Middle East & Africa

Sudan Moves Towards Peace
Middle East & Africa

Sudan Moves Towards Peace

Sudan’s interim government is now in peace talks with the main rebel group, according to confirmed reports. The agreement was marked in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, which has mediated past negotiations between the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement — North, led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, and the government.

Peace talks have been going back and forth between Sudan’s interim government and the rebel group. The Al- Hilu’s movement is Sudan’s single largest rebel group and is active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces, where it controls significant chunks of territory.

The agreement between them has been uploaded by the rebel group on its website and shows both leaders singing an agreement.  The Sudanese transitional government has been trying to engage with related rebel groups to restore peace in the war torn land. Sudan has been trying to get back on its feet following a military overthrow of the longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 after nearly three decades of being in power.

Sudan is a resource rich country and has been on the radar of many western nations for a long time.  As the rebels went into talks with the interim government, it was clear that they didn’t want any role of religion in the formation of a secular state. They also wanted the disbanding of all of al-Bashir’s militias and the re-vamping of the country’s military. Al-Hilu’s group says if its demands aren’t met, it will call for self-determination in areas it controls.

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Both sides have now agreed to ensure a state that gives people freedom of religion, belief and religious practices as well as freedom to worship shall be guaranteed to all Sudanese people by separating the identities of culture, region, ethnicity and religion from the State.

Sudanese rebels for years fought al-Bashir’s loyalists, in Darfur but also in the southern provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The fighting has often fallen along religious and ethnic lines. In rebel-held provinces much of the population claims sub-Saharan African descent and are Christian, and were targeted by al-Bashir’s Islamist government in the north of the country.

Aftermath of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: Tigray civilians need protection amid fears of humanitarian crisis
Middle East & Africa

Aftermath of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: Tigray civilians need protection amid fears of humanitarian crisis

Months since the Tigray conflict erupted in Ethiopia raising humanitarian crisis by activists, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has constantly denied allegations against any abuse or targeted attacks, until now. Months into denial Abiy Ahmed has finally admitted that the Eritrean troops in Ethiopia are fighting alongside the federal army. Interestingly, this has been since the beginning reported by human rights groups in the region, raising deep concerns.

Eritrean troops have been reported to target Tigrayans and kill them singling out, an indication towards attempt of ethnic cleansing of the community in Tigray.  

To the terrible human crisis that has shocked the world, with its implications still coming to the forefront and the horrid human toll, Abiy Ahmed just said, “War is a nasty thing.” He barely touched the surface of the surmount of human suffering that has come at the cost of war between Ethiopian military led by the Prime Minister and TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). Since the war began in November last year, thousands have died, majority being civilians. After multiple reports of targeted attacks, killings, rapes and lootings against Tigray region civilians, heads of nine UN agencies and other officials have demanded halt on targeted attacks against civilians and non-combatants.

Médecins Sans Frontières reported that this week its staff noticed at least four men being dragged out of bus by armed men and shot. Furthermore, at least 70% of medicals facilities in the region have been looted and vandalized deliberately, leaving only 13% in functional state.

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Extensive evidence now shows that Eritrean forces have killed hundreds of people in Tigray region since November, including young children in Axum and over 160 in Dengolat village. TPLF too has been accused of massacring hundreds of civilians in Mai Kadra, western Tigray in November.

Concerns over possible ethnic cleansing in western Tigray were raised by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

Over three-quarters of Tigray population is now completely dependent on relief aid with thousands on verge of starvation. 2 million people have displaced internally with around 60,000 having fled to neighboring Sudan. The rising international attention, criticism and involvement is said to have prompted Abiy Ahmed to finally acknowledge the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the hand of Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopian military.

Joint investigation announced by UN and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Abiy Ahmed’s admission to the crisis, and access to humanitarian efforts and media shows what impact international pressure can have.

Struggle to free Suez Canal of the giant container ship enters third day
Middle East & Africa

Struggle to free Suez Canal of the giant container ship enters third day

World’s key trade route of Suez Canal remains lock-jawed by a massive container ship for third day and pressure on authorities is building up to free the canal from wedged vessel.

A brief pause in overnight operations was resumed on Thursday to refloat the massive 220,000 ton and 400 metre long Ever Given. The fears loom that the operation could practically extend to weeks if vessels needs to be unloaded.

“It is not really possible to pull it loose”, said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Beskalis, the dredging company that is on site for the operation. He added that unloading might be needed which could take weeks together. “We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation.”

Ship’s bow and stern have been lifted up against canal’s either side. Ship’s waterline indicates that the vessel is sitting ‘heavily on the bank’. He added, “It’s like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.”

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Meanwhile, the blocking of Suez Canal has led to traffic jam on either side of the Asia-Europe trade channel with 150 ships laden with oil, consumer goods and automotive parts. The channel is passage for a third of world’s container traffic. Experts also warn that a massive flood of insurance claims of the huge amount of cargo which has been held up.

Ever Given is a Panama flagged ship and operated by Taiwan was drifted aground on Tuesday morning by as massive gust of wind when it lost its ability to steer, said the Suez Canal Authority (SCA).

Lieutenant General Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said, “The Suez Canal will not spare any efforts to ensure the restoration of navigation and to serve the movement of global trade.”

Apart from the loss in trade and massive economic implications, experts warn that idling ships across the channel in Red Sea can invite attacks amid rising tensions between Iran and US and its implications across the Middle East.

Exit polls predict Netanyahu falling just short of majority in quest to form Israel’s government for another term
Middle East & Africa

Exit polls predict Netanyahu falling just short of majority in quest to form Israel’s government for another term

According to exit polls, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is envisaged to fall just short of locking the required number of seats to form next Israeli government. These elections are fourth in past two years in Israel.

It is predicted that Netanyahu’s Likud Party would be able to secure around 52 seats of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament. The opposition party are thus projected to win approximately 60 seats. This can be a big jolt to Netanyahu who has been able to dramatically win all the four elections in past two years and remaining in power. Despite of support from the nationalist Yamina party, Netanyahu may lose the election, as the exit polls suggest.

Yamina party that is led by Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu loyalist, is forecasted to win around seven seats. The party hasn’t however clearly declared which side it would support. Before exit polls were released, Bennett had said, “I will do only what is good for the State of Israel.”

Yamina party is said to wait for the final results to finally declare its support to any side.

The Central Elections Committee of Israel is projected to be able to make a final count of votes till Wednesday due to restrictions around Coronavirus pandemic.

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Anticipating his lead, Netanyahu tweeted late Tuesday thanking his supporters. He wrote, “You gave a huge win to the right and Likud under my leadership. Likud is the biggest party by far. It’s clear most Israelis are right-wing, and want a strong, stable right-wing government.”

Meanwhile, Opposition party Yesh Atid is predicted to win between 16 and 18 seats. Yasir Lapid, the main opposition leader said he is proud of his party’s monumental achievement. More than 6.3 million people in Israel were eligible to vote in the elections. Crossings were closed by military from the West Bank on the election day. Israel occupied West Bank is home to around 2.5 million Palestinians who are not allowed to vote. According to the Israeli law, any party with minimum 3.25% votes can only enter the Knesset. This means a minor change in votes distribution can sway away the results.

Israel elections: Can Netanyahu win this time?
Middle East & Africa

Israel elections: Can Netanyahu win this time?

Israelis, in two years, are voting in the fourth general election what is being widely seen as a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. 

The previous three elections ended inconclusively. The coalition government collapsed in December and polls point towards yet another stalemate.

These polls are being held as Israel returns from lockdown and Mr. Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumes in two weeks’ time.

The prime minister is subjected to charges of fraud, corruption, bribery, and breach of trust which he denies and says are politically motivated.

Since the elections of March 2020, Israel has been through three lockdowns in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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Mr. Netanyahu’s opponents accuse him of mishandling the crisis, but as per the latest facts and figures, the economy has rebounded in recent weeks, infection rates have gone done and the PM has termed Israel’s rapid inoculation program as a big achievement.

Israel, at its peak, was amongst the worst-hit countries in the world, but nearly half of the population now has received one vaccination dose.

Apart from the pandemic crisis, the opposition has focused on Mr Netanyahu’s political dominance as the longest-serving leader, saying that now the country is overdue a change.

The prime minister is in power since 2009, having served a three-year term in the late 90s.

His Likud party is expected to get more seats but is forecasted to fall short of the 61 needed to form a government without any support from other parties. 

However, polls ahead of the elections suggest that even the bloc of right-wing parties that are willing to back the PM could struggle to get through the numerical threshold that will enable him to stay in the office.

The Anti-Netanyahu bloc is expected to outshine the pro-Netanyahu bloc but analysts are of the opinion the level of political differences between the two means that even if they manage to win 61 or more seats, they won’t be able to form a government together.

Iran Not In The Mood For Meeting Unless America Withdraws Sanctions
Middle East & Africa

Iran Not In The Mood For Meeting Unless America Withdraws Sanctions

Iran has no intentions of reversing its uranium enrichment moves unless the US reverses its sanctions, according to Tehran’s top religious leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not minced his words while addressing the state television, expressing distrust for America, even though leadership change speaks for itself. 

Khamenei referred back to the days of Obama saying that things were more trustful as America was seen keeping its promise but nothing seems like this as of now. “The Americans must lift all sanctions. We will verify it and if sanctions are…really canceled, we will return to our obligations without any problems,” Khamenei said. “We have a lot of patience and we are not in a hurry.”

On the flip side, the spokesperson of the State Department has already clarified that it does not intend to see through negotiations from the Iranian side before both governments can have a meeting. Since Trump pulled off the Nuclear Peace Treaty of 2015, there has been no level ground dialogue or meeting between Tehran and Washington. 

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America is saying it does not intend to be arm-twisted by Iranian pressure or wind its way down to a meeting stage.  But in Washington, the Democrats and Republicans together had written to Joe Biden, with high hopes that under his leadership, America will yet again be able to set a precedence of fair and just diplomacy.

In a letter, both sides have urged to look for a long-lasting solution; something that goes beyond just addressing the nuclear deal or the various economic sanctions. The threat that Iran poses to America and the rest of the world needs some thought and strategic handling. 

On its part, the Islamic country is threatening war like conditions, if America does not remove its sanctions. Only peace talks are not what they are interested in. 

According to American intelligence, this is evident from the fact that in January 2021, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was already discussing plans of mounting ‘USS Cole Style attacks’ against the Fort McNair, an Army base in the nation’s capital, and also attack the Army’s vice chief of staff.  

It was supposed to be an act of revenge for the October 2000 suicide attack in which a small boat pulled up alongside the Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden and exploded, killing 17 sailors. The intelligence also revealed threats to kill Gen. Joseph M. Martin and plans to infiltrate and survey the base, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss national security matters and spoke on condition of anonymity to the media. The base, one of the oldest in the country, is Martin’s official residence. 

Morocco’s online drought maps can be beneficial for the entire MENA region
Middle East & Africa

Morocco’s online drought maps can be beneficial for the entire MENA region

Water scarcity and managing drought is an ongoing problem in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In an attempt to tackle the drought, Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water, and Forests (MAFRWF) has published a nationwide satellite based drought maps.

Morocco is frequently experiencing water crisis and drought conditions, and climate change conditions are expected to continue this trend in future as well. The fact that half of the population in Morocco lives in rural areas and are farmers, when drought strikes it leaves a lasting impact on food and water security in region. These drought maps would be made available to government agencies and research institutes would make a network for delivering early draught warning. These automatic trigger warnings would initiate agencies to mitigate the impacts.

These color coded maps would visually present satellite data on rainfall, land surface temperature, soil moisture, and vegetation health, compiled into enhanced Composite Drought Index (eCDI), which would be easy to interpret. By analyzing changes on these maps from the start of the growing season, users can detect at an early stage if a drought is emerging, even before any effects are visible on ground.

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These maps have been developed as part of Morocco arm of the USAID funded MENA drought Project, which is being carried out by International Water Management Institute and partners. ECDI is developed in collaboration with National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NASA Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, and Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, USA, in collaboration with the Department of Strategy and Statistics of MAFRWF.

As Morocco has decided to publish the color-coded maps, it will have wider implications and work towards providing benefits for the entire MENA region. If Morocco gains success in using maps to steer the actions for drought management in right direction, then other nations in region too can be persuaded towards same modus operandi.

Egypt urges international diplomatic intervention to resolve Ethiopian mega-dam dispute
Middle East & Africa

Egypt urges international diplomatic intervention to resolve Ethiopian mega-dam dispute

On Thursday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly expressed concern over Ethiopian government’s plan to operate Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The deadlock between the nations over the dam dispute made Egyptian premier propose international intervention by four parties including African Union, the UN, the European Union and the US. Egypt and Sudan made a collective proposal for the quartet mediation last week but Ethiopia turned down the proposal stating that the dam issue was an African issue and should be resolved by African nations only.

Last week, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, on his visit to Egypt discussed the issue with his Egyptian counterpart. He said that all the three nations should form an agreement and resolve the long-standing dispute over Addis Ababa’s massive dam project, which is being constructed on the Blue Nile. But the ongoing standoff with Ethiopian government left Sudanese and Egyptian governments more worried. Both the nations fear that the dam, once operational would significantly reduce the water flow of the Nile to their regions and deprive the two nations of the regular water supply on which their populations were solely dependent for agriculture, industry and everyday life.

“This dam requires that we go back to negotiations as quickly as possible with African and international participation so that we can reach a just and balanced agreement that is legally binding for the filling and bringing online of the dam before the new high tide season,”Dr Madbouly said.

“This project is the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa and we have spent a decade of bitter negotiations with our brothers in Sudan and Ethiopia to reach a balanced and just agreement,” Madbouly told the UN General Assembly. He said that the negotiations over the damn “did not lead to the desired agreement” and instead Ethiopia went ahead filling the dam without “taking into consideration the interests” of its neighbours.

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The dispute took a serious turn in July last year after Ethiopia said that it has decided go ahead with the dam’s second and much larger filling, irrespectiveof lack of agreement with Egypt and Sudan. The situation grew worse especially between Ethiopia and Sudan, leading up to a war-like scenario. Since the start, both Egypt and Sudan, have been against the ambitious dam project, which otherwise would make Ethiopia Africa’s largest power exporter. But the contested project could leave Egypt in severe water crisis and Sudan flooded, if the dam, located on its border, collapsed. Egypt called it an ‘existential threat’ to its 100 million people.

Both the nations also highlighted the flawed engineering which went into construction of a massive $4.8 billion project. They emphasised that Addis Ababa did not conduct enough studies to calculate the risks. On the other hand, Ethiopia said that the power generated by the dam would uplift millions of its people from poverty-ridden life and would enable the country to produce surplus power to export.

“Cynical attempt” to conceal truth: Ukraine rejects Iran’s report on downing of PS752 flight
Middle East & Africa

“Cynical attempt” to conceal truth: Ukraine rejects Iran’s report on downing of PS752 flight

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was taken down on January 8, 2020 by two missiles after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people that were onboard. Now the final report on downing of the jet by Civil Aviation Organization of Iran’s has been rejected by Ukraine that has called it a rather “cynical attempt” to bury the truth.

The report by CAOI says that an air defense operator had “misidentified” the Ukrainian jet as antagonist and fired the two missiles without prior authorization from commander.

After the report was publicized, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a video that was posted on Facebook, “The document does not present all the circumstances, does not reveal the root causes of the tragedy or the chain of actions that led to it. This is not a report, it is a collection of manipulations, the goal of which is not to establish the truth, but to whitewash the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

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The people onboard who were killed were from Ukraine, Canada, Sweden, UK and Afghanistan. The nations have demanded a clear and complete explanation from Iran of the unfortunate incident.

It must be noted that in the first three days after the flight was downed, armed forces of Iran had denied any responsibility of the incident, while the CAOI had said of a technical failure to be reason of flight crash. The crash site was looted and bulldozed under authorities notice. But later over surfacing of evidence, Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force said that the air defense unit had taken Boeing 737-800 mistakenly for a US missile.

Air defense of Iran was on high alert at the time of incident as it had just fired two Iraqi military bases with ballistic missiles that were hosting US forces. The whole unfolding was in line with Iran’s retaliation for killing of its top general Qasem Soleimani by the US few days earlier in Baghdad. Iranian officials had said that victims of flight crash included 146 people all of whom were on Iranian passports. But Ukraine says that its nine citizens were killed along with 167 other passengers. Canada says that of victims 55 were Canadian citizens, while 30 were permanent residents. 53 other were traveling to Canada via Kyiv.

UAE plans to invests $10 billion in Israel
Middle East & Africa

UAE plans to invests $10 billion in Israel

UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology stressed the investment is “commercially driven and not politically associated”

On Tuesday, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT) said that the country’s decision to invest about $10 billion in Israel was “commercially driven and not politically associated”. While explaining the Arab nation’s investment course across the globe, Dr Sultan Al Jaber said that UAE was at a “very early stage in studying the laws and policies in Israel”.

Dr Jaber said, “We are establishing what bilateral agreements need to be in place to support and protect our investments.” He stressed that “the UAE has a long history and rich track record in making the right investments in the right locations, based on the commercial assessment of that market”.

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On Thursday night the country made public it plans of exploring investment prospects in Israel in different areas including energy, manufacturing, water, space, health care and agri-tech. Jaber clarified that both the nations were at an initial stage of the plan and a lot was yet to be discussed before formulating any agreement. Dr Jaber told reporters, “UAE is always on the lookout for attractive investments in the right locations, in a highly competitive world. There are plenty of opportunities in different markets and we continue to evaluate them based on both strategic merits and commercial value”.

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