Middle East & Africa

Israel gets access to Saudi Arabia’s airspace for all its flights for the first time
Middle East & Africa

Israel gets access to Saudi Arabia’s airspace for all its flights for the first time

In a historical move on Wednesday Saudi Arabia announced opening of its airspace for all the flights going to and from the United Arab Emirates. This move will give Israel access to kingdom’s access for first time in the history. The announcement is said to be after the request of UAE following first direct flight was operated from Israel to Abu Dhabi, a symbolic move of normalizing relations between UAE and Israel under the recent peace treaty.

After the tremendous breakthrough announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, while standing in front of the region’s map, “Flights will be cheaper and shorter, and it will lead to robust tourism and develop our economy. While tracing the map route between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi with his finger Netanyahu said that it would be an advantage to Israeli travelling to east Asia as it will save time and money.

“Flights will be cheaper and shorter, and it will lead to robust tourism and develop our economy.

Benjamin Netanyahu

On Monday first ever direct flight from Tel Aviv, Israel to Abu Dhabi, UAE passed through Saudi Arabia airspace. It was first time when the kingdom had allowed an Israeli commercial airplane to pass over its territory. India’s national airline Air India had got approval to fly direct to Israel and established a direct route in 2018 from New Delhi to Tel Aviv passing over the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The recent decision to allow commercial flights use its airspace while flying to and from UAE, Saudi Arabia has opened doors to commercial viability by cutting short the journey of seven hours to half.

Monday’s flight took diplomats from Israel and United States from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi as a mark of strengthening commercial and diplomatic relations between UAE and Israel. The peace agreement between the two nations is hopeful of leading other Arab countries towards the same path and give recognition to the Jewish state. UAE is the third Arab country to have established a path towards normalizing relations with Israel. Earlier Egypt had signed peace agreement with Israel in 1979 and Jordon also signed a treaty with Israel in 1994.

Hamas calls an end to days of violence after new deal
Middle East & Africa

Hamas calls an end to days of violence after new deal

The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was announced following negotiations to “end aggression” and a slew of other concessions for the Gaza Strip.

For two weeks, there has been exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas across the border with Gaza, with Israel launching rockets on Hamas targets in response to explosive-laden balloons being released into Israel. An Egyptian delegation has been trying to broker peace between the two sides but ultimately it was someone else that got the job done. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar announced that a decision to de-escalate the situation was reached after a round of discussions facilitated by Qatari envoy.

Qatar’s Mohammed al-Emadi is understood to have shuttled between the two regions, meeting with military leaders in order to prevent an all-out confrontation. Hamas has said that there has been an agreement to stop aggressions, reopen fishing along the Gaza coast, ease restriction of goods coming in, including fuel to Gaza’s only power station and medical supplies in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In response, Hamas will put an end to the ‘fire balloons’ and night-time confusion operations where groups of young men create chaos and disturbances along the border. Qatar has also announced $30 million in aid that will go towards infrastructure projects and Palestinian families.

Cooperation in instituting large-scale improvements to the region’s crumbling infrastructure was a part of the truce that Israel agreed to in November 2018 but Hamas has said that it has failed to live up to its promises. Israel meanwhile has said that it Hamas is not keeping its side of the agreement either by continually engaging in acts of aggression against Israel. Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has said that in an effort to calm the situation following security consultations under Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a decision has been taken to resume normal activities along the Kerem Shalom crossing and allow fishing upto 15 nautical miles off the coast starting September 1. The continuation of this civilian policy however, they warned, was subject to calm and security stability. They held Hamas accountable for all action in the Gaza Strip and Israel will respond to any failure in its obligations. They stressed that Israel was at hand to help Gaza fight the rapidly aggravating pandemic situation but only if Hamas agreed to remove the military aspects from this deal.

France will accommodate Moroccan Minors in Care Centers
Middle East & Africa

France will accommodate Moroccan Minors in Care Centers

Morocco and France has finally decided to set up an accommodation and care centre for unaccompanied Moroccan minors in France. This is a way to create a safety net for such minors. There is an urgent need to control the movement of unaccompanied Moroccan minors in France that are being caught in drug trafficking, robbery and even at times, in rape charges. 

Substantiating the French claims of accepting Moroccan minors that could prove their nationality, the Minister Delegate for Moroccans Residing Abroad (MREs), Nezha El Ouafi, has slammed the European authorities for sharing inaccurate numbers of children residing in France and that they should be well taken care of.

Minor Moroccan unaccompanied children are being found in huge numbers in France. The same fate has been of Italian children too. France had started accepting immigrants from Morocco in the 1960s but the inflow has now resorted to illegal routes.

Moroccan children like the Italian lot, come to France in the hope of better future. Most are boys in the age group of 14to18 years of age.  They are scared, vulnerable and mostly unaccompanied.  Most of them have either lost parents in war.  Many of them also sneak out of their homes to move to countries nearby like France, Germany, Belgium and Netherlands. Unaccompanied minors from Morocco and Algeria account for almost 50 percent of those seeking asylum in these countries.

Many children also try and travel from Italy to France. They traverse through dangerous mountain routes only to be apprehended by border Police. Those who make it are refused entry on the pretext of faulty age determining documentation or clear accounts of how they have reached France in the first place. Many of these children have already been through abuse and torture and look for respite and hope for a better life in France.

No reforms yet, Lebanon still in political limbo
Middle East & Africa

No reforms yet, Lebanon still in political limbo

More than two weeks after the entire government resigned, no one is in-charge to get started on the urgent reforms needed.

The port blast of August 4 in Beirut was the final straw. Lebanon was already spiralling into economic chaos thanks to the crash in its currency which was leading to food shortages and even hunger crimes. The international community had been leaning on the government to enact urgent reforms in order to unlock much-needed aid. Donors want to see tangible reductions in waste and corruption but three successive cabinets had failed to initiate any actions towards this end ever since $11 billion was pledged to Lebanon in 2018.

Now, in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, when these reforms need to be implemented on a war footing, there is no urgency among the political elite to see this done. Instead, there is a long-drawn-out tussle to appoint a new prime minister who can start engaging with the International Monetary Fund once again. There is an impasse among the various sectarian leaders that even the intervention by the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron has not been able to break.

While Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Hassan Diab effectively quit when the government resigned on August 10, he continues to serve as caretaker prime minister. Nominated by Hezbollah and its allies in January, they now want to see the return Saad al-Hariri who they believe can consolidate international support. But some of their other allies like the Maronite Christian caretaker President Michel Aoun, his son-in-law’s Free Patriotic Movement, the Christian Lebanese Forces Party have been against the idea. If an alternative is not chosen, the caretaker government will continue to function until 2022.

This would only fuel anger on the streets where there has been increasing clamour for a change of guard. But more than three weeks after the blast, there is no clarity on who is leading the government and what changes they will seek to implement both economically and politically. Meanwhile, the situation is becoming dire. The Central Bank has said that it can import basic goods only for another three months after which crippling shortages of fuel, medicine and wheat is expected. Ahead of Macron’s return visit on September 1, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that if the political establishment doesn’t act to avert the oncoming financial meltdown, Lebanon is at risk of “disappearing”. He said the Lebanese authorities have “made a consensus among themselves for inaction”. Warning that this is no longer possible, he said the international community will not sign a blank cheque without reforms being put into place, and quickly.

Kuwait will rebuild Lebanese Food Silo
Middle East & Africa

Kuwait will rebuild Lebanese Food Silo

After the recent Beirut explosion, life has come to a stand still for Lebanese.  The economy was already in shambles and the blast has further pushed the economic into an abyss.

Countries from across the globe are pitching in, to help bring back the economy on its feet.  Kuwait is the latest in the race which have promised to rebuild Lebanon’s only grain silo which got damaged in the unfortunate chemical explosion a few weeks back.

The explosion is being considered a gross negligence and overlook on the part of the authorities which were responsible for its upkeep.  The 120,000-ton capacity structure was initially built through Kuwait funds in 1969. Strangely, the act of compassion is not just that- it seems to be an indication on how the gulf monarchy wishes to pass on a message on ‘how to maintain relations between brotherly countries that respect each other.’

There has been a general scare amongst the populace over food shortage. The grain silo that is situated at the portside where the explosion happened was being used as a repository for food items that came from abroad. The plan to build a second such repository in Tripoli was shelved earlier to due to lack of funds. The ongoing civil unrest could also have been another reason for this.

The caretaker economy minister, Raoul Nehme has reassured the masses that there will be no shortage of bread and flour. It is startling fact that Lebanon sources almost all its wheat from outside. Post the sad explosion, the government was forced to resign. While the world has stepped in to help Lebanon stand back on its feet, it has also made it clear that it has no intentions of bailing the country out of its economic misery, unless a proper government comes into play and can ensure fair governance.

UN members unanimously reject US proposal to impose sanctions on Iran
Middle East & Africa

UN members unanimously reject US proposal to impose sanctions on Iran

US stood alone in its demand to pull economic sanctions on Iran as 13 out of 15 UN Security Council members rejected the proposal. The demand was formally put across at the UN’s New York headquarters by US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. He urged the organisation to impose indefinite economic embargo on Iran for non-compliance with the 2015 nuclear treaty. Much to the US horror, of late Iran has been developing ballistic missiles and has long surpassed its limited assigned with regard to its nuclear programs.

The treaty, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA was signed by Iran, US, France, Germany, UK, Russia and China to prevent the Islamic republic from developing nuclear weapons and missiles. As per the deal, if UN accepts proposal for  sanctions on Iran, it would be restored after 30 days of declaration. But almost every member nation party to the deal objected to the US demand.

The European powers, issued the letters opposing the US sanction proposal and said that US no longer holds the right to trigger these sanctions “snapback” because US President Donald Trump left the JCPOA in May 2018.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in a statement that because it withdrew from the deal, the US “cannot, therefore, be considered a participant State for the purposes of possible sanctions snapback foreseen by the resolution.”

“As coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission, I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all. The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global non-proliferation architecture, contributing to regional security,” he added.

Russia and China also backed their claim. A spokesperson for China’s mission to the United Nations said, “The US demand has no legal ground and common sense. It is nothing but a political show staged by the United States.”

In a counter-argument, the US has said it could technically still table the proposal  because it was part of the 2015 security council resolution endorsing the JCPOA. But the  argument was nevertheless rejected by France, the UK and Germany even before Pompeo made his declaration.

Diplomats at the UN said the US isolation in this case was a result of the rudeness and for-granted attitude portrayed by US leadership, most of all by Pompeo, who accused Europeans of choosing to “side with the ayatollahs”. “The Americans were actually being over the top in their ridiculousness,” one diplomat said.“The underlying point here is that most countries on the security council basically agree with the US that Iran is not a nice country and it having nuclear weapons and more arms is not a good thing,” the diplomat said. “But the Americans misplayed their hand so often, so aggressively, that they isolated themselves from people not on policy, but on just being unpleasant.”

Iraq and the US reach a series of deals, today Kadhimi at the White House
Middle East & Africa

Iraq and the US reach a series of deals, today Kadhimi at the White House

The United States wants Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections to be “transparent” and would like to see the country free from corruption. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday, during a joint press conference with Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, as reported Iraqi media. Pompeo added that the strategic dialogue between the two countries, whose second session the Secretary of State and his Iraqi counterpart inaugurated today, is not just about “the number of US troops in Iraq.”

Washington’s chief of diplomacy also said US President Donald Trump to announce soon “The next steps” relating to the question of Iran. For his part, Iraqi Minister Hussein reiterated that Baghdad has “a solid alliance” with the United States, underlining on the other hand that decisions relating to Iraq must be “in the hands of Iraqis “and that the country wants” normal “relations with neighboring states, without interference.

According to Reuters, during the meetings between Kadhimi and other high officials of his government with US counterparts, several bilateral agreements and deals were signed. Five American companies signed contracts with Iraqi authorities in the Oil and Electricity Ministries worth over $8 billion.A statement from the US Department of Energy indicates, adding thatamong the new agreements also the US’s General Electric worth more than $1 billion.

A $500 million deal was reachedby the Iraq and GE Gas Power to service power plants in Iraq and to help maintain over 6,000 megawatts of electricity.Another accord worth $727 million was signed between Iraq and GE Renewable Energy’s Grid Solutions to strengthen Iraq’s transmission network, enhancing grid stability and interconnection with the electricity network of Jordan.

Today, the White House will receive an Iraqi prime minister for the first time in three years as ties have warmed between Washington and Baghdad since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was appointed earlier this year.Trump has repeatedly affirmed that he would pull the US out of “endless wars,” with Iraq being one of them.

Protests erupt in Sudan over slow progress in reforms
Middle East & Africa

Protests erupt in Sudan over slow progress in reforms

Demonstrations have returned to the streets of Khartoum a year after a power-sharing agreement was signed.

A year after an agreement was signed between the country’s military and the pro-democracy movement, the latter has returned to the streets to protest against the slow pace of reforms. Draped in the national flag and chanting slogans, demonstrators gathered outside the cabinet headquarters in the capital city of Khartoum demanding the election of a legislative body, among several things. Some protestors from neighbourhood-based ‘resistance committees’ burnt car tyres.

According to Sudanese Professionals Association, the protestors were met with violence by security forces, who dispersed them with tear gas after refusing to allow them to meet Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok to ask him to negotiate with their designated envoy. But the PM did release a statement calling for political and popular support for reforms including the rebuilding of the state apparatus, dismantling the legacy of the old regime and modernising the civil service.

The police released a statement saying the use of tear gas was lawful and in proportion with the situation on the ground. Some “random” injuries were reported among demonstrators and security forces. However, Khartoum’s governor apologised for the excessive use of force which he said was contradictory to their approach in an era of freedom, peace and justice.

After army general stepped in to overthrown longtime President Omar al-Bashir last year in April following relentless protests, an agreement was signed that included power-sharing between the military and a civilian administration. This 11-member governing body would lead the country into elections after a transitional period of 39 months. But a lot of the promises of the deal haven’t been kept according to returning protestors. They say justice has not yet been delivered to those who martyred their lives for the cause of the revolution. They also say the military has been exerting too much influence over the civilian leadership and want a civilian takeover of military-run companies. Also, the economy has not improved, with US sanctions leaving it worse off since the protests began in December 2018. The protestors demanded that a conference be organised to help the country navigate out of its current troubles, including the formation of a transitional legislature and reorganisation of the civilian coalition.

World leaders express hope towards peace in Middle East after historic UAE-Israel deal
Middle East & Africa

World leaders express hope towards peace in Middle East after historic UAE-Israel deal

The historic agreement between the UAE and Israel normalising relations between the two countries has been hailed by world leaders as a major start to promoting peace talks across the Middle East. The deal, being regarded as the “Abraham Agreement”, will prevent Israel from further annexing parts of Palestinian territories in the occupied West Bank. The historic peace agreement has been brokered by US President Donald Trump, who termed it a huge breakthrough towards peace in the Middle East.

Significantly, this is a third such agreement between the countries in the Middle East and it has fostered the prospects of more similar deals in the region in the coming time. The UAE became the third country, after Jordan and Egypt,  to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Among the Arab countries, Bahrain and Oman welcomed the deal as a significant step towards achieving peace in the Middle East. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi also took to Twitter and welcomed the deal, saying it for the welfare of the region’s prosperity and stability.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the deal as good news, while US presidential candidate Joe Biden hailed the move as a significant step towards establishing peace in the region.

Several Asian countries including China, India, and Japan expressed their support to the UAE-Israel ties along with the welfare of Palestinian people.

The European Union welcomed the move, asserting that it will benefit both Israel and the UAE. Taking to Twitter, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the “courageous decision by the United Arab Emirates and its desire to contribute to the establishment of a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also expressed her support to the development as she said that normalisation of relations between the two countries is an important contribution to promoting peace in the region.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement, expressing hope that the deal would realise a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

“The secretary-general welcomes this agreement, hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realise a two state-solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

According to the official statement in the deal, the UAE and Israeli officials are going meet in the coming weeks to sign the agreement.

Lebanese Keen On French Governance In Their Land
Middle East & Africa

Lebanese Keen On French Governance In Their Land

Lebanon is now looking for better governance. This has become evident as 50,000 petitioners put down a vote to request France take over the baton from the current leadership.

Post the disastrous bombing in Beirut that led to loss of life and property, the people of Lebanon seem to lost faith in governance and are asking for France to represent their rights instead. The explosion that took place in Beirut was due to sheer lack of planning and upkeep of public property.

France had been a Lebanese protectorate a century ago, and general public feel if this mandate was re-imposed, Lebanese would be happier. Speculations over whether Emmanuel Macron has any intentions of bringing Lebanon back to the colonial era, have been rubbished by the charismatic French president over his recent visit to the devastation site in Beirut.

The country which has been reeling under economic collapse is increasingly losing hope in the current governance. Lebanon has been under severe stress due to the falling currency and lack of liquid funds in the banking system as well.  Its medical facilities are saturated and do not have funds from the government to carry on medical aid for Covid-19 cases. There is a general unrest amongst people.

But Macron has made it clear that it would be unfair to ignore the current leadership, while he addressed people in the streets in Beirut, who asked for him to help.

The petition that has been created by a private entity Cyrill online says, “the extent to which people are supporting French help shows their lack of trust in current governance. Since France exited, Lebanon has now grown as much as it should have. Further, there has been civil war, economic, political and border crises that has rocked the country and current governance has not been able to save the ship from sinking.”

The so called public petition has been signed by 60,000 people including the French-Lebanese 250,000-strong diaspora and people in Lebanon who say ‘it’s a way to express their desperation and distrust of the political class.’

A petitioner who signed and spoke in anonymity to Euronews has said, “Lebanon does not have an economic strategy. People are forced to live from day-to-day. They are trying to heal the deep wounds of the present with bandages.” Meanwhile, Macron has pledged international aid to help restoration efforts in Lebanon.

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