The warring sides in Yemen s long conflict will exchange some 1,081 prisoners Thursday and Friday, under a deal struck in Switzerland last month, a senior rebel official said Thursday. "The transaction will be executed, with God s help, on the scheduled dates today and tomorrow," Abdel Kader Mortaza, the rebel official in charge of prisoner affairs, said in a tweet. "The preparations have been completed by all parties," he added. Yemen s government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels resolved to swap some 15,000 detainees as part of a peace deal brokered by the UN in Stockholm back in 2018. The two sides have since undertaken sporadic prisoner exchanges, but this week s planned swap would mark the first large-scale handover since the war erupted in 2014. UN envoy Martin Griffiths hailed it as a "very important milestone" when the agreement was struck after a week of talks in Switzerland last month. A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is handling the logistics of the operation, said their teams were present at a number of different airports involved in the transfer. "The preparations are ongoing, if everything goes as planned, we hopefully expect the release operation to take place in the coming few hours," she told AFP on Thursday morning. Al-Masirah television, which is controlled by the Houthis, said the first group of insurgent prisoners was expected to arrive on Thursday at the international airport in the rebel-held capital Sanaa. The planned prisoner exchange comes after the release Wednesday of two Americans held captive in Yemen, in an apparent swap for some 240 Houthi supporters who were allowed to return home after being stranded in Oman. The rebels also sent back the remains of a third American who died in captivity.
In a move reviving tensions with Greece, Ankara sent the Oruc Reis vessel to a disputed area near the Greek island of Kastellorizo off Turkey s coast on Monday. Greece said it was a "major escalation" of their dispute over maritime rights and claims to hydrocarbon resources in the region. "Oruc Reis has reached the area in the eastern Mediterranean where it will carry out its activities. Tests began yesterday and we are beginning to receive the first seismic readings today," Fatih Donmez, the Turkish energy minister, told a conference by video link. Turkey had withdrawn the vessel from contested waters in the region last month to "allow diplomacy" before an European Union summit at which sanctions against Turkey were discussed. On Tuesday, the United States slammed Turkey s decision to send the vessel back, accusing Ankara of unilaterally stoking tensions and "deliberately" complicating the resumption of talks with Greece.
The U.S.-mediated talks follow three years of intense diplomacy by Washington and were announced less than a month after the United States stepped up pressure on political allies of the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. They also come after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to establish full relations with Israel, under U.S.-brokered deals which realign some of Washington s closest Middle East allies against Iran. Hezbollah, which fought a five-week conflict with Israel in 2006, says the talks are not a sign of peace-making with its long-time enemy. Israel s energy minister also said expectations for Wednesday s meeting should be realistic. "We are not talking about negotiations for peace and normalization, rather an attempt to solve a technical, economic dispute that for 10 years has delayed the development of offshore natural resources," minister Yuval Steinitz tweeted. Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the decision to go ahead with the talks as historic, and said Washington looked forward to separate talks later over disagreements on the two countries land border. Wednesday s meeting will be hosted by the United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL, which has monitored the disputed land boundary since Israel s military withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation. A Lebanese security source says the two sides will meet together in the same room in UNIFIL s base in south Lebanon, but will direct their talks through a mediator. Disagreement over the sea border had discouraged oil and gas exploration near the disputed line. That may be a minor irritation for Israel, which already pumps gas from huge offshore fields. For Lebanon, yet to find commercial reserves in its own waters, the issue is more pressing.
Lebanon s Saad Hariri, a former prime minister seeking a new term, said Monday he would meet all key parties to survey their commitment to a French rescue plan. The country is bankrupt, but the ruling elite has so far failed to respond to calls by French President Emmanuel Macron for the rapid formation of an independent government. Hariri, himself one of Lebanon s hereditary political barons, stepped down from the position of prime minister a year ago under pressure from a massive protest movement calling for an end to sectarian-based politics. "I will send a delegation to talk with all the main political blocs, to ensure that they are still fully committed" to Macron s initiative, Hariri said, after meeting President Michel Aoun. Macron visited Lebanon two days after the August 4 Beirut port explosion that disfigured the city, and returned three weeks later to check on the status of reforms he conditioned international support on. The roadmap Macron laid out for debt-ridden Lebanon included a two-week deadline for the formation of a tighter and independent government of experts, that would only stay in office a few months. A new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, was designated -- but he threw in the towel after meeting resistance from the top Shiite parties that sought guarantees they would retain the finance ministry. Hariri, who has already served two terms as Lebanese premier and has close ties with France, has since resurfaced as the most likely candidate to take over. "I am convinced that President Macron s initiative is the only and last remaining opportunity for our country to stop the collapse and rebuild Beirut," Hariri said, according to a statement from his office. Hariri last week said he was a possible candidate to head a new government to stem the country s economic collapse. His series of meetings comes ahead of parliamentary consultations to appoint a new premier which are scheduled to start on Thursday.
Israel will oppose any U.S. sale of F-35 warplanes to Qatar, Israel s intelligence minister said on Sunday, responding to a Reuters report that the Gulf Arab country had submitted a formal request to buy the stealthy fighter jets.
A top U.N. official Thursday condemned recent clashes in Yemen s strategic port city of Hodeida, which have left dozens killed and wounded, urging the country s warring parties to immediately stop the fighting. Since Saturday, clashes have flared up between Yemen s Houthi rebels and government forces south of the port in Hodeida, which handles about 70% of Yemen s commercial and humanitarian imports. Yemeni officials said Wednesday the death toll had reached 52 and that around 70 people were wounded, including two dozen civilians. ``This military escalation not only constitutes a violation of the Hodeida ceasefire agreement but it runs against the spirit of the ongoing UN-facilitated negotiations that aim to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures and the resumption of the political process, said U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths in a statement. Griffiths said he is following with ``deep concern reports of civilian casualties, including women and children. ¨I have been engaging with all sides. I call on them to immediately stop the fighting, respect the commitments they made under the Stockholm agreement,`` he said. In 2018, heavy fighting erupted in Hodeida after government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition moved in to wrest control of the strategic city from the Houthis. After month of clashes, the warring sides signed a U.N.-brokered agreement in Sweden in December 2018 that included a cease-fire in the port city and an exchange of more than 15,000 prisoners. The deal, seen as an important first step toward ending the conflict, was never fully implemented. On Monday, the U.N. mission to Yemen called for an immediate halt of violence in order ``not to put the population at further risk and jeopardize the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Iranian-backed Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015. The war in Yemen has spawned the world s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed over 112,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.
Half of the population of the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh have been displaced since fierce fighting erupted more than a week ago between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan, separatist officials said Wednesday. "According to our preliminary estimates, some 50 percent of Karabakh s population and 90 percent of women and children -- or some 70,000-75,000 people -- have been displaced," Karabakh s rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told AFP.
Iran s Health Ministry said on Monday nearly the whole country was on a coronavirus red alert as cases and deaths rose to record levels, with a member of the state task force s warning field hospitals might be needed if people flout the rules. Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state television that 26 of Iran s 31 provinces were "red" zones, the highest alert level, while four were at the next "orange" level. Authorities registered a record high 3,902 new cases in the past 24 hours, with the total number of identified cases in the worst-hit country in the Middle East rising to 475,674, Lari said. She said 235 patients had died in the past 24 hours, equalling a daily death toll high set on July 28, bringing the total death toll to 27,192. Officials have complained that many have defied regulations to wear face masks and some families used lockdowns to go on trips, helping spread the virus with hospitals nearly full. "If people keep going on weekend trips..., our patients might have to go to field hospitals," Masoud Mardani, a member of the state coronavirus task force, told Khabaronline website. On Saturday, schools, libraries, mosques and other public institutions in the capital Tehran closed for a week as part of measures to stem the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. Similar closures have been also imposed in Zanjan province, northwest of Tehan, and cities in several other provinces, shutting museums, theatres, gyms, cafes and hair salons, state media said. Because of coronavirus concerns, Iran has banned flights to Iraq to block trips by Iranians to the neighbouring country for the annual pilgrimage of Arbaeen, which draws large crowds. Land borders to Iraq have also been closed. After stopping flights to Turkey, Iran s Civil Aviation Organization said on Monday one flight per day would be allowed in each direction.
The United Arab Emirates foreign minister said on Tuesday, in a joint statement with Israeli and German counterparts, that the most important thing that must be emphasized today is the return of hope to Palestinians and Israelis to work for a two-state solution, UAE state news agency (WAM) reported. Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said he also discussed with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Berlin cooperation in the energy field, WAM said.
After a coronavirus-related delay, Israel s navy is preparing for the long-awaited arrival of its next generation of missile boats, giving it a powerful new tool to defend its strategic natural gas industry from the threat of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The first missile boat of “Project Magen is scheduled to arrive by early December, with three more of the German-made corvettes scheduled to arrive over the next two years. “It s bigger. It s newer. It s faster. It s better, said Rear Adm. Eyal Harel, head of Israeli naval operations, during a rare tour of Israel s offshore Leviathan gas field. A massive gas platform stood just a few hundred meters (yards) away. The vessels, commonly known as the “Saar 6,” will be at the forefront of Israeli efforts to protect its 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The natural gas industry, seen as a national asset, is at the heart of those efforts. Over a decade after finding sizeable reserves off its Mediterranean coast, Israel now generates some 60% of its electricity from natural gas, according to the national electric company, and has begun to export gas to its Arab neighbors Jordan and Egypt. Israel is also pursuing a project with Greece and Cyprus in hopes of creating an Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline to Europe. With so much at stake, Hezbollah has identified Israeli gas installations as high-priority targets. In a 2018 speech, the group s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said he could destroy Israeli gas assets “within a few hours” if there was a government order to do so. Hezbollah is part of an alliance that dominates Lebanese politics and government. Israel takes such threats seriously. During a monthlong war in 2006, a Hezbollah cruise-missile strike on an Israeli “Saar 5” warship killed four soldiers. The conflict is believed to have killed between 1,191 and 1,300 Lebanese people, and 165 Israelis. It severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, and displaced approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000–500,000 Israelis. Lt. Col. Eitan Paz, a flotilla commander, said the new vessels would bring a welcome upgrade to the aging Saar 5 s, which are nearly 30 years old. He said they would be equipped with newer and more powerful radar and other electronic systems, and handle rough seas much better than their predecessors. The 90-meter (295-foot) vessels are equipped with rocket and missile defense systems, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and an upgraded launching pad for Israel s newest attack helicopters. “Physically, it s not much bigger than the Saar 5,” he said. “But it adds all of these systems. He said the first boat, the INS Magen, or “Shield, was supposed to arrive in August, but delivery was delayed due to the coronavirus. He said it would be deployed immediately and reach full operational capacity within several months after it is outfitted with Israeli weapons systems in several phases. Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah is believed to have greatly beefed up its arsenal with some 150,000 rockets and missiles, according to Israeli estimates. Israel also accuses the group of trying to develop precision-guided missiles, which would make that arsenal far more lethal. Harel said the navy s main concerns are Chinese-made C-802 missiles, like the one that hit the Israeli ship in 2006, and Russian-made “Yakhont” anti-ship missiles possessed by Hezbollah s ally Syria. But he said the military has learned lessons from that war. “We are prepared and we will be even more prepared when we have the new battleships,” he said. Israel agreed to buy the vessels in a 2015 deal valued at roughly 430 million euros ($480 million at the time), with the German government covering about one quarter of the cost. Several Israeli businessmen, including confidants of Israel s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a former commander of the navy, are suspects in a graft scandal connected to the purchase of the warships and submarines from German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp. Netanyahu, who is on trial in three other corruption cases, was not named as a suspect in the scandal and no one active in the Israeli navy has been connected.
The counter-terrorism division of Iraq s autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday accused the Hashed al-Shaabi, a state-sponsored paramilitary network dominated by pro-Iran forces, of targeting US forces in a rocket attack. "Six rockets were fired from Nineveh province by the Hashed al-Shaabi, targeting Arbil airport," where US troops are based, on Wednesday, it said in a statement. Souran Ali, a commander of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK-I) -- an Iranian opposition group that operates in Iraq s Kurdish region -- earlier said three rockets had been fired, without causing casualties. Three rockets "targeted at 8.30pm (1730 GMT) a headquarters of the PDK-I two kilometres" from Arbil airport, he said. Video footage circulating online purported to show fires started by the rockets. Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi foreign minister and an Iraqi Kurdish politician, said on Twitter that the rockets were fired by the "same groups who are attacking #USEmbassy in #Baghdad and its convoys. Action is needed to stop it." Around 40 rocket attacks have targeted US interests in Iraq since early August, including one on Monday that hit a village close to Baghdad airport, where American troops are stationed. That attack killed five children and two women from the same family. The US State Department on Tuesday pointed the finger of blame at Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq, saying they "pose an unacceptable danger" in Iraq. Washington has threatened to close its embassy in Iraq and withdraw its 3,000 troops from the country unless the rockets stop.
Kuwait s parliament swore in on Wednesday the country s new emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and prepared to receive the body of his half-brother, the late ruler Sheikh Sabah who died in the US at the age of 91. The body of Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, an acclaimed diplomat and mediator who ruled for 14 years, is expected to arrive in Kuwait City later on Wednesday. He died the day before in Minnesota where he had been undergoing treatment in hospital since July. According to the royal court, the funeral will be "restricted to the emir s relatives" -- a move likely designed to avoid large crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic. Kuwait s new leader, 83-year-old Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf, was sworn in at an 0700 GMT session of the National Assembly. The country has already begun a 40-day period of national mourning. Sheikh Sabah earned a reputation as a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer his country through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and upheavals in parliament and on the streets. World leaders and Kuwaitis alike have hailed the legacy of the late emir, architect of the nation s modern foreign policy and mediator in some of the worst crises to grip the Gulf. "This man was the safety valve of the Arab world, not just for Kuwait," Bandar al-Dahani, a Kuwaiti citizen, told AFP. "God willing, that goodness will be in Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf and he will follow the emir s path." Generational transition looms Sheikh Nawaf, who has held high office for decades, takes over with Kuwait facing the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis, which triggered a sharp decline in oil prices and severe economic consequences for Gulf states. The elder statesman, who was named heir apparent in 2006, served as defence minister when Iraqi troops rolled into the oil-rich emirate in 1990, and also as interior minister in the face of challenges from Islamist militants. The new leader is popular within the ruling Al-Sabah family and is reported to have been a consensus choice for ruler. He also enjoys a reputation for modesty and has largely maintained a low profile. Major policy changes are not expected during his reign, even after the Gulf underwent a seismic shift with Kuwait s neighbours, the UAE and Bahrain, opting to establish relations with Israel. Normalisation with Israel is highly unpopular among the Kuwaiti public, which largely supports the Arab world s historic position of demanding a resolution of the Palestinian cause before giving diplomatic concessions to Israel. Despite expectations for a smooth succession, there could be more spirited debate over who the new crown prince should be. Kuwait s constitution stipulates that the ruler should be a descendant of the nation s founder, Mubarak al-Sabah, but the throne has alternated between the descendants of his sons, Salem and Jaber, for four decades. Contestants for the newly vacated role of crown prince include Sheikh Sabah s son and former deputy prime minister Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, a Kuwaiti political heavyweight. "Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed should be viewed more as a caretaker than as a watershed new leader," said Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The chief of Afghanistan s peace negotiating team said Tuesday on a visit to Pakistan that the time has come for the two neighboring countries to shun the suspicion, ``stale rhetoric and tired conspiracy theories that have dogged past relations. Abdullah Abdullah is in Pakistan on a bridge-building mission meant to mend deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries. It was his first visit in 12 years. Abdullah told the Institute of Strategic Studies in the federal capital of Islamabad that the two neighbors are on the threshold of a new relationship characterized by ``mutual respect, sincere cooperation and shared prosperity. ``I am a firm believer that after many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back, Abdullah said. ``We cannot afford to pursue business as usual. We need fresh approaches and our people demand it. It is more urgent than ever to look to our region as one region. His statements come ahead of meetings later Tuesday with Pakistan s powerful army chief and prime minister. His visit also comes at a crucial time in Afghanistan s troubled history as a government-appointed negotiation team is in the Gulf state of Qatar brokering an end to war with its Taliban foes. Even before coming to power in 2018, Pakistan s Prime Minister Imran Khan has advocated for a political end to Afghanistan s war and has been a strong critic of Washington s so-called war on terror saying it has left tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans dead. But many in Afghanistan have been critical of the support the Taliban received in Pakistan following the collapse of their rule in 2001 with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan argues its relationship with the Taliban was what gave it leverage to press the religious militia into negotiations. Still, Afghans are deeply suspicious of Pakistan and government officials fear Pakistan s continued involvement in their country as a means to counter its hostile neighbor India s influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan and India have gone to war three times and both Pakistan and India accuse each other of using Afghan territory to undermine stability in the region. Pakistan has come under international criticism for its support for some militant groups and opposition to others. While Pakistan s military and politicians say that policy has been relegated to the past, Islamabad s neighbors remain suspicious. ``We do not want a terrorist footprint in our country or to allow any entity to pose a threat to any other nation, Abdullah said Tuesday. ``The current intra-Afghan talks offer the best hope to put the war behind and using patience, dialogue and compromise to agree to unite the country. Abdullah and the United States, which brokered the peace deal with the Taliban to start negotiations with the government, have been pressing for talks to be accompanied by a reduction in violence. The Taliban have refused. ``We call on all sides to agree to seriously reduce violence and protect civilians from further harm as we aim for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire, Abdullah said. Still the violence continues and on Tuesday in Afghanistan s central Day Kundi province a roadside bomb killed at least 14 civilians, including five children, as they travelled from one district to another, said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian. ``Peace is not only an Islamic tenet and duty, but it is also that unique historical opportunity that should not be squandered, said Abdullah. ``Now that the ice has been broken, we all have a role and a responsibility to help it move toward fruition and prevent a relapse.
The United States and Greece called on Monday for a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the east Mediterranean as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a two-day trip to Greece amid increased regional tension over energy resources. NATO allies Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads on a range of issues, have agreed to resume exploratory talks over contested maritime claims following weeks of tensions that culminated in a collision between their warships. "The United States and Greece .. reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law," the United States and Greece said in a joint statement after Pompeo met his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias. The two countries are also ready to use "all appropriate means" to safeguard regional stability, they said after meeting in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Pompeo has previously said the United States is "deeply concerned" about Turkish actions in the east Mediterranean. Ankara infuriated Athens last month by sending a seismic survey ship into disputed waters, escorted by gunboats, to map out sea territory for possible oil and gas drilling in an area thought to be rich in energy resources. Turkey then recalled the vessel, saying it wished to give diplomacy a chance. Complicating the geopolitical situation in the region, Turkey has signed a maritime demarcation deal with Libya which conflicts with a rival deal between Greece and Egypt. The United States hopes to build up its energy ties with Greece, which seeks to become an energy hub in the Balkans and help Europe to diversify its energy resources. Athens already imports large quantities of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is developing a floating LNG storage and regasification unit off the port of Alexandroupolis, which is expected to channel gas to Bulgaria and from there to central Europe by early 2023. Greece is selling a majority stake in the port of Alexandroupolis and is also looking for an investor to operate part of the Kavala port facilities in northern Greece.
Syria s foreign minister accused Turkey on Saturday of being ``one of the main sponsors of terror in his country and the region, and said it is guilty of ``a war crime and a crime against humanity`` for cutting water to more than a dozen towns that resisted Turkish occupation. In unusually harsh language, Walid al-Moallem said ``the Turkish regime reigns supreme`` when it comes ``to sponsors and financiers of terrorism.`` He said in a prerecorded speech to the first-ever high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic that the cutoff of water supplies endangered civilian lives, especially during the coronavirus crisis. The nine-year Syrian conflict, which initially began as a civil war, later became a regional proxy fight. Turkey, which now controls a zone in northern Syria, has backed opposition fighters against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syrian Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State extremist group. Al-Moallem also accused Turkey of moving ``terrorists and mercenaries _ referred to by some as `moderate opposition -- from Syria to Libya,`` violating Iraq s sovereignty, using refugees ``as bargaining chips against Europe and laying claim ``by force to energy resources in the Mediterranean. ``The current Turkish regime has become a rogue and outlaw regime under international law, the Syrian minister said. ``Its policies and actions, which threaten the security and stability of the whole region, must be stopped. Turkey s U.N. Mission said it ``rejects Syrian regime s delusional statement, ridden with ludicrous allegations, in its entirety. ``It s shameful and unacceptable that the murderous Syrian regime which lost its legitimacy long ago continues to misuse (the) U.N. General Assembly general debate to distort the facts, said a mission spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``The Syrian regime is responsible for death, mutilation, abduction, starvation and enforced disappearance of millions of Syrians,`` the spokesperson said. ``Its crimes against humanity, violations of international humanitarian law and the war crimes have been documented in countless U.N. reports. Al-Moallem declared that the Syrian government ``will spare no effort to end the occupation by all means possible under international law of American and Turkish forces. U.S. troops are deployed in the country to fight the Islamic State group. ``The actions of these forces, taken directly or through their terrorist agents, secessionist militias, or manufactured and illegitimate entities, are null and void, with no legal effect, he said. Al-Moallem, who is also deputy prime minister, denounced U.S. sanctions, saying they are blocking the delivery of life-saving medicine and equipment during the pandemic. He called the ``Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act passed by the U.S. Congress an ``inhumane attempt to suffocate Syrians, just like George Floyd and others were cruelly suffocated in the United States, and just like Israel suffocates Palestinians on a daily basis. Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died May 25 after a white officer used his knee on Floyd s neck to pin him to the ground. The officer has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. Al-Moallem called on all countries affected by unilateral sanctions ``and those that reject such measures to close ranks against them and alleviate their impact on our peoples ... through cooperation, coordination, and concrete political, economic and commercial means. On the political front, he said Syria s government hopes a committee given the responsibility of drafting a new constitution for the country ``will succeed. But, he said, this will be possible only ``if there is no external interference whatsoever in its work and by any party.
The energy ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Israel discussed possible cooperation and investment opportunities, including natural gas exports to Europe, in a video call on Wednesday, an Israeli statement said. Israel and the UAE signed an agreement on Sept. 15 to establish diplomatic relations, an accord that Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in the statement presented a "historic opportunity" for energy development in the region. "I spoke (with the UAE energy minister) on cooperating in linking power grids and developing the natural gas market for exports via pipeline to Europe ... as well as other projects," the statement quoted Steinitz as saying. The statement, released by Steinitz s office, said he proposed the UAE join an Egypt-based energy forum that seeks to promote natural gas exports from the east Mediterranean. "They (the UAE) said they would examine the issue," the Israeli statement said. Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Jordan signed a charter on Tuesday establishing the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). The group unites regional rivals of Turkey, which has been locked in a bitter dispute with European Union members Greece and Cyprus over gas drilling rights in the region. In a report on the Israeli and UAE ministers discussion, the UAE state news agency WAM said they spoke about possible investment opportunities in oil, gas and green energy.
Investors in China are betting on a bumpy ride until the end of the US presidential election and seeking to protect their assets from a long chill in Sino-US ties. Global equity fund managers are shifting out of New York-listed shares in Chinese firms and into Hong Kong-listed vehicles to counter the risk of forced delistings, as both Democrat Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump promise a hard line on Beijing. And currency investors are fretting that a yuan hovering near 16-month highs is priced for a Biden win, and a calmer tone in diplomacy, which could swiftly unwind if Trump is victorious. Their bets are focused less on the outcome and more on what most expect to be a rollercoaster period until at least polling day on Nov. 3. "It doesn t matter if Biden or Trump will be elected. The bipartisan consensus is to be tough on China," said Chen Jiabeng, fund manager of Xiamen Portfolio Management Co, which helps investors allocate assets through funds of funds. "We will not bet on direction. We will bet on higher volatility," he said. Chen is allocating some 30%-40% of his portfolio to funds with options and futures trading strategies that can profit from wild swings in underlying assets. A doubling in the volume of stock index option contracts traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in July, surpassing even March s peak at the height of the coronavirus panic, and heavy volumes through August shows Chen is not alone. Adam Coons, portfolio manager of Indianapolis-based Winthrop Capital Management, plans shifting his stake in Alibaba from its New York listing to Hong Kong as a "defensive move", even though he thinks a US delisting is unlikely. Even Hong Kong-listed shares of Tencent have been hit by a Trump ban on US downloads of its popular WeChat app. A lack of momentum in Chinese equity markets, which have moved sideways in Shanghai and downwards in Hong Kong over recent weeks, belies shifts beneath the surface. "It s the calm before the storm," said Allen Mo, chief investment officer of Ming Yue Asset, a Chinese hedge fund that like Chen s Xiamen is using derivatives to bet on volatility. The "smart money" in China is already pulling out of stocks, he said. "TREACHEROUS" China policy is a major campaign issue, regularly raised by both candidates on the stump and expected to feature in three scheduled televised debates, beginning on Sept. 29. To be sure, some fund managers think the campaign rhetoric and the election outcome matter little to the long-term trends that form the basis of their investments in China. "We are fully invested and are seeing green shoots arise in the Chinese economy," said Sam Lecornu, chief executive of Stonehorn Global Partners in Hong Kong. "We see upside in markets as there s ample liquidity in the system and central banks continue to drive real rates down." Yet some China bulls are holding back for now. "Clients are very, very concerned about the next 50 days, which I think are very, very treacherous," said Davis Hall, head of capital markets in Asia at Indosuez Wealth Management. "It seems like dollar/CNY is reflecting the probability of a Biden victory," he said. "So what happens if we don t get one? We could immediately give back a lot of this current move," he said, advising investors long on yuan to trim their positions for safety.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell people on Tuesday to work from home where possible and will curb timings for bars and restaurants to tackle a fast-spreading second coronavirus wave, but the opposition accused him of losing control. With millions across the United Kingdom already under some form of COVID-19 restriction, Johnson will tighten measures in England while stopping short of another full lockdown like he imposed in March, according to his office and ministers. Johnson will hold emergency meetings with ministers, address parliament at 1130 GMT and then speak to the nation at 1900 GMT after government scientists warned that the death rate would soar without urgent action. Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson will now advise them to stay at home if they can, according to his office and ministers. He will also order all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites across England to start closing at 10 p.m. from Thursday. "There is going to be a shift in emphasis. If it is possible for people to work from home, we are going to encourage them to do so," Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, told Sky News. The new curbs will restrict the hospitality sector to table service only, though Gove said he wanted those who could not work from home - for example in manufacturing, construction and retail - to continue to work from COVID-secure workplaces. Schools will also stay open, he said. SCIENTIFIC WARNING It was unclear if the measures would be enough to tackle Britain s second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October. Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer lambasted Johnson s leadership, especially over failings in testing. "Instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control ... Our testing system collapsed just when we needed it most," he said. The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth largest in the world - while it is borrowing record amounts to pump emergency money through the damaged economy. Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the "very unfortunate" escalation of COVID-19 cases threatened the economic outlook and said the central bank was looking hard at how it could support the economy further. Pub operator JD Wetherspoon said it could cut 400-450 jobs at sites at six airports, including London s Heathrow and Gatwick, because of the large drop in passengers.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib said on Monday all parties should cooperate to facilitate the formation of a new government and urged everyone to work so that a French initiative succeeds immediately. Lebanon is in the throes of an economic crisis that marks the worst threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war. But French efforts to get its fractious leaders to agree a new government to start fixing the problems have yet to bear fruit. The cabinet formation process has hit a logjam over the demand of Lebanon s two dominant Shi ite parties, the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, to name Shi ite ministers in cabinet including the finance minister. "Lebanon doesn t have the luxury of wasting time amid the unprecedented crises that it is going through," said Adib, a Sunni Muslim who is backed by former Lebanese prime ministers including Saad al-Hariri. Any additional delay would exacerbate the crises, he said. All parties should cooperate for the formation of a government of specialists "capable of halting the collapse and starting work to get the country out the crises," he said. Adib said he would spare no effort "to achieve this goal in cooperation with the president of the republic".
In 1991 when the Madrid Peace Conference was launched to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, two tracks were established for negotiations, a bilateral and a multilateral track. In the early nineties, Hesham Youssef, an Egyptian diplomat, was in charge of a number of working groups in the multilateral track that examined a range of possible Arab-Israeli economic cooperation that could be pursued once a peace settlement was reached. A couple of years later, he served as the Official Spokesman of the Arab League during its Summit in Beirut, when the Arab Peace Initiative, presented by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, was adopted. For many subsequent years, as Chief of Staff of the Arab League Secretary General, Youssef attended and followed endless rounds of simply inconclusive and failed negotiations. This week, Youssef, currently a Senior Fellow at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, was carefully following the most eventful development of a twin-deal for normalization that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu signed at the White House with both the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain. These agreements are a definite game changer for the region and for peace prospects in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Youssef said. Speaking to Ahram Online on the phone from the US capital, hours after the White House signing that saw US President Donald Trump promising that another five or six Arab states would be soon joining the normalization path with Israel, Youssef offered that these agreements have upset a decades-long working paradigm for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, it was assumed that incentives and gestures from Arab countries toward Israel would move the Israeli public to call on its leadership to constructively address the conflict with the Palestinians, making room for a historic compromise to take place. This paradigm, he added, was dealt a huge blow by Netanyahu this summer, as the Israeli Prime Minister has portrayed these agreements as achieved under a framework of “peace for peace,” requiring no concessions from Israel in return. This narrative, while perhaps accurate for Bahrain, so far, is not true in the case of the Emirates, but the key question today is whether the old paradigm can survive because it is not clear if it can be easily replaced. Youssef believes that with these normalization steps the Arab states are significantly ceding leverage toward a long-articulated goal of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and realizing the Palestinian right to self-determination. The current approach appears to set aside old paradigms in order to pursue a host of more pressing national interests. It also comes at a time when Israel has become much stronger in the region, the Palestinians are becoming much weaker, and the gap between their positions on all final status issues is becoming unbridgeable Ð making a negotiated agreement harder than ever to achieve. “The erosion of these cornerstones for peacemaking is a precursor for an eventual new crisis,” Youssef warned. According to Youssef, the Palestinians have legitimate reasons for concern over the recent decisions of Abu Dhabi and Manama to normalize relations with Israel at a time when the prospects for a fair and just settlement for the Palestinian cause seem dim. “Palestinian concern over the recent normalization is justified,” he stated. Still, Youssef argued that given that one of the key obstacles to the establishment of a Palestinian state has been the progressive entrenchment of Israeli presence in Palestinian territories in the West Bank, through fast-growing illegal settlement activity and more recently via the annexation scheme that Netanyahu was planning to implement. Therefore, one should not underestimate the importance of the Emirates securing a halt to annexation momentum, particularly if it is “off the table” as President Trump indicated. Youssef recognized that while stopping annexation was due to many factors, the Emirati deal was also instrumental. Obviously, crucial questions arise about the permanence of the annexation halt, and whether it could last long enough to allow a fresh start for negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of the two-state solution. Youssef noted that even after the White House ceremony, David Friedman, the US Ambassador to Israel, stated his belief that annexation will still happen as proposed by the Trump Administration’s Vision for Peace. Still, Youssef believes that given the popularity within Israel of the normalization steps with the Emiratis, combined with an American “stop sign” and the lack of strong Israeli public push for annexation as a priority, it would be difficult for Israel to proceed with annexation in the near future if it were seen to threaten the normalization process with the Emirates and the prospect for additional deals with other countries. “I am not saying that if the halt remains for a few years that this means that a deal between Palestinians and Israelis would be easy, obviously not,” Youssef added. “However, the question today is one of political will. There are two possibilities Ð these developments can either constitute a bridge to help achieve peace or a bypass around the Palestinian cause,” he said. Youssef indicated that the Emirates have taken a number of significant steps towards normalization already and that more steps are on the way. Bahrain is expected to take steps in the near future. Whether these steps will be confined to achieving mutually-beneficial bilateral gains, or whether the two Arab countries will seek to leverage these steps to secure Israeli concessions in favor of the Palestinian people remains to be seen. To help Palestinians in their quest, several options could be contemplated from freezing settlements, to ending collective punishment practices such as Palestinian home demolitions, among numerous other issues. “An approach of that nature would make it more of a bridge, but if the focus remains limited to bilateral interests and agreements these agreements will ultimately be a bypass road around the conflict.” Both the Emirates and Bahrain have reiterated their traditional positions regarding the conflict as well as their support to the Palestinian people and their continued adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative and its principles, Youssef added. At the same time, Youssef argued, there is a sea change of developments in the region. For the first time in recent history, the Arab League denied a Palestinian leadership request for support of its position. The Palestinians’ inability to mobilize Arab support to criticize the Emirati step is quite significant. The Palestinians have also witnessed explicit support for the Emirati and later the Bahraini steps from Egypt, Oman and others, and tacit acceptance and even gestures from Saudi Arabia, which opened its airspace for Israeli flights. A number of additional Arab countries, such as Jordan, took a more nuanced position more clearly aligned with the API framework. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that if Israel dealt with the UAE deal as an incentive to end occupation, it will move the region towards a just peace. While the Palestinian question cannot be wished away, and hundreds of millions around the world would still voice support for their cause, the Palestinians need to recognize the significant nature of these fundamental developments, Youssef said. “Denying the reality of these steps, withdrawing PLO ambassadors, and boycotting the Dubai Expo is not a strategy. The Palestinians badly need a unified and effective strategy to achieve their legitimate rights,” he added. Youssef recalled the controversial debate in Egypt and all over the Arab world when President Sadat went to Jerusalem in 1977. Youssef pointed out that while there was still strong opposition to the agreement when it was inked, many years later he believes a majority of Egyptians would think that Sadat was a visionary after all and that what he did ultimately served Egyptian interests. Of course, Youssef agreed, there are major differences between that deal and the ones Israel, the UAE and Bahrain just struck; chief among them that Egypt had been in direct conflict with Israel, over the Israeli occupation of Egyptian territories, and sought through the deal to end Israeli occupation of Sinai. “However, it remains the case that people in the Arab world will likely debate the normalization steps taken by the Emirates and Bahrain for decades to come,” he added. Youssef agreed that with the Trump plan earlier this year, the API is challenged, but he does not believe it is no longer relevant. He noted that Donald Trump’s chief advisor Jared Kushner admitted that all the Arab leaders with whom he met spoke about the API. “Even in the wake of the UAE and Bahrain deals, almost all Arab countries, and the Palestinian leadership, reconfirmed their commitment to this peace initiative,” Youssef added. Having been in the negotiating rooms in which Palestinians and Israelis were brought together on many occasions over the years, Youssef knows well that it will take a long time before Israel makes the concessions necessary to bring about the independent and viable Palestinian state, as stipulated by the API 18 years ago. According to Youssef, “Palestinians argue that their significant concessions over the years remain unrecognized by Israel and by this US administration. They have accepted a future Palestinian state on only 22 percent of “Mandatory Palestine.” They agreed to land swaps around the 1967 borders, expressed willingness to allow Israelis to remain as residents in Palestine, and agreed to only a symbolic return of refugees. From the Palestinian perspective, there isn’t a single comparable Israeli concession.” Youssef acknowledged that more challenges remain. There are major hurdles to overcome associated with the Palestinian divisions; Hamas unilateral control of Gaza away from the Palestinian Authority; the Israeli siege on Gaza; the desperate situation of the Palestinian Authority that is on the verge of collapse; and the volatile Israeli political context that witnessed three elections in one year, with a fourth possibly imminent. Beyond that of course, Europe is preoccupied, perhaps even overwhelmed, with its own challenges, and the world awaits the outcome of the US elections in a few weeks. “On the American side, the Trump administration is making the best use of the extent to which many Arab countries are unwilling to confront it, particularly at a time when these countries have several more urgent priorities than the Palestinian question and when, above all, they firmly believe that the Trump Plan has no chance of leading to a resolution of that conflict,” Youssef said. Should President Trump get re-elected, the dilemma posed by the plan will come into sharp focus. Palestinians, across the political spectrum, rejected the Trump Plan. And, the current Palestinian leadership will not go to negotiations on the basis of this plan. Meanwhile, an Israeli right-wing government will not go to negotiations except with the Trump plan on the table, a dilemma that will not be easily resolved, he said.Moreover, he added that some Arab countries have real concerns with the Trump Plan also noting the Arab League resolution that rejected it. Jordan, a crucial partner to the US, Israel, and the Palestinians, is a country that sees real danger in this plan, particularly as some Israeli right-wing circles have recently revived the narrative that Jordan is an alternative homeland for the Palestinians Ð an argument that was virtually abandoned after the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994. King Abdullah of Jordan has also fiercely rejected settling more Palestinian refugees in Jordan. But, with an empowered right-wing government in Israel, the Kingdom is increasingly concerned that Israel may try to resolve its demographic problem at Jordan’s expense. Jerusalem is another key factor. Jordan, along with many Arab and Islamic countries, could not accept Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, to include the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, as stipulated in the Trump plan. He added that recent statements from the US administration indicating that Muslims from all over the world coming in peace can go through Abu Dhabi or Manama to pray at the holy site, under Israeli control, altogether miss the point of Arab and Islamic countries’ interest and concerns on this issue. Where does this leave the key stakeholders and the pathway forward? The view from the US will be shaped by the election outcome, Youssef said. If president Trump wins, Youssef cautioned, there is a risk that the administration runs in persisting in an assumption that the plan has a realistic diplomatic path forward. This would not only lead to a dead end but can also undermine the prospects of peace and the possibility of the US playing a credible and effective role going forward, Youssef argued. According to Youssef, if Joseph Biden is elected, there may be efforts to roll back some - though by no means all - of the decisions made by the Trump administration, unless a military confrontation or a crisis erupts. He however added that the growing consensus in Washington is that a Biden administration will be extremely preoccupied with numerous more pressing internal and international issues and unable to dedicate meaningful attention to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, at least not immediately. As for the Palestinians, Youssef believes that they are facing one of the most difficult times since the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. They can no longer rely on automatic dependable Arab support as they once did. Now they need to overcome their division and focus their effort, with the help of the international community, on conducting elections, agree on a strategy, and recognize that good governance is their only way to gain the support of donors and public opinion. The lack of progress on these fronts is the reason behind the steep declining popularity of the Palestinian leadership. On the Israeli side, according to Youssef, the government is embracing a plan that cannot lead to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Accordingly, Israeli society finds itself at a historic crossroads, facing a choice between its democratic and Jewish characters if it pursues an extreme right maximalist position toward control of the occupied territories and its Palestinian inhabitants. Israel’s decisions today will forever affect the state’s long-term trajectory. Israel is also facing another daunting challenge: Netanyahu, the prime minister on trial, has presented his public with a narrative that achieving normalization with Arab countries requires no concessions; and, Benny Gantz, the prime minister in waiting who, even if he assumes that position, will be hard pressed to compete with this narrative as someone whose positions have long nodded toward the necessity of compromise to resolve the central existential conflict for Israel with the Palestinians. In the current climate, with the right wing in ascendancy, persuading public opinion with this proposition will require nothing short of a miracle. The growing and warming Israel-Gulf embrace, and the eagerness to advance ties, to include people to people relations, will likely strengthen calls from the younger generation in Palestine to abandon the pursuit of statehood in favor of a rights-based approach that would seek a bi-national state in the whole of Mandatory Palestine. This is non-starter for both the Israeli government and the public. The question today, therefore, is what next? According to Youssef, the new US administration, regardless of who resides in the White House, will need to rebalance the current policy if the goal is a just and sustainable peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Arab countries who have more immediate and pressing concerns, whether confronting Iran, wars in Yemen, Libya and Syria, the pandemic and its devastating economic implications, not to mention a host of other national challenges of diverse nature and intensity, have to reconfirm that resolving this conflict is still a sine qua non for regional peace and stability. According to Youssef, there was a recent ray of hope for effective diplomatic paths forward with the emergence of a “new Middle East Quartet”. In the first week of July, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany held a videoconference to discuss Middle East developments and adopted a firm position that denounced annexation plans and warned Israel of the repercussions of such a step. Arguably this also contributed to those plans being put on hold, and a formalized version of this grouping could serve both as a balance and a bridge in the international and regional management of the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Arab-Israeli conflicts. “These four countries, in particular, have an important role to play,” Youssef elaborated. “Egypt and Jordan were the first two countries to have peace treaties with Israel, treaties that have endured for over 40 and 25 years, respectively. On the European side, both France and Germany are the most influential countries in Europe in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their good relations with the Palestinians, Israelis and the US suggest an ability to serve an important mediating role. Youssef argued that this new quartet can work with the US on securing a constructive start for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in order “to allow for a settlement without which the Middle East could never really claim that it can live in peace, stability, security, or achieve prosperity”. The Emirates and Bahrain need to take a step towards the Palestinians. There are many prominent Palestinians who would be willing to work with them on trying to work out a modus operandi for the coming period to see how the normalization step can help advance peace and become a solid and sturdy bridge rather than a detrimental bypass to a conflict that will not go away. Perhaps Egypt can play a role in this regard. Youssef stressed that the input of any group of countries is no guarantee at all that things would necessarily take the right course. No one step by any power, whoever this power is, would be enough to achieve a breakthrough in the current impasse. There is a need for a package of steps to be taken by all sides in an orchestrated manner for the conflict to move along the right path toward resolution.
Suad Mohammad had hoped for a better life when her husband climbed into a dinghy to flee poverty-hit Lebanon, but he disappeared into the waves before he reached Cyprus. In her family home in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Mohammad, 27, said she believed the Syrian father of her two small children, 35-year-old Shady Ramadan, was dead. "I m waiting for my husband s body," she said, tears streaming down her face, as she clutched her baby boy on her lap. Ramadan is among dozens of Lebanese and Syrians to have tried to make the illicit sea crossing to European Union-member Cyprus in recent weeks, fleeing Lebanon s worst economic crisis in decades. His family said he was on a boat that drifted without food or water for a week in the Mediterranean sea before a United Nations peacekeeping ship rescued survivors on Monday. Mohammad recounted how desperation drove her diabetic husband to embark on the dangerous trip to the shores of the island of Cyprus, 160 kilometres (100 miles) away. "He fled Lebanon because of the grinding poverty to try to find us some money," she told AFP, a lively toddler girl playing at her feet. Lebanon s financial crunch has seen tens of thousands lose their jobs or part of their salaries, sparked sharp inflation and pushed poverty rates up to encompass more than half the population. Tripoli was one of Lebanon s poorest cities even before the crisis, which has been compounded in recent months by the novel coronavirus pandemic and a catastrophic explosion at Beirut s port that killed 190 people. Stranded at sea Before he left, Ramadan had tried to peddle ice creams from a cart, but earned no more than 20,000 Lebanese pounds a day (now worth around $2.50 at the black market rate). "A bag of nappies alone costs 33,000 pounds, without even considering rent," his wife said. The UNIFIL peacekeeping force rescued 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three others from a boat off the country s coast on Monday, the UN refugee agency said. UNIFIL also said it retrieved the body of someone who had died at sea. But relatives of those on board -- who included several other members of Mohammad s extended family -- claim at least four more either died or have gone missing. Ziad al-Bira, a relative, said two children had died of hunger and thirst, and their bodies had been pushed overboard, while Ramadan and another had disappeared at sea. It all started on September 7, when they climbed into a dinghy after having paid a smuggler five million pounds each (more than $660 at the market rate), he said. With the boat far over capacity, the smuggler "prevented them from coming aboard with their belongings, which included water, food and baby milk," Bira said. They ended up "stranded at sea without a guide, with communication cut off for days on end, until the UNIFIL ship found them," he added. After the two children died, Ramadan swam off to try to find help. "He left and never came back," Bira said. Slow death at home Another young man -- 27-year-old Mohammad Mohammad -- tried the same and also disappeared. Sitting in front of his home in Tripoli, his father Khaldoun, 54, said his son was unemployed and had left along with relatives without telling him. "The smuggler kept reassuring us that the boat had arrived safely, until we discovered three days later that he was lying -- by which time we could no longer speak to any of our children," he said. Distraught family members have filed three legal complaints against the smuggler, who has since disappeared. In Tripoli, however, not everybody is relying on a smuggler. This month, dozens of people chipped in to buy their own boat and spent 40 hours at sea trying to reach Cyprus before being turned back by the Cypriot navy. Two of them said they would jump at the opportunity to try again. Khaled Abdallah, 47, said life was no longer sustainable working 17-hour shifts as a school security guard for a daily wage of 25,000 pounds (around $3). "I m determined to try again, whatever the cost," he said. Mohammed al-Khanji, 37, said he could no longer provide for his two young children as an ambulant vegetable seller. "I will do the impossible to feed my children," he said. "In the end, we will go. We might get there or we might die straight away, but in this country, we are dying a slow death."
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10: 10) The Lord Jesus came for the salvation of mankind and education was his way to show us the way. Therefore, the people called him the good teacher, and his teachings have become a treasure for mankind till today. Father Poulos Halim in his article "The Teacher of the World" explained to us that the divine teachings have changed all of humanity