboriginals in Australia, and the apartheid [system] in South Africa,” he said.

"As a settler-colonial movement that wanted to eliminate the Palestinians from their land, the Zionist movement had the opportunity to do that in 1948 during the Nakba.

"In many ways, it both succeeded and failed in doing this, and this explains a lot of the Israeli policies.” 

'Wake-up call to the world'

Kamel Hawwash, a British professor and the chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, chaired a panel discussion on resisting annexation alongside a number of speakers. 

During the talk, Khanfar spoke about the relationship between Arab countries and Israel. 

“To say that Arabs are neutral or giving up on Palestine is factually not accurate, and I believe the current situation - where Arab leaders are trying to be closer to Israelis, and being silent on issues relating to annexation - does not represent anything related to the feelings or beliefs of the Arab world,” he said.

Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist and author, called annexation a "wake-up call to the world".

“Israeli annexation started a long time ago … much before Benjamin Netanyahu dreamt of becoming Israel's prime minister … Israel has realised over the last few years that they can get away with anything and not have any accountability,” he said.

“The best way to resist annexation is to use it as a tool to change the discourse … for me declaring annexation is declaring Israel as an apartheid state, and this must ring a bell to anyone with a conscience in the world,” he added. 

Corbyn spoke about Israel’s upcoming annexation plans, as well as the daily challenges and implications faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn, left, used the digital event to highlight Palestinian issues such as the refugee crisis, human rights and annexation (Screengrab)

“As leader of the [Labour] party I was very keen to promote the policy of my party, which is the full recognition of the state of Palestine, but also to prevent the importation of goods from illegal settlements and also to prevent the sale of arms that can be used to attack civilians, which is what, unfortunately, the Israeli government forces have been doing towards Palestinians," he said.

"The annexation plan is a serious issue … this is not a new or novel situation because Israel did annex East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the past.

"Nevertheless, these two [cases] have been used by Israel as a precedent to annex [again]. This cannot be the precedent, it is illegal under international law,” he added. 

Corbyn also used the panel to highlight Britain’s role in the international community and its historical obligations in stopping the annexation of Palestinian land, which have been given a green light under US President Donald Trump's controversial Israel-Palestine plan. 

“Britain has a special responsibility in all of this, because after the Treaty of Versailles, Britain was given the mandate on Palestine. And also as a member of the UN Security Council, Britain has a special role to play in this," said Corbyn. "So let's come together and oppose the Trump plan.”

Inspiration

Other highlights of the event included a segment on Palestinian cooking, hosted by chef Maha Salah, where viewers were taken through how to make alayat banadoura, a tomato breakfast dish, using traditional Palestinian ingredients and techniques. 

Also on the menu was qudsiyah, a fava bean and chickpea dish, topped with chopped tomatoes, parsley and olive oil.

A traditional Palestinian dance, known as the dabke, was also performed, and a number of Palestinian artists showcased their work while discussing the challenges they faced under occupation and talked about key themes and events that inspired their work.

The event also drew parallels between the Black Lives Matter movement - which rose to prominence following the killing in the US in late May of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man - and the Palestinian struggle.

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 15:44

Rocket fired towards Baghdad's Green Zone injures child

Par MEE and agencies
Rocket fired towards Baghdad's Green Zone injures child
Attack comes a little over a week since unprecedented Iraqi arrests of Iran-backed militia, intended to prevent such incidents
MEE and agencies Sun, 07/05/2020 - 14:40
The US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone (AFP)

A rocket fired towards Baghdad's Green Zone, where the US embassy is located, fell just short of its target, causing damage to a home and injuring a child early on Sunday, Iraq's military said.

Security forces at the same time stopped another Katyusha rocket from being launched towards the Taji military air base, north of the capital, which hosts US troops, a military statement added.

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US officials blame Iran-backed militia for regular rocket attacks on their facilities in Iraq, including near the embassy in Baghdad. 

No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, Reuters reported.

A police and a medical source confirmed that a child was slightly hurt and said the injuries were caused by rocket fragments that landed on a home.

The police source said an anti-rocket system set up to defend the US embassy, and which had been tested on Saturday, had shot down a rocket which exploded in mid-air before it could hit the Green Zone.

Kadhimi’s seriousness questioned

Iraqi security forces raided a headquarters of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia in southern Baghdad last week, arresting more than a dozen members of the group on charges of involvement in rocket attacks. Most of those arrested were released shortly afterwards.

Militias backed by Iran have come to dominate parts of Iraq's security institutions, economy and political life.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's government is favoured by the US and has indicated it will back up tough talk against the militias with action.

The operation, described as pre-emptive, has been labelled by the government as an attempt to "preserve the prestige of the state" by stopping the near-daily missile attacks that have plagued the US embassy and military bases hosting American troops for months.

However, as Middle East Eye reported on Thursday, observers wonder if it will have the opposite effect, and have raised questions about Kadhimi’s seriousness about tackling his country’s semi-official armed factions.

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 15:40

'Break this taboo': Religious singer Koveitipour's duet with young girl shocks Iran

Par Rohollah Faghihi
'Break this taboo': Religious singer Koveitipour's duet with young girl shocks Iran
A number of recent cases, aided by the growing influence of social networks, are helping to challenge a ban on females singing in Iran
Rohollah Faghihi Sun, 07/05/2020 - 11:54
Gholam Koveitipour has caused controversy by releasing a recording of a duet with a 13-year-old girl known as Parichehr (YouTube)

A well-known religious singer has caused controversy in Iran by releasing a recording of a duet with a 13-year-old girl, which has gone viral on social media. 

The song, which was first released by Gholam Koveitipour during the Iran-Iraq war, was reprised by Koveitipour and a girl, known as Parichehr, recording their lines separately.

Women singing on their own or with, or in front of, men, was banned in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But a number of cases in recent times have brought the issue to the fore once again.

Known by almost all Iranians, Koveitipour is a eulogist - a speaker who delivers a funeral oration - and singer who embarked on his career by singing epic songs during the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s. 

“Mamad Naboodi Bebini”, translated as “M0hammad, you weren't [alive] to see”, is among the most celebrated songs in Iran’s contemporary history, released on the occasion of the liberation of the southwestern city of Khorramshahr in 1982. 

Koveitipour sang the song a year after the port city was recaptured. In it, he also eulogised the “martyrdom” of Mohammad Jahanara, the commander of Iranian forces in Khuzestan, who was killed in 1981. 

Shockwaves

Koveitipour’s decision to sing with the young Parichehr, the recording of which was released on 23 June, has sent shockwaves through Iran. 

Maysam Motiee, a hardline eulogist, on 24 June attacked Koveitipour for performing with a girl, tweeting that he was “delivering serious blows to our religious traditions and spiritual legacy”.

Tebyan, a conservative cultural institute whose head is appointed by the country's supreme leader, on 28 June lamented Koveitipour's actions, claiming that he had been taken advantage of by a company specialising in introducing new singers.

What may have angered hardliners more, however, were the lyrics: “We can't go back, this is the result of our own actions, and the result is not good at all.”

On 24 June, the Fars news agency took a swipe at Koveitipour, saying it was not clear whether he was denouncing the country’s current economic problems, or his past beliefs about the Islamic revolution. 

Economic statement

In reaction to the criticism, Koveitipour spoke to a cultural journalist on 25 June on Instagram.

He did not say why he had chosen to do a duet with a young girl, but said that he was proud of singing the song and that his purpose had been to raise people’s spirits amid the country's economic troubles. 

Koveitipour asserted that 40 years ago, when the revolution occurred, “I told [myself] ‘Thank God that we won't have any poor people in the country anymore.’

“We have a wealthy country, why should such a rich country reach this point?” he asked. 

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Hossein Kanani-Moghaddam, a conservative activist, expressed his regret over Koveitipour's song.

“We should find out who is behind the project of tarnishing the image of such a eulogist, whose voice is reminiscent of our martyred soldiers in the 1980s war,” he said.

'No problem from a religious perspective'

Before 1979, Iran had numerous successful female singers, most of whom decided to leave the country following the revolution to pursue their careers abroad. 

In recent years, the country has slightly softened its approach, with some female vocalists permitted to perform in concert halls solely for women. 

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However, allowing women to sing to an audience of both men and women, live or on TV, has not been allowed since 1979, with some clerics saying that women singing may tempt and induce men to commit “sin”.

Former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, was reportedly not opposed to women singing. 

However, during his leadership in the 1980s, no women were allowed to perform. 

Mohammad Khatami, a former Iranian president and the leader of the country's reformists, once quoted Khomeini as saying that women singing solo, and men listening to the music, was not a problem from a religious perspective.

'Officials should show courage'

The present religious leadership in the country also seems to hold similar views.

“The current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been asked once about his view regarding women singing solo,” a former concert organiser, who wished to remain anonymous, told MEE. “In response, he didn't reply negatively.

"Therefore, there is no religious obstacle issue standing in the middle of our path. But we have been told that they believe society wouldn't accept this.” 

The organiser hypothesised that the influence of hardliners in Iranian politics may have kept the issue from being re-examined.

“If the priority is Islamic law and the supreme leader, they all have no issue with women singing solo,” he said. "Officials should show courage and break this taboo, but I think they are terrified of radicals’ possibly harsh reactions.” 

Iranian female singers angered

Koveitipour is not the only Iranian musical artist to have flouted the rules.

Popular folk singer Homayoun Shajarian, the son of legendary singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian, released a video on 19 June with Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme, with a cover of the old song “Morghe Sahar”.

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But the backlash against Shajarian has not only just come from conservatives.

Iranian female vocalists have slammed him for preferring to choose a foreign woman to accompany him on the song.

“Even Iranian male singers ignore [Iranian] female vocalists,” acclaimed Iranian vocalist Sahar, who based in London, told BBC Persian last month

Referring to the ban on women singing solo in Iran, Madmazel, another singer, addressed her fans on Instagram, saying: “Have you seen the video clip of Homayoun Shajarian? Only the voice of Iranian women provokes [men]?”

Anger from Iranian women vocalists also followed the release of a comedic movie, Motreb, which was screened in Iran in November.

In the movie, Iranian actor Parviz Parastui sings a song with female Turkish singer Aysegul Coskun. 

While this could have led to the movie being barred from theatres, neither the government nor hardliners objected to it. 

“Some are resorting to the strategy of the normalisation of breaking taboos,” Kanani-Moghaddam, the conservative activist, said, before claiming that certain individuals “want to pave the way for feminist thought to dominate our art arena”.

Risky resistance

In spite of Kanani-Moghaddam’s assertions, violating the rules remains a risky endeavour.

On 2 February 2019, pop star Hamid Askari held a concert in Tehran during which he suddenly handed over the microphone to the female guitarist, who began to sing solo. 

As news of the incident went viral, the Iranian Ministry of Culture announced that Askari was banned from staging any more concerts. 

He has not been back onstage in the country since.

A similar situation occurred in 2015 when Mohammad Motamedi, a traditional vocalist, performed a song with a female singer from Spain, leading the Ministry of Culture to refuse to issue him a permit to release his new album for a period of time. 

Social networks effect

But social networks are helping to break these red lines, paving the way on Instagram and Twitter for societal changes. 

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Amanullah Qarai Moqaddam, a professor of sociology at the University of Shahid Beheshti, argued that technology was changing lives, manners and habits. 

“Social networks will bring down all the walls and limitations,” he told MEE. 

“Some think that they are able to prevent such happenings, but they are wrong, especially regarding women singing solo.

“I’m sure decision-makers and the government will eventually retreat and will allow women to sing.

"In fact, society will impose this on officials, and they have no choice but to accept it.”

Tehran, Iran
  • 5 juillet 2020 à 12:54

Jets hit Libyan airbase recently captured by Turkish-backed forces, say sources

Par MEE and agencies
Jets hit Libyan airbase recently captured by Turkish-backed forces, say sources
Al-Watiya was recently captured by Libya’s internationally recognised government from forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar
MEE and agencies Sun, 07/05/2020 - 12:20
The al-Watiya airbase was recently captured by Libya’s internationally recognised government with Turkish support (AFP)

Warplanes struck overnight at a strategic airbase in western Libya, according to a military source and a nearby resident. The attack happened at the al-Watiya base, which Turkey is reportedly seeking to use to establish a firmer foothold in the country.

The base had recently been captured by Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) with Turkish military support from forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

A military source with Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) told Reuters that the strikes at the base were carried out by “unknown aircraft”. 

Still, on Sunday a Turkish defence official confirmed the attack against al-Watiya, saying: “The attack damaged some systems at the airbase,” attributing the attack to Haftar's forces.

Libya's GNA later on Sunday condemned the overnight air raids against the recaptured airbase, alleging they were carried out by a "foreign air force", AFP said.

Libya's GNA captures key air base in major advance against Haftar
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A resident of the nearby town of Zintan said explosions were heard from the direction of the base.

Al-Watiya’s capture in May by the Tripoli-based GNA marked the collapse of the LNA’s 14-month assault to seize the capital, forcing it to retreat along the coast.

Turkish support was vital to the GNA in turning back the LNA offensive, using advanced air defences and drone strikes that targeted Khalifa's supply lines and troop build-ups.

A Turkish source said last month that Ankara was in talks with the GNA to establish two bases in Libya, one of them at al-Watiya, the most important airbase in western Libya.

Growing influence

A more permanent air and naval presence in Libya could reinforce Turkey’s growing influence in the region, including in Syria, and boost its claims to offshore oil and gas resources.

Turkey has also flagged possible energy and construction deals with Tripoli once the fighting ends.

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was in Tripoli for meetings with the GNA on Friday and Saturday, where he swore to do all that was necessary to help the government, a Turkish defence ministry statement said.

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The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. During its advance towards Tripoli last year, it was assisted by Egyptian and UAE air strikes.

Last month, the United States said Russia had sent at least 14 MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes to an LNA base via Syria, where it said their Russian airforce markings were removed.

Turkish involvement in Libya has also angered France and Greece, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warning of new sanctions against Ankara.

The GNA and LNA are now mobilising forces at the new frontlines between the cities of Misrata and Sirte.

Egypt has warned that any Turkish-backed effort to take Sirte, which the LNA captured in January, could lead its army to directly intervene. 

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 13:20

Coronavirus: Veteran Egyptian actress Ragaa El-Gedawy dies at 81

Par MEE staff
Coronavirus: Veteran Egyptian actress Ragaa El-Gedawy dies at 81
El-Gedawy was one of Egypt's best known actresses after a career in TV, films and theatre spanning six decades
MEE staff Sun, 07/05/2020 - 10:43
El-Gedawy, centre, had just finishing shooting a soap opera before she was admitted to hospital (Reuters)

Veteran Egyptian actress Ragaa El-Gedawy, whose career spanned six decades, has died following a lengthy battle with the coronavirus, her daughter Amira Mokhtar announced on Sunday.

El-Gedawy, one of Egypt’s most beloved actresses, had spent 43 days in a hospital in the coastal northeastern city of Ismailia after she became infected with Covid-19. 

She was admitted days after finishing shooting for the soap opera Le'bet El-Nesyan (Game of Oblivion), which was screened during the holy month of Ramadan to great acclaim.

A former model, El-Gedawy, who was 81, made her acting debut in the popular Egyptian film Doaa al-Karawan (The Nightingale's Prayer) in 1959.

Over the years she appeared in hundreds of films, plays and TV shows, collaborating with the country’s leading directors and actors, spanning generations.

Her most recent work was in various television series and she was known for her roles playing aristocratic women.

El-Gedawy had been transferred to the intensive care unit at Abu Khalifa isolation hospital, Ismailia, on 2 June as her condition deteriorated.

Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country with nearly 100 million people, recently loosened virus-related restrictions to boost its economy.

Health authorities have so far reported a total of 74,035 coronavirus cases and 3,280 related deaths.

Veteran Egyptian actress Ragaa El-Gedawy dies with Covid-19 at 81
  • 5 juillet 2020 à 11:43

Italy says it may transfer rescued migrants on Monday

Par MEE and agencies
Italy says it may transfer rescued migrants on Monday
Migrants have been on ship for more than a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting charity to declare state of emergency
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 23:20
People rescued at sea sit on deck of Ocean Viking, operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, in Mediterranean Sea on Saturday (AFP)

Italy is carrying out tests on 180 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean with a view to transferring them to a quarantine vessel in Sicily, an interior ministry source said on Saturday.

The migrants have been on the Ocean Viking ship operated by SOS Mediterranee for more than a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting the charity to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

A medical team sent by authorities in Pozzallo, Sicily, "ascertained the absence of particular health problems and also reported that some tensions that had been registered on the ship are being overcome", the ministry source said.

The medical team is testing the migrants for the new coronavirus, after which they will be transferred to a quarantine ship currently in Porto Empedocle, also in Sicily.

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"The situation is carefully monitored in view of the transhipment of migrants, scheduled for Monday 6 July, on the Moby Zaza ship," the source said.

MEE has reported that North Africa is one of the main global migratory routes. Both North and sub-Saharan Africans have used the coastline to attempt to reach Europe, often with devastating results. More than 18,000 people have drowned or disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe since 2014, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. 

The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port. 

Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by an AFP reporter aboard the boat, as migrants have become increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe.

SOS Mediteranee said in a statement on Saturday that "the only assistance proposed has been a visit by a medical doctor and a cultural mediator who spoke to the survivors but are not in a position to present a solution for their disembarkation".

The migrants, who include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on 25 and 30 June. 

The migrants include 25 minors, most of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and two women, one of whom is pregnant. 

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The arrival of summer and more favourable conditions at sea may lead to an increase of attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.

  • 5 juillet 2020 à 00:20

Syria war: Dozens killed as Islamic State group clashes with government forces

Par MEE and agencies
Syria war: Dozens killed as Islamic State group clashes with government forces
Fighting and Russian air strikes in central desert province of Homs since late Thursday have claimed lives of 20 pro-government and 31 IS fighters
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 21:53
Syrian soldier stands guard on main road in central Homs province after it was taken back from Islamic State group in 2018 (AFP/file photo)

Clashes between the Islamic State (IS) group and Russia-backed Syrian government forces and have killed more than 50 fighters on both sides in two days, a Britain-based war monitor said on Saturday.

Fighting and Russian air strikes in the central desert province of Homs since late Thursday have claimed the lives of 20 pro-government and 31 IS fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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"The fighting started in the night of Thursday to Friday with a jihadist assault on regime positions" near the town of al-Sukhna, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, as cited by AFP.

IS fighters have retained a roving presence in Syria's vast Badia desert despite losing their last shred of territory last year. They regularly carry out attacks there as well as in neighbouring Iraq.

On 2 May, attacks by IS on stations of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi forces north of Baghdad killed 10 militia members, security forces said, in the deadliest operation by the group's sleeper cells in months.

Saturday’s death toll is expected to rise because of the serious injuries of some casualties.

IS declared a cross-border "caliphate" in large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but several military campaigns against it chipped away at that proto-state and eventually led to its territorial demise.

Syria's war has killed more than 380,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, before evolving into a complex conflict involving world powers and various groups of combatants.

  • 4 juillet 2020 à 22:53

Coronavirus: Jordan slaps wristbands on arrivals to monitor pandemic quarantine

Par MEE and agencies
Coronavirus: Jordan slaps wristbands on arrivals to monitor pandemic quarantine
Use of electronic bracelets for those self-isolating at home instituted to ensure quarantine rules are respected
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 19:16
Jordanian man wearing gloves uses cell phone to read Koran inside Mohammad al-Tilawy Mosque in capital Amman recently (AFP)

Jordan began putting electronic bracelets on travellers who have recently arrived in the kingdom to ensure that they observe home-quarantine against the spread of coronavirus, an official said on Saturday.

People arriving in Jordan must isolate for 14 days at hotels designated by the authorities on the shores of the Dead Sea, west of the capital Amman.

Jordan to continue nightly curfew despite 'containing' coronavirus outbreak
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After that period, they must self-isolate for an additional 14 days at home, according to Nizar Obeidat, spokesman for Jordan's virus task force, who was cited by AFP.

He told state-run Al-Mamlaka television that "the use of the electronic bracelet began on Saturday for those self-isolating at home" in order to ensure quarantine rules are respected.

Jordan imposed tough measures, including curfews and the deployment of drones, to curb the spread of Covid-19, before easing policies in early June.

The kingdom has so far registered 1,147 coronavirus infections, with only 10 deaths.

Still, health authorities have been reporting new cases recently among Jordanians and foreigners entering the country.

They have also maintained measures including social distancing and the compulsory use of face masks in most public places, with those breaking the rules fined.

Refugees suffering

Meanwhile, the United Nations recently warned that refugees living in Jordan are suffering from extreme poverty, particularly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, London-based newspaper al-Arabi al-Jadeed reported.

"Coronavirus has affected our lives as well as the lives of refugees and Jordanians. It will have a long-term impact for several months," said Dominic Barch, UNHCR representative in Jordan.

In a statement issued by the UN refugee agency's local office, Barch said 79 percent of refugees in the kingdom were already living below the poverty line before the coronavirus outbreak.

According to recent surveys conducted in the country, this number has increased during the last few months, Barch said. Only 35 percent of refugees in Jordan will return to their jobs after the country opens up all sectors, he added. 

Bach called upon international and national actors to come together to help their plight.

There are about 747,000 registered refugees from 52 nationalities in Jordan.

Jordan slaps wristbands on arrivals to monitor pandemic quarantine
  • 4 juillet 2020 à 20:16

Russian Orthodox Church says 'unacceptable' to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Par MEE and agencies
Russian Orthodox Church says 'unacceptable' to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque
Church calls on Ankara 'to respect the feelings of believers' ahead of court ruling on status of building
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 16:31
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  • 4 juillet 2020 à 17:31

Coronavirus: Egypt sets date for senate elections in August despite virus fears

Par MEE and agencies
Coronavirus: Egypt sets date for senate elections in August despite virus fears
Amendments made to the country's constitution last year provided for the creation of a Council of Senators
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 16:12
The senate chamber will serve as a 300-seat advisory body (AFP)

Egypt will hold inaugural elections for a new second parliamentary chamber on 11-12 August, election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim said on Saturday, despite fears that voting could inflame the coronavirus pandemic.

Amendments made to Egypt's constitution last year, which were approved by a referendum, provided for the creation of a Council of Senators.

The senate chamber will serve as a 300-seat advisory body, of which 100 members will be elected through a closed-list system and another 100 will be elected as individuals. 

Egypt passes electoral changes that will bolster Sisi's influence in parliament
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The remaining 100 seats will be appointed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

"Holding elections during the [coronavirus] pandemic that has swept the world necessitates that we take several precautionary measures to protect ourselves and society," Ibrahim said during a televised press conference.

He said all polling stations would observe health guidelines, with all voters and polling staff required to wear masks, and social distancing measures would be enforced.

Egypt reported 1,485 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 72,711, including 3,201 deaths.

The poll results will be announced on 19 August in the official state gazette, Ibrahim said.

Perpetual state of emergency

The constitutional amendments made last year allowed Sisi to stay in office till 2030, expanded his power over the judiciary and bolstered the military's role.

Supporters said Sisi had stabilised Egypt and needed more time to complete economic reforms. Critics feared a further narrowing of the space for dissent and opposition after a wide-ranging crackdown.

Egypt has been under a perpetual state of emergency for almost four decades, with a brief interval in 2012.

Sisi extended the state of emergency on 28 April for another three months, marking the 12th time it has been renewed since April 2017.

Egypt sets date for senate elections in August despite coronavirus fears
  • 4 juillet 2020 à 17:12

Egypt court upholds 15-year sentence for prominent activist Ahmed Douma

Par MEE and agencies
Egypt court upholds 15-year sentence for prominent activist Ahmed Douma
The 34-year-old was a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 15:05
Ahmed Douma during his first trial in Cairo on 4 February 2015 (AFP)

Egypt's top appeals court upheld on Saturday a 15-year prison sentence for a leading figure of the country's 2011 uprising, according to a judicial source.

Ahmed Douma, who has been imprisoned since 2013, was swept up in a crackdown following the military ousting that year of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president. 

Douma, 34, received a 25-year prison sentence in 2015 on charges of clashing with security forces, but a court overturned the ruling in 2017 and ordered a retrial. 

Coronavirus: Egypt tests political prisoners as 'a preventive measure'
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In January last year, Douma was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined six million Egyptian pounds ($372,000). 

Saturday's verdict by the court of cassation upheld that sentence, which "is now final and cannot be appealed", the judicial source told AFP.

Douma was a leading activist in the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak and was a founding member of the 6 April pro-democracy youth movement, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.

Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for adopting repressive measures and carrying out human rights violations.

Amnesty International last year said that the country under Sisi, who led the coup against Morsi, had been converted “into an open-air prison for critics".

Douma appeared in a video in April as Egypt revealed that it was testing inmates at all its prisons for the coronavirus, releasing rare footage of prominent political prisoners in the process.

  • 4 juillet 2020 à 16:05

Worker told to light tandoor oven soon after Khashoggi entered consulate, court hears

Par MEE and agencies
Worker told to light tandoor oven soon after Khashoggi entered consulate, court hears
Istanbul trial told that Turkish officials believe journalist's killers may have tried to dispose of body by burning it
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 13:02
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 (AFP)

A Saudi consulate worker in Istanbul told a Turkish court on Friday that he was asked to light a tandoor oven less than an hour after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the building where he was killed.

Local technician Zeki Demir was giving evidence on the first day of the trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials over Khashoggi's murder, which sparked global outrage and tarnished the image of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkish officials have said one theory police pursued was that Khashoggi's killers tried to dispose of his body by burning it after suffocating him and cutting up his corpse.

Turkish Khashoggi indictment sheds new light on Saudi cover-up
Read More »

Demir told the court in Istanbul he had been called to the Saudi consul's residence after Khashoggi entered the nearby consulate on 2 October 2018.

"There were five to six people there [at the residence] … They asked me to light up the tandoor [oven]. There was an air of panic," he said.

Middle East Eye reported the same details in April after obtaining a copy of the indictment.

Khashoggi, a columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, had arrived at the consulate to seek papers needed for his wedding to his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

According to Demir's testimony in the indictment, he reported seeing many skewers of meat and a small barbecue in addition to the oven in the consul's garden.

Marble slabs around the oven appeared to have changed colour, as if they had been cleaned with a chemical, the indictment reported him as saying.

Separate witness testimony in the indictment, from the consul's driver, said the consul had ordered raw kebabs to be bought from a local restaurant.

Demir offered to help with the garage door when a car with darkened windows arrived, but he was told to leave the garden quickly, the indictment said.

A police report seen by MEE in February 2019 said that the oven could reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, which is “enough to burn all DNA evidence without a trace”.

'Monstrous intent'

The Turkish indictment accuses two top Saudi officials, former deputy head of Saudi Arabia's general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, of instigating "premeditated murder with monstrous intent".

It says 18 other defendants were flown to Turkey to kill Khashoggi, a prominent and well-connected journalist who had grown increasingly critical of the Saudi crown prince.

In December, a court in Riyadh sentenced five people to death and three to jail for the killing, but Khashoggi's family later said they forgave his murderers, effectively granting them a formal reprieve under Saudi law.

A Saudi prosecutor said at the time there was no evidence connecting Qahtani to the killing and dismissed charges against Asiri.

Seeking justice

In November 2018, the CIA concluded in an assessment that bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, was also present at the courtoom on Friday. 

Khashoggi murder trial: Who are the suspects?
Read More »

Callamard's report on the murder also linked the Saudi crown prince to the killing. Some of the suspects for Khashoggi's murder are close associates of the prince.

They include Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a former diplomat and intelligence officer who has been repeatedly pictured with the prince; Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department; and Fahad al-Balawi, a member of the Saudi royal guard.

Mutreb, Tubaigy and Balawi had been among the 11 people on trial in the Saudi capital, during which sources said many of those accused of the murder defended themselves by saying they were carrying out Asiri's orders, describing him as the operation's "ringleader".

Cengiz, who had waited unknowing outside the consulate while Khashoggi was killed, said she would continue to seek justice "not only in Turkey but everywhere possible".

  • 4 juillet 2020 à 14:02

Iran prepared to retaliate after 'possible cyber-attack' on nuclear site

Par MEE and agencies
Iran prepared to retaliate after 'possible cyber-attack' on nuclear site
State media raises possibility of sabotage by Israel and US after fire tears through Natanz plant, blaze at power station
MEE and agencies Sat, 07/04/2020 - 10:32
The Natanz plant is monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog (AFP)

Iran is prepared to retaliate against any country that carries out cyber attacks on its nuclear sites, the head of its civilian defence has said, after a fire tore through its Natanz plant last week.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation had initially reported that an "incident" had occurred early on Thursday at Natanz, a mostly underground uranium-enrichment site, which is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

On Saturday, a fire broke out at a power station in the southwest of the country, Iranian media reported, the latest of several recent fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites such as Natanz.

Saturday's blaze, which affected a transformer in the power station in the city of Ahvaz, was put out by fire fighters and electricity was restored after partial outages, Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi, a spokesman for state-run power company TAVANIR, told the semi-official news agency Tasnim.

Also on Saturday, a chlorine gas leak occurred at a unit of the Karoon petrochemicals plant near the port of Bandar Imam Khomeini on the Gulf, injuring dozens, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

"In this incident, 70 members of the personnel who were near the unit suffered slight injuries [from chlorine inhalation] and were taken to a hospital with the help of rescue workers," the plant's spokesman, Massoud Shabanlou, told ILNA, adding that all but two had been released.

Iran's top security body said on Friday that the cause of the "incident" at the Natanz nuclear site had been determined, but "due to security considerations," it would be announced at a convenient time.

Fire damages building at Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility
Read More »

It later published a photo of a one-storey brick building with its roof and walls partly burned.

A door hanging off its hinges suggested there had been an explosion inside the building.

"Responding to cyber-attacks is part of the country's defence might. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyber-attack, we will respond," civil defence chief Gholamreza Jalali told state TV late on Thursday.

Hours before Iranian authorities announced the fire, a mysterious group calling itself the "Homeland Panthers" claimed responsibility for the fire in a series of emails sent to BBC Persian journalists.

The group told the BBC's Jiyar Gol that the attack was carried out at 2am local time on Thursday by elements within Iran's security forces.

"The email claimed that there had been other attacks the government had covered up," Gol wrote on Twitter, adding that this time the government would not be able to cover up the attack because "it was not [at an] underground facility]".

Two Iranian officials told Reuters that Israel could have been behind the Natanz incident, but offered no evidence.

'Red lines'

An article issued on Thursday by state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.

"So far Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations," the IRNA said.

'So far Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations'

- IRNA, Iran's state news agency

"But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US, means that strategy… should be revised."

Asked on Thursday evening about recent incidents reported at strategic Iranian sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: "Clearly we can't get into that."

The Israeli military and Netanyahu's office, which oversees Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad, did not immediately respond to Reuters' queries on Friday.

In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, which is widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack the Natanz facility.

The IAEA said on Friday the location of the fire did not contain nuclear materials and that none of its inspectors was present at the time.

An Iranian official said the attack had targeted a centrifuge assembly building, referring to the delicate cylindrical machines that enrich uranium, and said Iran's enemies had carried out similar acts in the past.

On Tuesday, 19 people were killed in an explosion at a medical clinic in the north of the capital Tehran, which an official said was caused by a gas leak.

On 26 June, an explosion occurred east of Tehran, near the Parchin military and weapons development base, that the authorities said was caused by a leak in a gas storage facility in an area outside the base.

Potential row

Thursday's incident comes at a time when Iran is being pushed by the IAEA to open up certain sites for inspection, signalling a potential row among the international coalition that is trying to save the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran explosion: Blast seen near military base southeast of Tehran
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Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions in a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.

But Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord since US President Donald Trump's administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018, reimposing and intensifying sanctions that have battered Iran's economy.

The 2015 deal only allows Iran to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, which has just over 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

  • 4 juillet 2020 à 11:32

For Palestinian journalists, violent attacks by Israeli forces come with the job

Par Juman Abu Arafeh
For Palestinian journalists, violent attacks by Israeli forces come with the job
Violations against reporters, including physical assaults and arrests, have increased in recent months, especially in occupied Jerusalem
Juman Abu Arafeh Fri, 07/03/2020 - 13:37
Israeli border guards scuffle with a photojournalist covering clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters, north of Ramallah last year (AFP)

Cornered and afraid, 23-year-old Palestinian journalist Sondus Ewies spoke nervously to a group of Israeli officers who gathered around her while she was filming at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound last month.

"I didn't do anything. I was just filming and doing my job,” she recalled telling them.

Ewies took out her international press card, hoping to avoid detention, but she was met with a cold shrug by an officer who replied: “This is a false card which we do not recognise.”

Israeli officers detained Ewies and confiscated her personal phone. She was then taken in for questioning and handed a three-month ban on visiting the mosque compound, located in occupied East Jerusalem.

This was not her first run-in with Israeli authorities. Ewies has been stopped multiple times while on air and has also been beaten while she was covering various protests. 

She told Middle East Eye that she was more afraid of the temporary ban than the actual detention.

Ewies presents her international press card to a group of Israeli officers (Social media)
Ewies presents her international press card to Israeli officers (Social media)

Ewies lives in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Ras al-Amoud, just south of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, making the latter a central part of her journalistic work. She said she was counting down the hours to enter the mosque compound after it was closed for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic

Many Palestinian journalists face arrest and temporary bans from the compound on the grounds that they had filmed settler incursions there or Israeli forces assaulting worshippers.

In 2016, Israeli authorities drew up blacklists containing names of Palestinians, including journalists, prohibited from entering the compound. 

Since the beginning of June, Israeli authorities have issued around 10 summons to journalists and photographers for interrogation due to their coverage of political events. 

Ban on Palestinian news organisations 

Ewies is one of many journalists who have endured harassment by Israeli forces while on duty.

Well-known local reporter Christine Rinawi, 31, had been working at Palestine TV, a station operating under the Palestinian Authority's (PA) public Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, for 10 years when she was detained in December 2019.

The month before, then-Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan had issued a decision to close down the offices of Palestine TV for six months, claiming that its operation was a violation of the Oslo Accords, which banned the PA's presence in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The order was renewed in May 2020. 

Immediately after the closure, the station’s staff in Jerusalem decided to challenge the decision and carry on with their work.

'The officer told me … "You are forbidden from working in Jerusalem, whether in the street, underground or next to the bathroom or salon"'

- Christine Rinawi, reporter

During the third episode of a live broadcast programme in December, Israeli forces detained presenter Dana Abu Shamsia and cameraman Amir Abed Rabbo. Rinawi and another cameraman, Ali Yassin, were also detained shortly afterwards and taken to an interrogation centre. 

For Rinawi, the closure of Palestine TV was part and parcel of Israel’s restrictions on the Palestinian media’s documentation of Israeli abuses.

“They tried to assault us and they treated us like criminals,” she told MEE.

“The officer told me: 'go work in Bethlehem or Ramallah. You are forbidden from working in Jerusalem, whether in the street, underground or next to the bathroom or salon'.” 

During the course of Palestine TV’s initial six-month closure, Israeli intelligence summoned Rinawi five times for questioning.

Palestine TV is not the only Palestinian news outlet to be banned in Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. In recent years, Al Quds, Palestine Today, Qpress and the Elia Youth Media Foundation were all targeted with bans.

Over the years, Rinawi has suffered assaults as she performed her job. In 2019, she was pushed and shoved by Israeli soldiers during a live broadcast, which was interrupted four times. 

In 2015, shrapnel from a sound bomb hit her eye as she covered the situation at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A year earlier, she and her cameraman were shot with rubber-coated bullets while they reported the events that unfolded after the kidnapping and killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

More dangerous than weapons

Ata Owaisat, 50, from the town of Jabal al-Mukaber in Jerusalem, began his career as a photojournalist 19 years ago. He worked with the Associated Press news agency and Israeli news organisation Yedioth Ahronot. 

He said that he has lost count of the number of times Israeli soldiers had broken his camera equipment.

“One of them told me word for word that ‘your camera is more dangerous than weapons’,” he told MEE.

“I have been beaten and humiliated while doing my work, faced obstructions and was questioned, strip-searched, interrogated and banned from Al-Aqsa”. 

After he was hit, Owaisat momentarily lost consciousness but was soon awakened to kicks and insults before losing consciousness again (MEE/Juman Abu Arafeh)
After he was hit, Owaisat momentarily lost consciousness but was soon awakened to kicks and insults before blacking out again (MEE/Juman Abu Arafeh)

Owaisat’s journalistic career was abruptly brought to an end in 2013, when he suffered a severe injury and ensuing psychological trauma, including PTSD. He said he finds it difficult to talk about that day.

On 8 March 2013, Owaisat picked up his camera and went to cover clashes at Al-Aqsa, where Israeli forces were firing stun grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets at Palestinians protesting against Israeli violations in the compound.

Owaisat was hit in the mouth by a metal object he couldn’t identify, which caused severe bleeding.

“I lost part of my teeth, upper lip and my face was deformed,” he recalled.

After he was hit, Owaisat momentarily lost consciousness but was soon awakened to kicks and insults before losing consciousness again.

Ambulance crews transferred him to the hospital. 

"I saw death with my own eyes,” he said.

Afterwards, Owaisat faced many difficulties with eating, speaking and even smiling. He underwent multiple operations to restore his face and teeth.

He also stopped working for a year, after which he received a medical report detailing the psychological trauma preventing him from resuming his work.

Widespread restrictions

Along with journalists in Jerusalem, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip also face a plethora of violations.

The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) reported 18 such violations during the month of May, including physical attacks, arrests and the closure of offices across the Palestinian territories. 

US police departments under pressure to end training programmes with Israel
Read More »

A recent report by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Freedoms Committee also found that Israeli authorities carried out 760 violations in 2019. 

Nasser Abu Bakr, the president of the syndicate, commented on the issue, saying that Israel focuses its restrictions and obstruction of journalists in Jerusalem, which it considers its capital. 

He added that such incidents have increased in recent months, leading the syndicate to alert the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to the high number of infractions against journalists in Jerusalem and have called on it to intervene.

Abu Bakr told MEE that a delegation from the IFJ had demanded that the Israeli government stop its violations and recognise the international press card, to no avail.

"We provide support as much as we can. We have a meeting at the union next week, and the reality of journalists in Jerusalem will be the first on our agenda,”  he said.

Occupied Jerusalem
  • 3 juillet 2020 à 14:37

Israel annexation: Protesters in Washington urge accountability

Par Ali Harb
Israel annexation: Protesters in Washington urge accountability
Demonstrators gather at Israeli embassy to denounce plans to annex parts of occupied West Bank
Ali Harb Sat, 07/04/2020 - 01:16
Protesters call for solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement, end to global oppression (MEE/Ali Harb)

About 100 protesters gathered near the Israeli embassy in Washington on Friday to denounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank amid growing opposition across the United States. 

Several speakers at the rally called for solidarity between Palestine solidarity activists and other social justice campaigns in the United States, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement, amid renewed nationwide protests for racial equality.

Osama Abu Irshaid, national director for American Muslims for Palestine, which organised the protest, said US politicians who claim to stand for racial justice at home must also seek accountability for Israel's system of oppression against Palestinians.

"We need to continue this fight, not only in Palestinian, not only in America; we need to continue this fight for human dignity and human equality world wide," said Abu Irshaid. 

Protesters called on US politicians to end military aid to Israel, not just denounce annexation with words.

"Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel's crimes," the demonstrators chanted.

Israeli plan

Earlier this week, 13 Democratic members of Congress vowed to push to condition aid to Israel, worth $3.8bn annually, if it goes through with annexation. A dozen senators also introduced legislation that would prohibit American assistance from facilitating the Israeli plan.

But the bulk of the Democratic Party, including presidential candidate Joe Biden, have rejected the idea of imposing conditions on the aid , while Republican President Donald Trump appears to be on board with annexation. 

Christian Tabash, a 21-year-old Harvard student, said neither party in the United States  "represents the needs of the people", but he stressed that Trump "needs to go".

AOC annexation letter: 13 US legislators pledge to condition aid to Israel
Read More »

"Donald Trump has taken what is already an extreme status quo and pushed it further right with further fascism and further racism and further anti-Palestinian prejudice," he told MEE.

But the alternative - Biden - is "unsatisfactory", Tabash added. "It's someone that we will have to push in the next four years." 

Real change, he said, is always achieved from "the bottom-up", not from the top. 

Israel was set to start the process of annexing parts of the West Bank on 1 July, after forming a unity government under Netanyahu's leadership earlier this year, but it appears to have postponed its plans amid a global outcry.

Still, Jonathan Kuttab, a human rights lawyer, stressed that annexation did not start with Netanyahu and was not postponed by the Israeli government; rather, it is an ongoing process that has been going on for decades.

He said Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank already live fully under Israeli laws and enjoy the protections, benefits and subsidies offered by Israel; they even have exclusive roads and educational systems. 

"The only thing that was about to happen was an almost foolish deceleration that this will be a de jure, not a de facto situation, so let us not be fooled; annexation is already here... Annexation has taken place, is taking place," Kuttab said.

The lawyer added that Israel only fears the possibility of real consequences for its actions, so those who claim to be against annexation must go beyond verbal condemnations. "What are you doing about it? Are there going to be consequences? Is Israel going to have to pay a price or is it just words?"

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Protesters marched near the Israeli embassy and chanted the names of Ahmed Erakat and Iyad Hallak, two Palestinians who were recently killed by Israeli forces, mirroring the chants of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Reverend Graylan Hagler, a prominent African-American civil rights advocate in Washington, said while the world is going through deep injustices, "it is the darkest before the light shines".

With a keffiyeh covering half his face as a makeshift mask, Hagler said Americans are starting to realise that those in power seek to create a hierarchy for different groups of people in defiance of equality, and that liberation must come for all people, not just one particular community. 

Israel annexation: Proposed legislation would ban US aid from funding plan
Read More »

"It's not about any one issue. That's what we all have got to understand. It's not about Palestine versus Black Lives Matter versus what's taking place with the immigrants versus what's taking place with Native Americans. It is all the same thing," Hagler told the crowd, drawing cheers. 

"So when I say black lives matter, because Black lives does matter, I'm also saying Palestinian lives matter. I'm also saying indigenous people matter. I'm also saying women matter. I'm also also saying LGBTQ lives matter."

Shahed Abukari, a business student, said it was vital for various communities to stand together against injustice. 

"It's important because everyone is facing the same oppression. We're not going to progress if we don't stand with each other," Abukari told MEE.

As demonstrators walked by the neighbouring Bahraini embassy on Friday, they also turned their wrath against the Arab kingdom's rulers, who hosted a conference launching an economic plan as part of Trump's so-called "deal of the century", which has been a catalyst for Israel's annexation plan.

"Al Khalifa can't you see, Palestine will be free," the protesters chanted, referring to Bahrain's royal family.

Washington
  • 4 juillet 2020 à 02:16

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia exceeds more than 200,000 total cases of Covid-19

Par MEE staff
Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia exceeds more than 200,000 total cases of Covid-19
Grim milestone comes just weeks before annual Hajj pilgrimage, which has been scaled back amid pandemic
MEE staff Fri, 07/03/2020 - 19:57
A Saudi worker wearing a mask passes a boutique shop. Riyadh reported more than 200,000 novel coronavirus cases.
Saudi Arabia is worst-hit country in Gulf, with more than 200,000 cases of novel coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia exceeded a total of 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, weeks before an annual hajj pilgrimage that has been drastically scaled back amid the pandemic.

The kingdom's Health Ministry reported 4,193 new cases of the virus, as well as 50 deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 201,801, including 1,802 deaths.

Saudi Arabia is the Gulf's worst-hit country and second in the Middle East to Iran - which has recorded 235,429 confirmed cases.

Six apps and a website: Saudis confused by kingdom’s response to coronavirus
Read More »

A recent report by the World Health Organisation found that 80 percent of all Covid-19 cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region were reported in the kingdom and four other countries.

The latest spike in cases comes just weeks after the country began relaxing lockdown measures, lifting a nationwide curfew and reopening mosques, shops and supermarkets.

In an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, the kingdom recently announced a limited hajj pilgrimage for this year, restricting entry into the country.

Usually, more than two million people perform the annual pilgrimage, including many travelling from abroad.

Last month, a Guardian analysis of coronavirus data, in conjunction with the University of Oxford, found that Saudi Arabia was among 10 countries facing serious increases in Covid-19 infections because of a lax approach in managing the outbreak.

Saudi Arabia's Covid-19 cases exceed 200,000 ahead of Hajj pilgrimage
  • 3 juillet 2020 à 20:57

Coronavirus: UAE relaxes travel restrictions for residents and nationals

Par MEE staff
Coronavirus: UAE relaxes travel restrictions for residents and nationals
Before being allowed to fly abroad, travellers will be required to test negative for Covid-19 within 48 hours of their flight time
MEE staff Fri, 07/03/2020 - 18:45
Passengers of Emirates airlines flight check in at Dubai International Airport on 22 May (AFP/File photo)

The United Arab Emirates is lifting its coronavirus travel ban on residents and nationals, allowing general travel abroad for the first time in three months. 

Both citizens and residents of the UAE will now be permitted to travel abroad as long as government-mandated precautions are taken, the state news agency reported on Friday.

Before being allowed to fly, passengers will be required to test negative for Covid-19 within 48 hours of their travel date, and travel will be restricted to only those with insurance, according to the National, a UAE-based newspaper. 

Travelers returning to the UAE will be legally required to undergo a 14-day self quarantine. 

Amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, the UAE grounded all inbound and outbound passenger flights in March, allowing only cargo and emergency evacuation flights.

Israeli defence companies sign 'historic' deal with UAE artificial intelligence firm
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The UAE has seen a decrease in cases in recent weeks, allowing the government to continue lifting restrictions. 

With about 49,069 confirmed cases and 316 Covid-19-related deaths, the UAE has been one of the least-hit countries in the Gulf. On 2 June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the UAE had recorded only 402 new cases, well below the tallies of neighbouring countries. 

While the virus has not hit the UAE as hard as some of its Gulf neighbours, the economic impact from coronavirus-related closures and restrictions has been severe. 

Dubai's chamber of commerce warned in May that 70 percent of the city's businesses could go under by November because of financial problems brought about by the pandemic. 

With many of the coronavirus-related restrictions focused on travel, airlines have been hit particularly hard. 

In June, Emirates, one of the world's biggest long-haul airlines, said it was planning to cut thousands of jobs to help manage the cash crunch caused by the pandemic. Layoffs included 600 pilots and almost 7,000 cabin crew.

The carrier predicted that it would take at least 18 months for travel demand to return to "a semblance of normality". It is not clear if the recent lifting of restrictions is in line with those predictions.

UAE relaxes coronavirus travel restrictions for residents and nationals
  • 3 juillet 2020 à 19:45

Police surveillance concerns US Muslims amid BLM protest crackdown

Par Vanessa Taylor
Police surveillance concerns US Muslims amid BLM protest crackdown
With coronavirus hitting the US hard, there are growing fears community groups will have to resort to funding provided by surveillance programmes
Vanessa Taylor Fri, 07/03/2020 - 16:15
There are growing concerns over surveillance programmes as the US cracks down on protests (AFP/File photo)

The killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis triggered the largest protests over systemic racism and police brutality the United States has seen in more than a generation.

Black Lives Matter protests swiftly spread to more than 2,000 cities across all 50 US states, despite Covid-19 restrictions. The brutal manner of his killing even triggered rallies abroad, with demonstrations flaring in parts of western Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

In the US, law enforcement cracked down hard, using powerful surveillance tools to track down protesters.

The Department of Homeland Security deployed helicopters, planes and drones over 15 cities where demonstrators gathered, sparking widespread accusations that the federal agency infringed on the privacy rights of demonstrators.

In some cities, police officers even used facial recognition software on footage from their body cameras to track people's movements.

For Black Muslims on the front lines of the protests alongside African Americans, the country's love affair with surveillance is not something new, having long been a feature of everyday life for many.

Leeda Osman, a college student in the New York metro area, told Middle East Eye that her earliest memories of surveillance involved hearing clicking or tapping noises whenever her father phoned family abroad.

New name, same game: American Muslims vow to fight new 'counter-terror' initiative
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Sarah Farouq, who lives in San Diego, alleged she was subject to in-person surveillance when someone she believed to be an undercover federal agent took pictures of her and her friends.

Surveillance is such a common aspect of many young Muslims' lives that some have resorted to making memes to cope

Farouq has also fought surveillance in her community by speaking against the controversial Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme.

Launched by the Obama administration, CVE is a government surveillance programme piloted in Los Angeles, Boston, and Minneapolis - where it predominantly targeted Somali youth

While the original CVE grants have run out, the Department of Homeland Security recently launched Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention.

"[TVTP] is an $80 million department under DHS that continues, expands, and depends on the CVE framework in the US," Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, told MEE.

With TVTP, DHS will repeat a $10 million grant programme to fund projects across the country.

"The CVE projects in each city typically focus on the most vulnerable in that region - so refugees, Black Muslims, youth, Muslims seeking mental health support, and low-income Muslims," said Ahmad.

With TVTP essentially functioning as CVE 2.0, there are fears it will criminalise poverty, mental illness, and, like its predecessor, overwhelmingly focus on Muslims.

Pandemic could force communities to CVE funding

Experts warn this is particularly dangerous in the middle of a pandemic, when Black people, including Black Muslims, have been found to be disproportionately impacted by the disease.

Before the pandemic, one-third of Muslims in the US lived at or below the poverty line. Families may now be worse-off, as the pandemic results in the biggest job losses since the Great Depression

In May, the Pew Research Center found one-third of American adults experienced high levels of psychological distress due to the pandemic. And now the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been one of the lead agencies in the coronavirus response, is also set to be one of the government bodies reviewing the awarding of TVTP grants thought likely to be used to surveil young Muslims. 

'We are definitely concerned that, given the economic impacts of the pandemic, many institutions may be susceptible to applying for these grants or partnering with law enforcement'

- Fatema Ahmad, executive director for Muslim Justice League

"We are definitely concerned that, given the economic impacts of the pandemic, many institutions may be susceptible to applying for these grants or partnering with law enforcement," Ahmad said.

"At the same time, it is also absurd that so much would be spent on the oppressive CVE framework when so many need financial support."

Farouq has similar concerns, noting that community groups' reliance on CVE funding due to the economic downturn prompted by the pandemic may "[create] a dependence on federal funding with strings attached".

These concerns are drawing from CVE's history. In cities such as Minneapolis, the deeply disturbing history of surveiling Blackness is evident.

Mohamud Awil Mohamed, a Minneapolis community organiser and chaplain, told The Progressive magazine that, in his community, CVE was "marketed as a health and human services programme... but in reality it was an extension of the state-security apparatus".

State mechanisms of control

In two of CVE's three pilot cities, Somali and other East African youths were the programme’s main targets, highlighting how anti-Black Islamophobia places Black Muslims in vulnerable positions. 

While many CVE proponents argue that it has invested in necessary community programmes such as tutoring, sports, and mentorship, activists maintain that money carries a heavy price.

As Kafia Ahmed, an organiser who grew up in Minneapolis, also told The Progressive: "[These programmes] are all mechanisms of control. Why can't we as communities get money for the express purpose of advancing our communities?"

Young Muslims may also be targeted by surveillance opportunism outside of TVTP, Osman warned.

"My concern for current and post-pandemic surveillance is that it will give government officials an easier way to justify their actions on surveilling innocent people," Osman said.

This can be seen in the private sector, with surveillance businesses set to profit from intrusive contact tracing and coronavirus detection systems promoted in the name of public health. 

Black Muslims in US fear they could be 'disproportionately impacted' by coronavirus 
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"As all surveillance does, [this] will deeply impact Muslim youth and communities who are already heavily policed," Ahmad said.

"But we don't need these tools to address public health measures; there are plenty of methods of containing the virus that rely on supporting our communities rather than further harming them."

The pandemic's switch to online schooling carries its own concerns, too. Muslim youths are already highly surveilled online, with CVE frameworks embedded within popular social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

"I, personally, foresee the collaboration of campuses with spyware or tech companies providing more access and info into students’ lives," Farouq said.

"CVE and [Preventing Violent Extremism] programmes have impacted students' campus environment - but with this virtual transition, these programmes and surveillance in general will seep into the homes of impacted youth."

Given the growing protests and Muslims' roles in them, many young Muslims will be subject to surveillance on multiple fronts. 

"Being a vocal voice in my community has always put me in a constant state of fear," Farouq said.

"That's exactly the purpose of these surveillance programmes. To instill fear in the heart of communities and paralyse them from advocating for themselves or dissenting from the unjust systems this country is grounded in."

Philadelphia
  • 3 juillet 2020 à 17:15
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