Posts Tagged ‘Arabs’

Israel unveils plan to pump billions into neglected East Jerusalem

June 1, 2018

Education, infrastructure and jobs program called ‘most comprehensive attempt’ yet to narrow gap between Arab and Jewish parts of city

The government on Thursday unveiled what it billed as a groundbreaking program to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in long-neglected Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

The “Leading Change” program aims to reduce the huge social gaps between the Palestinian neighborhoods and the overwhelmingly Jewish western part of the city. Palestinian neighborhoods suffer from poor infrastructure, neglect and subpar public services, and nearly 80 percent of the city’s Palestinian families live in poverty.

The program will invest NIS 2 billion, or $560 million, in three core areas: education, infrastructure and helping Palestinian women enter the work force.

Young Palestinian school girls play after school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, on March 30, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The money will be spent on a variety of programs, including nine pilot projects, in the coming five years, with the aim of attracting further government and private investment down the road.

Various government ministries, along with the Jerusalem municipality, will carry out the program, which was launched at a ceremony at President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence on Thursday.

Rivlin, a proponent of coexistence, praised what he called “the most comprehensive attempt by the government to date to narrow the gaps and to develop the economy” of East Jerusalem.

View of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, on December 14, 2017. (Dario Sanchez/FLASH90)

He said East Jerusalem has experienced “lost generations” over the decades.

“I very much hope that the near future will ensure hope for change, and ensure that we not give up on future generations,” he said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. Israel considers East Jerusalem an inseparable part of its capital, while the Palestinians seek the area as the capital of a future state.

Zeev Elkin, the government’s minister for Jerusalem affairs, is expected to play a leading role in implementing the program. Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party who is running for mayor of Jerusalem, said bringing to prosperity to East Jerusalem is an Israeli interest.

Minister Ze’ev Elkin speaks during a ceremony honoring veterans of the Six Day War at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, as Israel marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war, on May 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“All those who truly believe in a unified Jerusalem and aspire to full sovereignty must act with determination to govern on one hand, and to take responsibility for developing infrastructure on the other,” he said.

While critics are likely to point to such comments as signs of an Israeli power play, proponents say the program recognizes reality on the ground and gives Palestinians a chance to participate in the thriving high-tech Israeli economy.

Most East Jerusalem Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, and instead hold residency rights that allow them to work and freely travel in Israel.

Israeli security forces check a Palestinian man at the entrance to the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem on December 2, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, who critics accuse of neglecting East Jerusalem, said he has done his best to develop the area and blamed the national government for chronically underfunding his city.

He said Leading Change would provide just a small percentage of what is needed, but expressed hope the program would raise awareness of the city’s needs.


An Arab Plan B for Containing Iran

May 21, 2018


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Plan A was the nuclear deal. That’s over. Now key Gulf states want the U.S. to flex more muscle.


Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal didn’t draw much international applause, but three U.S. allies in the Middle East — Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — warmly welcomed the move.

Israel had long said that the deal didn’t do enough to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and Gulf Arab countries believed it gave Iran cover for an intensified campaign of destabilizing the Arab world. And they have plenty of ideas when it comes to drawing up a Plan B for a U.S.-led containment campaign against Iran.

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Houthi rebels launch an Iranian made ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the UAE never shared President Barack Obama’s conviction that engagement and sanctions relief could moderate Iran’s revolutionary brashness, regional meddling and support for sectarian extremists.

So they’re pleased by Trump’s rhetorical attacks and reimposed sanctions against the Iranian regime, and they want the U.S. to foreclose any efforts by European countries that remain signatories to the nuclear deal to find a way to let their companies keep doing business with Iranian institutions.

However, Iran’s expansion as a regional power largely took place before the nuclear deal was signed, and the comprehensive international sanctions that existed in the years leading up to the agreement did not deter Tehran’s support for extremist groups in Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

So the Gulf states don’t expect sanctions alone to do the trick. They hope that with Islamic State crushed in Iraq and Syria, Washington will now lead a coordinated regional strategy to cut Iran’s power down to size.

Among other things, they want limited and focused military action to reverse some of the gains Iran has made since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Indeed, they’ve already taken on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as the local al-Qaeda affiliate. They may also hope to play a role in confronting Iran’s lawless behavior in the waters of the Gulf itself.

They are looking for Washington to take the lead in confronting Iran in Iraq, but there, too, Saudi Arabia has shown it is willing to play a diplomatic, political and financial role.

Perhaps the most strategically vital theater in any such campaign would be Syria, which is far from the Gulf countries. There, they hope that Israel will enforce its own red lines on Iranian conduct and make life difficult for the Hezbollah militants in Syria and possibly even in their home base of Lebanon.

They would urge the U.S. to prevent Iran from taking advantage of the collapse of Islamic State in western Iraq and eastern Syria in order to create a secured military corridor running from Iran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean. Such a strategic upheaval, if secured and consolidated, would ensure that Iran emerges as a regional superpower.

Gulf Arab countries also want to work with the U.S. to persuade Turkey and Russia that their interests in Syria are not served by an empowered and aggressive Iran. Otherwise, Russia could prove a major obstacle to reducing Iran’s influence in Syria and getting Hezbollah to go back to Lebanon.

Finally, while the Gulf countries don’t want an all-out war with Iran, there are signs of Arab and American encouragement of uprisings by Iranian ethnic minorities such as Baluchis, Arabs and Kurds.

The goal isn’t regime change, partly because that’s not considered a serious possibility at the moment. What they want, instead, is a sustained containment campaign to pressure Iran to change its behavior and ambitions and constrain its ability to destabilize neighbors and spread influence.

It’s a big ask, and probably bigger than many Gulf Arab leaders realize. After decades of U.S. leadership in the region, these countries grew used to, and benefited from, a U.S.-enforced regional order. But now, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans across the political spectrum have an advanced case of Middle East war fatigue. Trump’s “America First” campaign didn’t signal much enthusiasm for the kind of interventionist foreign policy that these Gulf allies are hoping for.

But if the U.S. wants to combat terrorism and confront Iran, as the administration insists it does, Trump’s idea of withdrawing the more than 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria is a nonstarter.

The Gulf countries aren’t asking for a repetition of the 2003 adventure in Iraq, which they didn’t support or encourage. What they want is a multi-front effort to roll back Iran’s influence by defanging its proxies, supporting its enemies and insurgents and choking off its economy. Only Washington, they believe, can do that. The idea is especially to weaken Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its clients around the region.

Containing Iran will take time, effort and troops and will not be painless. But it needn’t and shouldn’t be a madcap adventure like the campaign that began in 2003 to remake Iraq in an American image. Instead, as Russia has demonstrated in Syria, even in the Middle East it’s possible to secure limited goals with limited means, especially if allies work together. That’s what Saudi Arabia and the UAE are hoping is in the works for a Plan B regarding Iran.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Hussein Ibish at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at

Jordan king urges world to back Palestinian rights — Wants East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital

January 29, 2018


Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R) welcomes Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the Royal Palace in Amman on January 29, 2018. (AFP)
AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday urged the international community to “fulfil its responsibilities” toward Palestinians in Jerusalem and support the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
His comments, following a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, came after US President Donald Trump sparked Arab and Muslim outrage by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and suspended funds to UNRWA.
“The international community must fulfil its responsibilities to protect the rights of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem,” Abdullah said, according to a palace statement.
The city is “the key to achieving peace and stability in the region,” he said.
East Jerusalem was under Jordanian administration before Israel occupied it during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994, recognizes the kingdom’s status as custodian of the city’s holy sites.
Jordan in December called Trump’s move “a violation of decisions of international law and the United Nations charter.”
The Jordanian monarch also on Monday urged the international community to support the UN agency for Palestinians.
Earlier this month, the United States put on hold two planned payments of more than $100 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
The agency, set up after the 1948 creation of Israel that drove huge numbers of Palestinians from their homes, faces what the UN has described as the “most severe” crisis in its history.

Mike Pence Travels To The Middle East: “He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region.”

January 20, 2018

Ayman Odeh says Israel’s Arab coalition party will boycott Vice President Pence speech to Israelis, calling Trump a ‘racist political pyromaniac’

.FILE PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence waves as he walks on Capitol Hill in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence waves as he walks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit Susan Walsh/AP

The head of Israel’s Arab coalition party has vowed to boycott the flash visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday  evening.

“We were asked if there’s a change in our position regarding Pence’s visit,” Joint Arab List chairman, lawmaker Ayman Odeh, wrote on Twitter. “He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region.

“He comes here as the emissary of a man who is even more dangerous,” Odeh wrote in reference to U.S. President Trump, who he called a “a political pyromaniac, a racist misogynist who cannot be allowed to be lead the way in our region.

“The entire Joint List will boycott his speech in the plenum,” Odeh wrote regarding Pence’s planned speech on Monday in the Knesset.

>> U.S. Vice President Pence’s visit to Israel: Here’s the full itinerary <<

Pence embarked Saturday on a trip to the Middle East, despite a U.S. government shutdown. His spokeswoman explained that that Pence’s meetings with Egypt, Jordan and Israel are “integral to America’s national security and diplomatic objectives.” 
Pence was originally supposed to arrive to the area in December, but the White House delayed his visit by a month as a result of the vote in Congress over the Republican tax plan. Over the last few days, rumors circulated that his trip might again be delayed once again because of the internal political crisis in Washington that led to the government shutdown on Saturday, but the White House made it clear that the trip would not be postponed.
Pence landed in Egypt on Saturday, and will then travel to Jordan. He is expected to arrive in Israel Sunday evening. He will then spend a day and a half in Israel, before flying back to the United States Tuesday afternoon. During his time in Israel, he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, visit the Western Wall and give a speech in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem. 
The White House originally presented Pence’s trip as focused on supporting Christian communities in the Middle East. The trip was supposed to include a stop in Bethlehem and a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinians declared that Pence, who played an important role in the policy change, is “not welcome” in Bethlehem
As a result, Pence will not meet any Palestinians during his visit – and according to an official schedule released by the Israeli government, there are no meetings planned with Christian leaders. A number of Christian leaders in the Middle East, including in Egypt, declared that they will refuse to meet with Pence because of the Trump administration’s “hostility” towards the Palestinians. 
The schedule released by the Israeli government suggests that Pence’s visit to the Western Wall, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and therefore is not recognized by the world as part of Israel, will take place without the presence of any Israeli political leaders, just like the visit Trump made to the holy site in May. Pence will be accompanied only by the rabbi in charge of the site, and the media arrangements will be handled by the American embassy in Israel, not the Israeli government press office.

Arabs need greater access to books

January 17, 2018

By Nidhal Guessoum | 

It has been claimed that Arabs have no interest in reading, but if people by and large can’t find the titles they want, then obviously they will read less.

Do Arabs read a lot or very little? Information on the subject is contradictory and confusing.

Until recently, we had no data, only intuitive views, either insisting that the Arab culture holds high regard for books and reading, or claiming that people in general, and youngsters in particular, don’t seem to read at all, and certainly not books.
Personal experience, such as mine, seems to confirm both views. Whenever I lecture in the Arab world, I am told that books (mine and others’) are very difficult to obtain, but at the same time I find that people (perhaps not of their fault) read few contemporary works. Indeed, as Arab authors know, rarely do books sell even a thousand copies in a region with a population of more than 300 million and whose holy book starts with the word “read.” And, contrary to what one sees in other parts of the world, people in the Arab world rarely read on buses, metros or planes.
In the last several years, a number of articles have been written about reading in the Arab world, and one could only come out confused from the mutually contradictory ideas and conclusions presented by the authors of those articles.


It has been claimed that Arabs have no interest in reading, but if people by and large can’t find the titles they want, then obviously they will read less.

Nidhal Guessoum

Much was made in 2011 when a report claimed that Arabs read only six minutes per year on average (the equivalent of four pages per year or four words per day), compared to 200 hours a year for Europeans. The claim was later investigated and found to be totally unfounded.

Still, the stereotype of a people (Arabs) who don’t read or even hate reading has stuck. In June 2015, author Colin Wells published an article titled “Why Arabs Hate Reading.” In it, he cited the researcher Niloofar Haeri, who in her contribution to the 2009 “Cambridge Handbook of Literacy” concluded that educated people in the Arab world “find reading very difficult, don’t like to do it, and do as little of it as possible — even the librarians!”
In July 2016, The Economist published a short article commenting on the state of reading and publishing in the Arab world. “The biggest challenge is that Arabs simply do not read much,” it said. Commenting on the article, Ursula Lindsey added facts along the same line: In 2012, the entire Arab world published about the same number of books as Romania and Ukraine; bookstores and public libraries are few, badly stocked and rarely visited; and other issues. Lindsey also proposed reasons for that sorry state of affairs, including censorship, turmoil, declining purchasing power, and widespread violations of copyrights (including pirate publishers, illegal downloading, photocopying and distribution of books).
Additional issues make the question of reading in the Arab world multifaceted: Reading the Qur’an often dominates people’s reading habits; many educated Arabs read in other languages (English or French) more than they read in Arabic (sales indicate that only 15-20 percent of books sold are in Arabic); most books read in the region are written by non-Arabs; much reading is done on smartphones; and other complex issues.
But, in December 2016, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation released an interesting Arab Reading Index, which it produced in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program. The index presented a starkly different picture: The average Arab reads 17 books a year (11 in Arabic and 6 in foreign languages) — five more than the average American. Either we’ve made huge progress in the last 15 years (perhaps due to the many initiatives that have been launched in the region, such as the annual “Arab Reading Challenge” and the 2016 “Year of Reading”), or we are comparing apples and oranges. Indeed, reading habits are complex and need to be investigated and analyzed very carefully.
Another important issue I would like to highlight is the stuttering and struggling Arab book publishing industry. First, the very low number of titles produced and sold, estimated at less than 10,000 in the whole Arab world, compared to some 50,000 in Turkey, 80,000 in Spain and 220,000 in the UK. Secondly, the number of copies produced and sold for a typical title is roughly 1,000; an Arab bestseller is a book that sells more than 5,000 in a given year. Thirdly, and most importantly, the distribution network is abysmal: Readers rarely find copies of good books that were published in another (Arab) country. And, last but not least, the percentage of Arabs who can buy online (there are online sellers of Arabic books, and even Amazon has started selling Arabic titles) is very low because most Arabs do not have credit cards.
If Arabs by and large can’t find the books they want to read, then obviously they will read few books. While we need to encourage people to read (serious material), we equally need to ensure the availability of books throughout the Arab world. Only then can we talk about reading habits and statistics.
•  Nidhal Guessoum is a professor at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. He can be followed on Twitter at:

Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria ‘before it’s even born’ — “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

January 15, 2018

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan 

The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return, also citing the need for meaningful progress in U.N.-led peace talks.

For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a U.S. decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued U.S. presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Turkey views the Kurdish forces supported by the United States as a national security threat. It says the Syrian Kurdish PYD movement and the affiliated YPG militia, the backbone of the U.S.-backed SDF force in Syria, are allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organisations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

“Either you take off your flags on those terrorist organisations, or we will have to hand those flags over to you, Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said.

“Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000 of them.”


Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

The Syrian government and the main Kurdish parties have mostly avoided conflict during the civil war, as both sides focused on fighting other groups. But Assad’s rhetoric towards the Kurds has turned increasingly hostile.

Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said. It said any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor”.

“What the American administration has done comes in the context of its destructive policy in the region to fragment countries … and impede any solutions to the crises,” state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.

Assad’s allies have also chimed in. In an apparent reference to the force, senior Iranian official Ali Shamkhani said it was “doomed to failure”, Fars news agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”

“Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Lavrov said. The zone would be controlled by groups “under the leadership of the United States”, he added.

The coalition said the Border Security Force would operate under SDF command, and about 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class.

Its ethnic composition will reflect the areas in which the force serves. More Arabs would serve along the Euphrates River Valley and the Iraqi border, and more Kurds would serve in areas of northern Syria, the coalition said.

Peace In Syria? Kurdish question hangs over Sochi conference

January 15, 2018

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A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through debris in the old city center on the eastern front line of Raqqa, Syria, on September 25, 2017. Credit AFP Bulent Kilic

By Yasar Yakis | 

Three issues come to the fore in Syria at the beginning of 2018: The Astana-Sochi process, Idlib and the Kurds. Russia decided to convene, on Jan. 29 in Sochi, the Syrian People’s Congress, but the US, UK and France are opposed to this meeting because it might consolidate Russia’s already strong leading role in the solution of the Syrian crisis.

Russia is trying to accommodate Turkey’s insistent objection to the participation of the strongest Kurdish political party in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They will eventually participate under the name of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and the delegation will include some non-Kurds, such as Arabs, Turkmens, Armenians, Syriacs, Assyrians and Chechens, as well as the Kurds who support Kurdish political parties other than the PYD.

This scenario falls short of Turkey’s expectations but, when it is presented as an innocent package, it becomes more difficult for Turkey to reject, because that would be perceived as Turkey being opposed to the representation of around 10 percent of the Syrian population and a military force that controls a quarter of Syria’s territory, including almost all of its oil, gas and water resources.

The Sochi conference has to be linked one way or another to the work conducted under the UN’s auspices, because Russia wants the UN to endorse the entire process, including the withdrawal of forces from the US and Turkey.

France is not happy to see that the Astana and Sochi processes are dominated by Russia. President Emmanuel Macron voiced his discontent during a press conference held last week at the end of his talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As the opposition is defeated in many places in Syria, Idlib has seen a concentration of various groups fighting against the regime. The Syrian army, on Jan. 7, carried out attacks in Idlib, mainly aimed at the opposition group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and captured several villages in south Idlib, clearing the way to the rebel-held air base at Abu Al-Duhur.


Turkey-opposed efforts to create an autonomous Kurdish zone in the north of Syria remains the major issue ahead of peace talks later this month — and it may threaten the territorial integrity of the country.

Yasar Yakis

Meanwhile, Russia’s Hmeimim air base near Latakia was attacked last week by 13 drones. The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently sent a letter to the Turkish chief of joint staff and to the head of intelligence, bringing to their attention that the drones approached the air base from Idlib and asking them to establish observation posts in the area to fulfil its task of deconfliction. To emphasize its discontent, Russia leaked the content of this letter to the media.

At almost the same time, Turkey summoned the Russian and Iranian ambassadors in Ankara to the Foreign Ministry and asked for their respective governments’ intervention to stop the Syrian army’s bombing of opposition forces. This move contradicts Turkey’s commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, because it will become void if Turkey complains about Syrian army attacks aimed at extending its sovereignty to all provinces including Idlib.

Turkey was more focused on what was going on in the neighboring Syrian province of Afrin, where Kurds declared their third autonomous canton. Turkey’s threat to crush any effort to create an autonomous Kurdish zone in the north of Syria is legitimate, but such a threat may not be sufficient to prevent this process from following its own path. Turkey has to make more effort to understand what the major actors have in mins when it comes to the Kurdish issue. London-based Pan-Arab paper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Jan. 8 that the Trump administration is planning to recognize the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the legitimate authority in eastern Syria. This would mean the Syrian government loses part of its sovereignty in the northeast of the country, while for Turkey it would be a nightmare.

France gave an indirect sign of extending similar recognition to Kurds by announcing that the PYD has the right to judge the French Daesh fighters it has captured. France announced this position one day before Erdogan’s visit to Paris.

The Kurds remain the major issue in Syria, and it may threaten the territorial integrity of the country. The US will use the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces to negotiate concessions with the regime, while Russia and Iran will support the government against the American pressure. Serious clashes may be expected during this confrontation and the Syrian civilian population will continue to pay a heavy toll.

If Turkey-Syria relations had not deteriorated to this extent, the easiest solution would be for Turkey to cooperate with Damascus and agree with it not to let the Kurds establish an uninterrupted belt in the north of Syria. Such a solution would give full satisfaction to Ankara and Damascus, but it is conceivable only if they were able to forget the recent past.

•  Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.
Twitter: @yakis_yasar


Arabs set to give Pence cold shoulder during Mideast trip

December 16, 2017

Gulf News

Pence’s evangelical faith has played a critical role in pushing for the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Image Credit: AFP
Palestinians walk on a poster bearing images of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Al Quds Open University in Dura village on the outskirts of Hebron.
Published: 16:04 December 15, 2017
Margaret Talev, Washington post

Washington: US Vice-President Mike Pence is set to receive a cooler reception from Arab leaders on a Middle East trip next week than he once expected, after US President Donald Trump earlier this month recognised occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian leaders cancelled meetings with Pence and he will not visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank — a particularly meaningful stop for the evangelical Christian vice-president. He’ll spend less time on the ground in Egypt than he’d hoped, with a trip to the Pyramids of Giza and a meeting with the leader of Coptic Christians both removed from his itinerary.

Pence knew as he planned his trip that it was possible Arab and Palestinian leaders would cancel their meetings in response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

He was briefed on potential unrest and other negative consequences of the announcement.

But he was cautiously optimistic that Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other critics of Trump’s decision would proceed with the meetings, ultimately regarding face time with the US vice-president as both strategically valuable and an opportunity to express their disappointment in person, a person familiar with the matter said.

Instead, he’s being snubbed.

“The Palestinian position is clear: the vice-president is not welcome here and there will be no meeting with him, after Trump’s decision,” said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s policy-making executive committee.

“There is no talk with the US side about the peace process if the US administration does not retreat from President Trump’s decisions about [occupied] Jerusalem. Their role as a mediator is done.”

Pence was one of the foremost proponents in the Trump administration for a declaration that occupied Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US embassy.

His argument bested those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis, both of whom opposed the idea, according to people familiar with the internal debate.

The vice-president stood stoically behind Trump’s right shoulder as he made his televised announcement, an unmistakable signal to the president’s evangelical supporters.

The vice-president intends to “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its allies in the Middle East and to working cooperatively to defeat radicalism,” said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah.

Pence has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order” and he’s been outspoken about his deep devotion to Israel as part of his religious beliefs since long before Donald Trump’s entrance into politics. But his advocacy for Trump’s occupied Jerusalem decision has taken on a political aspect amid speculation about the administration’s ultimate goals for the region and Pence’s own presidential ambitions.

In remarks in May commemorating Israel Independence Day, Pence explained that “my Christian faith compels me to cherish Israel as well as our deep alliance and historical ties” and that “the songs of the land of the people of Israel were the anthems of my youth when I was growing up.”

Pence grew up Catholic and became evangelical Christian later in life.

In July, Pence told a Christians United for Israel summit in Washington: “I promise you that the day will come when President Donald Trump moves the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”


Pence’s four-day trip to the region will begin on Tuesday, a few days later than initially planned in order to accommodate the US Senate, which may vote on a tax overhaul earlier that day.

He’ll stop in Egypt, Israel, and finally at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for a holiday visit with US service members, according to the vice-president’s office.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi will keep a meeting with Pence despite his criticism of the occupied Jerusalem announcement.

The vice-president will meet with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and visit Al Buraq Wall which Jews refer to as the Western Wall in the Muslim holy site of Al Haram Al Sharif.

Hadi urges Yemenis to join fight against Iran-backed Houthis after Saleh killed — “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

December 5, 2017


Supporters of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the General People’s Congress party which is led by Saleh in Sanaa on August 24, 2017. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File)

JEDDAH: Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Monday rallied his countrymen in areas controlled by Houthis to rise up against the Iran-backed militia, who had just murdered their erstwhile ally former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In a televised address, Hadi said the Yemeni Army, which has surrounded Sanaa, was ready to support all efforts that aimed to eradicate the Houthis. The legitimate Yemeni government had extended its hand to all sincere Yemeni citizens to start a new page in the country’s future and to establish a new Yemen, based on pluralism, democracy and freedom, he said.
“Yemen is passing through a decisive turning point that needs our unity and steadfastness in the face of these sectarian militias,” Hadi said. “Let’s put our hands together to end this nightmare.”
Saleh was assassinated on Monday by Houthi militias, two days after he broke ranks over disagreements with his allies.
The militias overran Saleh’s home in the capital, Sanaa, and the former leader fled south toward his home village of Sanhan. Houthi gunmen halted his four-vehicle convoy 40 km from the city and opened fire.
Saleh, 75, was killed along with Arif Al-Zouka, secretary-general of the former president’s General People’s Congress party, and Al-Zouka’s deputy Yasir Al-Awadi.
Video posted on social media showed Saleh’s motionless body with a gaping head wound, his eyes open but glassy, and blood staining his shirt under a dark suit. The footage showed Houthis carrying the body in a blanket and dumping it in a pickup truck.
Saleh ruled Yemen for more than 30 years, stitching alliances and playing off one tribe against another. He once described governing the country as like dancing on the heads of snakes.
The former president was replaced in 2012 by his deputy, Hadi, against whom he joined forces with the Houthis to stage a coup. Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition in 2015 to restore Hadi’s internationally recognized government. On Saturday, Saleh had turned his back on the Houthis and offered talks with the Saudi-led coalition.
Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for the Hadi government, said it was a sad day in the history of Yemen.

He said the assassination was “yet another crime added to the bloody record of the Iran-backed Houthi militias. The gravity of the inhumane murder of Saleh should move all Yemenis to stand behind the legitimate government against the coup militias who have brought only chaos and destruction to Yemen, to the Yemeni people, and whose aim is to implement a sectarian Iranian agenda in the region.

“The act is further proof that these militias adopt an ideology of exclusion. We call upon the Yemeni people to make the assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh a turning point in the country’s history and encourage all people to join ranks with the legitimate government and against the evil terrorists.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, said Saleh’s death was sad news but would unite all Yemenis against the Houthis.

“It is very clear now that this is a fight between Arabs and Persians. All Arabs and Muslims will unite against the machinations of Iran,” he told Arab News. “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

Al-Shehri said Saleh had miscalculated when he aligned himself with the Houthis. “He thought he could share power with them. He should have known better. The Iranians never share power. They want everything for themselves or else they kill — which is what happened with Saleh.”
Saleh’s supporters “need a leader tonight to rally them and the Yemeni people against the Houthis,” Al-Shehri said. He suggested Saleh’s son, Ahmed, commander of the elite Republic Guard and former ambassador to the UAE, where he now lives.
“There can be no better leader than Ahmed, who Saleh was grooming as his heir, and who will want to avenge the death of his father and restore stability to Yemen.”
Saudi writer Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, writing in Arab News, said: “Saleh paid with his life for defying the Iranian-backed Houthi militias. Many Yemenis have met similar fates when they dared to stand in the way of the Houthi project.”
Aluwaisheg said assassination was a favorite tactic of the Houthi militias and other pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria.
“Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafiq Hariri met a similar fate in 2005, as did many prominent Lebanese political figures, journalists, writers and religious leaders,” he said.
Meanwhile, fighting and air strikes have intensified in Sanaa, where roads were blocked and tanks were deployed on many streets, trapping civilians and halting delivery of vital aid including fuel to supply clean water, the UN said on Monday.
Some of the fiercest clashes were around the diplomatic area near the UN compound, while aid flights in and out of Sanaa airport had been suspended, the UN said after its appeal for a humanitarian pause on Tuesday.
“The escalating situation threatens to push the barely functioning basic services … to a standstill. These services have already been seriously compromised with the latest shock of the impact of the blockade,” it said, and fighting had also spread to other governorates, such as Hajjah.

Turkey warns of ‘catastrophe’ if US recognises Jerusalem as Israel capital

December 4, 2017


© AFP/File | The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict
ISTANBUL (AFP) – A senior Turkish government official on Monday warned of a “major catastrophe” if the United States recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite a flood of warnings from the Arab world.”If the (current) status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken … that would be a major catastrophe,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said during a televised press conference.

“It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.”

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Donald Trump faces a key decision this week on whether to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, potentially reversing years of United States policy and drawing a furious response from the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world.

Most of the international community, including the US as well as Turkey, does not formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved through final status negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a champion of the Palestinian cause, often criticises Israel over its actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite a 2016 reconciliation deal after years of severed ties following Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound ship.

Bozdag, also government spokesman, on Monday said a US step to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would benefit “neither Israel … nor the region.”

“It would not benefit anything. Rather than open new doors, it would drag the region into a new disaster.”