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US navy says seizes ammunition en route from Iran to Yemen

Sat, 12/03/2022 - 21:08
US navy says seizes ammunition en route from Iran to Yemen
One million rounds of ammunition along with rocket fuses and propellant were discovered on 'during a flag verification boarding', says US Navy
MEE and agencies Sat, 12/03/2022 - 21:08
Pro-government forces display protest placards during a march on 3 December, calling on Presidentianl Council to support anti-Houthi operations and gain total control of the southwestern city of Taez (AFP)

The US Navy said Saturday it had seized one million rounds of ammunition along with rocket fuses and propellant being smuggled on a fishing trawler from Iran to war-torn Yemen.

The cargo was discovered on Thursday "during a flag verification boarding", the Bahrain-based United States Fifth Fleet said in a statement, noting it was the "second major illegal weapons seizure within a month" along the maritime route.

"This significant interdiction clearly shows that Iran's unlawful transfer of lethal aid and destabilising behaviour continues," Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said.

US Navy intercepts 'massive' shipment of explosives from Iran to Yemen
Read More »

"US naval forces remain focused on deterring and disrupting dangerous and irresponsible maritime activity in the region."

The Iran-aligned Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene the following year. 

Since then, a grinding war has killed hundreds of thousands and pushed the impoverished nation to the brink of famine.

A UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect in April brought a sharp reduction in hostilities. The truce expired in October, though fighting largely remains on hold. 

The fishing trawler intercepted on Thursday was carrying nearly 7,000 rocket fuses and "over 2,100 kilogrammes of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades", the statement said. 

"The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis in Yemen violates UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and international law," it added. 

Last month the US navy said it had scuttled a boat transporting "explosive materials" from Iran to supply the Houthis, with enough power to fuel a dozen ballistic rockets.

Israel: Ben-Gvir hails 'hero' soldier who shot youth at point-blank range for job 'well done'

Sat, 12/03/2022 - 20:21
Israel: Ben-Gvir hails 'hero' soldier who shot youth at point-blank range for job 'well done'
Far-right Itamar Ben-Gvir tells soldier caught on widely-shared video killing Palestinian in Huwwara that his 'swift and rigorous' actions were 'honourable'
MEE staff Sat, 12/03/2022 - 20:21
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Jewish power party, speaks during a rally with supporters on 26 October (AFP/file photo)

Israel’s incoming national security minister, speaking to the soldier who shot a Palestinian man dead at point-blank range on Friday, hailed the killing as "precise, swift and rigorous", calling the shooter a "hero". 

Itamar Ben-Gvir said the soldier had carried out a job "well done" in fatally shooting 22-year-old Ammar Mefleh, whose death was caught on video and shared widely on social media. 

In the video, the soldier - who has not been identified - scuffled with Mefleh in the occupied West Bank town of Huwwara near Nablus before pulling a gun and firing two shots that sent the youth to ground before shooting him twice more.

Israeli soldier shoots Palestinian dead at point-blank range
Read More »

"Precise action, you really fulfilled the honour of all of us and did what was assigned to you," Ben Gvir told the shooter in Saturday’s remarks. 

"You protected yourself and the people there. Every terrorist will know that if he wants to steal a weapon and kill a fighter - this is how the fighters operate."  

Israeli forces have claimed that Mefleh had tried to carry out a stabbing attack before he was fatally shot, however in the video Mefleh's hands are empty during the scuffle with the solider, including during the moments in which he was shot. 

In response to Ben Gvir's praise, the soldier told the MP that he was "glad that we were able to do what was expected of us and that it ended this way". 

'A clear violation of human rights'

The comments directly contrast rights groups’ description of the shooting as an "execution" in "broad daylight". 

Following the incident, Jewish Voice for Peace on Friday called on the US to cut off all military funding to Israel, highlighting that Mefleh was the ninth Palestinian killed by the Israeli military this week

Stop all US military funding to Israel.
An Israeli soldier executes a Palestinian man in broad daylight.
Ammar Mufleh is the 9th Palestinian killed by the Israeli military this week.
The Israeli military has killed over 200 Palestinians this year. https://t.co/kx1kAUa4A0

— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) December 2, 2022

Meanwhile, the International Human Rights Foundation said the shooting "must not go unpunished", calling for sanctions against Israel. 

"Such assassinations by agents of the Israeli state are too common and constitute a clear violation of human rights. The International Community must adopt sanctions," the group said in a post on Twitter. 

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For his part, Tor Wennesland, UN special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, offered his "heartfelt condolences" to Mefleh’s family while demanding accountability.   

"Such incidents must be fully & promptly investigated, & those responsible held accountable," Wennesland said

Ben-Gvir's mainstream rise

Ben-Gvir, a far-right lawyer whose Jewish Power party last week signed its first coalition deal with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, has surged into the mainstream in recent months despite his extreme views. 

Among other controversial remarks are his frequent categorisation of Arab colleagues as "terrorists". He has called for the deportation of his political opponents, and in his youth, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.

Israel: Ben-Gvir set for new security minister role in Likud coalition deal
Read More »

Still, Ben-Gvir is set to be appointed to the new role of "minister of national security", with significantly extended powers.

Jewish Power will also receive the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry and the Jewish Heritage Ministry, according to the terms of last week’s deal with Likud.

The new national security ministry will be expanded as part of the deal, to include several enforcement authorities that were previously dispersed between different governmental offices, Haaretz reported.

Among these is the Border Police in the occupied West Bank - a military unit made up of 2,000 soldiers who receive training from the Border Police and whose duties include dealing with disturbances, carrying out arrests and evacuating illegal outposts - which until now was under the authority of the Israeli Army's Central Command.

A senior law enforcement source expressed concern to Haaretz about the move, saying that it effectively "turns the Border Police into Ben-Gvir's personal police in the territories".

Tunisia's powerful UGTT union rejects December general election

Sat, 12/03/2022 - 13:08
Tunisia's powerful UGTT union rejects December general election
The union's strident criticism of Kais Saied's agenda could land it in the president's crosshairs
MEE staff Sat, 12/03/2022 - 13:08
The head of Tunisia's labour union, Noureddine Taboubi, gives his inaugural speech in front of several hundred employees of the transport sector on 30 November 2022 in Tunis (AFP)

In his most explicit remarks to date, the head of Tunisia's powerful labour union spoke up on Saturday against the general election called for by President Kais Saied and set for later this month.

"We no longer accept the current path because of its ambiguity and individual rule, and the unpleasant surprises it hides for the fate of the country and democracy," UGTT's leader Noureddine Taboubi said in a speech to thousands of supporters.

'We will not abide by secret agreements the government has with the [IMF], and the workers will stand up to it'

- Noureddine Taboubi, UGTT leader

With more than one million members, the UGTT is the country's most powerful union and, until recently, it has largely avoided directly opposing Saied.

"We will not hesitate to defend rights and freedoms whatever the cost," added Taboubi, in his strongest criticism yet of the president.

Speaking to union members at a rally, Taboubi said that the election expected to be held on 17 December will "have neither taste nor colour" due to Saied's constitution that was not "approved by a majority".

As the economy in Tunisia has worsened, Saied has implemented significant cuts to subsidies that affect millions of ordinary Tunisians, angering the UGTT.

The cuts were also part of an agreement reached with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout to help the North African country.

"We will not abide by secret agreements the government has with the International Monetary Fund, and the workers will stand up to it," Taboubi said of the deal.

Most of Tunisia's political parties are boycotting the poll. They argue that the new parliament would lack any real power to hold the president accountable. 

Tunisian democracy on the ropes 

In a sit-down interview with Middle East Eye last month, the country's former president, Moncef Marzouki, said that the US and Europe's inaction towards democratic backsliding in Tunisia has helped make it even more difficult for the country to return to democracy.

The lack of US support for democracy in Tunisia since Saied seized power last year, in what opponents have labelled a coup, has left democracy proponents in the country with few options, said Marzouki. 

Ever since Saied suspended parliament last year and moved to rule by decree, he has rolled back hard-fought democratic achievements, using growing public discontent over the economic situation to make his power grab

Tunisia: Why taxing the informal economy will not boost the country's finances
Max Gallien
Read More »

A constitutional referendum, initiated by Saied, on 25 July consolidated his grip over the country. Around nine million Tunisians were eligible to vote; however, the final turnout was around 30 percent.

Saied has also sought to go after political opponents, including the former speaker of the dissolved parliament and leader of the largest opposition party, Rached Ghannouchi.

Ghannouchi heads the Ennahda party that dominated Tunisian politics for a decade until Saied's power grab in mid-2021.

In July, Ghannouchi appeared in court as pat of a money laundering probe, which critics described as politically motivated.

In August, the Tunisian comedian Lotfi al-Abdali announced his intention to leave the country amid growing repression of free speech.

Speaking on Instagram, Abdali said the increasing threats he faced to his safety and his family have made it difficult to continue living in the country, referring to the security apparatus as "the mafia that carries weapons legally".

Following Abdali's plight, a military tribunal in August sentenced the prominent journalist Salah Attia to three months in prison, despite human rights organisations calling the trial a "travesty of justice".

At the time, Attia, the editor-in-chief of the local independent news website al-Ray al-Jadid, had been in jail since June, following remarks he made to Al Jazeera that the powerful UGTT workers' union was in regular contact with the military and Saied.

Iran attorney general to review country's stance on mandatory hijab

Sat, 12/03/2022 - 12:37
Iran attorney general to review country's stance on mandatory hijab
The move by one of Iran's highest legal authorities comes as Tehran struggles to contain over two months of unrest
MEE staff Sat, 12/03/2022 - 12:37
Iranians walk down a street in the capital Tehran on 13 August 2022 (AFP)

Iran's attorney general has announced that the parliament and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution will review the country's stance on mandatory hijabs and release a report within two weeks. 

In a speech in the religious city of Qom on Friday, Mohammad Javad Montazeri stressed that any decision on the hijab issue should be based on a "planned approach".

Last week, the head of the Iranian president's communication team told state news agency IRNA that requests from all quarters of society for the relaxation of the hijab rules have been passed on to authorities.

Montazeri's remarks suggest that authorities are likely looking for ways to defuse protests that have rocked the country for over two months.

Since September, Iranian authorities have sought to suppress the nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf "inappropriately".

Iran protests: Iranian-Arab women's rights activists dying in Khuzestan crackdown
Read More »

Earlier this week, an Iranian general said that over 300 people had been killed since the beginning of the demonstrations, a number which he said included dozens of security force members. Rights groups say the figure of protesters killed is much higher.

The UN's top human rights body voted in late November to set up an independent investigation into Iran's deadly repression of protests following Amini's death.

The motion presented to the UN Human Rights Council passed with 25 in favour, six against, and 16 abstentions.

Volker Turk, the UNHCR commissioner, had earlier demanded that Iran end its "disproportionate" use of force in quashing protests.

However, Iran's representative at the UN meeting, Khadijeh Karimi, accused western states of using the rights body to target Iran, a move she called "appalling and disgraceful".

Leaked survey

leaked opinion survey conducted by the Ministry of Interior on Saturday showed that 51 percent of people surveyed believed that the hijab should be optional, while 37 percent thought that it should be mandatory.

The internal survey also found that security forces were struggling with morale, and the disparate nature of the protests had resulted in resources being severely stretched, creating a sense of disorganisation.

The protests in Iran have been at their most intense in the areas where the majority of Iran's 10 million Kurds live, in the north of the country bordering Iraq.

Iranian authorities last month stepped up the crackdown on protests in Iran's Kurdish regions, deploying troops troops and killing at least four demonstrators.

Tehran has blamed the ongoing demonstration on outside forces, particularly exiled Kurdish groups.

In the last few weeks, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has launched several missile and drone strikes targeting Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq.

UK Prime Minister Sunak speaks with Turkey's Erdogan, Qatari emir

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 21:27
UK Prime Minister Sunak speaks with Turkey's Erdogan, Qatari emir
Sunak discussed boosting ties with Qatar in defence and trade, after Doha reportedly launched a review of its investments in London
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 21:27
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on 23 November 2022.
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on 23 November 2022 (AFP)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, whom he congratulated on the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

In his call with the Qatari emir, Sunak's office said the British premier "discussed deepening UK-Qatari defence collaboration" as well as trade relations "both bilaterally and through a future GCC trade deal".

"He congratulated Sheikh Tamim on hosting a successful World Cup, noting the excellent collaboration between the UK and Qatari police and armed forces to ensure a safe event, and said he looked forward to the remainder of the tournament," Sunak's office said in a statement.

Qatar is a major investor in the UK and London in particular. In the last two decades, it has acquired major assets through its sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

Qatar reviews London investments after 'virtue signalling' ban on ads: Report
Read More »

The QIA owns Harrods, the landmark department store in London, and the iconic Shard building, and is a co-owner of Canary Wharf Central, which includes vast tracts of property across central London. 

Earlier this year, the UK government signed a new strategic investment partnership with Qatar, which will see the Gulf state invest up to $12.5bn in the next five years in a much-needed cash injection into the British economy. 

However, Sunak's call with the Qatari leader comes after the Financial Times reported that Doha launched a review of its investments in London after the city's transport authorities effectively suspended all advertisements from the Gulf country following World Cup controversies.

Last week, the BBC also skipped the opening ceremony of the tournament and aired a pre-recorded report on Qatar's human rights instead, much to the ire of many fans of the game. 

The England Football Association has previously said it will lobby Fifa on creating new labour laws in the Gulf state and "will push for a Migrant Workers’ Centre to be created in Qatar".

Earlier this month, Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, condemned what he called "hypocrisy" from western countries criticising the country over alleged human rights abuses.

While Doha and London enjoy close ties, Qatari officials have become increasingly frustrated in recent weeks by the coverage of the World Cup in western nations, including the UK and France.

Boosting Turkey-UK trade

In addition to speaking with the Qatari emir, Sunak also had a chat with Erdogan on Friday, where Sunak "offered his condolences for the recent abhorrent terrorist attacks" in Turkey.

Last month, six people were killed and 81 wounded after an explosion hit Istiklal Avenue in the historic Beyoglu district in Istanbul. The bombing was the city's first apparent terror attack in six years.

Sunak's office added that the prime minister "committed to continue unlocking trade barriers to boost investment and collaboration" with Turkey.

"He reiterated the UK's backing for the rapid accession of Finland and Sweden" to Nato, the statement from Sunak's office said.

Both Sweden and Finland, who long maintained a position of neutrality and military non-alignment, have sought to join Nato in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey has stalled the Nordic countries' requests to join the alliance over accusations that they are providing a safe haven to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other groups linked to them.

Erdogan said last month that he expects to see "concrete steps" taken by Sweden towards Ankara’s security concerns before dropping his opposition to the Nordic country’s bid to join Nato, including the extradition of 33 individuals linked to Kurdish groups it considers "terrorists".

US and SDF stop all joint operations against Islamic State amid Turkish bombing

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 21:17
US and SDF stop all joint operations against Islamic State amid Turkish bombing
Washington's Kurdish allies in Syria have gone public, pleading with the US to rein in Nato ally as invasion fears mount
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 21:17
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during a joint military exercise with US forces in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province on September 7, 2022 (AFP)

The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed militia made up primarily of Kurds, announced on Friday that they had stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations with the United States against the Islamic State group as a result of Turkish attacks on its territory.

The move was confirmed by the US military, which said in a statement that US forces in the region had "paused all partnered operations" against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Turkey already controls vast swathes of northern Syria, which it invaded with the aim of stamping out Kurdish militants on its border. Ankara has been conducting an artillery and air campaign in the region for weeks, and Turkish officials have warned a ground invasion could be imminent.

Turkey's looming invasion of Syria tests US-Kurdish ties
Read More »

On Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Turkish counterpart that Washington was in "strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria".

White House spokesman John Kirby reaffirmed the US position on Friday, stating: "We also don't want to see anything that would affect our ability to continue to put the pressure on ISIS and to affect our partnership with the SDF," adding that previous Turkish military actions had made the SDF "less willing to continue to contribute to counter-ISIS" operations.

The US has backed the SDF with military assistance and conducts joint operations with the group, which it sees as the most effective fighting force against IS.

Turkey, however, views the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a decades-long war for independence against Turkey. The US considers the group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organisation, but differentiates it from the SDF.

With the threat of a new Turkish invasion looming, the SDF has gone public, pleading with its US ally to rein in Ankara. However, analysts and former senior US officials tell Middle East Eye that Washington's overtures to Turkey may fall on deaf ears.

The areas of Syria which Turkey has said it will target do not contain US troops, and fall within Russia's sphere of influence in the north-west of the country. Washington has also been courting Ankara as it looks to keep Nato united over the war in Ukraine.

Assad rejected Russian requests to meet with Turkey's Erdogan: Report

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 19:39
Assad rejected Russian requests to meet with Turkey's Erdogan: Report
Syrian leader believes a meeting could boost Erdogan's chances at re-election and yield little in return for Damascus
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 19:39
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Kremlin in Moscow on September 13, 2021 (AFP).

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rebuffed his Russian allies' efforts to arrange a meeting with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, citing Turkey's upcoming elections and the presence of Turkish troops on Syrian soil.

Assad believes such a meeting would help Erdogan in Turkey's June elections, allowing him to signal progress on returning some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to its neighbour, according to Reuters.

"Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections," an unnamed source with knowledge of Syria's thinking told Reuters.

Turkey's looming invasion of Syria tests US-Kurdish ties
Read More »

Turkey hosts the world's largest refugee population, and public resentment against Syrians has been growing in the country, which is facing a severe economic crisis. Amid the public frustration, Erdogan has promised a "voluntary return" of one million refugees to Syrian territory controlled by Ankara and its allies. 

But an unnamed diplomat quoted by Reuters said Syria sees a meeting with Erdogan as "useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops [from Syria]".

Turkey launched its first invasion of Syria in 2016, with the aim of depriving Kurdish fighters of a base along its border. Two more military forays followed in 2018 and 2019.

Ankara's footprint in the territory has grown since those incursions. The Turkish lira is now the dominant currency in the area. Syrian schoolchildren are taught Turkish as a second language and Turkey pays the salaries of tens of thousands of allied Syrian rebels and civil servants.

But rapprochement with Damascus could help Turkey address concerns about Kurdish militants. Turkish officials have suggested in recent days that a new ground offensive into Syria could be imminent. 

'No resentment in politics'

The feud between Assad and Erdogan goes back to the Arab Spring, when the Turkish leader backed the uprisings against autocracies in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, and in Syria, Turkey funded militants groups opposed to Damascus.

But the old fault lines of the Arab Spring have been breaking down and Erdogan, whose country is being battered by an economic crisis and skyrocketing inflation, has pivoted.

After vowing not to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power through a military coup, the two were pictured shaking hands last month at the World Cup in Qatar. Turkey has also revived ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia after years of acrimony.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine poses problems for Syria's Assad, experts say
Read More »

Last month Erdogan said he was open to resetting relations with Syria.

"There can be no resentment in politics," he said in a television interview over the weekend.

Turkey and Syria's intelligence chiefs have held multiple meetings in Damascus this year with the aim of arranging a potential meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers, but one of the sources quoted by Reuters said Damascus had turned down the meeting.

Syria could also see benefits from normalising ties with its larger neighbour. Assad met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) in March on his first visit to an Arab state since the Syrian war erupted in 2011.

A source with knowledge of Turkey’s thinking told Reuters an Assad-Erdogan meeting could still be possible "in the not too distant future".

"Putin is slowly preparing the path for this," the source said. "It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkey. Russia would benefit too... given it is stretched in many areas."

Confusion and outrage after 'anti-Muslim truck' circles mosques in New Jersey

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 18:33
Confusion and outrage after 'anti-Muslim truck' circles mosques in New Jersey
Muslim community and politicians call for an investigation after truck becomes latest act of intimidation in Garden State
Azad Essa Fri, 12/02/2022 - 18:33
The truck is said to have entered the parking areas of at least two Islamic centres (Screengrab)

A mobile billboard truck emblazoned with anti-Muslim images that drove around the state of New Jersey and parked outside at least three Islamic centres last weekend was a deliberate attempt to intimidate and demonise the community, Muslim activists and community leaders have said.

According to the Council for American Islamic Relations, New Jersey (Cair-NJ), a mobile billboard truck entered the parking lot of the Muslim Center of Middlesex County in Piscataway and the New Brunswick Islamic Center last Saturday, broadcasting video and photos from the horrific Mumbai attacks in India that killed at least 175 people in late November 2008. 

According to footage reviewed by MEE, the truck also stopped outside the Muslim Community of New Jersey Masjid in Fords, where it parked outside the entrance of the mosque and flashed scenes of explosions, names and faces of suspects responsible for the attacks and other messages of hate for 45 minutes, activists say.

One of the signs on the rotating billboard read: "Mumbai 26/11: We won't forgive. We won't forget." Another read: "Men, women and children or elderly, no one was spared by LeT terrorists who entered India via sea on a boat."

The Mumbai attacks took place over four days in late November 2008. Saturday marked the first day of the attack, 14 years ago, which India blamed on the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Dina Sayedahmed, Cair-NJ's communication manager, condemned the incidents, describing them as "deliberate and well coordinated" and "with intent".

//--> //--> //--> //-->

"The perpetrator of this designed several anti-Muslim posters, rented a truck with an electronic billboard to display them, and then drove to at least two Islamic centres, displaying these vile and anti-Muslim messages both at the Islamic centere as well as on the road," she told Middle East Eye.

Disgusted by 'act of bigotry'

This week, several politicians, including a US senator and two assemblywomen, issued statements of condemnation and called for an investigation.

On Tuesday, US Senator Bob Menendez said he was "disgusted by this act of bigotry".

"Let me be clear: New Jersey stands with our Muslim community and will always defend your right to worship freely and without fear of harassment and intimidation," Menendez said in a tweet.

Likewise, Assemblywomen Shama Haider and Sadaf Jaffer called the incident "a stunt" and said "this sort of hate had no place in New Jersey".

The incidents in New Jersey on Saturday were followed by a similar act of intimidation directed at the Sikh community in the Connecticut.

On Monday, a mobile billboard truck was spotted in the town of Norwich, Connecticut, in which the images on the truck accused Pakistan of fueling a Sikh rebellion in the Indian state of Punjab.

//--> //--> //--> //-->

According to a Fox61 report, one of the rotating images showed a man in a turban carrying what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon along with an oversized ammunition belt. According to the report, both the Department of Justice and the FBI have opened an investigation into the matter.

“I think these kinds of things could lead to serious violence,” Gurpreet Singh, a resident of Norwich, told Fox61.

One of the images on the truck seen in Norwich (Screengrab)
One of the images on the truck seen in Norwich (Screengrab)

//--> //--> //--> //-->

That incident comes three months after a bulldozer, bearing the images of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, rolled through the streets of Edison and Woodridge during the India Day parade in August.

Like the truck, the bulldozer stopped outside Muslim-owned businesses and left the Muslim community in the vicinity feeling intimidated and concerned for their safety.

Bulldozers are synonymous with the destruction of activists and political dissidents' homes, particularly Muslim-owned homes in India. 

Adityanath's reputation for the tactic has earned him the moniker of Bulldozer Baba ("Daddy Bulldozer").

"It appears the imagery on the truck was trying to link Muslims with the attacks in Mumbai and we had nothing to do with it," Minhaj Khan, an activist with the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), told MEE.

"Instead of trying to build bridges on independence day, they brought a bulldozer and they tried to intimidate us, and now they brought this truck during a national day of mourning at a place of worship... It was appalling."

In Edison, organisers were forced to apologise for the bulldozer following an outcry and national coverage but those closely following the events in the state say that Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is deeply embedded in states such as New Jersey, Texas and California. 

Earlier this week, Cair-NJ and members of the Muslim Center of Middlesex County held a joint press conference in Piscataway to demand a response to the incident.

"While everyone - even bigots - has the right to free speech, no-one has the right to target religious minorities, especially at their houses of worship, with acts of perceived intimidation and harassment," Cair-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a statement.

The Piscataway police department told MEE the matter was now with the Attorney General's office. 

Newark, New Jersey

US plans to shift missile defence systems from the Middle East to Ukraine, report says

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 18:00
US plans to shift missile defence systems from the Middle East to Ukraine, report says
Washington looking to boost Ukraine's air defence capabilities as Russia targets electrical infrastructure ahead of winter
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 18:00
Patriot anti-aircraft missile system in Schwesing, Germany
Patriot anti-aircraft missile system in Schwesing, Germany, March 17, 2022. The US has been working to divert missile systems to Ukraine from other allies (Axel Heimken/dpa via AP, File)

The US is working to transfer air defence systems from the Middle East to Ukraine, as it seeks to expedite arms deliveries to Kyiv in the face of fresh Russian drone and missile attacks.

The plan would see the US send National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) to Ukraine in the next three to six months. The US would then replenish the systems taken from Middle Eastern partners with new NASAMS over the next 24 months, according to Greg Hayes, the CEO of Raytheon Technologies.

"There are NASAMS deployed across the Middle East, and some of our Nato allies and we [the US] are actually working with a couple of Middle Eastern countries that currently employ NASAMS and trying to direct those back up to Ukraine," Hayes told Politico.

Hayes told Politico that rerouting the systems from the Middle East would be faster than producing new ones for Ukraine, given the time needed to source component parts and deliver them.

US approves anti-drone system sale to Qatar worth $1bn
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"Just because it takes 24 months to build, it doesn't mean it's going to take 24 months to get in [the] country," he said.

NASAMS are medium-to-long range surface-to-air missile-defence systems that can be used to shoot down cruise missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and other aircraft. Ukraine received its first shipment from the US in November.

The US has provided five Security Assistance packages to Ukraine since Russia's invasion. Washington ordered six more NASAMS from Raytheon as part of the aid, but has cautioned those deliveries may not take place for two to three years.

Ukraine has been pleading with its Western allies for more air defence systems in the face of Russian attacks targeting the country's energy grid.

With winter approaching, Moscow has increasingly struck its neighbour's energy infrastructure with missiles and drones in an attempt to wear down public morale, leaving millions of Ukrainians without heat or electricity.

Hayes didn’t specify which Middle Eastern countries would provide the systems. The US Defense Department did not respond to Middle East Eye's requests for comment.

Both Oman and Qatar were approved by the US to purchase NASAMS. Oman received its first shipment in 2016, while Qatar's request was approved in 2019.

A withdrawal of air defence systems from the Gulf, even if temporary, would come at a sensitive time for the region. The US has been working to integrate its partners' air defence systems in a plan dubbed a "Middle East Nato", but has faced pushback from some capitals.

Saudi Arabia has previously been riled at Washington's decision to withdraw air defence systems from the kingdom while it faced a series of drone and missile attacks from Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Arabic press review: Israel to deport Palestinian lawyer to France

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 15:50
Arabic press review: Israel to deport Palestinian lawyer to France
Meanwhile, Egypt's Gaza gas talks, Tunisian journalist sentenced to prison and violations rife in Egyptian prisons
Mohammad Ayesh Fri, 12/02/2022 - 15:50
Salah Hamouri is set to be deported by Israel to France (Supplied)

Israel to deport Palestinian lawyer to France

Israel's interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, has approved a final decision to remove the residence permit of French-Palestinian human rights lawyer Salah Hamouri and withdraw his Jerusalem identity card, in preparation to forcibly deport him to France, according to Arabi21. 

Last Wednesday, Hamouri, who has been administratively detained for nine months, received notice of his deportation from the Hadarim prison administration.

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Salah Hamouri
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If Hamouri decides to appeal against the decision to abolish his Jerusalem residence permit, he will remain detained in an Israeli prison.

Hebrew media reported that the chances of accepting Hamouri's appeal are slim because he holds French nationality and withdrawing his residence permit "will not leave him stateless".

Israeli authorities sent a notice to the French consulate in Jerusalem to this end. 

Hamouri's wife, Elsa Lefort, said his lawyers "were verbally told that he would be deported on Sunday... It is heartbreaking and shocking."

She continued: "Under international law, the forcible deportation is considered a war crime, and this could bear consequences at the international justice level, even if it is rare to hold Israel accountable."

Israeli authorities accuse Hamouri of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and he was imprisoned between 2005 and 2011 on charges of participating in an attempt to assassinate a former Israeli rabbi.

Egypt's Gaza gas talks

Egypt has held talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials with the aim of settling differences over the Gaza Marine gas field located off the coast of the Gaza Strip, according to al-Araby al-Jadeed.

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An official Palestinian delegation visited Cairo in the middle of this week to discuss executive steps to activate the partnership agreement signed with Egypt over the gas field. Egypt has also coordinated with the Israeli side.

According to the report, the Palestinian Authority (PA) delegation and Cairo officials discussed "agreeing on the technical aspects related to the distribution of quotas to partners, how to market the gas extracted from the field, and how to end the obstacles set by the Israeli government which hinder the official start of the agreement."

In February 2021, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) signed a cooperation agreement with two Egyptian companies to develop the Gaza gas field and the necessary infrastructure.

Egypt has also been coordinating with Hamas, which governs Gaza.

Estimates issued by bodies working in the field of gas exploration indicate that the field, which is located 22 nautical miles off the Gaza coast, contains an estimated reserve of nearly one trillion cubic feet of gas, for a production period of 10-12 years.

Tunisian journalist sentenced to prison

Tunisian journalist Khalifa al-Qasimi has been sentenced to a year in prison because he refused to reveal his journalistic sources, with a terrorism court convicted him of "disclosing security secrets," according to Mosaique FM radio, which employs al-Qasimi.

The radio station confirmed that a court specialising in terrorism cases in Tunisia had sentenced the journalist, who works as a reporter, to one year in prison. However, he is currently still released pending an appeal hearing.

Qasimi's prosecution began in March, when charges were brought against him by the authorities under the anti-terrorism law and the penal code. He was detained for seven days then released after a campaign of national and international support.

Egyptian prison violations

Egyptian detention centres witnessed 1453 violations in less than three months, according to the Committee for Justice (CFJ), a Geneva-based human rights organisation.

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In its quarterly report, the CFJ said Cairo is still sending contradictory messages about its true intentions regarding human rights, according to a report in Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.

"While dozens are being released at spaced intervals, the security crackdowns of citizens, the arbitrary arrest and renewed detention are still a common practice and a consistent pattern," CFJ said.

The organisation said that from July to September 2022, Egypt witnessed signs of an economic crisis that the government did not deal with transparently, and its solutions were limited to security responses.

This was apparent in the response to the Beshay Steel strike and the crisis of al-Warraq island, where residents were forcibly displaced after a deal was struck to sell it to an Emirati company.

Israeli soldier shoots Palestinian dead at point-blank range

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 15:30
Israeli soldier shoots Palestinian dead at point-blank range
Video footage shows four shots being fired at man in occupied West Bank's Huwwara
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 15:30
An Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian man at point-blank range in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara on 2 December 2022 (Screengrab)

An Israeli soldier shot a Palestinian man dead at point-blank range in the occupied West Bank town of Huwwara near Nablus on Friday.

A video of the incident shared online showed the soldier scuffling with the Palestinian man before pulling a gun and firing four shots.

The Palestinian was hit in the upper body and fell to the ground.

Two of the shots hit him while he lay on the ground.

'He acted professionally as expected of any soldier or officer'

- Israel's police commissioner

The shooting left residents at the scene dismayed. Many had attempted to break up the fight. 

The Palestinian health ministry said a Palestinian man was killed in Huwwara.

Palestinian media identified him as 22-year-old Ammar Mefleh. 

According to Israeli media, a Border Police spokesperson said the shooting was in response to an alleged stabbing attack. 

In a statement, the spokesperson said a Palestinian man attempted to attack two Israelis in a vehicle, one of them was an off-duty soldier. They then shot and wounded him. According to the spokesperson, the Palestinian man then targeted officers who operate the Huwwara military checkpoint and attempted to take a soldier's weapon before being subsequently shot again.

Haaretz said it was not clear whether the man who committed the alleged stabbing attack is the same person who was shot dead in the video shared online.

Two officers were lightly wounded during the incident, the Israeli army said. 

Israel's police commissioner Kobi Shabtai praised the soldier who killed the Palestinian man.

"He acted professionally as expected of any soldier or officer," he said.

A Palestinian eyewitness speaking to local media denied the Israeli version of events.

He said that after a settler shot at the Palestinian man from his car and wounded him, Israeli soldiers attacked the man and let the settler off.

The young man then attempted to free himself from the soldier before being shot dead. 

'Shoot-to-kill' policy

Palestinian groups were quick to condemn what they called a "cold-blooded field execution" as a "war crime" which they said reflected the new far-right Israeli government.

Israeli forces have long been criticised for their "shoot-to-kill" policy against Palestinians in cases where the victims did not pose an imminent threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers who then killed them. 

Rights groups say the policy amounts to "summary execution".

Mefleh is the ninth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces this week amid a spike in Israeli violence against Palestinians in the West Bank this year.

Israeli forces and settlers have killed 159 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, in the West Bank in 2022, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

2022 has been the deadliest for Palestinian deaths based on the monthly average of deaths, which is the highest since the UN began recording fatalities in 2005.

A further 49 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli bombardment of Gaza in August.

Meanwhile, 29 Israelis, including soldiers, have been killed by Palestinians in the same period, the highest number since 2008.

UK asylum seekers placed in mouldy, leaking hotel after Manston detention centre

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 14:26
UK asylum seekers placed in mouldy, leaking hotel after Manston detention centre
Asylum seekers in Hastings on the English south coast said their hotel gave them stale bread and no washing facilities
Areeb Ullah Fri, 12/02/2022 - 14:26
Asylum seekers complained of crumbling walls causing skin irritation (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

People seeking asylum in the UK who were previously held at a notorious detention centre say they are now being denied basic facilities and forced to live in cramped rooms in a seaside hotel with mouldy, leaking bathrooms.

Dozens of men from countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Sudan and Syria are being housed at the Chatsworth Hotel in Hastings on the English south coast.

Some of them told Middle East Eye they had been moved to the hotel from the Manston asylum centre in Kent, where they were detained after crossing the Channel from France on small boats.

Manston was emptied last week over concerns of overcrowding, squalid conditions and a reported outbreak of diphtheria. 

The men who spoke to MEE, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, said they had travelled to the UK in search of refugee status and a better life, after fleeing war, instability or repression in their home countries.

'We deserve dignity. How long will this hell be? If I stay here for another month, I think I will run away'

- Ibrahim, asylum seeker

"Before coming to the UK, our biggest worry was getting to Britain. [But when] we arrived and were taken to Manston, our next biggest worry was leaving Manston. It was horrible,” said Mohamed, who was placed in Manston and three other hotels before coming to Chatsworth Hotel. 

"Since then, we have been taken from place to place and not told where we are, and it's only gotten worse."

It remains unclear how long the Chatsworth Hotel has been used to house asylum seekers, though some of those who spoke to MEE said they had been living there for months. The hotel’s website says it is currently not possible to make reservations.

MEE understands that the hotel was booked on behalf of the Home Office by Clearsprings Ready Homes, a private contractor which manages accommodation for asylum seekers.

MEE contacted Chatsworth Hotel for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication. Clearsprings Ready Homes referred MEE to the Home Office and said it would not be making a comment. The Home Office told MEE that it would investigate conditions at the hotel.

The issues raised by those staying at the Chatsworth, and seen by MEE during a visit to the hotel, include mould growing in bathrooms, dirty water leaking through the roof and internal ceilings inside their rooms, and cramped conditions. Some windows did not close properly, allowing cold winds from the sea into the rooms.

//--> //--> //-->

Residents said that when complaining to hotel staff or requesting basic items that they should speak to the Home Office.

"When we ask for toiletries, laundry services or other basic facilities, the staff always say that we are not allowed and have to speak with the Home Office directly," said Ahmed, who is in his 20s.

MEE saw multiple buckets in the hotel's communal areas and lobbies, intended to stop water that was leaking from the ceiling from staining the carpets.

Refugees complained that walls had been leaking in communal areas preventing them from sitting there (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Asylum seekers complained that walls had been leaking in communal areas (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

//--> //--> //-->

"We go to the lobby, where the internet is OK, but the problem is that there's water pouring out of the ceiling into a bucket right here, and we sit on the sofa right next to it like it’s normal," said Ahmed. 

"And the lobby has five or six sofas that can seat a maximum of about 12 to 13 people, when there are about 70 people in the hotel. So when you go downstairs, and the sofas are occupied, you have to sit on the carpet, which is smelly and dirty."

Salim, a refugee in his 20s, said that paint from the bathroom often crumbled onto his body when he was taking a shower, which he said had caused him skin irritation and respiratory issues.

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"The bathroom is crumbling old paint and sticking to our skin whenever we shower," he said.

Many refugees described people constantly coughing and developing skin conditions after leaving Manston, and other facilities used to accommodate asylum seekers.

MEE witnessed some people coughing in their rooms and in communal areas.

Others said their bathrooms had not been cleaned for several weeks, and described how security had increased at the hotel in the past week to deter journalists and outsiders from visiting.

Many complained of going hungry and of not receiving regular food. They said they had been given uncooked baguettes and stale bread to eat. Some said they tried to warm the bread on heaters in their rooms.

Some who spoke to MEE said the food was too spicy, and they were unable to hold it in their stomachs after developing stomach problems while at Manston.

Others said they were unable to eat the food because of health conditions and relied instead on the help of charities and people at a local mosque.

"When we first came here, we had no one to help us from the government or hotel… to tell us things like where the mosque was, or how we wash our clothes," said Yakub, a Syrian man who said he had been living at the hotel for several months.

"It was only when I bumped into someone from the same country who realised I was a refugee. They took us to the mosque, who welcomed us with open arms, gave us food from our country, and helped others in the hotel.

//--> //--> //-->

"People in Hastings have been kind to us and helped us more than the hotel and Home Office."

People had to 'cook' frozen baguettes given to them on heaters (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Some complained that the hotel had not provided them with adequate drinking water and had told them to drink from the bathroom tap.

//--> //--> //-->

"Not even a dog would want to drink from the sink," said Yusuf, who was previously in Manston before coming to Chatsworth.

"And even if the water is drinkable, why would you want to drink water from the same place where you wash your clothes and hands after using the toilet?"

Rossana Leal, who heads the Refugee Buddy Project, a charity helping asylum seekers in Hastings, said many of the men now housed at the hotel had arrived with nothing except the clothes they were wearing.

"When the refugees reach detention centres like Manston, their bags and any belongings are confiscated," said Leal.

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"That's why most men in Chatsworth have no phones, extra clothes to wear, or toiletries like shampoo or toothbrushes." 

Leal said the Home Office did not notify local authorities or her charity that the hotel was being used to house asylum seekers. They only discovered the situation when some of the men reached out to the charity in early November.

"Our individual needs assessments established that all the men needed warm clothes, including shoes, as many of them are still wearing flip flops," Leal told MEE.

Since then, the charity has given the men spare clothes, toiletries and support with their asylum applications. But the charity, which relies on donations and part-time staff, has been stretched by demand.

Until the charity intervened, those who spoke to MEE said they had not been provided with a toothbrush or other basic washing items for two weeks, and had to “scrape plaque from their teeth using their fingers and nails”.

They said the hotel had not provided them with access to a washing machine.

Most had resorted to washing their underwear in their bathroom sinks, cleaning their clothes with shampoo and drying them on the heaters in their rooms.

Refugees washed their clothes with shampoo in their bathroom and dried them on heaters because they were denied wash facilities (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Refugees washed their clothes with shampoo in their bathroom and dried them on heaters because they were denied laundry facilities (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

//--> //--> //-->

Yakub told MEE he had worn the same set of clothes for two weeks, washing his underwear to stay clean as he waits to hear back from the Home Office.

Others said they relied on the kindness of individuals they had met in the local area, who let them use their washing machines and donated clothes to them.

They said they had received no help from the Home Office with filing their asylum applications, nor been provided with any guidance about services available to them.

//--> //--> //-->

Their only sources of information, they said, were a copy of a Home Office guide in Pashto left in the hotel lobby and their own research on the internet.

Even this had been challenging: residents complained of poor mobile phone coverage in the building and said they had not been provided wifi access.

Refugees who spoke to MEE said they had been taken to numerous hotels after being put in the Manston detention centre (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Asylum seekers had been taken to numerous hotels after being put in Manston detention centre (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Some of the men who spoke to MEE said they had been waiting for months to be updated by the Home Office on the progress of their asylum cases.

//--> //--> //-->

Others said they had been moved three or four times between hotels and detention facilities. None had any idea how long they would remain at the hotel.

"I have no money, identification or news from the [British] government on what will happen to us. We all risked our lives for a better life, but instead we're stuck here," said Ibrahim. 

"We deserve dignity. How long will this hell be? If I stay here for another month, I think I will run away."

A Home Office spokesperson told MEE: “Asylum seekers are provided safe, secure accommodation funded by the UK taxpayer while we consider their claim for international protection.

“We expect high standards from all our providers and will look into this specific case.”

Hastings
UK asylum seekers placed in mouldy, leaking hotel after Manston detention centre

Tributes pour in for Jewish American anti-Zionist activist Shatzi Weisberger

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 14:25
Tributes pour in for Jewish American anti-Zionist activist Shatzi Weisberger
The 92-year-old abolitionist and feminist known for her fierce activism died at her home in New York after a battle with terminal illness
Azad Essa Fri, 12/02/2022 - 14:25
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Shatzi Weisberger, the 92-year-old Jewish American abolitionist and feminist, who became a beloved symbol of intersectional solidarity for queer rights, Black Lives Matter, and pro-Palestinian demonstrations in New York City has died.

The activist, and former nurse, was recognised for her smile and colourful placards.

She died at home after struggling with a terminal illness, her friends said in a post on social media.

"She said over and over that she felt utterly surrounded in love. In her own words: 'I am dying, and yet this is the best time of my life,'" the post read.

Tributes for Weisberger, a native of Brooklyn, poured in from across the country and across the political spectrum for her wide-reaching activism, friendship, and love for the community that saw her stand up against police brutality, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and LGBTQI rights, as well.

//--> //-->

"From Ferguson to Gaza, the image of Weisberger and her rainbow flag adorned-walker at New York City street protests brought hope to people rising up for justice across the globe," Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) said in a statement.

Several other community groups, commentators, and activists released statements in memory of Weisberger's spirit.

Open Hearts Initiative said they were heartbroken by the news. The NY-based community group described her "as a wonderful neighbor and community member who cared so deeply for so many people". Likewise, an Egyptian activist and PhD candidate wrote that she had only just seen Weisberger at a Palestine event last week.

"I don't expect to live till 92 but I can only hope I'm still showing up till my final days. May her memory be a blessing," AlKattan said.

Shatzi Weisberger at a BLM protest in NYC in 2020 (Courtesy JVP)


Weisberger, known as "the people's bubbie" (or grandma in Yiddish), was also disabled and suffered from macular degeneration. Her disability meant that she wasn't able to take the subway to protests and had to rely on Access-A-Rides, a paratransit service, provided by the city's transport authority, to find a way to events.

In June 2020, in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Weisberger affixed a BLM placard on her walker and attended George Floyd protests in New York. 

"But quite simply, the risk of not taking action is far greater. The police brutalize and kill too many Black people for me to remain on the sidelines. Like our signs say, 'white silence is violence,'" Weisberger wrote article.

"All I want for my 90th birthday is to abolish the police and build our dream world."

Weisberger was also an ardent anti-Zionist. 

In an interview with Middle East Eye in May 2021, Weisburger said her journey towards pro-Palestinian activism was one that began around 1983, following the Shatila massacre the previous year.

//--> //-->

She said it took time to overcome "the brainwashing" she had encountered as a child.

"It happened around 1983. Someone asked me to read a book. I don't remember the name but it had such an impact on me. I started questioning Zionism," Weisberger said.

"For some time I thought Israel could reform itself. But I don't believe that at all anymore. I realised that I can’t be a Zionist. No way. It is such an injustice, such cruelty, such distortion." 

"I mean, the Holocaust was real. Antisemitism is real. But it doesn’t give Jews the right to then be the oppressor. It breaks my heart," she added.

Weisberger said that she was heartened by the rise of pro-Palestinian sentiment among the young Jewish American community, and described being an anti-Zionist American Jew as "easier than it used to be". 

But the level of ease didn't determine whether she took part in a movement or not.

"I am no longer isolated as an anti-Zionist ... although I don't tend to focus on whether something is easy or not. I believe I do it whether it's hard or not. That's who I am," she said.

As per her wishes, Weisberger will buried in the woods in upstate New York.

Israel's control of West Bank 'closer than ever' to apartheid

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 13:34
Israel's control of West Bank 'closer than ever' to apartheid
Senior Israeli official tells Haaretz perception of apartheid is 'more real than ever' as coalition deal boosts far-right
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 13:34
Itamar Ben-Gvir (left) and Bezalel Smotrich at a rally in Sderot, southern Israel, in October (AFP)

Israel’s control of the West Bank is closer than ever to being seen as apartheid, a senior Israeli official has told Haaretz

The official, described as being privy to talks regarding the makeup and responsibilities of the new Israeli coalition government, said the perception of apartheid was now “closer and more real than ever”. 

The talks resulted last night in a deal with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party that gives the far-right Religious Zionism party three ministerial portfolios in Israel’s next government.

The party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, is to take control of the Ministry of Finance in rotation, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and a new ministry responsible for “national missions”. 

A source of contention - and the impetus for the senior official’s apartheid comments - has been Smotrich’s demands for some of the powers of the Civil Administration, the Israeli governing body that presides over more than 60 percent of the West Bank. 

Senior White House officials have, according to Haaretz, warned that transferring responsibility for the Civil Administration away from the defence minister could hurt US-Israeli relations, including security ties.  

Concern over pro-settlers' influence

US officials are said to be following Israeli coalition talks with interest and are concerned by the influence the pro-settler right-wing will have on the situation in the West Bank.  

It seems that Smotrich, who is expected to take the finance portfolio, has to some extent got his way when it comes to the West Bank. 

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According to the coalition deal, Religious Zionism will have a minister in the defence ministry with responsibility for Israel’s West Bank settlements, the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.  

This would appear to challenge the wishes of the US, which has cautioned against taking the power to act in the West Bank away from Israel’s defence ministry. 

Officials have warned that the US and other countries would interpret a change in policy towards the West Bank population as unilateral annexation.

Israel’s far-right believes it will be bringing an equality of status to settlers, but US officials have said they would see this as discrimination between Jews and Palestinians, and that the international community would not accept it. 

Annexation that maintains the inferior status of Palestinians would be tantamount to practising apartheid, US officials told Haaretz. 

On Thursday, Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat and US senator, said the Biden administration had been working to try to limit the influence of Smotrich and fellow right-winger Itamar Ben-Gvir over Israel’s next government.

“I know that the Biden administration is in the process of doing everything they can to try to limit the potential for damage of the inclusion of these extremist elements within the governing coalition,” Van Hollen, who is thought to be close to the US president, said at the University of Maryland. 

Israel's control of West Bank 'closer than ever' to apartheid

UAE embassy in Tel Aviv hosts far-right MP Itamar Ben-Gvir

Fri, 12/02/2022 - 11:39
UAE embassy in Tel Aviv hosts far-right MP Itamar Ben-Gvir
Kahanist MP says warm handshake with Abu Dhabi's envoy is 'what real peace looks like'
MEE staff Fri, 12/02/2022 - 11:39
Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir shaking the hand of UAE's ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja during the UAE's 51st National Day event, 1 December 2022 (Screengrab)

The far-right Israeli parliament member Itamar Ben-Gvir was hosted by the United Arab Emirates embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday and warmly welcomed by ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja.

Ben-Gvir, set to become Israel's next national security minister, was attending the UAE's 51st National Day event with other guests.

He was photographed shaking Al Khaja's hand, surrounded by guests and photographers, at Tel Aviv's Hilton Hotel, where ambassadors, politicians and public figures attended the event.

He shared a photo of the meeting and said: "This is what real peace looks like."

According to Israeli news website Ynet, Ben-Gvir said at the reception: “The event today teaches that it’s possible to make true peace without giving up territory and without surrendering to terror, just making peace between people who like each other, without making concessions.”

//-->

It is the first major appearance of Ben-Gvir at an event hosted by a foreign country since his political alliance, Religious Zionism, came third in the Israeli election in November and won 14 seats.

The Jewish Power party leader was at the event along with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who was recognised as a "guest of honour". 

ועוד מן האירוע החגיגי בתל אביב במלאות 51 שנה לאיחוד האמירויות: השגריר האמירותי @AmbAlKhaja מניח את הצעיף הלאומי על צוואריהם של בני הזוג נתניהו. הפריט עוצב באבו דאבי במיוחד לחגיגות pic.twitter.com/OEWPlMeXJ6

— Jacky Hugi (@JackyHugi) December 1, 2022

Al Khaja, appointed as the UAE's first ambassador to Israel in February 2021, added a few Hebrew words to his speech, while Netanyahu ended his with "Inshallah", newspaper Haaretz reported.

Ben-Gvir is a Kahanist settler activist-turned-politician who is known for his anti-Palestinian racism and pro-settlement stances. 

Israel and the UAE established diplomatic ties in a US-sponsored agreement in 2020 under Netanyahu's premiership. 

The two countries have enjoyed close ties since, including holding joint naval military exercises and Israeli air defence system sales to Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund raises massive $17bn loan

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 19:02
Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund raises massive $17bn loan
Public Investment Fund takes on second-biggest corporate loan globally this year, demonstrating financial world’s voracious appetite to invest in oil-rich kingdom
MEE staff Thu, 12/01/2022 - 19:02
Attendees arrive for the annual Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on 25 October 2022 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund has secured a $17 bn loan from a group of 25 banks, a sign of the continued appetite among international financiers to invest in the oil-rich kingdom’s economy.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is at the centre of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to remake the kingdom’s economy and diversify away from petrodollars.

The cash injection will be provided by financial institutions from the US, Europe and Asia, according to a statement provided by the PIF. The funds will be used to help repay a $11bn loan the PIF took out in 2018.

“It is a significant achievement for PIF,” Fahad al-Saif, the PIF's head of global capital finance division said, “raising a record-sized term facility in the longest tenor ever for a loan of its size”.

Saif said the PIF would continue to explore a “variety of debt funding sources” to achieve its strategic objectives.

The PIF is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 37-year-old de facto ruler, and has pledged to invest $40bn annually in Saudi Arabia’s economy to help wean the country off its reliance on petrodollars.

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Sovereign wealth funds are common in the energy-rich Gulf region as a tool for investment. They have been used by oil-producing countries such as Norway to channel proceeds from natural resources into other sectors of the economy. 

Saudi Arabia is enjoying an economic boom on the back of rising energy prices, and an opening up to global investors. The kingdom is on track to be the fastest-growing economy among the G-20 this year.

Despite oil prices hovering around $100 a barrel, Saudi Arabia has held back on spending its cash. The government says it will hold its oil windfall in a current account and wait until the end of the year to allocate funds.

In a twist for a sovereign fund, the PIF has turned to other measures, such as taking on debt, to finance initiatives like the Red Sea Project, the $500bn Neom mega-city, and recently a new airport in Riyadh.

The $17bn injection takes the PIF further into uncharted territory - it is the second-biggest corporate loan globally this year - and also demonstrates the financial world’s voracious appetite to invest in a country that is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil.

American executives, including JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive,  Jamie Dimon, and David Solomon, head of Goldman Sachs Group, flocked to the kingdom’s economic conference dubbed Davos in the Desert in October, brushing off the Biden administration's criticism of Riyadh for its support of the Opec+ oil cut.

UN approves resolution to commemorate 75th Nakba anniversary

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 18:44
UN approves resolution to commemorate 75th Nakba anniversary
Israeli ambassador condemns the UN move, while Palestinian representative tells UN the world is facing 'end of the road' for two-state solution
MEE staff Thu, 12/01/2022 - 18:44
Palestine
Protesters hold up Palestinian national flags during a demonstration near the city of Sakhnin in northern Israel, on 5 May 2022, ahead of the Palestinian marking of the 74th anniversary of the Nakba (AFP)

The UN General Assembly has approved a resolution to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, a term used to describe the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the lead-up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Ninety countries voted in favour of the measure, with 30 voting against it and 47 abstaining.

The resolution was one of five that were voted on in the UN on Thursday which related to Israel and Palestine. The UN also voted in favour of renaming a journalism training programme after Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian journalist who was killed by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank.

And another adopted resolution called for a "halt to all settlement activities, land confiscation and home demolitions, for the release of prisoners and for an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions". A final resolution called for Israel to rescind its control over the occupied region of the Golan Heights.

The Nakba resolution includes the organising of a high-level event at the General Assembly on 15 May 2023.

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The Nakba, "the catastrophe", is the name Palestinians give to the massacres and forced expulsion they endured at the hand of Zionist militias in 1948.

Entire Palestinian villages were massacred, with Zionist gangs indiscriminately killing unarmed civilians and burying some in mass graves. The Israeli campaign left an estimated 15,000 Palestinians dead and some 750,000 fleeing their homes to live as refugees.

The raids continued after Israel announced its independence on 15 May 1948. Israel refers to the events of 1948 as the war of independence.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, condemned the measure's passage and asked delegates: "What would you say if the international community celebrated the establishment of your country as a disaster? What a disgrace."

The Israeli diplomat said the passage of the resolution on the Nakba would hinder any chance of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Two-state solution nearly dead

Meanwhile, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, warned the UN that the two-state solution was at imminent risk and urged the international body to pressure Israel as well as to grant Palestinians full recognition.

Mansour called on the UN to acknowledge a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We are at the end of the road for the two-state solution. Either the international community summons the will to act decisively or it will let peace die passively. Passively, not peacefully,” Mansour told the UN.

'We are at the end of the road for the two-state solution'

- Riyad Mansour, Palestinian envoy to the UN

“Anybody serious about the two-state solution must help salvage the Palestinian state,” he said. “The alternative is what we are living under now - a regime that has combined the evils of colonialism and apartheid.”

Mansour also slammed the incoming far-right coalition in Israel, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as "the most colonial, racist and extremist government in the history of Israel".

However, the Palestinian representative also hailed the UN's request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967.

The comments from both Mansour and Erdan come amid heightened tensions following a spike in Israeli violence against Palestinians in the West Bank this year and a resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance.

Israeli forces and settlers have killed 139 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, in the West Bank this year, making it the deadliest on a monthly average for Palestinians since the UN began recording fatalities in 2005.

Israeli casualties also witnessed a spike in 2022 compared with recent years. At the same time, there has been a steep rise in settler attacks against Palestinians and security forces.

Tor Wennesland, the UN's envoy to the Middle East, warned on Monday that the tensions were "reaching a boiling point".

Turkish Airlines stock surges 500 percent, leading massive market rally

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 17:19
Turkish Airlines stock surges 500 percent, leading massive market rally
With an inflation rate among the highest in the world, Turks have turned to the stock market to protect their savings, leading some to warn of a massive bubble
MEE staff Thu, 12/01/2022 - 17:19
Traders work at their desks on the floor of Turkey's Borsa Istanbul, on 22 May 2018 (AFP)

Turkey's national airline stock is up a whopping 500 percent this year, the most among global airlines, helping drive a wider surge in Turkey’s stock market.

The stock has benefited from many of the factors driving gains in Turkey’s wider Borsa 100 index, which is up 172 percent this year, as local investors flock to equities to protect their savings against runaway inflation.

Turkey’s plunging currency has led to skyrocketing prices for citizens but is making the country a cheaper destination for foreign visitors. According to data by Bloomberg, a meal in Turkey that once cost $100 in 2020 is fetching around $41 today. 

The number of Americans visiting Turkey in the first half of 2022 was up 76.8 percent over the same period last year. Those numbers, along with a surge in the freight business, have helped push Turkish Airlines' stock.

Turkey enjoys record-breaking number of Israeli tourists
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Ahmet Bolat, chairman of the national carrier, told reporters that the airline aims to double the number of US passengers travelling to Turkey to two million, a move that would put Turkey below the UK as the second-top destination for US citizens.

Bolat added that the stock had more room to go, setting a price target of 50 percent above Wednesday’s closing price.

Despite skyrocketing inflation, Turkey has continued to slash interest rates as part of an unorthodox economic policy promoted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The flood of easy money has led to one of the highest growth rates among G20 countries but has battered savings and led to wild price swings.

Turkey’s interest rate stands at nine percent - among the world’s lowest - while inflation is approaching 86 percent this year. The disconnect has left Turkish citizens with few other options besides stocks to obtain a return on their money. 

The investor frenzy has prompted Turkey’s main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is also a top contender for the presidency in the June elections, to warn investors of a stock market bubble.

“You’re entering the stock market to protect your savings from inflation, but the real bait is in those inflated values,” Kilicdaroglu said on Twitter this month. “They are preparing to rob small investors.” 

But with Turkish stocks trading at a 50 percent discount to other emerging markets, there could be more room for them to rise. In dollar terms, the index is up 80 percent, making it the best-performing stock index tracked by Bloomberg

World Cup 2022: Morocco beat Canada to qualify for knockout stages

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 16:42
World Cup 2022: Morocco beat Canada to qualify for knockout stages
Atlas Lions finish top of the group as 2-1 win secures qualification to last 16 for second time in nation's history
MEE staff Thu, 12/01/2022 - 16:42
Morocco's forward Youssef En-Nesyri celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup against Canada at Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha, on 1 December 2022 (AFP)

Morocco beat Canada 2-1 in their final group game at the Qatar World Cup to win Group F and advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. 

The North African team, cheered on by the vast majority of the crowd at Al Thumama stadium in Doha on Thursday, dominated the opening proceedings of the match.

World Cup 2022: For Morocco's football fans, nationality is a fluid concept
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Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech profited from a calamitous error by Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan after four minutes, passing the ball straight to the Moroccan forward who chipped delightfully into the net from outside the box. 

The lead was doubled in the 23rd minute when striker Youssef En-Nesyri latched onto a through ball and held off two defenders to finish coolly. 

Canada pulled a goal back late in the first half as Moroccan defender Nayef Aguerd turned the ball into his own net. 

But Morocco defended stoutly, to qualify for the last 16 of the tournament for only the second time in their history. 

Morocco flies flag for Middle East 

On Sunday, the Atlas Lions had pulled off a stunning 2-0 victory over Belgium, ranked world number two, in a pulsating match at Al-Thumama. 

Belgium, semi-finalists at the last tournament, crashed out in the group stages following a goalless draw with Croatia on Wednesday.

Before this year's World Cup, Morocco had only won two out of 15 games across five World Cup tournaments, against Scotland in 1998 and Portugal in 1986, the year the Atlas Lions made it out of the group stages for the first time. 

Teams from the Middle East and North Africa

Morocco are now the only Middle East and North African team remaining in the first World Cup to be played in the region, after Qatar, Iran, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia were all knocked out earlier this week. 

Tunisia came close to proceeding to the Round of 16 following a historic win over defending champions France on Wednesday, but were eventually knocked out after Australia beat Denmark to finish second in Group D.

Morocco will now face Spain, who finished as second-placed team in Group E after Japan - while Germany and Costa Rica were both eliminated - at Education City stadium on 6 December. 
 

Kurds in Iraq fear further cross-border Iranian attacks but rule out invasion

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 15:34
Kurds in Iraq fear further cross-border Iranian attacks but rule out invasion
At a base shattered by an Iranian attack on Iraqi Kurdistan, MEE finds locals fearful of what Tehran might do next
Wladimir van Wilgenburg Thu, 12/01/2022 - 15:34
The graves of Rehaneh (Shima) Kanaani and her son Vanyar Rahmani, who were killed in Iranian strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan (MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Middle East Eye)

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan’s (PDKI) bases have been emptied.

In the Iraqi Kurdish city of Koya, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Iranian border, locals and Iranian Kurdish refugees fear Iran’s recent drone and missile attacks have not ended.

“The threats persist, the attacks are ongoing,” PDKI Peshmerga commander Karo Rasoli told Middle East Eye, speaking near the emptied castle in Koya that serves as a base for the PDKI. 

Iranian forces, Rasoli said, “have accumulated on the border, ground forces as well as missile units - especially outside the cities of Sardasht, Baneh, Piranshahr, and in the Hawraman area”.

The base, also known as “the Castle”, is still scarred by burn marks and craters caused by an Iranian missile attack on 28 September. Destroyed furniture lies scattered about.

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Not far from the mountain fort, which has served as a Kurdish headquarters since 1993 and the days of Saddam Hussein, there is a cemetery, the final resting place for dozens of victims of Iran’s attacks.

“This is a camp and the shelters that it has - right here, a 65-year-old woman was killed… these were civilian areas that were bombarded by the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps],” Rasoli said. 

The Castle
The PDKI base known as the Castle, following an Iranian attack (MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

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Since the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on 16 September, Iran has carried out four cross-border drone and missile attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran blames the ongoing protests in Iran on outside forces, particularly exiled Kurdish groups, which it is targeting. 

At least 14 people were killed and 58 injured in the 28 September attack that struck the Castle, with Iran attacking a number of Kurdish opposition parties in the Kurdistan region at the same time.

An attack on 14 November saw three killed and 10 injured. Strikes on 20 November killed one and injured 10. And on 22 November, Iranian drones targeted Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) bases along the Erbil-Kirkuk border, with no casualties recorded.

Trouble at home 

On Tuesday evening across cities inside Iran there were some celebrations following Iran’s World Cup loss to the US, which saw the team knocked out of the tournament. 

The question of whether to support the team has dredged up strong, often mixed feelings among Iranians, and the players have at points been accused of not showing enough solidarity with the protesters and of meeting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. 

On social media, activists posted videos showing Kurdish students celebrating the US victory by dancing in school yards. 

Trouble at home is provoking aggression abroad, and journalists are restricted from visiting the area around Koya because of fears that Iran could renew its attacks - despite talks between the Iraqi government and Iran over border security.

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“The IRGC has fired different types of missiles at Koya, including Fath 360, Fateh 110 and Shahed 136 missiles. We have information that [the IRGC] has stationed Zolfaghar missiles in Kermanshah region,” Rasoli said. 

“We have submitted samples of Iranian drone and missiles to those who have visited the targeted areas, including the [US-led] coalition, the Germans… so far, there has not been solid feedback, but we hope that this will lead to a formal and more serious cooperation,” he said. 

Iranian drone strike debris
Remnants of Iranian drones and missile strikes (MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

The Koya area is about 200km from the Iranian border. Iran has bombarded border areas and threatened to carry out a cross-border ground offensive if Iranian Kurdish opposition groups are not removed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) or Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has condemned the attacks on Kurds inside his country as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.  

Just a month into the job, and dependent to some extent on support from parties and armed factions close to Tehran, Sudani arrived in the Iranian capital on Tuesday, looking to underline that Baghdad would not allow its territory to be used as a “threat” to its neighbour. 

Iraqi Kurds have agreed with Baghdad to redeploy 3,000 border force officers to the Iraqi-Iranian border, the Kurdish channel Kurdistan 24 reported. Iran, which says Kurdish fighters and arms are crossing the border into Iran, responded favourably to the decision.

“The only solution is for the Iraqi central government to extend its authority to those areas [where Iranian Kurdish opposition groups operate in the Kurdistan Region] as well,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iraq’s new prime minister on Tuesday, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency. 

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Tasnim also reported that the IRGC’s ground forces had deployed armoured and special units along Iran’s western and northwestern borders in order to “prevent the infiltration” by “separatist groups”.

Claims of arms smuggling

This deployment has been accompanied by some strident rhetoric. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, claimed that “our friends in Iraq made a commitment to sweep those terrorist groups away [from Iran’s border] and disarm them in a definite span of time”.

He confirmed that Iran’s military strikes will continue as long as a “threat is posed against Iran from the neighbouring states”. Iranian Kurdish opposition parties have denied posing any military threat to Iran from inside Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Iranian foreign minister has also accused the US and Israel of smuggling weapons into Iran. Iranian state media jumped on comments reportedly made by former US adviser John Bolton - well known for his hawkish stance on the Islamic Republic - who said that Iranian Kurdish opposition groups are armed with weapons “smuggled from Iraq's Kurdistan region”.

'Our armed party members have not intervened in Iran’s Kurdistan'

Karo Rasoli, Peshmerga commander

The KRG has denied the allegations, saying that it would “never jeopardise the security of its neighbours”, while Iranian Kurds have denied being militarily involved in the protests. 

“Our armed party members have not intervened in Iran’s Kurdistan. We have had no operations in or outside Iran in the aftermath of the recent protests.

"The Islamic Republic blames Iran’s Kurdish parties for the protests, which again, is not correct,” Rasoli, the Kurdish Peshmerga commander, told MEE.

Khalid Azizi, spokesperson for the PDKI, denied that Iranian Kurdish parties are separatist, and underlined that the PDKI is for a democratic and political solution in Iran.

He told MEE he didn’t think the KRG or Baghdad government would force the removal of Iranian Kurdish parties. “I don't expect such a solution from Baghdad or the KRG, because we have always been flexible in terms of finding a solution to this crisis,” he said.

“We have always emphasised the reality that the purpose of Iranian missile and drone attacks on us is to divert attention from inside Iran,” Azizi said.

The spokesperson added that his party has no plan or project to send Kurdish peshmerga fighters into Iran. “Our policy is to avoid violence. Iran would like to involve our peshmerga soldiers into this uprising,” he said.

“But our policy is not to do that. We do almost everything possible to not give a pretext to Iran to turn this peaceful civilian uprising into a military confrontation.” 

PDK-I graves
The graves of PDKI members killed in Iranian strikes (MEE/Wladimir van Wilgenburg)

One of the “terrorist targets” hit by Iran was a primary school in Koya, which was heavily damaged and emptied by the 28 September attacks.

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“At least two children were injured and one pregnant woman was killed, according to initial reports,” Sheema SenGupta, Unicef representative in Iraq, said in a statement at the time. 

“One of the areas targeted by the IRGC missiles was a school that hosts nearly 250 students - the school’s name is Rojhelat [Iranian Kurdistan] Primary School,” said Rasoli.

“In the past month, the students from this school have been relocated to a makeshift school in Koya town to continue their studies, but their psychological situation has deteriorated,” he said.

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Rasoli told MEE that Iran’s actions are dependent on the reactions from Baghdad and Erbil.

“If the Islamic Republic does not meet any opposition [from Iraq and the KRG], they could start a ground invasion, and such an invasion could be irreversible,” he said.

PDKI spokesperson Azizi doubts that, in the midst of hard winter conditions, Iran would cross the border for a ground offensive.

“It would not be very easy for Iran in terms of logistics and transferring its arms, and it would create a lot of problems for Iran in Baghdad,” he said.

But he added that in the future, Iran will continue to attack Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdistan Region by “drones and sometimes missiles”.

Azizi hopes that Baghdad and Erbil will find a solution according to Iraqi sovereignty, and the principles of democracy and human rights. “But I am afraid the Iranian Islamic regime and IRGC will not respect any agreement or any possible solution.”

Koya, Iraq
Kurds in Iraq fear further cross-border Iranian attacks but rule out invasion

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