Tag Archive: Levant


June 25, 2020

The Belgian Chamber of Representatives will today be voting on whether to “formally recognize the State of Palestine.”

The resolution, said Socialist MP Malik Ban Achour, urges the federal government “to formally recognize the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel and to consider this recognition as a contribution by Belgium to the solution based on the coexistence of two democratic and independent states having the right to live in peace and security with mutually recognized, accepted and respected borders. ”

The 150-member House of Representatives will also debate a second resolution calling for the government to prepare a list of ‘’counter-measures’’ to be implemented if the Israeli annexation plan goes ahead on 1 July.

MPs from left-wing parties, including the Socialist Party and members of the French and Green parties, proposed the resolutions.

Earlier this week, more than 1,000 members of parliament from across Europe signed a letter warning Israel against annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.

The legislators said they “share serious concerns about President Trump’s plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the imminent prospect of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory.”

According to private daily Al-Bawaba, the resolution supporting EU punitive measures against Israel passed in a committee earlier this month with an easy majority and is likely to pass in the plenary.

However, the measure to recognize a Palestinian state passed by one vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee and is considered less likely to be approved by the plenary.

Sweden became the first EU member to officially recognize Palestine in 2014, though other parliaments have since called on their governments to do so.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200625-belgium-votes-on-recognising-state-of-palestine-imposing-sanctions-on-israel/.

By JT – Jun 16,2020

AMMAN — The Kingdom’s largest nature reserve, the Dana Biosphere Reserve in southern Jordan, has reopened after rehabilitating its facilities to receive visitors after the tourism sector ground to a halt as a result of precautionary coronavirus measures and lockdowns.

Director of the reserve Amer Ruffou’ said that “good tourist activity” is being witnessed at the facility as local tourism is returning back to normal as part of the recovery phase following the government’s decision to open tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants across the country, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Ruffou’ said in a press release that the Dana Biosphere Reserve in the Tafileh Governorate, which covers a “spectacular landscape” along the face of the Great Rift Valley and is home to a variety of wildlife, had refurbished its facilities, including the Guest House, Al Rummanah Camp and the Old Tourist Village, as part of its preparations to welcome visitors.

The nature reserve’s management also launched promotional programs to attract tourist groups, he said, noting that the day and overnight visits are subject to public safety and health protection regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19, which are being observed by both visitors and workers.

Ruffou’ noted that a special team had been assigned to enforce safety precautions according to government instructions, with temperature-taking devices and sanitisers at the entrances of the guest house and the camp.

He said that the guest house consists of 24 hotel rooms and offers quality food and drinks, while the Al Rummanah Camp includes 30 tourist tents equipped with health facilities. The camp offers traditional meals, hot drinks and overnight accommodation.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/dana-reserve-reopens-after-facelift.

By JT – Jun 04,2020

AMMAN — Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Omar Razzaz on Thursday said that procedures announced by the government to reopen new economic sectors will have a positive impact on the economy.

Speaking from the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, Razzaz announced an array of phases for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which include a series of procedures and decisions to reopen further economic and service sectors.

The phases involve five levels of risk, ranging from “critical” to “low”.

The prime minister noted that these procedures coincide with the lifting of quarantines on several areas in Mafraq, Irbid and Jerash and other governorates.

He also stated that a total of 498,000 Jordanian workers have benefited from protection programs launched by the Central Bank of Jordan, the Social Security Corporation and the National Aid Fund during the pandemic.

Razzaz said that countries that were late in dealing with the pandemic “have paid the price twice”, and suffered economic and health repercussions, noting that Jordan’s early preparations contributed to the results seen at present.

As for the Defense Law, the prime minister said that the government is looking forward to the day on which it issues the last defense order once the Kingdom enters the “low risk” level.

Razzaz noted that the government is committed to applying the Defense Law at its minimum levels, without affecting private property or public freedoms.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/pm-hails-jordans-early-measures-additional-sectors-reopen.

By JT – Jun 04,2020

AMMAN — The government on Thursday announced a decision allowing citizens to move freely between 6am and 12 midnight every day and cancelling the comprehensive curfew as of Saturday.

During a press conference at the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh said that shops are permitted to open between 6am and 11pm as of Saturday.

The minister added that mosques and churches will reopen for prayers as of Saturday, with worshipers allowed to go to mosques on foot to perform the dawn prayer, which falls within the curfew hours.

The government has also cancelled the odd-even traffic system for vehicles and permitted the public to commute between governorates.

Public transport vehicles will be allowed to operate at a 50 per cent passenger capacity, the minister added, noting that people over the age of 70 and those with chronic illnesses are still banned from movement.

The minister also announced the resumption of domestic aviation movement and tourist sites for domestic tourism, in addition to the reopening of nurseries, restaurants, hotels and motels.

Adaileh said that many sectors will remain closed in the current phase, such as wedding halls, condolence houses, youth activities (such as scout camps), cinemas, public parks, play areas, entertainment centers, schools and kindergartens, universities, colleges and institutes and training and cultural centers, as well as businesses that organize weddings, conferences, exhibitions, cultural events and festivals.

Visits to prisons and houses for the elderly will be allowed, he noted.

The minister said that these procedures coincide with the reaching of the “moderate risk” level.

He added that the new measures are subject to continuous monitoring and revision depending on the Kingdom’s epidemiological status and risk levels.

Also speaking at the conference, Health Minister Saad Jaber said that Jordan has entered the moderate risk level after registering less than 10 local COVID-19 cases for seven consecutive days or after witnessing random test results that are 0.5 to 1 per cent positive.

The minister noted that the standards governing travelling from and to Jordan will depend on the epidemiological situation in other countries.

Jaber also announced a plan to build an intensive care hospital in the Kingdom.

For his part, Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Tareq Hammouri said that the private sector has supported the government in dealing with the pandemic. The government has adopted a gradual approach in reopening the sectors after the full lockdown on the basis of health indicators.

The minister pointed out that the Kingdom now produces more than 1.5 million face masks daily, up from 30,000 masks prior to the emergence of the pandemic.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/govt-further-eases-lockdown-most-sectors-resume-operations-saturday.

June 25, 2019

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Britain’s most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, has flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of ongoing operations against remnants of the Islamic State group, the U.K.’s defense secretary said.

Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement released Tuesday that that the jets’ first operational mission from a British air base in Cyprus was made following a highly successful training period.

“Their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the U.K.,” Mordaunt said. Six F-35B aircraft from 617 Squadron flown by three British Royal Navy and three Royal Air Force pilots, arrived at RAF Akrotiri on May 21 for a six-week deployment as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.

British military officials had said there were no plans for the aircraft to conduct combat missions during their stay at RAF Akrotiri. But it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut as part of Operation Shader — the U.K.’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State group — because of their “exceptional performance.”

Officials said the aircraft didn’t fire any weapons when flying alongside Typhoon jets during the missions over Syria and Iraq. The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The 617 Squadron jets will be deployed this autumn aboard Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, for a battery of operational tests. The tests will be carried out off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for the aircrafts’ first carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.

The U.K. now owns 17 F-35B aircraft with plans to procure a total 138 jets. According to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Website, British industry will build 15% of the more than 3,000 jets that are planned to be built. British officials say the program has already generated orders worth $12.9 billion and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.

June 01, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister apologized on Sunday for the Israeli police’s deadly shooting of an unarmed Palestinian man who was autistic. The shooting of Iyad Halak, 32, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, drew broad condemnations and revived complaints alleging excessive force by Israeli security forces.

Benny Gantz, who is also Israel’s “alternate” prime minister under a power-sharing deal, made the remarks at the weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet. He sat near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made no mention of the incident in his opening remarks.

“We are really sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share in the family’s grief,” Gantz said. “I am sure this subject will be investigated swiftly and conclusions will be reached.”

Halak’s relatives said he had autism and was heading to a school for students with special needs where he studied each day when he was shot. In a statement, Israeli police said they spotted a suspect “with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol.” When he failed to obey orders to stop, officers opened fire, the statement said. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld later said no weapon was found.

Israeli media reported the officers involved were questioned after the incident as per protocol and a lawyer representing one of them sent his condolences to the family in an interview with Israeli Army Radio.

Lone Palestinian attackers with no clear links to armed groups have carried out a series of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in recent years. Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups have long accused Israeli security forces of using excessive force in some cases, either by killing individuals who could have been arrested or using lethal force when their lives were not in danger.

Some pro-Palestinian activists compared Saturday’s shooting to the recent cases of police violence in the U.S.

By JT – May 28,2020

AMMAN — Decisions and measures implemented by the government to deal with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are mainly based on the recommendations of the National Anti-Pandemic Committee, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Omar Razzaz said on Thursday.

Chairing a meeting of the committee at the Prime Ministry, Razzaz stressed that the government has adopted the majority of the committee’s recommendations, turning them into decisions and measures to confront the pandemic, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

The prime minister noted that these decisions have taken into consideration health, security and economic and social aspects in a way that meets greater national interests.

The premier praised the “great efforts” of the committee and the teams working in the field, which have played a “prominent role” in taking measures and immediate precautions that have contributed to mitigating the impact of the pandemic in the Kingdom.

Industry, Trade and Supply Minister Tareq Hammouri said that the work sustainability committee is awaiting the recommendations of the anti-pandemic committee and the possibility to implement them.

Health Minister Saad Jaber said that the committee has been a “main partner” to the government in combating the pandemic even before it reached the Kingdom, noting that several proactive medical measures that Jordan adopted have made the Kingdom a “model” in fighting the disease.

Members of the committee referred to the possibility that the Kingdom will see a rise in case numbers, highlighting the importance of following preventive measures, particularly social distancing, in markets and closed places and wearing face masks.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/pm-praises-%E2%80%98prominent-role%E2%80%99-national-anti-pandemic-committee-virus-fight.

By JT – May 28,2020

AMMAN — Officials on Thursday announced that mosques and churches in the Kingdom will open their doors according to health and public safety measures next week.

Speaking during a press conference at the Prime Ministry on Thursday, Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh said that Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Omar Razzaz chaired a Cabinet meeting dedicated to discussing the recommendations of the National Anti-Pandemic Committee.

The meeting resulted in a decision to reopen mosques on June 5 according to health and public safety measures, Adaileh said, noting that the regulations for comprehensive curfews will be amended as of June 5 to allow people to go to mosques on foot on Fridays.

The minister also noted that the government is considering other recommendations to reopen more sectors, stressing that this “does not mean that the threat is gone” and that such a decision would result in increased case numbers.

He called on people to wear masks while visiting public and private departments and to adopt public safety measures.

Awqaf Minister Mohammad Khalaileh, also speaking at the conference, said that in the first phase of reopening mosques, only Friday prayers will be allowed to take place according to certain public safety measures that will be announced later, stressing that people must wear masks and take their prayer rugs with them upon visiting the mosques.

Khalaileh called on those aged 50 and above and those with illnesses not to go to mosques. He also said that Friday sermons will not exceed 10 minutes and guides for safety measures will be distributed to mosques for the congregation to follow.

Results of this initial reopening will be evaluated before the authorities open mosques for all prayers, he said.

Also speaking at the conference, President of the Jordan Churches Council Archbishop Christophorus Attallah announced that churches in the Kingdom will reopen on June 7, calling on the elderly and those who are sick to avoid attending churches.

Meanwhile, Jordan registered eight new coronavirus infections on Thursday, increasing the caseload to 728 since the outbreak of the pandemic, Health Minister Saad Jaber said at the conference.

Jaber noted that the new cases include two truck drivers at the Omari border crossing, one of whom is Jordanian and was transferred to Prince Hamzah Hospital.

Six Jordanians who recently returned to the Kingdom from Russia also tested positive for the virus, the minister added.

A total of 11 people left hospitals on Thursday, increasing the number of recovered patients to 497 and leaving 162 currently receiving treatment, he said, noting that epidemiological investigation teams conducted 3,100 tests nationwide on Thursday.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/mosques-churches-reopen-next-week.

March 09, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British Home Secretary Sajid Javid faced criticism Saturday after the death of a U.K. teenager’s baby in a Syrian camp. Shamima Begum, who had left London as a 15-year-old in 2015 to join the Islamic State group, had pleaded with British authorities before her baby was born to let her return to Britain to raise the child.

But Javid revoked her passport, saying Begum hadn’t shown any remorse. The teen had told newspaper reporters she didn’t have a problem with IS actions, including the beheading of captives. Begum’s infant son died Friday. Begum’s family said the boy appeared to be in good health when he was born on Feb. 17. No clear cause of death has yet been given, but reports suggested he was having respiratory problems.

Fellow Conservative Party lawmaker Phillip Lee said Saturday he was “deeply concerned” by Javid’s handling of the case, suggesting he had taken a hard line in order to please populists. He said it was clear 19-year-old Begum “holds abhorrent views,” but called her a child who was a product of British society. Britain had a moral duty to her and to her baby, he said.

When Begum first started speaking to reporters more than three weeks ago, she said the first two children she had given birth to since joining the extremist group had died of malnutrition and other ailments. She said she wanted to come home so she didn’t lose another child.

Her predicament sparked a national debate on how the U.K. should handle Britons who had joined the extremists and now seek to return because IS has lost its territory in Syria and Iraq. The challenge faces other European countries as the final IS stronghold in Syria is on the brink of falling, giving its fighters and their often youthful spouses no place left to hide.

U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter last month, saying European countries have a responsibility to take back and put on trial about 800 IS fighters who have been captured by U.S.-backed forces in Syria.

Begum is married to a Dutch national who joined IS extremists and has since been taken into custody. He said last week that he wanted to be able to live in the Netherlands with his wife and newborn son, who is now dead.

Kirsty McNeill, a director at Save the Children UK, said Britain should “take responsibility for their citizens” in Syria to prevent further unnecessary losses. “It is possible the death of this baby boy and others could have been avoided,” she said.

Javid didn’t comment directly on the baby’s death. A government spokesman said “the death of any child is tragic” and reiterated the British government’s advice that citizens avoid travel to Syria.

May 15, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Jordan’s king warned Israel of a “massive conflict” if it proceeds with plans to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as European Union foreign ministers agreed on Friday to step up diplomatic efforts to try to head off such a move.

Israel has vowed to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, which could spell the end of the long-stalled peace process by making it virtually impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved a step closer by reaching an agreement to form a government after more than a year of political deadlock.

President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which overwhelmingly favors Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians, gave a green light to annexation, but most of the rest of the international community is strongly opposed.

“Leaders who advocate a one-state solution do not understand what that would mean,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published Friday. “What would happen if the Palestinian National Authority collapsed? There would be more chaos and extremism in the region. If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” he said.

Jordan is a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Abdullah declined to say whether annexation would threaten that agreement. “I don’t want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options. We agree with many countries in Europe and the international community that the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East,” he said.

At a video-conference, EU foreign ministers reaffirmed their support for a two-state solution and opposition to any annexation. The ministers, whose countries are deeply divided in their approach to Israel, agreed to ramp up diplomatic efforts in coming days with Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and Arab countries.

“We reaffirm our position in support of a negotiated, two-state solution. For this to be possible, unilateral action from either side should be avoided and, for sure, international law should be upheld,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after chairing the meeting.

“We must work to discourage any possible initiative toward annexation,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels. “International law has to be upheld. Here, and there, and everywhere.” He made no mention of the use of sanctions, saying only that the EU will use “all our diplomatic capacities in order to prevent any kind of unilateral action.”

The ministers had planned to welcome the formation of a new Israeli government and offer the bloc’s cooperation, but Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner, Benny Gantz, have postponed the swearing-in of their controversial new Cabinet as the Israeli leader tries to quell infighting within his Likud party.

The ceremony, originally scheduled for Thursday, is now planned for Sunday to give Netanyahu more time to hand out coveted Cabinet appointments to members of his party. Their coalition agreement allows him to present an annexation proposal as soon as July 1.

The EU has long been committed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps. Israel seized east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want all three to form their future state.

The bloc has already rejected Trump’s Mideast plan, which would allow Israel to annex about a third of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with heavily conditioned statehood in scattered territorial enclaves surrounded by Israel.

“In our opinion, an annexation is not compatible with international law,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday. “From our point of view, changes to borders must, if at all, be the result of negotiations and happen in agreement between both sides.”

Jordan has been lobbying the EU to take “practical steps” to make sure annexation doesn’t happen. In a statement, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi “stressed the need for the international community and the European Union in particular to take practical steps that reflect the rejection of any Israeli decision to annex.”

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.