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Erdogan says Sweden must do more to unlock Turkey’s veto on Nato

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 19:57
Erdogan says Sweden must do more to unlock Turkey’s veto on Nato
Turkey reiterates demand that Sweden extradite Kurdish opposition figures it accuses of terrorism
MEE staff Tue, 11/08/2022 - 19:57
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hand with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a press conference following their meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, on 8 November 2022 (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hand with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a press conference following their meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, on 8 November 2022 (AFP)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 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.

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.

Inside the meeting that broke Sweden and Finland's Nato deadlock with Turkey
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“Sweden wants Nato membership for its own security, and we want a Sweden that will support eliminating our security concerns,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference in Ankara on Tuesday, following his meeting with  Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

“It is our sincere wish that Sweden realise Nato membership, following full implementation of the memorandum.”

'Distance ourselves' 

Turkey is seeking the extradition of 33 individuals linked to Kurdish groups it considers “terrorists”. A memorandum in June spelled out steps for Sweden and Finland to take to address Ankara’s concerns and facilitate its extradition requests.

Following the agreement, Sweden and Finland reversed a ban against exporting military equipment to Turkey that had been imposed in 2019 after Turkey invaded northern Syria, a move Erdogan welcomed on Tuesday.

Sweden has faced opposition from rights groups and Kurdish organisations, including a large diaspora inside the country, on extraditing Kurdish opposition figures.

But in a sign that Sweden is moving in Ankara’s direction, the foreign minister said on Saturday that Stockholm needed to "distance" itself from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) because of their links to the PKK.

"I think it is important that there is a distance to this organisation from the Swedish side," Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

"We think there are doubts and problems regarding those who are damaging our relationship with Turkey.”

"There is too close a link between these organisations and the PKK, which is a terrorist organisation listed by the EU," Billstrom said.

Kurdish groups demand Sweden repatriate citizens from Syria after move against YPG and PYD
Read More »

The comments are noteworthy because the YPG remains a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, although the US designates the PKK as a terrorist organisation. 

“I want to reassure all Turks, Sweden will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat before becoming a member of Nato and as a future ally,” Kristersson said.

Sweden has so far authorised one extradition for fraud, though Erdogan said that four people had already been deported to Turkey. Both Stockholm and Helsinki say that extradition decisions are made by the courts.

Moving parts

“Terrorist organisations’ exploitation of Sweden’s democratic environment must absolutely be prevented,” Erdogan said Tuesday. “When our citizens see these terrorists walking the avenues of Sweden and Finland with terrorist rags in their hands, they hold me to account.”

Greece warns of Ukraine-style war with Turkey in East Mediterranean
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Turkey’s neighbours, and historic rivals, are concerned that Erdogan is seeking to leverage his Nato veto power to extract further concessions from western governments. Turkey has been involved in a war of words with Greece and it is also negotiating an F-16 purchase from the US in the face of congressional opposition to the deal.

Erdogan has positioned himself as a mediator in the Ukraine conflict, and one of the only Nato leaders who can maintain a channel of communication with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Earlier this month, he intervened to persuade Russia to re-enter a grain export agreement.

At the same time, Turkey has deepened its economic ties with Moscow. On Tuesday, Turkey’s energy minister said the country had started paying for some of its natural gas from Russia in roubles, a step that would help bolster the currency.

Israel and Jordan advance water-for-energy deal

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 17:46
Israel and Jordan advance water-for-energy deal
US-brokered agreement will see Jordan export solar energy to Israel, in exchange for desalinated water
MEE staff Tue, 11/08/2022 - 17:46
King Abdullah II and Israel's President Isaac Herzog at the Cop27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 7 November 2022 (Jordanian Royal Palace/Handout via Reuters)

Israel and Jordan on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to move ahead with a water-for-energy deal on the sidelines of Cop27 at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The deal, initially agreed upon by the two countries last November, will see Jordan build a solar plant with the capacity to export 600 megawatts of energy to Israel. In return, Israel will supply Jordan with 200 million cubic metres of desalinated water.

The UAE, which backed the plan along with the US, hosted the signing ceremony in the presence of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, UAE climate envoy and industry minister, and US special envoy for climate John Kerry.

Emirati state-owned company Masdar is slated to construct the solar farm in Jordan. Once operational, the plant is expected to produce two percent of Israel's energy by 2030. Israel will make payments of $180m per year to the Jordanian government and the Emirati company.

Cop27: Gulf states empowered by global scramble for fossil fuels
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It is the first such deal between Israel and Jordan. Although the two established official diplomatic relations in 1994 and engage in security and economic matters, their ties are kept mostly out of the public sphere.

Cooperation with Israel has historically prompted popular backlash in Jordan, a country of 10 million that is home to around three million Palestinians.

The UAE, on the other hand, has openly embraced ties with Israel, including people-to-people activities such as tourism. The wealthy petrostate normalised relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Amman already obtains 55 million cubic metres of water from Israel, as stipulated in their 1994 peace agreement.

The MOU comes as Abu Dhabi looks to position itself for Cop28, which is to be held in the UAE next year.

The UAE is one of the world’s top investors in green energy and is already home to the largest single-site solar park in the world. Last week, the UAE signed a strategic partnership with the US that will see $100bn invested to develop 100 gigawatts of clean energy by 2035.

'We are ants being crushed': Egypt’s poor face more hardship after devaluation

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 12:07
'We are ants being crushed': Egypt’s poor face more hardship after devaluation
Residents of an impoverished Nile island speak to Middle East Eye in the aftermath of the record depreciation in the Egyptian pound as the country agrees new deal with the IMF
Shahenda Naguib Tue, 11/01/2022 - 12:07
Egyptians shout solgans against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clashes with residents of the Nile island of al-Warraq, when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, Egypt July 16, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Residents of Warraq Island take part in anti-government protests when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, 16 July 2017 (Reuters)

Egypt’s sharp devaluation of the pound last week has left millions of impoverished citizens wondering how to make ends meet as prices of basic commodities continue to soar.

As Egypt gears up for hosting the Cop27 UN conference on climate change in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, spending billions on logistical preparations, Mohamed Belal, 41, a railway worker who lives in an impoverished home on Warraq Island, Giza, is counting how his salary won’t be enough to cover his and his family’s expenses till the end of the year. 

'The situation is rough. How can I feed two kids and their mother and myself with such a salary?'

- Mohamed Belal, railway worker

“The situation is rough. How can I feed two kids and their mother and myself with such a salary?” Belal, who earns EGP 2500 ($103) a month, told Middle East Eye. He already works on the weekends as a farmer with landowners as an extra channel to get more money. He is considering taking his children out of school and putting them to work. 

“Whenever I am going back from work at night, I find people, men, women and children, standing by the garbage dumpsters fishing for food. I stopped judging, because I might end up doing so. I even started to instruct my wife to throw any leftover food in intact boxes in case someone eats it,” he said. 

Belal lives in a small room built illegally after his original house was demolished by the government in 2017, in police raids claiming that houses built on the island must be removed.

Warraq Island, an agricultural island in the middle of the Nile between Cairo and Giza, has been eyed by the regime of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as a spot to change into a “modern” gated community and high-rise destination for the country’s rich. 

The poverty-stricken island is now inhabited by residents who cannot afford to move to the crowded and expensive housing in Cairo and Giza. Well-off residents who got modest compensation from the government were able to move out and purchase houses elsewhere. 

The government intends to call Warraq “Houras Island” or Manhattan on the Nile, and to build high-rise housing units and business and shopping centres. In 2017, riot police killed one man and arrested dozens, accusing them of terrorism-related charges as they tried to resist attempts by security forces to survey properties ahead of planned demolitions. 

“Between receiving no compensation from the government for five years and having a low salary, my only opportunity is to become a crook,” an emotional Belal said in despair while being comforted by other male friends. 

Austerity bites

Aside from the tragedy and anxiety of being displaced from their homes, Warraq residents like millions of other Egyptians are crushed by the monetary policies which have been implemented by the government since 2016.

Last week, the Egyptian government devalued the pound by 15 percent before reaching a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $3bn, 46-month extended fund facility. 

Egypt's pound gets pummelled, but reform hinges on military's ousting from economy, analysts say
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Following the announcement, the central bank said it was set on intensifying economic reforms, and had "moved to a durably flexible exchange rate regime, leaving the forces of supply and demand to determine the value of the EGP against other foreign currencies".

Analysts told MEE last week that Egypt's preliminary agreement with the IMF could help restore some investor confidence in the North African country, but real progress hinges on Cairo's appetite to follow through with reform.

Egypt, according to Moody's, is one of five countries in the world at risk of failing to repay its foreign debt instalments, which exceed $150bn. In August, Goldman Sachs said that Egypt needs about $15bn in external funding to be able to repay its debts.

The country’s already heavily indebted economy has been battered by the war in Ukraine and a rising US dollar. Egypt has seen about $20bn in outflows from foreign investors this year. The war has also hit imports of wheat and inflows of tourists from Russia and Ukraine, both of which Egypt - the world's largest importer of wheat - relied on.

The latest deal is the third time that Egypt has resorted to the IMF, having previously done so twice in the past six years. The first time was in 2016, when it secured a $12bn credit facility to support an ambitious programme of economic reforms. The second time was when it received a $5.2bn loan to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid pandemic. 

The IMF deals have been coupled with tough austerity measures that saw prices of electricity and those of basic commodities and food soar, bringing more suffering for tens of millions of people in a country where almost 70 percent of the population of more than 100 million depends on food rations.

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

As a result of the latest devaluation, the prices of food commodities also increased, ranging between 5 and 7 percent in dairy and cheese products, which rely on imported dairy and vegetable oil. The percentage is likely to increase with the expected rise in the prices of all basic commodities, such as meat, fish and poultry, eggs, rice, lentils, beans, grain, sugar, coffee and tea.

cairo warraq woman 2017 afp
A resident of Cairo's Warraq island sitting on the rubble of her house that was demolished by the state, 20 July 2017 (AFP/file photo)

Samira, a housewife and nurse from Warraq who MEE contacted over the phone, suffers similar problems. Although she has never carried a dollar or even seen one, she said that her life became deeply affected by the global currency.

“As the price hikes continue, the support of the government decreases,” she said, adding that all her family were cut from the food rations card, while school fees and transportation costs are getting higher. 

In order for Samira to go to her place of work, she has to take four different kinds of public transport, not counting the ferry which connects the island and the other bank of the Nile.

“Because the government wants to kick out all the rest of the island residents, they sometimes shut down the ferry or limit its working hours as punishment.”

She added that even the state-owned schools and the hospitals on the Island are getting demolished, with the land appropriated to the government's development plans. “They are trying to suffocate us, and deprive us of basic services, which lead to the rising cost of food and transportation on the island as a result.”

Planned protests

Another resident of Warraq Island, Ismail, a tuk-tuk driver by day and sandwich-maker by night, told MEE that he has been engaged for seven years to his fiancee but can not afford a furnished room anywhere in Cairo. “We both work, but the prices rise more than we can save. And what we save is not insured against medical emergencies or crises.” 

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

Ismail’s brother was arrested early this year in a police raid when he was trying, along with other young male residents, to defend houses from being demolished. He and others who were arrested are still in detention facing terrorism charges, which have cost Ismail’s families almost half of their savings to hire a lawyer and pay bribes. 

Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27 in Egypt over country's human rights abuses
Read More »

“Now we are threatened to be kicked out of our land which we have owned since the 1980s, and we cannot live like normal human beings,” Ismail said, complaining that he cannot live a normal life working two jobs. 

Ismail and others are planning to take part in protests on 11 November, called to coincide with the Cop27 event, in order to voice their anger and frustration with the Sisi government’s economic policies. 

Abu Bakr, another Warraq resident, is a 34-year-old construction worker, one of thousands helping build the posh and high rise New Administrative Capital, Sisi’s most treasured mega project.

Abu Bakr, like thousands of his colleagues, is uninsured, and works without a contract, according to the demand of the contractors. He told MEE that he will stop having breakfast at a fava beans cart near the construction site where he works, which now costs 20 EGP (83 US cents), and will end up eating dry bread crackers and old cheese, which is stored in his house in order to save money. 

His son has been diagnosed with cancer, which requires imported medicine, a product which, he said, is increasing in price every two months as the government is putting restrictions on imported goods and at the same time allowing the private sector to control state-owned health institutions. 

'A lot of people will sleep or go to work hungry because they will sacrifice to feed their children'

- Abu Bakr, Warraq resident

“A lot of people will sleep or go to work hungry because they will sacrifice to feed their children,” he said, adding: “No one can feel the misery that the poor are living. We are just ants being crushed and no one cares.”

Abu Bakr told MEE about a colleague of his who could not afford to support his family anymore so he took his life by throwing himself underneath the metro. “I know it is forbidden by God but sometimes I feel I want to end my life so I can be over with this misery.”

Self-harm as a tool of protesting economic hardship has been rising in Egypt in recent years. Almost every month Egyptian media carries reports about people committing suicide due to economic hardship. 

Um Farouk is a single mother of three daughters in her 50s who works as a cleaner. She is concerned about whether she will be able to afford basic needs for her family as her income does not suffice.

“I know families who allowed their daughters to become prostitutes in order for them to eat and leave the island to go somewhere else, but not me.”

Um Farouk currently buys chicken bones and waste and cooks them to make soup. “Meat products and vegetables are expensive. Only beans and rice are available, along with bone soup,” she added. 

Warraq Island, Egypt

Israel election: Polls open with far right on cusp of power

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 07:45
Israel election: Polls open with far right on cusp of power
Controversial Religious Zionism bloc has gained momentum in recent weeks and may become coalition kingmaker
Lubna Masarwa Tue, 11/01/2022 - 07:45
An Israeli man casting his ballot on the day of Israel's general election in a polling station in Rahat (Reuters)

Israelis began voting for the fifth time in less than four years on Tuesday, with a high chance that former Benjamin Netanyahu could return as prime minister alongside far-right parties that have vowed to pursue racist policies which would upturn Israel forever.

Yet final opinion polls published last week showed Netanyahu still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, opening the prospect of weeks of coalition wrangling and possibly new elections.

Israelis have until 20:00 GMT to cast their ballot, after which complex bargaining to build a coalition will get underway.

"I hope we will finish the day with a smile but it's up to the people," Netanyahu said as he voted in Jerusalem.

'Ben-Gvir talks about a law that would see anyone who opposes the regime, whether Arab or Jewish, deported'

- Meron Rapoport, political analyst

The former prime minister is on trial on corruption charges, which he denies, but his Likud party is still expected to finish as the largest in parliament.

Though Israeli politics in recent years has long been divided between Netanyahu's alliance of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties and all those who want to see the back of him, seasoned political analyst Meron Rapoport believes the Likud leader is far from the most significant aspect of this election.

"He is a marginal figure in the story today," Rapoport told Middle East Eye. Instead, driving Israeli politics is Religious Zionism, a far-right party led by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, open racists who have floated the idea of stripping the citizenship of Palestinian citizens of Israel, among other destructive policies.

"This is a party that has influenced Likud, which has adopted its language to a large extent, and it is also a party that is thinking of eliminating democracy at its base," Rapoport said. "Ben-Gvir talks about a law that would see anyone who opposes the regime, whether Arab or Jewish, deported."

Rapoport noted that Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948 were given citizenship by David Ben-Gurion, a status that has always remained sacrosanct. Yet likely future ministers are floating the idea of taking that away.

"Smotrich talks about bringing the army into Lod and Acre," he added, referring to two cities with large Palestinian populations. "There is a potential here that cannot be underestimated, and cannot be ignored."

Voter concerns

Security and surging prices have topped the list of voter concerns in a campaign triggered by outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid's decision to seek an early election following defections from his ruling coalition.

Lapid, a former TV anchor, urged the electorate on Tuesday to cast their ballot.

"Go and vote today for the future of our children, for the future of our country. Vote well!" he said at a Tel Aviv polling station.

Gridlock, fascism or more polls? Israel's latest election could provide all three
Read More »

Lapid was the architect of the last coalition, which included the United Arab List party, known as Raam in its Hebrew acronym, as well as others from the right and left.

That unlikely alliance was made possible after Raam's leader Mansour Abbas pulled his party from a united slate, with other parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel paving the way for him to join the coalition.

Recent months have seen further divisions within the bloc representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is running on three separate lists in a move expected to weaken the minority's representation in parliament.

The campaign takes place against a backdrop of months of Israeli raids against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police urged settlers and citizens to carry guns on election day, as the army deployed additional troops into the West Bank fearing potential attacks, public broadcaster Kan reported.

Police on Sunday told licensed and well-trained gun-owners to keep their weapons on them on Tuesday and in the near future. 

US fears

If Netanyahu and his allies are able to cobble together a working coalition, the extremist views of his allies are likely to gain even more attention in the international arena. 

According to Walla, an Israeli website, Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog during a visit to the US last week was forced to allay fears put to him by officials in the Biden administration that members of far-right parties could be appointed to any new coalition government.

Israel's Herzog sought to calm US fears of far-right influence following election: Report
Read More »

Sunday's report said Washington fears that if leaders of the far-right parties receive senior positions it could damage relations between the US and Israel.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed is reported to have warned Netanyahu in private that any cooperation with extreme right-wing parties could damage nascent relations between the countries.

Israel has faced several election cycles since 2019, the year Netanyahu, now 73, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases that he describes as a "rigged" political witch-hunt meant to keep him out of office.

According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 first-time voters will participate in the coming election who did not vote in March 2021, the last time elections were held.

Many of those voting for the first time, the majority of whom are Jewish, are expected to favour right and far-right parties over the left.

Netanyahu appears to have an advantage over his opponents with much of Israel's media treating him favourably. Recently, the Likud leader promised an Ethiopian Israeli that he would freeze mortgages if elected to office, seemingly confusing his property tax policies just before election day. Yet the media barely covered his gaffe, Rapoport noted.

"They used to make a story out of such a candidate, making them look like a joke. Yet they just didn’t talk about it in the media," he said.

Jerusalem
Polls open in Israeli election with far-right on cusp of power

From spies to free trade: Bahrain and Israel aim to deepen economic ties

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:45
From spies to free trade: Bahrain and Israel aim to deepen economic ties
Economic ties have lagged behind the two countries' flourishing security relationship
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:45
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani (L) walks with Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after the Negev Summit, on 28 March 2022 (AFP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Israel and Bahrain hope to reach a free trade agreement before the end of the year, potentially deepening ties between them which have lagged behind other Arab countries that officially recognised Israel. 

"We're optimistic and hopeful that we will close the deal by the end of the year," Bahraini Minister of Industry and Commerce Zayed Alzayani said during a trip to Israel on Monday, where he was leading a business delegation.

Bahrain, along with the UAE, was one of the original signatories to the US-brokered Abraham Accords in September 2020. Morocco and Sudan followed shortly after.

The deal normalised ties between Israel and its neighbours, opening the way for greater economic and security cooperation, but broke with decades of precedent which held that Arab states would not officially establish relations with Israel until a resolution to the conflict with Palestine was reached.

Israel and Bahrain signed a security cooperation agreement in February, with Bahrain becoming the first Arab country to officially host an Israeli military official.

The Abraham Accords have allowed for decades of covert military cooperation between Israel and Gulf states to come out in the open.

Spies, drones, and trade deals

Israel has sold missile defence systems to the UAE to protect against drone attacks. On Friday, the Tactical Report news site published images showing that the UAE has deployed the Israeli Barak 8 missile defense system near Abu Dhabi.

Bahrain has also turned to Israel for security assistance. According to the Wall Street Journal, Manama has sought training from Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services, while Israel has provided Bahrain with both drones and anti-drone systems.

Israeli military officials sent to Qatar as US works to bolster security cooperation
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Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family governs a majority Shia population.

The country of about 1.8m was the only Gulf Arab state to have experienced major unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement, with citizens demanding greater political freedoms and equal rights regardless of religious identity.

Manama's rulers quashed the uprising with the help of Saudi Arabia, and since then the Bahraini government has cracked down on political opposition.

Economic relations have not kept up with the burgeoning defence ties. In 2021, the trade volume between Israel and Bahrain stood at just $7.5m.

The slow progress is in contrast with Israel’s booming business with the UAE. Between September 2020 to March 2022, non-oil trade exceeded $2.5bn. The two countries expect annual bilateral trade to hit $10bn in five years.

In May, the UAE signed the Arab world’s first-ever free trade deal with Israel, eliminating or reducing 96 percent of tariffs on goods and services. The agreement is expected to add $1.9bn to the UAE’s economy over the next five years, according to Emirati state media.

US investigates lawmaker tied to halal certification company, says report

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:05
US investigates lawmaker tied to halal certification company, says report
A federal probe into IS EG Halal, which certifies halal exports to Egypt, is being linked to Senator Bob Menendez, according to The New York Times
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:05
US Senator Bob Menendez questions SEC Chair Gary Gensler as he testifies before the Senate on 15 September 2022.
US Senator Bob Menendez questions Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler, as he testifies before the Senate, on 15 September 2022 (AFP)

US Senator Bob Menendez, who avoided conviction on corruption charges five years ago, is currently facing a federal probe tied with a New Jersey-based company that certifies halal meats exported for sale to Egypt, according to a report by The New York Times.

The New York Times reported late last week that FBI agents have been working with US prosecutors in the Southern District of New York in a probe looking into the business dealings of IS EG Halal, a New Jersey start-up that had no known experience in halal certification, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

According to two people familiar with the investigation, the search is now being linked to the ongoing probe of Menendez, chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, although the nature of the investigation is unclear.

US: House bill seeks to curb foreign influence in government and civil society
Read More »

Menendez said after an event in New Jersey on Friday that he was aware that federal prosecutors were conducting an investigation and that he stands ready to help "when and if they ask".

"Don't know the scope or the subjects," Menendez said.

The investigation into IS EG Halal stems from a move made in April 2019, when the government of Egypt made changes to its import licences and moved to have all halal meat certifications done by IS EG Halal instead of at least four companies that were doing this job prior.

The USDA noted that the move could have a negative impact on the market and increase prices.

Middle East Eye reached out to IS EG Halal, the embassy of Egypt, and an adviser to Menendez for comment on this report.

Foreign agent

In November 2019, FBI agents searched the offices of the company as well as the home of its president, Wael Hana, seizing computers, cellphones and even Hana's passport, according to a 2020 court filing by the president's lawyer, seeking a return of the property. 

Court documents filed after the FBI search refer to statutes that relate to failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, among others.

Hana's lawyer, Lawrence Lustberg, said in court filings that IS EG Halal "was awarded the halal certification contract that it has with Egypt, and which it is performing flawlessly, without any assistance whatsoever from any US public official" and that Hana was not a target of the government's investigation.

In order for a product to be certified as halal, it must meet strict processing and preparation standards and cannot include ingredients that are prohibited by Islamic law, including pork or alcohol.

In court papers seen by The New York Times, Hana acknowledged he had no expertise in halal certification when he began operating the business in 2019.

He said that the Egyptian government had given him resources to ensure that exported products complied with Islamic law.

"As I am a Christian, I am not experienced in halal certification, so the Egyptian government has provided imams and trained veterinarians to assist me," Hana said.

Cairo imports roughly 300,000 tonnes of halal beef from retailers worldwide, according to US government reports, and is the only US trading partner that requires all its imported halal meat to be certified by a single company.

After Egypt disqualified the four previously designated companies, the price paid by retailers to get certified halal beef was expected to increase to about $200 a metric ton, up from about $20, according to a USDA report.

Prior corruption charges

An adviser for Menendez confirmed last Wednesday that the New Jersey senator is facing another federal investigation, a Menendez adviser confirmed Wednesday.

The new investigation, first reported by the digital news organisation Semafor, comes five years after a trial on federal corruption charges levied against the lawmaker ended in a mistrial.

In the previous case, prosecutors accused Menendez of carrying out political favours for Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for private jet trips, luxury vacations and campaign contributions.

Menendez, 68, argued that the two men were friends and that there was no quid pro quo.

The senator was tried on bribery charges in 2017 but the case was declared a mistrial after a jury could not reach a verdict.

Melgen was convicted in 2017 of defrauding Medicare out of $73m and sentenced to 17 years in prison. His sentence, however, was commuted by former President Donald Trump.

Washington

Netanyahu pledges to ‘neutralise’ Lebanon maritime deal

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 16:14
Netanyahu pledges to ‘neutralise’ Lebanon maritime deal
Likud leader says he would consider far-right Israeli lawmaker Itmar Ben Gvir, who has called for changes to open-fire rules, as police minister
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 16:14
An electoral banner for Israel's Likud party, depicting its leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is hung above a nut and dried fruit stall at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on 31 October 2022 (AFP)

Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would “neutralise” a historic maritime deal with Lebanon the same way he did the Oslo Accords, one day before Israelis are set to vote in an election that could potentially return the former prime minister to power.

“I will behave as I did with the Oslo Accords,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Army Radio, adding that the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians “were not cancelled, they were neutralised”.

Polls for Tuesday’s election show Netanyahu and his allies just shy of securing the 61-seat parliamentary majority needed for a majority in Israel’s 120-member Knesset.

Israel-Lebanon maritime talks ripple across eastern Mediterranean
Read More »

If Netanyahu returned to power, it would mark a stunning comeback for the 73-year-old Likud member. He served as prime minister for longer than anyone in Israel's history before he was ousted in June 2021 by an ideologically-divided coalition forged by the current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu has long billed himself as the Jewish state's guarantor of security, and has taken aim at the maritime deal that Israel reached with its Mediterranean neighbour, deeming it “illegal”.

Critics say the Likud leader was himself close to striking the same deal as prime minister, which allows both Israel and Lebanon to tap potentially lucrative gas deposits.

The agreement, brokered by the US, is seen as a step towards defusing tensions in the Mediterranean Sea that some speculated could have escalated into conflict. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah had threatened to strike Israel if it began drilling for gas before an agreement.

Deadly times

Israel enters the election - its fifth in less than four years - during one of the deadliest phases in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 175 Palestinians this year, including more than 125 in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, of whom more than 45 were killed in the last two months alone. 

According to the UN, 2022 is so far "the highest year for Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank, compared to the same period in the previous 16 years". Near-daily raid-and-arrest operations have increased across the occupied Palestinian territories, which the Israeli army says are aimed at stamping out a resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance, particularly in the northern cities of Nablus and Jenin.

Meanwhile, Nablus and Jenin have emerged as hotbeds of armed resistance against Israel. Palestinian fighters have been increasingly attacking army checkpoints and posts, as well as confronting Israeli troops during city raids. 

Israeli forces have responded by laying siege on Nablus for three weeks, with roadblocks and checkpoints preventing vehicles from moving in and out. 

Sheikh Jarrah: Israeli lawmaker Ben-Gvir pulls gun on Palestinian residents
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The Israeli army says the measures were enforced to stop attacks against Israeli targets carried out by a newly-formed armed group in the city called the Lions' Den, but have been criticised for disrupting the lives of more than 200,000 Palestinians living in the area.

Some analysts have said that the heightened tensions could help Netanyahu in the elections, who has tilted further to the right as he looks to pick up seats in parliament.

In his interview on Tuesday, the former premier said he would consider making far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir police minister.

“I don’t disqualify him [Gvir]” for the post of public security minister, Netanyahu said, but “there are a lot of candidates”.

“Likud has to be the biggest party, and only then I can appoint ministers like Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich,” he said, referencing Ben Gvir’s running mate in the religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

Ben Gvir is an ultra-nationalist politician who has pledged to advance a law that would strip citizenship from and expel “anyone working against Israel from within Israel”. He made headlines earlier this month after pulling a gun on residents in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

Ben-Gvir has told Israeli media that one of his demands for joining any coalition following Israel's elections would be changes to open-fire rules for the police and army against Palestinian protestors.

Men exonerated in Malcolm X killing to receive $36m from New York

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 15:54
Men exonerated in Malcolm X killing to receive $36m from New York
Both Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam spent over 20 years in prison, always maintaining that they did not murder civil rights leader Malcolm X
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 15:54
Muhammad Aziz stands outside a New York City courthouse with members of his family and lawyers after his conviction in the killing of Malcolm X was thrown out, on 18 November 2021 (AFP)

New York City has agreed to pay $26m to the two men wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the murder of Malcolm x in 1965. The state of New York agreed to pay an additional $10m in the lawsuits filed by them.

Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam both maintained that they did not assassinate civil rights leader Malcolm X over the 20 years they spent in prison. Islam died in 2009.

The fraught and unforgettable: How Malcolm X's legacy lives on in America
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"The tragedy of Malcolm X's murder was felt all over the world, and compounded by the fact that it led to the convictions and imprisonment of two innocent, young, Black men in America," their lawyer David Shanies said in a statement Sunday. 

"Today we acknowledge that injustice and take a modest step toward rectifying it."

Attorneys for Aziz and Islam said in complaints that both Aziz and Islam were at their homes in the Bronx when Malcolm X was killed, NPR reported. "They said Aziz spent 20 years in prison and more than 55 years living with the hardship and indignity attendant to being unjustly branded as a convicted murderer of one of the most important civil rights leaders in history."

In the mid-1980s, both Aziz and Islam were released from prison. But it was in November 2021 that their names were fully cleared by the New York Supreme Court, which said their convictions were “a failure of justice”.

In 2021, a judge in Manhattan dismissed the men’s convictions after prosecutors said there was new evidence of witness intimidation, which undermined the case against the men. 

At the time, Cyrus Vance Jr, who was the district attorney, apologised for law enforcement’s 
“serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust".

Malcolm X, also known as El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, was born Malcolm Little in 1925. In 1946, he was imprisoned for robbery. In prison, he was introduced to the Nation of Islam (NOI), a radical Black Muslim movement, and became influenced by the teachings of its leader Elijah Muhammad.

Imam Omar Suleiman told MEE in 2019 that “Islam in America as we know it, wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Malcolm”.

He was assassinated at the age of 39 by three men who opened fire on him in New York City, as he was preparing to make an address at the Audobon Ballroom. 

House Democrats urge Biden to exclude Israel from visa waiver programme

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 15:33
House Democrats urge Biden to exclude Israel from visa waiver programme
A letter from 20 lawmakers highlight Israel's 'discriminatory restrictions' on travel in the occupied West Bank
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 15:33
A Palestinian hands his documents to an Israeli soldier manning a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on 26 October 2022.
A Palestinian hands his documents to an Israeli soldier manning a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, on 26 October 2022 (AFP)

A group of 20 House Democrats have called on the Biden administration to keep Israel out of a visa waiver programme, in the latest efforts by lawmakers to halt Israel's inclusion in the exemption scheme over a number of restrictions the country imposes on US citizens while travelling to and from the occupied West Bank.

A visa waiver programme enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

The letter, led by Congressman Don Beyer, states that the lawmakers' main concern is the "principle of reciprocity", and in order to allow Israel into the visa waiver programme, Israel must first address a number of issues that US citizens face at the hands of Israeli authorities.

"Unfortunately, Israel has consistently refused to extend fair treatment to US visitors attempting to travel through Israeli-controlled entry points," said the letter, seen by Jewish Insider on Monday. It was sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Thursday.

US progressive lawmakers push against Israeli inclusion in visa waiver programme
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The letter noted that the State Department's own travel advisory, which states that "some US citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and occasionally hostile treatment at Israel's borders and checkpoints".

Under Israel's current regulations, US citizens with "dual citizenship from five countries" are not allowed to visit the occupied West Bank, and Americans are allowed to be rejected entry on the basis that they have "political positions deemed unacceptable by Israeli authorities", according to the letter.

The letter notes that "it is clear that Israel cannot and should not be admitted into the visa waiver program under the status quo", based on the new "discriminatory restrictions" imposed by the Israeli military for entry into the West Bank.

Despite enjoying a close strategic partnership and bilateral relationship with the US, Israel has long sought entry into the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with limited success. The membership would shorten the length of time needed to obtain a visa, allowing for 90-day visits for tourism or business.

For months, Democrats in Congress have raised serious concerns regarding the inclusion of Israel over the restrictions it imposes on travel in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Earlier this year, the Israeli government published a 97-page document introducing a number of severe restrictions on travelling to the West Bank, including being required to go through a rigorous questioning procedure.

The new restrictions were met with stiff opposition from American officials, who told the Channel 12 news network in May that a failure to reevaluate the restrictions could lead to a punitive postponement or even suspend Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver programme.

In June, a series of letters were sent to the Biden administration pushing to halt Israel's inclusion into the programme.

In one of those letters, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who also signed last week's letter, posed a few questions to the Biden administration regarding Israel's eligibility, including: Has the US addressed with Israel its discriminatory entry policies towards American citizens? Does Israel provide the US with information on the number of Americans it denies visas each year?

Tlaib, herself a Palestinian American, was previously barred from entering Israel in 2019 and forced to cancel a trip she had planned to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Washington

Qatar World Cup: Ukraine FA appeals to Fifa to ban Iran from tournament

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:46
Qatar World Cup: Ukraine FA appeals to Fifa to ban Iran from tournament
Ukrainian body accuses Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia and breaking Fifa statutes on human rights and fighting discrimination
Rayhan Uddin Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:46
Iran's players celebrate during the friendly football match between Senegal and Iran in Moedling, Austria on 27 September 2022 (AFP)
Iran's players celebrate during the friendly football match between Senegal and Iran in Modling, Austria, 27 September 2022 (AFP)

Ukraine’s football association is appealing to the sport's governing body Fifa to ban Iran from next month’s World Cup over its arming of Russia, according to a report in Sky Sports News. 

The executive committee of Ukraine’s FA said on Monday it believed Iran was supplying weapons to Russia and breaking Fifa statutes which commit to respecting human rights and fighting discrimination. 

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Earlier this month, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Iranian-made “kamikaze” suicide drones and missiles were “attacking all of Ukraine” - a claim rejected by Tehran.

The UK government and the EU subsequently imposed sanctions on three Iranian generals and an arms firm over Russia’s use of Iranian drones to bomb Ukraine.

Ukraine’s FA said that it was basing its appeal on “systematic manifestations of human rights violations in Iran, which may violate the principles and norms of the Fifa charter”.

BREAKING: The executive committee of the Ukraine FA have appealed to FIFA to ban Iran from the World Cup. pic.twitter.com/3npffZRlrG

— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) October 31, 2022

It added that Iran’s “alleged involvement … in the military aggression of the Russian Federation” and potential violation of United Nations security council resolution 2231 on Iran sanctions was grounds for removal from the tournament.

Just days ago, Sergei Palkin, chief executive of Ukrainian team Shakhtar Donetsk, called on Fifa to remove Iran from the World Cup and replace them with Ukraine. 

“Shakhtar… calls on Fifa and the entire international community to immediately ban Iran's national team from playing at the World Cup for the country's direct participation in terrorist attacks on Ukrainians,” Palkin said. 

He said that Iran's place in the World Cup should be taken by Ukraine, “which proved that it is worthy of participation”, stating that “with unequal conditions with other national teams during the play-offs, they played with their heart”.

Iran will be participating in its seventh World Cup, and its fourth in succession. Its first match will be against England on 21 November, in a group which includes the United States and Wales. 

Gridlock, fascism or more polls? Israel's latest election could provide all three

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:35
Gridlock, fascism or more polls? Israel's latest election could provide all three
As Lapid goes into survival mode, Ben-Gvir rises and Netanyahu hopes for a dramatic comeback. Anything or nothing could happen
Lily Galili Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:35
Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tikva market in Tel Aviv ahead of the November general elections (AFP)
Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Tikva market in Tel Aviv ahead of the November general elections (AFP)

Three and a half years. Five parliamentary elections. Four months of campaigning. Around 12.5bn shekels ($3.5bn) spent.

After all this, Israelis still have no idea whether a new government will be formed after the election on Tuesday, and certainly have no clue who their next prime minister will be.

The infamous deadlock between the opposition “Bibi bloc” - the unholy alliance between far-right and ultra-Orthodox led by Benajmin Netanyahu - and the strangest ever anti-Netanyahu coalition is still there.

Even the last-minute small adjustments are transitions of voters within the blocs, with no transfer of votes between the opponents. According to the latest polls Netanyahu’s bloc will win 60 seats and his opponents sit on 56 to 60, if you add the Palestinian Hadash-Taal list. Governments need a majority of at least 61 to govern.

An electoral banner for Israel's National Unity party in Tel Aviv (AFP)
An electoral banner for Israel's National Unity party in Tel Aviv (AFP)

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Tuesday is yet another referendum on Netanyahu’s personality. Since he hasn’t changed, there is no reason to expect any major political change as well. Months ago, Israelis started repeating a bitter joke that a sixth round of elections would follow these. Now that may soon become a nightmarish reality.

This is, in fact, not bad news for Yair Lapid. In case of 60-60 deadlock, no new government can be formed and Lapid gets to keep the title of “transitional prime minister” for another six months.

Judging by his conduct over the last week, he acts upon the assumption this is a very probable scenario. The political litmus test of the future intentions of the head of a political bloc is the way he deals with the smaller sister parties in his coalition.

In Lapid’s case, these are the Zionist left Meretz and centrist-left Labor. He needs them to win a healthy number of seats and preserve the size of the bloc to compete with Netanyahu’s well-established one; in theory Lapid should tread carefully in case he affects their chances of winning enough votes to cross the electoral threshold and enter parliament.

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For weeks of this campaign, he respected that tacit agreement. Yet that changed over the last week, when he began to actively attract voters from Meretz and Labor, parties that are both struggling on around four or five seats each.

This last-minute change in strategy means one thing only: he now cares more about the size of his own party than about the size of the bloc. Traditionally the head of the largest party is given first attempt to form a government, but this remains likely to be Netanyahu, whose Likud leads the way.

So Lapid is likely operating in preparation for two scenarios: to be as strong as possible to maintain his status and continue to lead a transitional government in the next period of political limbo; or to be the largest and strongest opposition to Netanyahu’s future far-right government.

Most of all, with a sixth round in mind, Lapid strives to close the narrowing gap between Netanyahu’s Likud (now 30 seats in the polls) and his own Yesh Atid (currently between 25 and 27). In fact, Netanyahu has also adopted the same strategy. In a pathetic attempt to stop losing voters to Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Religious Zionism party, Netanyahu suddenly announced “voting for Ben-Gvir is like voting for Lapid”. Too late. The monster, with 13-14 projected seats, can now stand up to its creator.

Having said that, it is important to remember that when just one seat in parliament can decide the future of these elections, it is too early to call.   

Early targeting

Two very disturbing phenomena gain momentum as election day approaches: threats against Palestinian voters and early attempts to undermine the validity of results.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel are often used as scarecrows in Israeli politics and society, but the fact that their turnout might be a decisive factor creates a new situation. One possible scenario is that Hadash-Taal, two Palestinian parties running together, fail to cross the threshold. According to Israel’s proportional system, their failure would swell the size of Likud’s gains.

The dependence on the Arab vote undermines the self-evident Jewish dominance of the Jewish politicians. In a meeting with municipal Palestinian leaders in the northern city of Nazareth, Lapid argued: “If your citizens don’t vote they have to understand that what was given to them in the past year will be taken from them.”

Israeli elections branded by rights group as entrenching apartheid  
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On the other end of the political spectrum, Netanyahu, whose main argument against a future Lapid government is his partnership with Arab parties, invests a fortune into his own dedicated Arabic Facebook page. Both are after the Arab voters, not as partners but rather as spare parts.

The other disturbing phenomenon is the fear of 2 November, a date that evokes the memory of 6 January 2021, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol rejecting the election results.

Israel is not there - yet - but the rhetoric is dangerously close. According to a poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute five days before the elections, about 40 percent of Jewish respondents say they are not confident in the honesty of the election.

Meanwhile, 51.5 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel share the same sentiment. In other words, almost half of Israeli citizens suspect the results officially published might be fake. And 56 percent of the public are “pessimistic about the state of democratic governance in Israel in the foreseeable future”, the poll found. In an atmosphere soaked with violence, it is explosive material.  

The campaign Likud and its proxies launched on the illegitimacy of the Central Election Committee and its chairperson, Chief Justice Yitzhak Amit, began as early as July, labelling them leftists. Netanyahu repeatedly insists on following the vote-counting process with Likud surveillance cameras, a violation of the election committee’s regulations.

Even if he fails, the seeds of doubt are already there. On a news show on Friday, Likud’s Miri Regev, often recruited to spread Netanyahu’s messages, said: “We hope they won’t steal the elections.”

Religious Zionism rising

The only good news is the fact that after four months and vast expense election, the campaign is over. Denmark is also holding an election on Tuesday; its campaign lasted less than a month. The Danes believe that’s sufficient time for the candidates to deliver their message.

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

That’s probably what happens when there is a message to deliver. It obviously takes much longer when there is no message, and even the energy of the “just not Bibi” campaign waned. What we get instead are apocalyptic prophecies. Both Netanyahu’s bloc and his opponents ominously threaten that if the opposite camp is elected “it will be the end of Israel as we know it”.

For Netanyahu’s bloc that means the end of the Jewish state. On the other side, they are warning of the end of Israeli democracy (democracy for Jews, of course). Sounds bad, but on second thought it is not such a bad idea to change Israel as we now know it.

Unfortunately, the only party to lead a campaign that actually said what it plans to do the day after was Religious Zionism, led by the two real protagonists of this election campaign: Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.

While Netanyahu met his voters carefully hidden behind bulletproof glass on a truck turned into a “Bibi-mobile”, leading a carefully crafted “respectable” campaign to attract the moderate-right voters unhappy with the old Netanyahu and the new Likud, Smotrich and Ben Gvir (Netanyahu’s alter-ego) worked hard with boots on the ground.

The campaigns of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir are meticulously coordinated. They hold frequent meetings. But don’t bother to try and find a picture of the two together.

Netanyahu has consistently refused to be photographed with Ben-Gvir, who can tarnish his image. But still Netanyahu has said the Religious Zionism leader deserves to have a significant role in his future government. Ben-Gvir himself, the arch-agitator and Jewish supremacist, wants to be public security minister.

Israeli far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks from a stage at a news conference in Jerusalem (Reuters)
Israeli far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks from a stage at a news conference in Jerusalem (Reuters)

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Smotrich chose another route. He based his campaign on post-election reforms to “heal” the Israeli legal system. He claims the far-reaching reforms will strengthen Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, Smotrich style. The name of the programme he presented is “Law and Justice”, exactly the same as the ruling Polish nationalist party that instituted unprecedented changes to that country’s legal system, undermining the rule of law and separation of powers. In the process - just accidentally, of course - the reforms suggested by Smotrich might lead to the end of Netanyahu’s criminal trial on corruption charges.

On the face of it, this is good news for the former prime minister, but it’s the wrong timing. On Tuesday he wants to be seen as the law-abiding candidate persecuted by hostile institutions, not someone seeking a “get out of jail free” card. Of course, if victory is secured, Netanyahu and Smotrich will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

The slogan Ben-Gvir chose for his campaign: “It’s time for Ben-Gvir”, or “Ben-Gvir’s time”. He is right. Israel has changed. Military respectability, currently embodied by former army chiefs Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot of the National Unity party, does not sell anymore. This is not the trade-off Israelis who abhor the militaristic streak of Israeli society had in mind.

Gantz, who is defence minister, has for three and a half years touted himself as a unifying prime minister that can appeal to ultra-Orthodox parties loyal to Netanyahu. But with 10-11 projected seats, that doesn’t seem very likely. Even his running mate Eisenkot, who is new to politics, said a “PM from a party trailing behind a high two-figure number of seats in the parliament doesn’t smell good”. High ranks and a military career once were an asset in Israeli politics almost considered “condicio sine qua non”. Not anymore. It could be good news if not substituted by “Ben-Gvir time”.

With votes counted, the masks will be off, and the naked truth exposed: Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are the real face of Israel 2022. They won’t disappear even if the other bloc wins.  

Tel Aviv, Israel

Arabic press review: Kuwait mediates diplomatic spat between Algeria and Morocco

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:10
Arabic press review: Kuwait mediates diplomatic spat between Algeria and Morocco
Meanwhile, Egypt mulls pardoning former minister charged with corruption, and poverty on the rise in refugee camps in Syria
Mohammad Ayesh Mon, 10/31/2022 - 14:10
Flags of Arab League nations are set up at the convention centre slated to host the league's heads of state summit, in Algiers, on 30 October 2022 (AFP)

Algeria-Morocco tensions threaten Arab summit 

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah al-Jaber Al Sabah on Saturday contained a diplomatic spat between Algiers and Rabbat that threatened to disrupt the upcoming Arab summit in Algeria, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai revealed.

The newspaper reported a tense atmosphere at a preparatory closed-door meeting of Arab foreign ministers, where the Algerian and Moroccan delegations exchanged accusations.

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"A private Algerian channel had published a map (without names) of the Arab countries, in which Western Sahara is not shown as part of Morocco's territory. Tension escalated after the Moroccan delegation objected," al-Rai quoted sources with knowledge on the matter as saying.

The sources said that the Kuwaiti foreign minister swiftly intervened to "bring views closer and solve the misunderstanding, and succeeded in his mission after a mediation that lasted into the late hours of the night".

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra adjourned the meeting to Sunday to discuss the plans and items included in the draft agenda of the two-day Arab League summit, which will start on Tuesday.

Following the incident, the Algerian channel apologised for publishing "a map of the Arab world different than the Arab League-approved", and said that it was just a mere "technical error from the design department".

Algerian-Moroccan relations have been tense in recent years, with the neighbouring countries clashing on a number of issues, including border security, the Western Sahara, and Algeria's espionage accusations against Morocco.

Egypt to pardon former minister convicted of corruption

Judicial sources in Egypt said authorities have agreed to release a minister convicted in corruption cases from prison, Arabi21 reported.

Former agriculture minister Salah Hilal submitted a request to the Presidential Pardon Committee appealing to be included in the list of prisoners slated to receive the presidential pardon.

A judicial source in the committee said the request has been approved, and Hilal has now been included on a list that was sent to the relevant security officials and to the presidency for consideration and a final approval.

Following its establishnent, the Presidential Pardon Committee had said it would not consider the cases of prisoners convicted of bribery or financial corruption. Hilal's request marks the first such case undertaken by the committee, in direct violation of its own provisions, which were announced in the Egyptian official gazette when it was founded.

Hilal was sentenced to 10 years in 2016 after being convicted of financial corruption for "receiving financial bribes, gifts ... making illicit gains", and gaining wealth that did not correspond with his sources of income.

The 66-year-old former minister was arrested in 2015 after a six months stint in the agriculture ministry.

COP27: Say the names of Egypt's political prisoners
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Syria camps besieged by hunger and poverty

Poverty and hunger are growing among thousands of families residing in northwestern Syria, especially in informal camps inhabited by internally displaced people, according to a report published by the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed documented the daily struggles of displaced families as they worked to secure their livelihood and basic necessities. The report said families are forced to ration their needs and buy their supplies on a priority basis. 

"The daily cost of living has increased due to the recent rise in prices and the almost complete lack of job opportunities in the camp," said Saifeddine al-Ali, who resides with his wife and five chidren in a camp near Idlib.

"The basic supplies that I work every day to secure are always the same. I do not have the luxury of change. The items include bread, tomatoes, rice, and spaghetti, and half a kilo of meat once a week only, tea and sugar."

Yasmine, who resides in a camp in northern Syria, said that she has three children, and "the whole family depends on the food basket provided to camp residents by the organisations that operate in the region, despite them not being enough to live."

The head of the Syria Response Coordinators team, Mohammed Hallaj, said that "the percentage of families classified under the poverty line reached about 87 percent during October, according to basic prices and income in northwestern Syria, of which 39 percent are also classified as under the hunger line".

The number of camps in northwest Syria has reached more than 1,400 and are inhabited by more than one and a half million people, most of whom have been experiencing very poor humanitarian conditions for several years.

*Arabic press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

World Cup 2022: Turkey inspires Wales to consider renaming national team Cymru

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:43
World Cup 2022: Turkey inspires Wales to consider renaming national team Cymru
Welsh football association weighs Cymru as new name of national team after talks with Turkey over its rebrand to Turkiye
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:43
Wales' striker Gareth Bale celebrates after winning the FIFA World Cup 2022 play-off final against Ukraine at the Cardiff City Stadium on 5 June 2022 (AFP)
Wales' striker Gareth Bale celebrates after winning the Fifa World Cup 2022 play-off final against Ukraine at the Cardiff City Stadium on 5 June 2022 (AFP)

Inspired by Turkey’s request to be renamed Turkiye in international tournaments, Wales is considering changing the name of its national football team to Cymru after the World Cup in Qatar. Cymru is the Welsh name for the nation, and used in all communications by staff at the Football Association of Wales (FAW). 

“The team should always be called Cymru, that’s what we call it here,” said Noel Mooney, chief executive of the FAW.

“Our view at the moment is that domestically we’re clearly called Cymru. That’s what we call our national teams. If you look at our website, how we talk about ourselves, we are very much Cymru.”

In January, Turkish officials told MEE that the government was set to make a request to the United Nations to have its internationally recognised official name in English changed to Turkiye. The rebrand was agreed by the UN in June. 

Turkey later asked to be renamed in international football tournaments, and is officially referred to as Turkiye for the Euro 2024 qualifying stages - where they were drawn in the same group as Wales. 

“You’ve seen countries like Azerbaijan, Turkey and others use their own language. They’re quite strong on it and we spoke to the Turkish at the Euro 2024 draw about it,” said Mooney. 

“We’ve also had unofficial discussions with Uefa over coffees at different events. Asking how Turkey did this, how other countries did that.”

Mooney added that Wales would enter next month’s World Cup in Qatar as Wales, as there was “a bit more work to do yet” internationally on agreeing a name change. 

“I think 2023 will be a year when we have a good discussion with all the different stakeholders - governments, our own boards, councils and decision-making bodies, staff, club and players.”

Wales will compete at the World Cup, which kicks off on 20 November, in the same group as England, the United States and Iran

Turkey inspires Wales to consider renaming national team Cymru

Israel elections: Police urge settlers to carry guns on voting day

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:28
Israel elections: Police urge settlers to carry guns on voting day
Call comes after one Israeli settler was killed and nine others were wounded by Palestinians in two separate attacks in the West Bank over the weekend
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:28
An Israeli soldier casts his ballot for the general elections at a military base in the city of Ashdod, 30 October 2022 (AFP)
An Israeli soldier casts his ballot for the general election at a military base in the city of Ashdod, 30 October 2022 (AFP)

Israeli police urged settlers and citizens to carry guns on election day, as the army deployed additional troops into the occupied West Bank fearing potential attacks, public broadcaster Kan reported.

Police on Sunday told licensed and well-trained gun-owners to keep their weapons on them on Tuesday and in the near future. 

The recommendation came after one Israeli settler was killed and nine others were wounded by Palestinians in two separate attacks in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Jericho over the weekend. 

Israeli security agencies said it received dozens of alerts in recent days about attacks in the West Bank. 

Israel elections: Shock the victims to save the coloniser
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The army pushed another 200 soldiers into the West Bank on Sunday as it announced a military closure on Palestinian cities and towns on Tuesday, while the country votes in its fifth general election in just over three years.

The closure will start on midnight Tuesday and last for 24 hours. Checkpoints and crossings in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be closed, and passage will be allowed only for exceptional medical and humanitarian cases, according to the army. 

At the same time, Palestinian labourers who work inside Israel will have their work permits suspended for 48 hours. 

The Israeli government said earlier this year that it will be forming a "civilian national guard", made up of units of civilian volunteers and Israeli forces, to help respond to attacks by Palestinians. 

Far-right groups have also formed armed militas in several cities across the country. 

High death tolls 

In recent months, Palestinians in the West Bank have faced increasing violence by Israeli forces.

Near-daily raid-and-arrest operations have increased across the occupied Palestinian territories, which the Israeli army says are aimed at stamping out a resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance, particularly in the northern cities of Nablus and Jenin.

Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 175 Palestinians this year, including more than 125 in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, of whom more than 45 were killed in the last two months alone.

According to the UN, 2022 is so far "the highest year for Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank, compared to the same period in the previous 16 years".

Israeli security agencies said 25 Israelis were killed in 2022 by Palestinians, the highest record since 2015, when 29 Israelis were killed in a wave of ramming and stabbing attacks. 

Israel's internal intelligence, the Shin Bet, claimed it had prevented almost 380 attacks by Palestinians on settlers and soldiers since January.

Israeli police urge settlers to carry guns on election day

Turkey: Officials deny arrest of 34 Muslim Brotherhood members

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:28
Turkey: Officials deny arrest of 34 Muslim Brotherhood members
Sources tell MEE only one Egyptian journalist was detained and subsequently released as Ankara-Cairo talks hit a stalemate
Ragip Soylu Mon, 10/31/2022 - 12:28
Istanbul has become a hub for the Egyptian opposition after the coup in 2013 (AFP)
Istanbul became a hub for the Egyptian opposition after the coup in 2013 (AFP)

Multiple Turkish officials denied on Monday reports that Ankara had arrested 34 Muslim Brotherhood members who called for protests in Egypt during the UN Climate Change Conference, Cop27, set to start in Sharm El-Sheikh later this week. 

Saudi-funded newspaper Asharq Al-Aswat reported on Sunday that Ankara arrested dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members after they prepared to launch a new Telegram channel to "incite protests, acts of violence and chaos in Egypt" on 11 November.

Citing pages and outlets linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, Asharq Al-Aswat added the supposed detainees were also included on a deportation list. 

'We only detained an Egyptian journalist who was later released'

- Turkish official

Two senior Turkish officials told Middle East Eye no such arrests were made. 

A separate Turkish source told MEE that Arab media regularly publish similar allegations to stir up trouble and make Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Turkey feel uncomfortable.

"We only detained an Egyptian journalist who was later released," one senior Turkish official told MEE.

Egyptian journalist Hossam al-Ghamry revealed on Twitter on Sunday that he was detained by Turkish police and later released following an outcry on social media.

"I am back home, thanks to God. This experience helped me understand the feeling of my son Yusef who has been forcibly disappeared, without a crime except being my son," Ghamry said.

The journalist's son Yusef al-Ghamry, 24, was taken from his home in Sharqia Governorate by Egyptian security forces on 25 October to an unknown location, and his whereabouts remain undisclosed, according to Egyptian human rights organisation Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

The engineering student was detained after his Istanbul-based father joined other exiled Egytian dissidents in calling for mass anti-government protests in Egypt on 11 November, which have gained some traction online.

Media shut down

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ascended to power following a military coup in 2013, the Egyptian government has carried out a large-scale crackdown on dissent. All political opposition and independent media have been banned in the country, with many journalists fleeing and going into exile and launching channels abroad, mainly in Turkey

MEE reported last year that Turkish authorities requested Egyptian opposition channels based in the country to soften their criticism of the Sisi government as the two regional powers began improving ties following years of diplomatic hostility. 

Media, Libya and a Sisi handshake: Why Egypt remains wary of Turkey rapprochement
Read More »

As a result, several Egyptian opposition journalists who used to work from Turkey relocated to London and launched their own social media platforms. 

Earlier this year, opposition TV channel Mekameleen announced that it had shut down its Turkey offices and would be broadcasting from other locations.

However, several Turkish officials previously told MEE that Ankara does not plan on deporting Brotherhood members unless they are directly involved in violent crimes.

Turkey and Egypt have sought to mend relations that were fractured after Ankara refused to recognise Sisi as the country's legitimate leader following the 2013 military coup that ousted his predecessor Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also a vocal critic of Sisi's human rights abuses against the leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-coup crackdown.

In an attempt to mend relations, the Turkish government lifted a veto against Egypt's partnership activities with Nato last year ahead of two rounds of preliminary talks held between officials.

Reconciliation on hold 

Another issue in the Egyptian-Turkish rift was their support of opposite sides in the Libyan conflict which has resurfaced recently.

On Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Al Arabiya that dialogue with Ankara has stopped since Turkey didn’t change its policies in Libya. 

Libya crisis: Are Qatar and Egypt crafting a deal?
Andreas Krieg
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"The two exploratory meetings allowed the chance to express our concerns about the regional situations. This path has not resumed, as there have been no changes in terms of Turkey's practices in Libya," Shoukry said. 

Turkey signed a comprehensive energy deal with Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this month for land and sea exploration. The move was interpreted as Ankara throwing its weight behind Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, whose legitimacy is questioned by the Libyan parliament, known as the House of Representatives.

Egypt claims that Dbeibah’s mandate has expired since the House of Representatives elected Fathi Bashagha as the new prime minister in February. Dbeibah has refused to give up his post until a new general election is held.

Turkish officials largely see the Libya file as the beginning point of reconciliation talks with Egypt.

Ankara
Turkish officials deny arrest of 34 Muslim Brotherhood members

Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27 in Egypt over country's human rights abuses

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 08:39
Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27 in Egypt over country's human rights abuses
Swedish climate activist denounces UN climate conference, calling it opportunity for 'greenwashing, lying and cheating'
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 08:39
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during the launch of her latest book "The Climate Book" at the Southbank Centre in central London on 30 October 2022 (AFP)

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has announced she will not attend the Cop27 United Nations climate change conference in Egypt next month, condemning human rights abuses in the country.

The 19-year-old criticised the conference for being “held in a tourist paradise in a country that violates many basic human rights”.

'The [Cop events] are mainly used as an opportunity for people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing, lying and cheating'

- Greta Thunberg 

“I'm not going to Cop27 for many reasons, but the space for civil society this year is extremely limited,” she said on Sunday during a launch event for her new book The Climate Book at London’s Southbank Centre.

“It's important to leave space for those who need to be there. It will be difficult for activists to make their voices heard.”

Cop27 will be hosted in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh from 7 to 18 November amid tight restrictions on peaceful assembly and free speech.

Residents in Sharm el-Sheikh and its surrounding areas told MEE that the area had turned into what looks like "a war zone" with draconian security measures allegedly aimed at protecting the event.

"The [Cop conferences] are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing, lying and cheating," Thunberg said.

Earlier on Sunday, she visited a sit-in outside the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London in solidarity with Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a British-Egyptian writer imprisoned in Egypt. 

It was deeply moving to have @GretaThunberg's solidarity at the #FreeAlaa sit-in today. A big thank you. ❤️

For #COP27 not to greenwash Egypt's human rights abuses, prisoners of conscience must be released now. #FreeThemAll pic.twitter.com/lOvJUrUow9

— Free Alaa (@FreedomForAlaa) October 30, 2022

Abdel Fattah, an activist who called for peaceful assembly and free speech, was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight out of the past 10 years in jail on various charges.

Thunberg held up a sign saying "#FreeAlaa before #COP27" and wrote in a sit-in visitors’ book. The imprisoned writer’s sister Sanaa has been sitting outside the FCDO since 18 October. 

Last week, Thunberg joined over 200 organisations and individuals calling for Egyptian authorities to release journalists and political prisoners ahead of the conference. 

At least 60,000 political prisoners are estimated to have been jailed since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, and took power in 2013. 

Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27 in Egypt over country's human rights abuses

Turkey, Ukraine, UN press ahead with Black Sea grain deal despite Russian pullout

Sun, 10/30/2022 - 22:30
Turkey, Ukraine, UN press ahead with Black Sea grain deal despite Russian pullout
Ankara, Kyiv and UN to press ahead with transit plan in place for 16 ships on Monday, despite Russia suspending its participation in the pact
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/30/2022 - 22:30
August 14, 2022, the first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, east of Odessa on the Black Sea coast
Vessel being loaded with grain in Odessa on the Black Sea coast on 14 August 2022. Russia says it cannot 'guarantee the safety of civilian ships' travelling under the pact after an attack on its Black Sea fleet (AFP)

Russia has suspended its participation in the inspection of cargo ships carrying Ukrainian grain, the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), the body overseeing the deal, said late Sunday.

The announcement came a day after Russia suspended its participation in a landmark agreement that allowed vital grain exports to resume.

"The delegation of the Russian Federation informed that... it suspends its participation in the implementation of the activities of the initiative, including in inspections, for an indefinite time," said a JCC statement.

Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations said they would press ahead to implement a Black Sea grain deal with a transit plan in place for 16 ships on Monday, despite Russia suspending its participation in the pact.

Turkish defence minister in talks with Kyiv, Moscow to resume grain deal
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Russia, which invaded Ukraine on 24 February, halted its role in the Black Sea deal on Saturday for an "indefinite term" because it said it could not "guarantee the safety of civilian ships" travelling under the pact after an attack on its Black Sea fleet.

Turkey and the UN, the two main brokers of the July deal, scrambled on Sunday to save it. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was deeply concerned about Russia's move and delayed a foreign trip to try and revive the agreement that was intended to ease a global food crisis, his spokesperson said.

Following Russia's move, wheat prices on international commodities markets were expected to leap on Monday as both Russia and Ukraine are among the world's largest wheat exporters, analysts said.

More than 9.5m tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported since July. Under the deal, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) - made up of UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials - agrees on the movement of ships and inspects the vessels.

No ships moved through the established maritime humanitarian corridor on Sunday. But the UN said in a statement that it had agreed with Ukraine and Turkey on a movement plan for 16 vessels on Monday - 12 outbound and four inbound.

It said the Russian officials at the JCC had been told about the plan, along with the intention to inspect 40 outbound vessels on Monday, and noted that "all participants coordinate with their respective military and other relevant authorities to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels" under the deal.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was in contact with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to try and salvage the agreement and had asked the parties to avoid any provocation, the Turkish defence ministry said.

Nato and the EU have urged Russia to reconsider its decision. US President Joe Biden on Saturday called Russia's move "purely outrageous" and said it would increase starvation. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of weaponising food.

On Sunday, Russia's ambassador to Washington snapped back, saying the US response was "outrageous" and made false assertions about Moscow's move.

'False pretext'

Russia's defence ministry said Ukraine attacked the Black Sea Fleet near Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula with 16 drones early on Saturday, and that British navy "specialists" had helped to coordinate the "terrorist" attack.

Moscow also accused British navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, a claim that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attack. The Ukrainian military suggested that Russians themselves may have been responsible for the explosions.

'This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia'

- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow used the explosions 220 km (137 miles) away from the grain corridor as a "false pretext" for a long-intended move.

Ukraine often accuses Russia of using the Black Sea Fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, a charge supported by some military analysts who say that makes the fleet a legitimate military target.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the UN and the Group of 20 (G20) major economies must make a strong response to what he called Russia's nonsensical move.

"This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia," Zelensky said in a video address, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G20.

Russia's invasion has recently been dominated by a Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian drone and missile attacks that have destroyed more than 30 percent of Ukraine's generating capacity and hit populated areas. Each side has accused the other of being prepared to detonate radioactive bombs.

Russia asked the UN Security Council to meet on Monday to discuss the Sevastopol attack, Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

Ships blocked

The grain deal had restarted shipments from Ukraine, allowing sales on world markets, targeting the pre-war level of 5m metric tonnes exported from Ukraine each month.

But ahead of its 19 November expiry, Russia had said that there were serious problems with it and Ukraine complained that Moscow had blocked almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargoes.

The deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports.

Zelenskiy accused Russia of wanting to escalate the crisis, saying 218 ships were blocked and waiting to either carry food or enter Ukrainian ports.

He said 40,000 tonnes of wheat had been loaded onto a ship at the port of Chornomorsk, chartered by the UN Food Programme and intended for Ethiopia, which he said was "on the brink of starvation" and, like Yemen and Somalia, facing "catastrophic" food shortages.

"We are ready to release this ship into the sea," he said, but like other ships with agricultural products, it was being forced to wait, "because Russia is blackmailing the world with hunger", he said.

Israeli elections branded by rights group as entrenching apartheid  

Sun, 10/30/2022 - 15:28
Israeli elections branded by rights group as entrenching apartheid  
B'tselem report highlights that general election gives no route for representation for Palestinians in the occupied territories
Elis Gjevori Sun, 10/30/2022 - 15:28
Roughly 5.5 million Palestinians are living in the territories illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 (Reuters)

The Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem has accused the country of running a democratic system in name only in a report ahead of the country's elections on Tuesday.

B'tselem said that while the elections are being touted as a "celebration of democracy", in reality the country breaches minimum requirements. "This is not a democracy. This is apartheid," it said.

Sunday's report warned that, while "Jewish citizens who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea can fully participate in Israel's general elections", the country's "apartheid system" gives no route for representation for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, illegally annexed East Jerusalem or besieged Gaza. 

As Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday, around 10 percent of voters live beyond the Green Line - the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the armies of Israel and those of its neighbours after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.

Living in more than 200 illegal settlements dotted throughout the West Bank, "their right to political participation remains untouched despite living outside Israel's sovereign territory, and they can vote and run for office like all Jewish citizens living west of the Green Line", said B'tselem. 

Polling stations in the illegal settlements and Israel proper are effectively regulated under the same electoral rules and regulations, with settlers not required to cross the Green Line and enter Israel proper to vote.

While Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories are allowed to exercise their right to vote, B'tselem said, none of their Palestinian counterparts "are allowed to vote or run for Knesset, and they have no representation in the political institutions that dictate their lives".

'Detached from reality.'

Roughly 5.5 million Palestinians are living in the territories illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.

The lack of Palestinian representation from the occupied territories in Israel's elections is despite the "fact that Israel has been the sole power controlling and managing these millions of lives for more than 55 years," said B'tselem. 

Israel: Final polls show Netanyahu just one seat short of majority ahead of election
Read More »

Its report highlights a system that has often been called apartheid by international human rights organisations.

B'tselem described Israeli claims that Palestinians in the occupied territories can influence their future through other political systems - citing the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip - as being "detached from reality".

While Israel is no longer directly present in Gaza, B'tselem highlighted the fact Israel "still holds almost all powers pertaining to Gaza residents and determines what their daily lives look like, in no small part due to its near-complete control over the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip".

Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007, which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave's two million residents.

Israel prevents the importing of materials and equipment into Gaza and has imposed strict restrictions on exports, leading to a state of "paralysis" in several sectors of Gaza's economy.

"Israel works to uphold the perception that everyone in the West Bank has a political system in which they can participate: the settlers vote and run for Knesset and the Palestinians for the Palestinian Authority," said the B'tselem report. 

In reality, the PA can "only govern very limited aspects of life in Palestinian urban centres, and usually requires Israel's permission even for that, while Israel retains control over all major aspects of life".

'Illegitimate'

Due to the fact that the last Palestinian elections were held in 2006, and have since then been indefinitely postponed, "the true control remains in Israeli hands", said B'tselem. 

In East Jerusalem, which Israel has officially annexed, in a move that is not recognised by the international community, it has not automatically conferred the Palestinians living there citizenship or a right to participate in elections.

Israel: Members of far-right party seek to form armed militia in Tel Aviv district
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There are about 1.7 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in Israel, and they, like Jewish citizens, can take part in general elections. 

"However, their political participation has been cast as illegitimate since the very inception of the state, along with attempts to restrict or deny them true political representation," said B'tselem. 

The participation of Palestinian voters in Israeli elections has been generally framed as "an attempt to undermine the Jewish citizens' monopoly on political power in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea", said the rights group.

It added that Israeli politicians have for decades sought to ensure that the "political participation of Palestinian citizens is not, and must not be, equal to that of Jewish citizens".

Lebanon: Aoun vacates presidential palace leaving power vacuum

Sun, 10/30/2022 - 14:35
Lebanon: Aoun vacates presidential palace leaving power vacuum
Outgoing president, 89, presided over country's cataclysmic financial meltdown and the deadly Beirut port blast
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/30/2022 - 14:35
Lebanese outgoing President Michel gestures to his supporters as he leaves the presidential palace a day before his six-year term officially ends, in Baabda, Lebanon 30 October 2022 (Reuters)
Lebanese outgoing President Michel gestures to his supporters as he leaves the presidential palace a day before his six-year term officially ends, in Baabda, Lebanon 30 October 2022 (Reuters)

Michel Aoun, the 89-year-old Christian president who presided over Lebanon's cataclysmic financial meltdown and the deadly Beirut port blast, left the presidential palace on Sunday with his term ending, leaving a void at the top of a failing state.

Parliament has so far been unable to agree on a successor in the role, which is reserved for a Maronite Christian and has the power to sign bills into law and appoint new prime ministers.

Aoun's departure leaves Lebanon in the unprecedented situation of having a presidential vacuum and a caretaker cabinet with limited powers, as the premier-designate has been unable to form a government for six months.

In an interview with Reuters a day before his departure, Aoun said Lebanon was sliding into "constitutional chaos", given the lack of clarity over what prerogatives the caretaker cabinet and the parliament should each have.

On Sunday, hundreds of Aoun's supporters gathered at Baabda Palace to say farewell, wearing the orange associated with his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) party. Some well-wishers carried portraits of him as president and from decades ago when he served as an army commander.

Therese Younes, 16, said she had backed Aoun since she was eight and was sad to see him go.

"If I was 18 years old, I would have left the country. There's no Lebanon left after Michel Aoun," said Younes.

Parliament has convened four times to try to elect a successor to Aoun, but no candidate has won a majority.

The influential Maronite Christian cleric Patriarch Beshara al-Rai on Sunday blamed politicians and parliamentarians for leaving the "presidency in a vacuum, either deliberately, or out of stupidity or selfishness".

'Worst president in Lebanon's history'

During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, Aoun served as commander of Lebanon's army and the head of one of two rival governments.

After 15 years in exile, he returned to Beirut and allied with Hezbollah, a move that lent the armed group important Christian backing and ultimately helped him become president in 2016.

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His six-year term saw the army fight off militant groups on the Syrian border in 2017 with Hezbollah's help and pass a new electoral law in 2018.

In his final week, he signed on to a US-mediated deal delineating Lebanon's southern sea border with Israel, paving the way for possible maritime gas discoveries.

While his supporters have hailed those achievements, his critics say they were overshadowed by the 2019 financial meltdown, which has pushed more than 80 percent of the population into poverty, and the massive 2020 blast at Beirut's port that killed more than 220 people.

"He was by far the worst president in Lebanon's history" said Michel Meouchi, a 41-year-old lawyer and father. "I prefer a void in the presidency to him."

Son-in-law's ambitions

Aoun later said he had known about the chemicals stored at the blast site and told other authorities to take action. Victims' families said he should have done more.

He declined to comment on the blast on Saturday and said his presidential powers were not wide enough to address the economic crisis.

Aoun left the palace a day before his term officially ends. Arriving at his residence in Rabieh, he was greeted by Gebran Bassil, his son-in-law and the current head of the FPM.

"Gebran after his father-in-law!" said the waiting crowds.

Bassil, a parliamentarian with presidential ambitions, was sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for alleged corruption, but he denies the charges.

Aoun on Saturday said the sanctions would not stop Bassil from becoming president and that they could be "removed" if he were to be elected.

Aoun vacates Lebanon's presidential palace leaving power vacuum

Sudan: Thousands take to streets to demand end to military rule

Sun, 10/30/2022 - 13:03
Sudan: Thousands take to streets to demand end to military rule
Youths marched on the presidential palace in central Khartoum, calling for a return to civilian government
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/30/2022 - 13:03
According to a tally by medics, 119 people have been killed while protesting against military rule over the past year (File pic/AFP)

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Sudanese capital on Sunday, demanding a return to civilian rule.

Raising Sudanese flags and posters of activists killed during pro-democracy protests, thousands of youths marched on the presidential palace in central Khartoum.

Demonstrators chanted against military rule and erected barricades in North Khartoum and, across the Nile, Omdurman.

In the eastern city of Kassala, some "800 young men and women" came out to demand civilian rule, eyewitness Hussein Mohamed Shahed told AFP. Protesters chanted "Soldiers go back to the barracks", a regular rallying cry in near-weekly demonstration since last year's coup toppled civilian leaders.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized power on 25 October last year, arresting civilian leaders and derailing a transition to civilian rule that had started with the 2019 overthrow of the long-time president Omar al-Bashir.

Protests were reignited last week on the first anniversary of the power grab, when thousands marched across Sudan, demanding an end to the political and economic crisis that has gripped the country.

Security forces fired tear gas at Khartoum marches, and one protester was killed when he was crushed by a military vehicle in Omdurman, according to pro-democracy medics.

According to the medics' tally, 119 people have been killed while protesting against military rule over the past year.

The coup has exacerbated a wider security breakdown that has left hundreds more dead, while the country, already one of the world's poorest, battles three-digit inflation and chronic food shortages.

Thousands take to Sudan's streets to demand end to military rule

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