Archive for July 17, 2018


April 21, 2018

A Palestinian family on Saturday accused Israel’s spy agency Mossad of killing a Palestinian lecturer in Malaysia.

Fadi Mohammed al-Batsh, 35, was shot dead by two gunmen on a high-powered motorcade near his home in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, Malaysian police said.

“The suspect fired 10 shots, four of which hit the lecturer in the head and body. He died on the spot,” the official Bernama news agency quoted Kuala Lumpur police chief Mazlan Lazim as saying.

Mazlan said a recording of a closed-circuit television camera near the scene showed the two assailants waited for about 20 minutes for the Palestinian lecturer.

“We believe the lecturer was their target because two other individuals walked by the place earlier unharmed,” he said.

The lecturer’s family, meanwhile, said Mossad was behind his assassination.

“We accuse Mossad of standing behind the energy researcher’s assassination,” the al-Batsh family in the Gaza Strip said in a statement.

The family called on the Malaysian police to launch an investigation into the killing.

There has been no comment from Israeli authorities on the accusations.

Meanwhile, Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, confirmed that the lecturer was a group member.

“The martyr was distinguished by his excellence and scientific creativity,” Hamas said in a statement.

It, however, did not accuse any side of killing al-Batsh.

In late 2016, Palestinian drone expert Mohamed al-Zawari, was shot dead in Tunisia, with Hamas accusing Israel of killing him.

Israel is widely believed to have killed numerous Palestinian resistance activists in the past, many of them overseas.

In 1997, Mossad agents tried — and failed — to kill Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal in Jordan by spraying poison into his ear.

Mossad is also believed to have been behind the assassination in 2010 of top Hamas commander Mahmud al-Mabhuh in a Dubai hotel.

Israel has never confirmed or denied its involvement in Mabhuh’s murder.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180421-palestinian-lecturer-shot-dead-in-malaysia/.

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April 20, 2018

Protests have continued to take place on the Gaza border today as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate for the fourth week as part of the “Great March of Return”, leaving at least two dead and dozens injured.

Twenty-five-year-old Ahmed Abu Aqel and 24-year-old Ahmad Rashad Al-Athanna were killed earlier today after being shot by Israeli snipers, raising the death toll to 35. As of 3pm local time, some 40 others have been injured, adding to 4,279 people that have been wounded in the past three weeks. Several of the injuries were caused after Israeli occupation forces fired a barrage of gas canisters to disperse protesters.

According to Hebrew news site Walla, Israeli forces have been forced to evacuate one area of the border after protesters burned tires in an effort to reach the fence, with the fumes drifting into the small kibbutz of Alumim.

Arab media reported today that Israeli forces had positioned some 120 snipers on the border in preparation for the demonstrations. Israeli authorities have permitted soldiers to shoot at anyone who approaches the Gaza side of the fence, despite widespread condemnation from NGOs and the UN over the practice.

In preparation for the expected protests, Israeli authorities also dropped leaflets in Gaza overnight warning people against attending demonstrations and accusing the protests of being a front for Hamas to attack the border.

“Avoid using weapons and carrying out violent acts against Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians. Keep away from terrorist elements and groups pushing riots and violence. The IDF [army] will take action against any attempt to damage the barrier and its components and any other military equipment,” the leaflet stated.

Earlier this week, UN human rights experts condemned “the continued use of firearms, including live ammunition” by Israeli forces “against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters and observers”, calling on Israel to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

“If Israel will not take credible and effective steps to investigate, and indeed, where it has congratulated its military forces for their use of force, then the international community must fill the investigatory void to ensure respect for international law,” the experts stated, referring to a video of soldiers celebrating the shooting of a Palestinian two weeks ago.

The Gaza Ministry of Health has also accused the Israeli occupation of deliberately targeting journalists and medics as one journalist was killed, 66 journalists and 44 medics were wounded and 19 ambulances were targeted.

The planned six-week protest, which began on 30 March marking Palestinian Land Day, is set to end on 15 May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Israeli forces in 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180420-2-dead-dozens-injured-as-gaza-protests-continue-for-fourth-week/.

April 13, 2018

Protests have continued to take place on the Gaza border as thousands of Palestinians demonstrate for the third Friday as part of the Great March of Return.

As of 4pm local time (14:00 GMT), some 350 people were injured today, adding to the over 3,000 Palestinians who have been wounded over the past two weeks. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have fired teargas at the field hospital in the east of Khan Yunis causing at least ten medics to experience suffocation. Palestinian journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein and photographer Mohammed Al-Hajjar have also been shot, adding to the growing list of reporters wounded whilst documenting the protests.

Many of the protesters have burnt tires in an attempt to hide themselves from Israeli snipers. Near Khan Yunis in the south, protesters also burned pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whom they view as cooperating with Israel.

Israel has deployed additional military forces to the Gaza border in preparation for planned protests since last week as part of the Great March of Return. Demonstrators are calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the homes they were forced to flee in 1948.

Israeli authorities have permitted soldiers to shoot at anyone who approaches the Gaza side of the fence, despite widespread condemnation from NGOs and the UN over the practice. Last week, Israeli rights group B’Tselem appealed to Israeli soldiers to refuse any “grossly illegal” orders to fire at unarmed protesters.

The Gaza Ministry of Health announced that hospitals and medical personnel were on high alert as of this morning to deal with the anticipated influx of casualties. The UN has also highlighted the region’s strained resources in delivering treatment to the wounded.

“Gaza’s health sector has struggled to cope with the mass influx of casualties, due to years of blockade, internal divide and a chronic energy crisis, which have left essential services in Gaza barely able to function,” the UN agency said in a statement today.

Last week’s protest was marked by the death of journalist Yaser Murtaja who was shot despite clearly wearing a vest marked “PRESS”. Photos also emerged of Israeli settlers gathering at a military watchtower to cheer as soldiers shot civilians, as well as a video of soldiers celebrating the shooting of a Palestinian protester.

Israeli occupying forces are also quashing solidarity protests in the West Bank, with at least one journalist, Ramez Awwad, reportedly injured by live fire in the city of Al-Bireh.

The planned six-week protest, which began on 30 March marking Palestinian Land Day, is set to end on 15 May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Jewish militias in 1948 to make way for the formation of the state of Israel.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-350-injured-as-gazans-demonstrate-for-third-friday-in-great-march-of-return/.

April 06, 2018

KHUZAA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians torched piles of tires near Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the air and drawing Israeli fire that killed one man in the second large protest in the volatile area in a week.

At least 40 protesters were hurt, including five seriously, the Gaza Health Ministry said, but did not provide a breakdown of the types of injuries. Friday’s death brought to 23 the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza over the past week, including 17 protesters.

Friday’s march was the second in what Gaza’s Hamas rulers said would be several weeks of protests against a decade-old border blockade of the territory. Israel has accused the Islamic militant group of using the protests as a cover for attacking Israel’s border, and has warned that those approaching the fence put their lives at risk.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians streamed to five tent encampments that organizers had set up at various points from north to south, each about several hundred meters from the border fence. In one camp near the border community of Khuzaa, activists moved closer to the fence and torched large piles of tires, engulfing the area in black smoke meant to shield them from Israeli snipers.

Israeli troops on the other side of the fence responded with live fire, tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets. Water cannons trained a stream of thick liquid at the fence. Within minutes, several young men with gunshot wounded began arriving at a field clinic at the camp.

Mohammed Ashour, 20, who had been among the first to set tires on fire, had been shot in the right arm. He rested on a stretcher placed on the ground. “We came here because we want dignity,” he said before paramedics carried him to an ambulance to be transported to the strip’s main hospital.

Yehia Abu Daqqa, a 20-year-old student, said he had come to demonstrate and honor those killed in previous protests. “Yes, there is fear,” he said of the risks of advancing toward the fence. “We are here to tell the occupation that we are not weak.”

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, portrayed the protests as riots, and said Hamas organizers are trying to use them as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel.

Israel has drawn sharp criticism for its open-fire orders along the border, including the warnings that those approaching or trying to damage the fence would be targeted. The U.N. human rights office said Friday that it has indications that Israeli forces used “excessive force” against protesters last week.

Rights groups have branded orders permitting the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters as unlawful. A leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers this week to refuse “grossly illegal” open-fire orders.

Conricus said snipers are used “sparingly” and only against those that pose a “significant threat.” A White House envoy urged Palestinians to stay away from the fence. Jason Greenblatt said the United States condemns “leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters — including children — to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed.”

In all, 23 Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the past week, including 17 protesters, according to Gaza health officials. The six other deaths included three gunmen killed in what Israel said were attempts to attack the border and three men who were struck by Israeli tank fire.

Last week’s turnout was apparently driven by the organizational prowess of Hamas as well as the growing desperation of Gaza residents who live in what has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison.

The crowd size was seen as a test for Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seized the territory in 2007 from its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Ahead of Friday’s march, Hamas announced it would pay compensation to families of those killed or injured, ranging from $200 to $500 per injury and $3,000 per death.

The idea of mass protests was initially floated by social media activists, but was later co-opted by Hamas, with the backing of smaller militant factions. For Hamas, it’s perhaps the last chance to break a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, without having to succumb to demands that it disarm.

The blockade has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. It has also devastated Gaza’s economy, made it virtually impossible for people to enter and exit the territory and left residents with just a few hours of electricity a day.

Hamas leaders billed the final protest, set for May 15, as the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, implying they would try to enter Israel. But they stopped short of specifically threatening a mass breach of the border fence.

Israel has warned that it will not permit a breach of the fence and said it has a right to defend its sovereign border. Military officials have said Hamas has used the protests as a cover for damaging the fence, planting explosives and, in one incident, opening fire on soldiers.

Israel argues that Hamas could have ended the suffering of Gaza’s 2 million people by disarming and renouncing violence. Hamas has refused to give up its weapons — even at the cost of derailing talks on getting Abbas to assume the burden of governing Gaza, seen by Israel and Egypt as a prerequisite for opening Gaza’s borders.

Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Josef Federman on the Gaza border contributed to this report.

March 31, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians marched to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday in the largest such demonstration in recent memory, and 15 were killed by Israeli fire on the first day of what Hamas organizers said will be six weeks of daily protests against a stifling border blockade.

It was the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas. Fourteen of the marchers were killed and more than 750 wounded by Israeli fire in clashes along the border fence, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Another Palestinian was killed earlier Friday.

The Israeli military said thousands of Palestinians threw stones and rolled burning tires toward troops deployed on the other side of the border fence. It accused militants of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of mass protests, saying that in one incident, Palestinian gunmen fired toward soldiers.

The large turnout of the flag-waving marchers in the dangerous border zone was a testament to Hamas’ organizing skills, but it also signaled desperation among Gaza residents after a decade-old border closure. Life in the coastal strip has deteriorated further in recent months, with rising unemployment, grinding poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours.

Asmaa al-Katari said she participated in the march despite the risks and would join upcoming protests because “life is difficult here in Gaza and we have nothing to lose.” The history student said she is a descendant of refugees from what is now Israel’s southern Negev Desert. She said her grandfathers had lived in tents as refugees.

“I want to tell the world that the cause of our grandfathers is not dead,” she added. Gaza resident Ghanem Abdelal, 50, said he hopes the protest “will bring a breakthrough, an improvement, to our life in Gaza.”

He had brought his family to a protest tent camp near Gaza City — one of five set up several hundred meters from the border fence — where he distributed water bottles to women and children sitting on a mat.

Israel had threatened a tough response, hoping to deter breaches of the border fence. The Israeli military released video showing a row of snipers perched on a high earthen embankment facing the Gaza crowd in one location.

Israel also used a new means of crowd control Friday — small drones that each dropped several tear gas canisters on protesters below. People quickly scattered when they saw the drones approaching. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “an independent and transparent investigation” into the deadly clashes and council members urged restraint on both sides.

Friday’s high death toll and prospects of daily protests in coming weeks have raised concerns about another escalation along the volatile frontier. Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas have fought three cross-border wars in recent years.

The protest campaign is meant to spotlight Palestinian demands for a “right of return” to what is now Israel. A large majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation.

The 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, on May 15, is marked by Palestinians as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted. The planned mass sit-ins on the border are also seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007. The continued closure has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern.

Other attempts to break the blockade, including wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with the West Bank-based Abbas, have failed over the years. The latest Egyptian-led reconciliation efforts collapsed earlier this month, when a bomb targeted but missed Abbas’ prime minister and intelligence chief during a visit to Gaza.

Hamas and Abbas traded accusations after the bombing, signaling that any deal on Hamas handing the Gaza government to Abbas is increasingly unlikely. The Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, said the protests are a signal to Israel and the world that “our people will not accept the continuation of the siege.”

Israel and the Trump administration expressed concern in recent months about a looming humanitarian crisis in Gaza and appealed to the international community to fund large-scale development projects there, including a desalination plant.

However, such plans appeared to be linked to a deal on Abbas taking charge in Gaza, and Israel didn’t say what it would do if such an arrangement didn’t work out. Friday’s violence began before dawn when a 27-year-old farmer picking parsley in his field was hit by an Israeli tank shell in southern Gaza, the Health Ministry said. Another farmer was injured by shrapnel.

Israel’s military said troops directed tank fire toward suspicious figures on the border. Later in the day, mosque loudspeakers urged Gaza residents to head to the border encampments. A Hamas-linked bus company ferried protesters to the area. In all, tens of thousands gathered at the encampments, though not all headed to the border, witnesses said. Other Palestinian factions also participated in organizing the protests.

The Health Ministry said at least 1,000 people were injured, including 758 by live fire and the rest by rubber bullets and tear gas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout. “The large crowds … reflect the Palestinian people’s determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.

Groups of marchers threw stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire, tear gas and rubber bullets. The military said thousands participated in the clashes. Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, commander of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, which includes the Gaza border, said he held Hamas responsible for the violence and alleged there were attempts to “carry out terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.”

The army said Israeli soldiers opened fire at two Palestinians who approached the fence and shot at soldiers in northern Gaza. It said troops also fired on Palestinians who had infiltrated into Israel.

The military had doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control. Friday’s protest campaign began as Jews prepared to mark Passover, and it is scheduled to culminate with the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in mid-May.

The anniversary of Israel’s founding will be particularly fraught for Palestinians this year. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to mark the occasion. The planned embassy move falls in line with Trump’s recognition in December of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that has infuriated Palestinians who seek the city’s Israeli-annexed eastern sector as a future capital.

Laub contributed from Ramallah, West Bank.

March 28, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s embattled Hamas rulers are imploring people to march along the border with Israel in the coming weeks in a risky gambit meant to shore up their shaky rule, but with potentially deadly consequences.

Beginning Friday, Hamas hopes it can mobilize large crowds to set up tent camps near the border. It plans a series of demonstrations culminating with a march to the border fence on May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s establishment, known to Palestinians as “the Nakba,” or catastrophe.

The group aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people for the effort, though it hasn’t been able to get such turnouts at past rallies. Nonetheless, a jittery Israel is closely watching and vowing a tough response if the border is breached.

“When we march to the border, the organizers will decide then what to do,” said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official. Warning Israel against targeting the protesters, he said “the occupation should not commit any stupidity in confronting the Palestinian crowds.”

Hamas says the demonstration is meant to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Gazans whose relatives fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

But the first-of-its-kind protest also comes at a low point for the Islamic militant group and the 2 million residents of Gaza, where conditions have deteriorated since Hamas seized control of the territory from the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.

An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, along with three wars with Israel and a series of sanctions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have left Gaza’s economy in tatters. Unemployment is well over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and Gazans receive just a few hours of electricity a day.

An Egyptian-led attempt to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement took a major downturn earlier this month after a bombing targeted a convoy carrying Abbas’ prime minister and security chief shortly after they entered Gaza. Abbas has blamed Hamas and threatened more financial pressure, such as cutting civil servant salaries or fuel purchases, to force the group to cede control.

“Hamas has realized it’s besieged from three sides; Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University. “It feels the crisis is suffocating.”

He said that for Hamas, the protests can divert attention from their domestic woes while avoiding renewed war with Israel. “They think busying Israel with this issue may put it under pressure,” he said.

As Gaza’s woes have mounted, Hamas’ popularity has plummeted, and it remains unclear whether the group will be able to mobilize the crowds it envisions. Still, a combination of social pressure and curiosity in a territory with few options for recreation could help attract people.

On Tuesday, bulldozers were busy leveling the five camp locations from north to south. Trucks unloaded portable toilet stalls, and the Palestinian Scholars Union, which represents Islamic clerics, declared participation in the protests a religious obligation.

The demonstrations will begin after the Muslim noon prayer on Friday. Buses will carry people from all over Gaza to the five tent camps, situated hundreds of meters (yards) from the border fence. Hamas and Hamas-allied organizers of the “Great Return March” say the sit-in will remain peaceful through May. But the ultimate plan is to move to the border in mid-May.

Organizers say they are trying to realize the “right of return,” a Palestinian demand that descendants of refugees who lost their homes in 1948 should be able to return to lost family properties in what is now Israel.

Israel opposes any large-scale return of refugees, saying it would destroy the country’s Jewish character. The fate of refugees and their descendants has been a core issue in past rounds of peace talks.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Yoav Galant, a retired general and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner Security Cabinet, said that Israel had set clear red lines. “Hamas is in distress,” he said. “They are using in a cruel and cynical way their own population in order to hurt them and to hurt Israel.”

He said the military was well-prepared to prevent any infiltrations. “We will try to use the minimum force that is needed in order to avoid Palestinians wounded and casualties. But the red line is very clear. They stay on the Gazan side and we stay in Israel.”

Violent skirmishes are expected even before May 15. Clashes have erupted along the border every Friday since Dec. 6, when President Donald Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.

There have been a series of recent incidents along the border, including a bombing that wounded four Israeli soldiers last month. On Tuesday, three Gazans armed with hand grenades managed to cross into Israel and travel some 30 kilometers (20 miles) before they were caught.

The upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, Israeli Independence Day celebrations in April and the planned move of the embassy in May could lead to additional clashes. Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the planned marches “a dangerous, premeditated provocation meant to fan the flames of the conflict and increase tension.”

May 06, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s polling stations opened Sunday for the first parliamentary elections in nine years, with people lining up early in the morning to take part in a vote that is fiercely contested between rival groups backed by regional and international powers.

Sunday’s vote is taking place amid tight security, with army and police forces deployed near polling stations and on major intersections. Electoral campaigns have been tense as each group has mobilized its supporters, with fist fights and shootings occurring in several areas in recent weeks.

The main race is between a Western-backed coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. The vote also reflects regional tensions between Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back the rival groups.

The vote is the first since Syria’s war broke out in 2011. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad’s forces, a move that has been harshly criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians who see the group as pulling the country into regional conflicts.

The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria’s war. Lebanese who support opposing sides in the war have clashed on a number of occasions, and Sunni extremists have carried out several bombings. The war next door driven more than a million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, straining the country’s economy and infrastructure.

There are about 3.6 million eligible voters, and early results are expected after polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT). Some 586 candidates, including 86 women, are running for the 128-seat parliament, which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

In the past, the winning list took all the seats in the electoral district. Hezbollah and its allies are likely to add more seats, while Hariri is likely to lose several. Some of his Sunni supporters see him as being too soft on Hezbollah, and the billionaire businessman has also faced criticism after laying off scores of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Still, Hariri will most likely be named to form a national unity Cabinet after the vote. Rival sides can hardly govern effectively without each other, and are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which includes Hezbollah.

The vote comes a week after Lebanese living oversees voted in 39 countries around the world for the first time ever.

April 29, 2018

SAO PAULO (AP) — Lebanese expatriates began voting Sunday in the first parliamentary elections held by the tiny Arab country in nine years The current legislature has extended its term several times, citing security threats linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon’s political system distributes power among the country’s different religious communities, and the main parties are led by political dynasties that fought one another during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Sunday’s vote in 33 countries comes two days after thousands of Lebanese voted in six Arab countries. The vote marks the first time that Lebanese are allowed to vote abroad. Millions of Lebanese live abroad, but Lebanon’s state-run news agency says the number of registered voters is 82,970. The voting inside Lebanon will be held next Sunday.

Australia has the largest number of registered voters, with about 12,000, followed by Canada with 11,438 and the United States with about 10,000. In Brazil, home to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Lebanese descent, many were casting their ballots in Latin America’s most populous nation.

“Today’s voting is very important because for the first time we will have a voice in Lebanese affairs,” said Leila Smidi a 30-year-old mother of four who has been living in Brazil for 11 years. She spoke shortly after casting her ballot at Lebanon’s consulate in Sao Paulo.

About 1,500 Lebanese expats in Brazil are expected to vote. Lebanese immigrants and their descendants today form a community estimated at about 7 million – larger than Lebanon’s population of about 4.5 million. Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Brazil in the late 19th century, fleeing the Turkish-Ottoman empire that ruled much of the Middle East.

Accomplished merchants, many settled in Sao Paulo — Brazil’s biggest city — and earned a living as traveling salesmen selling textiles and clothes and opening new markets. Eventually they opened their own textile and clothing shops and factories.

Today, many of their descendants are prominent in the arts, politics, business, communications and medicine. The best known Brazilian politicians of Arab descent are President Michel Temer, Paulo Maluf, who twice served as mayor of Sao Paulo and once as governor of Sao Paulo state, and former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s business capital, and one of its leading businessmen is Paulo Antonio Skaf, president of the powerful Sao Paulo State Federation of Industries and the son of Lebanese immigrants.

Among Brazil’s brightest literary stars is Milton Hatoum, the Lebanese-descended author of the acclaimed novel “The Tree of Seventh Heaven.” Also a descendent of Lebanese immigrants, film director and commentator Arnaldo Jabor offers his strong opinions on just about everything daily on the Globo radio and TV network.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

Lebanon’s 128-member parliament is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then. The main competition will be between two coalitions, one that is led by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the other by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally who holds Saudi citizenship and is a critic of Tehran.

Despite the rivalry between Hariri’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, both are part of the national unity government and will most likely be represented in the Cabinet formed after next week’s vote.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

Mohammad Ersan

June 17, 2018

Ambiguity surrounds the financial mechanisms adopted by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at a June 11 summit in Mecca to help Jordan navigate through a crippling economic crisis. The kingdom’s debt has risen to record highs this year, totaling 96% of the gross domestic product, or $39 billion, while the unemployment rate rose to 18.5%.

The five-year, $2.5 billion package includes a deposit at the Central Bank of Jordan along with guarantees from the World Bank for Jordan to borrow funds and finance development projects. Jordanian authorities have not, however, made public the amount of the deposit, the terms of the guarantees or the share of the package allocated to development projects.

The offer of aid follows on the heels of protests that began May 30 opposing the government’s economic austerity policies and a draft income tax law. The demonstrators called for changes to the government’s economic approach and a halt to borrowing from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The protests ended June 6, after Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki’s government resigned, and Mulki’s designated successor, Omar al-Razzaz, promised to withdraw the income tax legislation.

Given the timing of the Mecca summit, political analysts have been speculating why Saudi Arabia, which chose not to provide aid to Jordan in 2017, has decided to resume financial support to Amman at this particular time.

Bassam Badarin, a political analyst and director of Al-Quds al-Arabi in Amman, told Al-Monitor that the resumption of Gulf aid to Jordan is linked to concerns over possible instability. “Saudi [Arabia has] concerns about Jordan’s peaceful protests spilling over into Gulf countries, as happened with the Tunisian revolution, which later turned into the Arab Spring in 2011,” Badarin said.

In 2012, during the Arab Spring, the Gulf Cooperation Council provided financial support to Jordan that included a $5 billion package over five years to bolster the economy’s performance. Additional funding was not forthcoming after the expiration of that package in 2017, a decision that unidentified Jordanian officials say was punishment for Jordan taking positions inconsistent with those of Saudi Arabia on regional matters. The Saudis did not issue an official statement on why it cut the flow of aid to the kingdom.

Amer al-Sabaileh, a strategic analyst and director of the Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute, told Al-Monitor, “Saudi Arabia is dealing with Jordan differently than it deals with Egypt, which has received a larger amount of aid. This is because of the estrangement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia driven by several issues, namely the Jerusalem issue and the Hashemites’ guardianship over the city’s holy sites, Jordan’s failure to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and Amman’s position on the blockade against Qatar, as Jordan only downgraded its diplomatic representation in 2017 [by withdrawing its ambassador in Doha].”

Jerusalem is a top priority for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite family, as the kingdom has administered all Muslim and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with Washington and Riyadh’s muted reaction to the US Embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have led many in Palestine and Jordan to view Riyadh as placing Palestine, and the issue of Jerusalem in particular, on the back burner.

Sabaileh added, “[The aid] comes against the backdrop of Jordanian popular protests in order to help Jordan through its economic crisis, as [the Gulf] considers the kingdom a friendly country and not an enemy. At the same time, it is obvious that Jordan is no ally of the Saudis, given the minimal efforts made in this regard and the underwhelming amount of the aid.”

During a Jan. 31 meeting with students of the Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II School for International Studies, King Abdullah II had said that the financial situation and economic pressure on Jordan persists because of its political positions, especially on Jerusalem, the idea being that a change in Amman’s stance could lead to offers to help ease the country’s economic problems.

Sabaileh ruled out the possibility of the Gulf aid being linked to Jordan ultimately accepting the so-called deal of the century for Israeli-Palestinian peace supposedly being finalized by Donald Trump’s administration. He reasoned, “Jordan is granting Palestinian refugees Jordanian nationality. Pressuring Jordan to either accept or reject [the deal] will not change a thing [in terms of aid].”

The more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan constitute the highest percentage, 40%, of those registered in the five areas of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to the kingdom’s Department of Palestinian Affairs. Jordan has reservations about Trump’s forthcoming peace plan based on fears that it might revoke the Palestinians’ right of return or pressure Amman into accepting a confederation with the West Bank excluding Jerusalem — that is, Jordan becoming an alternative country for Palestinians at the kingdom’s expense. Such a proposal would be met with great anger by indigenous Jordanians.

Labib Kamhawi, a political affairs expert and writer for the London-based Al-Rai Al-Youm, takes a different position on the resumption of Gulf assistance. “Some Arab countries felt bad about their financial blockade of Jordan in terms of causing instability there, and thus in the region as a whole, which could adversely affect future plans contained in the so-called deal of the century, which requires a high degree of stability in both Palestine and Jordan,” he told Al-Monitor. Kamhawi was referring to Jordan’s traditional backers — including Saudi Arabia, the United States and the UAE — reducing aid allowances to the kingdom in recent years, including US threats to cut aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Jerusalem move at the United Nations.

He said, “Stability is a prerequisite for the success of the so-called deal of the century, since so far it is only a set of ideas going back and forth between parties.”

Zaki Bani Irsheid, deputy general controller of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, also ruled out any link between Gulf aid and Jordan’s acceptance of a peace plan. He told Al-Monitor that the aid was, however, linked to the popular protests in the country. “All solutions, disputes, grants, aid and internal and external borrowing are mere temporary efforts to ease the pressure of the present crises without considering what the future might hold for Jordan,” Irsheid noted.

Khalid al-Zubaidi, a Jordanian writer and economist, told Al-Monitor that he does not believe the Gulf aid package will boost the economy, because it is rather “insignificant.” He called the distribution of aid between deposits and guarantees “vague.”

Zubaidi said, “The amount offered is modest compared to Jordan’s $11 billion budget, and the Gulf support was expected to be even greater, so the Mecca summit’s gesture was more one of moral support than financial.”

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/06/jordan-saudi-arabia-aid-deal-of-the-century.html.

April 30, 2018

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The Japanese foreign minister has presided over a rare meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials to push ahead with an agro-industrial park intended to enhance cross-border trade and cooperation.

Taro Kono, the Japanese minister, acknowledged late Sunday that it “has not been easy for the four parties to get together under current circumstances.” Israel and Jordan only recently patched up relations after a months-long diplomatic crisis. Officials from Israel and the Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank meet only intermittently because of ongoing deadlock in peace efforts.

Sunday’s meeting focused on the Japan-backed Jericho Agro-Industrial Park in the West Bank, near an Israeli-controlled border with Jordan. Twelve companies operate at the park, launched more than a decade ago. Kono says he hopes more will join, including Japanese firms.