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US plans to open new military testing facility in Saudi Arabia: Report

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 18:39
US plans to open new military testing facility in Saudi Arabia: Report
Discussions over a base to test new anti-drone and missile technology come as hopes fade for a nuclear deal with Iran
MEE staff Fri, 09/09/2022 - 19:39
Patriot missile battery
A Patriot missile battery near the Prince Sultan air base at al-Kharj on 20 February 2020 (AFP)

The US military's Central Command is working on plans to open a new testing facility in Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported on Friday, citing three unidentified US defence officials.

The site will test new systems to counter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with testing and developing integrated air and missile defence capabilities.

The report says the location has not been finalised, but US officials see Saudi Arabia as a good choice, due to its open terrain owned by the government, which would allow for testing of electronic warfare systems away from the public.

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Central Command, or Centcom, which oversees all US military activity in the region, plans to call the facility the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center. The US maintains the White Sands Missile Range, a testing facility for extended-range missiles, in New Mexico.

UAVs have emerged as a key security challenge for the US and its allies in the region. Iran has targeted US bases with drones sourced from cheap, commercially available components. Meanwhile, Iran-aligned proxies, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen, have used drones to target Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, the top Centcom official warned that, because of the proliferation of UAVs, the US was operating without complete air superiority for the first time since the Korean war.

Regional machinations

Talks about a new testing facility in Saudi Arabia come as the US is looking to deepen security cooperation between Israel and its Arab allies. Last year, Israel was transferred to Centcom's area of responsibility; it was previously under US European Command.

In a sign of how the US is trying to bring its allies into closer cooperation, MEE reported that Israeli military officials were secretly dispatched to al-Udeid, the US air base and the forward operating headquarters of Centcom in Qatar, despite Israel and Qatar having no official diplomatic relations. 

But in July, the UAE called plans for such a military alliance a "theoretical concept", while Saudi Arabia has tempered Washington's hopes it was on track to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.

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One wild card remains the potential revival of the Iranian nuclear deal, hopes for which have flagged in recent weeks. Israel opposed the original agreement and has lobbied Washington against re-entering the pact.

While many Gulf states welcomed the Trump administration's decision to unilaterally withdraw from the pact in 2018, some have more recently hedged with Tehran.

The UAE enjoys a flourishing economic relationship with Iran, which has limited the power of US sanctions. Abu Dhabi reappointed its ambassador to the Islamic Republic last month. Qatar, which shares the world's largest gas field with its neighbour across the Gulf, has mediated efforts to revive the pact.

Signs that the US is looking to deepen security cooperation with Saudi Arabia are also likely to spark pushback from rights groups, and some members of Congress. President Joe Biden pledged to make the kingdom a pariah over human rights abuses, including the October 2018 killing of Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The US leader has since made a policy U-turn, with the war in Ukraine sending energy prices higher and Russia and China making inroads in the kingdom. Biden visited the oil-rich monarchy in July and met with its 37-year-old de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US and Turkey discuss potential Erdogan-Biden meeting

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 17:41
US and Turkey discuss potential Erdogan-Biden meeting
Talks underway as Turkey clashes with Nato ally Greece and floats potential arms purchase from Russia
MEE staff Fri, 09/09/2022 - 18:41
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (c) leaves following the inauguration of an eco-mosque and Islamic centre named after him, in Sisak, about 60km from Zagreb, Croatia, on 8 September 2022 (AFP)

Talks are underway between Turkish and US officials to arrange a potential meeting between President Joe Biden and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan later this month, Reuters reported Friday.

Discussions would include the war in Ukraine, relations between Turkey and Russia, and the Ukraine grain export deal, according to a senior Turkish official, cited by the news agency.

The two leaders met in June during a Nato summit in Madrid, where Biden thanked Erdogan for dropping his veto on the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance.

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Despite policy differences over the Eastern Mediterranean, Kurdish militias in northern Syria, and concern over human rights issues in Turkey, Washington has courted Ankara amid the war in Ukraine.

Turkey has sent armed drones to Kyiv and helped to broker a UN-backed deal to unlock grain shipments from Black Sea ports, but in recent weeks Erdogan has given a nod to Russia on key developments.

The Turkish leader met Russia's President Vladimir Putin last month in the Russian resort city of Sochi, where they pledged to boost political and economic cooperation including in energy and trade. Turkey agreed to set up a partial payment system for Russian gas in roubles.

'Sending signals'

On Friday, Erdogan floated the idea of turning to Russia if the US failed to allow it to purchase F-16 fighter jets.

"The US is not the only one selling war planes in the world. The UK, France and Russia sell them as well," Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday prayer.  

"It is possible to procure them from other places, and others are sending us signals," he added.

He also accused the West of staging "provocations" against Russia by supplying Ukraine with weapons, and blamed European sanctions against Moscow for the continent's energy crisis.

Erdogan also revealed he had asked Putin to offer Turkey a discount on the natural gas it imports from Russia. Turkey, along with some Gulf countries, have refused to sign on to western sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow.

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Erdogan's comments come amid a flare-up in tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean with fellow Nato member Greece, and Turkey's tough rhetoric against its neighbour has emerged as an obstacle to its goal of upgrading its air force.

This summer, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would bar the Biden administration from selling or transferring F-16s or modernisation kits to Turkey unless the administration ensured the armaments were not used for unauthorised military flights over Greece. The bill must be passed by the Senate before it becomes law. 

Washington's support for Kurdish militias in Syria has also proven a stumbling block in the relationship. The YPG is a US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, though Ankara sees it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and the US.

Erdogan said he would raise the issue of US assistance to the group if he had a chance to meet Biden on the margins of an annual UN General Assembly meeting starting on 13 September.

Egypt has spent big on diversifying its air force, but to what end?

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 17:20
Egypt has spent big on diversifying its air force, but to what end?
President Sisi has included US, European and Russian jets in its fleet, but that mix could render it strategically obsolete
Paul Iddon Fri, 09/09/2022 - 18:20
Egyptian air force jets perform aerial manoeuvres with coloured smoke as they fly past an Egyptian AH-64 Apache attack helicopter over the capital, Cairo, on 2 June 2 2018 (AFP)

Egypt appears close to finalising a $3bn deal with Italy for 24 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, its first order for this model of aircraft. The deal is the latest in a series of fighter acquisitions Cairo has made from several countries over the past eight years. As a result, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) today has a diverse fleet of jets. 

After the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979, Cairo procured the vast majority of its fighter planes from the United States, which replaced the Soviet Union as its leading arms supplier. Consequently, Egypt acquired the fourth largest F-16 fleet in the world. 

Fast forward to 2014 and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is Egypt's president. He sought to diversify the Egyptian military, including the air force, and make it less dependent on Washington. As part of this endeavour, Cairo became the first foreign buyer of France's Dassault Rafale multirole fighter jet in 2015 as part of a landmark multi-billion dollar arms deal. 

Acquiring French fighters in addition to American ones is neither rare nor unique. Qatar, for example, is buying advanced F-15s from the US, Rafales from France, and Eurofighters from the United Kingdom.

But Sisi was not content with just the French fighters to diversify the EAF’s predominantly American arsenal. He went a step further and initiated Egypt's most significant purchase of Russian weaponry since the 1970s, including 46 MiG-29M/M2 fighters for the EAF.

In 2018, he pushed ahead with an order for the more advanced Russian Su-35 Flanker-E in a $2bn deal - despite firm US warnings that this could trigger sanctions against Cairo under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Integration issues

Of course, integrating Western and Russian military aircraft into one cohesive air force is not straightforward. One analysis even suggested that the EAF's Russian jets will likely become little more than "an air force within an air force" due to interoperability issues.

"Egypt has had significant difficulties integrating its Russian-supplied MiG-29 and Su-35 aircraft into its largely Western-supplied networks and command and control systems," Justin Bronk, senior research fellow for airpower and technology in the Military Sciences Team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Middle East Eye.

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Meanwhile, the Rafales and F-16s "are designed according to Nato STANAG (Standardization Agreement) standards, and so are much more easily integrated and interoperable from a weapons perspective".

Tom Cooper, a military aviation expert, and a prolific author, pointed out that Egypt had its own identification, friend or foe (IFF) software that works for its American, French, and Russian jets.

The EAF has also used its MiG-29s as tankers for buddy-buddy refuelling its Rafales since the in-flight refueling (IFR) systems of those two aircraft are compatible.

On the other hand, the Russian jets are incompatible with the types of missiles and bombs used by the EAF F-16s and Rafales. And while EAF F-16s and Rafales can use many of the same weapons, Cooper noted that those two Western jets were built for "entirely different purposes".

"F-16s are mostly used for air defence, Rafales as fighter-bombers/strikers," he said. 

Regarding their compatibility, Cooper explained that while it's "doable" for EAF Rafales to guide air-to-air missiles fired by F-16s, "nothing of that kind has happened yet as far as I know". 

"There is no point in them trying to do that, because Egyptian F-16s are armed only with obsolete air-to-air missiles," he said.

Severe shortcomings

Sebastien Roblin, a defence journalist who has written hundreds of articles on military aviation, summed up the EAF as "inefficient and weirdly constructed".

While the MiG-29s Egypt acquired are among the most capable of that type, they lack the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar found in many modern Western jets, he added. Furthermore, the beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) they carry are inferior to their US and European counterparts. 

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For decades, the US has refused to sell Egypt AIM-120 BVRAAMs, forcing it to rely on inferior missiles. The US and Israel also pressured France not to sell its Meteor BVRAAMs. That was one reason Cairo opted for Russian fighters.

That may all change, now that the US has expressed its openness to potentially selling Egypt F-15s for the first time earlier this year. Washington also appears willing to offer Cairo incentives to stop importing arms from Russia in favour of buying more American hardware.

Egypt may be happy to oblige since it is reportedly dissatisfied with the Su-35s Russia is building for it. Those Russian jets only have passive electronically scanned array (PESA) rather than AESA radars, the latter of which is much more advanced. To add insult to injury, when the EAF reportedly tested the Su-35's Irbis-E radar against the Rafale's electronic countermeasure system, the Russian radar was easily overpowered.

Cooper also pointed out that the EAF MiG-29s still haven't been upgraded to the MiG-35 standard per the original contract with Moscow. 

Given these severe shortcomings, Cairo may welcome a deal for F-15s from Washington, especially if it comes with the AIM-120 cherry on top.

No major advantages

"I'd ascribe Egypt's tendency to collect jets from everywhere as reflecting a political strategy - one you also see in nearby wealthy Middle Eastern countries - aimed at building relationships with various influencers at the expense of logistical efficiency," Roblin said.

'It's only making the logistics and maintenance more complex'

- Tom Cooper, aviation expert

The UAE withdrew its bid for the F-35 in late 2021 over disagreements with US preconditions. It did not turn to Moscow for alternatives. Instead, it ordered 80 Dassault Rafale jets from France.

Turkey, a Nato member, was banned from buying F-35s in 2019 after it took delivery of advanced Russian-built S-400 air defence missile systems. While it flirted with buying advanced Russian Sukhoi jets, it never did.

Ankara is currently negotiating with the US to buy 40 new F-16s and upgrade its existing arsenal. Even if that order falls through, Ankara is much more likely to order European jets, probably Eurofighters, rather than Russian fighters. 

"Having such a diverse fleet reduces Egypt's geopolitical dependence on the goodwill of any single partner nation, but also makes its supply chain, spares management and operational integration challenges much harder than they would otherwise be," Bronk said. 

Cooper believes there's no major advantage to the strategy.

"On the contrary: it's only making the logistics and maintenance more complex," he said. "The only advantage might be that some of Rafale's capabilities are not known to Israel, and some of its weapons might be harder for the Israelis to counter - while everything about Egyptian F-16s is known to Israel.

"That's about all that matters to the Egyptians."

Iran's conservatives feel betrayed after Raisi allows women into football stadiums

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 15:29
Iran's conservatives feel betrayed after Raisi allows women into football stadiums
Reformists hail new rights for women, but conservatives accuse president of forgetting his supporters
MEE correspondent Fri, 09/09/2022 - 16:29
Iranian women fans of Esteghlal football club cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2022 (AFP)
Female fans of Esteghlal FC cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium, Tehran, 25 August 2022 (AFP)

For many political and religious figures in Iran, the election of Ebrahim Raisi as president in August 2021 was meant to herald a return to conservatism in the country after a supposedly ill-fated attempt at reform under his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.

That's why the decision last month to allow Iranian women to enter football stadiums, for the first time since the 1979 revolution, to watch local games has dismayed and angered a number of conservatives, who see it as a betrayal of their values.

'If this had happened during the presidency of the moderate Hassan Rouhani, principalist would have burned the country to the ground'

- Sports journalist

"I was shocked when I heard Raisi has allowed women into stadiums. If this was done by Rouhani, I wouldn't have been surprised as this was his electoral promise and an issue that secular reformists had always sought," a member of the principalist Basij paramilitary told Middle East Eye on condition of anonymity.

The decision was not an easy one, with Iranian officials aware that the move would risk disappointing many of their supporters.

However, they also faced increasing pressure, not just from female football fans but also from football governing body Fifa, which was under pressure to suspend Iran from the 2022 World Cup over the country's policy on women spectators.

The issue has been long debated in the country, and, though the government claims its decision was unrelated to Fifa, to have been suspended from the organisation just months ahead of the World Cup would have been embarrassing.

"I have no doubt that if it wasn't for Fifa threats, women wouldn't have been allowed to enter stadiums," said a sports journalist in Iran, on condition of anonymity.

"But if this had happened during the presidency of the moderate Hassan Rouhani, principalists would have burned the country to the ground. But now that all the power branches are under their control, they have silenced the clerics and influential institutions."

A victory for women

For Iranian women, the right to be able to go inside stadiums and clap for and support their teams has long been a dream. But the issue has long been contentious in a country where women face many legal and social restrictions on their personal lives.

The first attempt to change the law happened during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was in power from 2005 to 2012. Although Ahmadinejad was seen as a conservative principalist by most, the president ordered the gates of stadiums to be opened to women.

Only the intervention of the clergy prevented the plans from being instituted, with an announcement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opposing the move putting the matter to rest for the time being.

Iranian women fans of Esteghlal football club cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2022 (AFP)
Iranian women fans of Esteghlal football club cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, on 25 August 2022 (AFP)

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Then Rouhani, in power from 2013 to 2021, also sought to open the gates to women, but, in the end, women were only allowed into certain matches, and then only to watch Iran's national team and not local matches.

Challenging his opponents in 2018, Rouhani said: "They state that vulgar things are said in the football stadiums and it is not right for the women to be there. [I say that] if our men are saying things that are not appropriate, why must women pay the price?"

Like Ahmadinejad, Rouhani, who is also a cleric, faced sharp criticism and attacks from senior clerics, with principalist media launching an onslaught against the president in a bid to stop his plans.

So with both his predecessors thwarted, it came as a shock to many conservatives for Raisi to be the one who finally implemented the change.

In a tweet, Mohammad Hossein Rajabi, a principalist cleric who voted for Raisi in the 2021 race, said on 1 September that Muslim women's presence in stadiums was not an appropriate move.

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Minou Aslani, the head of the women's branch of the Basij domestic security force, said that letting women into stadiums to "watch men's [football] is not among the priorities of people of Iran".

Aslani also pointed out that influential religious leader Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi was among the grand ayatollahs who had declared the plan forbidden.

On the other side of the debate,  a reformist news site accused the government of hypocrisy, writing that "the former critics of women's presence in stadiums have now gone silent".

It added that if Rouhani or former reformist president Mohammad Khatami had done this, the principalists would have come out in the streets to protest against their decision.

Conservative anger

Raisi's statements during the presidential election had led most to assume that he would continue the ban on women entering stadiums.

"Some people said that women should go to the stadium to watch men's matches, but does this solve the problem of women themselves?," Raisi asked during his presidential campaign.

'Raisi keeps disappointing his true supporters, first he advocated the JCPOA and resumed the talks with the US for its revival, and now he has allowed women to sit in stadiums and close to men who mostly curse'

- Basij member

However, months later, when the Raisi government allowed women once again to enter the stadium to watch a national match, principalist and influential groups and clerics asked him not to do so.

In January 2022, the powerful Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, previously fervent supporters of Raisi, wrote a letter asking the president to stop his government's plan to let women into stadiums.

"Addressing such issues by [your government] has surprised the religious and revolutionary part of the society which are and has been your supporter," wrote the group's secretary.

The call went unheeded, apparently.

"Raisi keeps disappointing his true supporters. First he advocated the JCPOA [nuclear deal] and resumed the talks with the US for its revival, and now he has allowed women to sit in stadiums and close to men who mostly curse," said the Basij member, referring to Raisi's negotiations to re-enter the 2015 nuclear pact.

"Then what happens to our adherence to our beliefs?"

'A remarkable event'

Meanwhile, Fifa has urged Iran to allow female referees to officiate at men's football matches.

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In reaction, a principalist user on Twitter, identified as Abdolreza Akbari, called the Iranian government officials "naive" for accepting the previous request of Fifa, implying it was just the beginning of a raft of liberalising reforms the body would demand.

Iranian press review: No guarantees women at football here to stay
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For female football fans and reformist politicians, however, Raisi's decision is momentous, despite his conservative credentials.

"This is a remarkable event and a turning point, as the religious supporters of Raisi and the Islamic Republic establishment witnessed how they ignored their so-called values just to fulfill their interests," said a reformist politician, who asked his name not to be disclosed, speaking to MEE.

"For sure, this paradox has disappointed, shocked, and even damaged the loyalty of a remarkable percentage of their supporters in the religious class. This means supporters are losing faith which is a great danger for Raisi and the principalist camp.”

Iran's conservatives feel betrayed after Raisi allows women into football stadiums

Diamonds, ostrich eggs and Arab stallions: The Queen’s eclectic gifts from the Middle East

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 14:15
Diamonds, ostrich eggs and Arab stallions: The Queen’s eclectic gifts from the Middle East
Elizabeth II received a wide array of expensive and historically significant presents from leaders in the region across seven decades
Rayhan Uddin Fri, 09/09/2022 - 15:15
Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament in London on 14 October 2019 (AFP)

Queen Elizabeth II is widely considered to be the most well travelled head of state in history - and her collection of gifts from around the world shows it. 

Across seven decades of rule, the queen, who died on Thursday at the age of 96, has received a wide array of expensive and historically significant presents.

Among the many donors of objects and jewels to the late monarch are leaders from across the Middle East. 

Some of those gift-givers went on to be executed, exiled, deposed in military coups or turned into international pariahs. But not before they added to one of the vastest collections of precious freebies. 

From necklaces with 300 diamonds, to photographs of Palestine, oyster shells and ostrich eggs, we take a look at memorable gifts received by the Queen from the Middle East. 

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Egypt: Ancient gold necklace 

In 1947, then Princess Elizabeth was presented with a remarkable wedding gift by King Farouk of Egypt

He gave her a gold necklace dating back to the third century BCE which incorporated one of the earliest Egyptian coins. The ancient mint represents Arsinoe, a former Queen of Egypt during the three-centuries long Ptolemaic Dynasty which ended with Cleopatra. 

Like the coin, the gold setting and chains are also from around 250 BCE. 

queen elizabeth necklace king farouk egypt
The gold necklace gifted to Elizabeth II by Egypt's King Farouk features a gold coin dating back to the third century BCE (Royal Collection Trust)

At the time of the gifting, Egypt was under British occupation, as it had been since 1882. 

King Farouk was toppled and forced into exile following the Egyptian revolution of 1952, which set in motion the establishment of an Egyptian republic and the end of British rule. 

Sudan: Ostrich egg

During the queen’s sole state visit to Sudan in 1965, she was given two ostrich eggs. 

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The gift, presented by the Supreme Council of Sudan, was enclosed in a trellis of red, yellow, blue and green glass beads. 

ostrich egg sudan gift to queen elizabeth ii
The Supreme Council of Sudan presented Elizabeth II with two ostrich eggs during her state visit in 1965 (Royal Collection Trust)

During the same trip, she was also given a rectangular silver filigree box decorated with a secretary bird and a cotton plant bud. 

The queen’s visit in February 1965 came nine years after the African country gained independence from British colonial rule. 

More than 500,000 residents of towns near Khartoum and Omdurman lined the streets, according to authorities, waving flags and placards.

Saudi Arabia: Diamond necklaces 

The Queen has met four successive kings of Saudi Arabia: Faisal, Khalid, Fahd and Abdullah. 

In May 1967, King Faisal travelled to the UK for a state visit, bringing with him a lavish diamond necklace made in the 1950s by American jeweller Harry Winston. 

queen elizabeth ii king abdullah saudi
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia talks with Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace on 30 October 2007 (AFP)

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The piece consists of over 300 diamonds, including baguettes, brilliants and pear-shaped pendant stones, with a combined weight of over 80 carats. 

During her only state visit to the Gulf kingdom in 1979, Faisal’s successor King Khalid gifted her another diamond necklace which has since been named after him. 

The King Khalid necklace - which features 20 pear-shaped diamond pendants - was frequently worn by Princess Diana in the 1980s. 

UAE: Solid-gold camel 

During her 1979 tour of the Gulf, Elizabeth II stopped off in the United Arab Emirates, which had ceased to be a British colony around a decade earlier. 

The queen was gifted diamond and sapphire jewellery during the trip, as well as a solid-gold sculpture of a camel in front of two palm trees with rubies as dates.

desk clock uae gift queen elizabeth
A quartz horse's head with a small clock gifted to Elizabeth II by UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed in 2010 (Royal Collection Trust)

In the summer of 2017, Buckingham Palace presented an exhibition of gifts the Queen had received across seven decades. 

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Among them was an imitation of a quartz horse’s head with a small clock suspended from a metal harness, gifted by the recently deceased former UAE president Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan in 2010. 

Syria: Brocade for wedding dress

Brocade is one of the most prestigious and expensive fabrics of Syria’s Damascus, with its inhabitants hand-weaving the cloth using gold, silver and natural silk threads for centuries. 

Queen Elizabeth’s famous wedding dress, which features a drawing of two love birds kissing, was woven using Syrian brocade imported from Damascus. 

queen elizabeth wedding dress 1947
Princess Elizabeth of England and Prince Philip are seen on their wedding day on 20 November 1947 in London (AFP)

The dress was made in the UK from 200 metres of brocade reportedly sent by then Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli in 1947. 

Syria is one of the few countries in the Middle East that the queen did not officially visit.

She did host current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Buckingham Palace in December 2002, nine years before the civil war broke out in his country that would turn him into a pariah.

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Iraq: Arab stallion 

Elizabeth II is well-known for her love of horses, and as such has been handed equine gifts across the decades. 

In 1953, King Faisal II of Iraq presented the queen with an Arab stallion to commemorate her coronation. 

Later that year, she would be given another Arab stallion named Alhehal (Crescent Moon) and an Arab mare named Al Masouda (The Lucky One) by the King of Yemen Ahmad bin Yahya. 

king faisal iraq queen elizabeth balmoral
Queen Elizabeth II walking with Princess Anne, Prince Philip and King Faisal II of Iraq in Balmoral on 26 September 1952 (AFP)

Faisal, who had met the queen a year earlier, was the third and final monarch of the short-lived Hashemite kingdom of Iraq. 

In 1958 he was overthrown during a military coup known as the 14 July Revolution and executed along with several members of his family.

Qatar: Rubies and pearls  

During a state visit to the UK in 1985, former Qatari Emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani gave the Queen a matching ruby necklace and earrings set. 

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The set was worn on several grand occasions during the 1990s, including during her speeches at both the 1990 and 1994 state opening of parliament ceremonies. 

Elizabeth II was also gifted a large pearl necklace and earrings set during her official visit to Qatar in 1979. 

oyster shell qatar gift queen elizabeth ii
An oyster shell with an embryonic large pearl embedded within (Royal Collection Trust)

She has since mainly worn it at Qatar-related events, including during a 2010 state banquet for Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at Windsor Castle. 

During the 1979 visit, she was also presented with an oyster shell with an embryonic large pearl embedded within it. 

Pearl diving was a large part of Qatar’s economy during the 19th and early 20th century, employing almost half of its population up until the 1940s. 

Iran: Furniture set 

During the queen’s 1961 visit to Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi gifted her an entire suite of furniture. 

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It included an armchair with an intricate sadeli geometric pattern, a kneehole-desk with a mosaic inlay, an inkstand, two boxes and a screen with a wool tapestry of Elizabeth II. 

The queen inadvertently played a role in the 1953 coup which brought the shah to power, according to 2020 documentary The Queen and the Coup

desk gift iran shah to queen elizabeth ii
Kneehole-desk of mosaic inlay (sadeli work) of various woods gifted by the Shah of Iran to Queen Elizabeth II in 1961 (Royal Collection Trust)

The film, citing US documents, claims that Pahlavi was considering fleeing Tehran, when a British government message stating "Queen Elizabeth" had expressed concern and "strong hope we can find some means of dissuading him from leaving the country".

Washington passed the message to Pahlavi, who performed a U-turn. But neither the US nor the shah knew the British had actually been referring to the ship the RMS Queen Elizabeth - and the monarch herself had no role whatsoever.

Palestine: Photograph album 

To mark their marriage, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were gifted an album containing photographs of views of Palestine taken across the 1930s and 1940s. 

The images include aerial views of several significant buildings, including the Dome of the Rock and the ancient crusader outpost in the coastal town of Atlit, near Haifa. 

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The collection was presented by the General Council of the Jewish Community of Palestine in November 1947, during the British Mandate over the territory. 

views of palestine gift queen elizabeth ii
Album containing photographs of views of Palestine taken in the 1930s and 1940s (Royal Collection Trust)

Just months later, on 15 May 1948, British rule would end in Palestine and the state of Israel would be created. The date is known to Palestinians as the Nakba (catastrophe) - when over 700,000 were displaced from their homes.

Despite visiting more than 120 countries and travelling around a million miles during her 70 years on the throne, it has not gone unnoticed that Elizabeth II never visited Israel.

Reasons given for the apparent snub ranged from a fear of upsetting rich Arab Gulf nations and losing subsequent trade deals, to Israel's violent resistance to the British mandate there as it sought independence.

Arabic press review: Saudi Arabia detains senior commander in Yemeni army

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 13:55
Arabic press review: Saudi Arabia detains senior commander in Yemeni army
Meanwhile, Sudan faces a medicine shortage and media outlets face prosecution in Kuwait
Mohammad Ayesh Fri, 09/09/2022 - 14:55
Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government, on the southern front of Marib, the last remaining government stronghold in northern Yemen, on 16 November 2021 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia detains Yemeni commander

Saudi authorities arrested the commander of the Sixth Military Region in the Yemeni army, Major General Heikal Hantaf, after he arrived at Jeddah airport a few days ago, the Arabi 21 website reported.

An informed military source, who asked not to be named, said Hantaf arrived in Saudi Arabia - after receiving assurances from senior military leaders in the Yemeni army - to settle his problems with Saudi military leadership, including "financial dues relating to the Northern Axis forces of the border guards in Al-Jawf border governorate, adjacent to the kingdom".

According to the military source, upon his arrival Hantaf was informed that an arrest warrant had been issued against him by the Saudi-led coalition leadership.

"After that, the Yemeni military commander was transferred to a hotel in the city of Jeddah and was detained there," the source said.

Sudan facing a medicine crisis

Sudan is suffering from a lack of life-saving medicines, with the shelves of many pharmacies running empty due to a near-complete halt in supply.

This shortage coincides with a sharp increase in Sudan of the price of medication - most notably among medicines used to treat the kidneys, diabetes and for chemotherapy - according to a report published by the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper in London.

Officials and specialists attribute the crisis to the lack of foreign currency available in the country, as well as the expansion of the black market to now include certain medicines in the absence of government control over the markets.

The Sudanese Pharmacists Association said it expects more medications to join the missing list soon.

"This will have significant health, psychological and financial consequences for cancer patients and their families," it said in a statement. "Cancer patients in particular and Sudanese patients in general are suffering from this situation."

A Sudanese citizen said that due to the lack of availability of cancer medication, he has been unable to find a single dose for four months, despite having searched for it in numerous pharmacies.

Several pharmacists acknowledged the lack of availability of medication for chronic diseases in pharmacies and hospitals, especially medicine used to treat cancer, hepatitis, diabetes and epilepsy.

Pharmacist Ibrahim Babiker said that the suspension of some companies from the market and their departure from Sudan led to the black market being the alternative site to purchase medicines that enter the country through smuggling.

He confirmed that the economic crisis that the country is experiencing had greatly contributed to this.

Another pharmacist, who refused to be named, revealed that some life-saving drugs were available in private pharmacies, but were being sold in dollars. Some of them, the pharmacist added, were also leaked to the black market.

Due to the deterioration of the health sector in Sudan, and the lack of available chemotherapy for cancer patients, 70 percent of patients have had to travel to neighbouring countries for treatment, with most heading to Egypt or Jordan.

Dozens of media outlets in Kuwait face trial

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Information has referred 38 media establishments to the Public Prosecution in preparation for their trial for violating the terms and conditions of election coverage, according to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Elections for the new National Assembly are supposed to be held on 29 September, weeks after the issuance of the emir's decree dissolving parliament.

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The assistant secretary of the ministry of information, Lafi al-Subaie, said that 38 media outlets were referred to the Public Prosecution for violating laws regulating coverage of the 2022 parliamentary elections.

Al-Subaie said that the ministry took legal measures in coordination with the Ministry of Interior against a production company that filmed in front of the Elections Affairs Department without obtaining a licence and approval from the relevant government agencies, confirming that "the ministry will not allow any action that may distort the democratic process".

He explained that the ministry continuously monitors the performance of electronic, visual, audio and print media for the elections to ensure that they take into account the provisions of relevant laws, regulations and decisions to ensure the best coverage of the elections.

Jordan repatriates 40 citizens arrested in Kenya

The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that 40 Jordanians arrested in Kenya on Sunday have been released and will arrive in Amman on Saturday. 

The ministry said that it had followed up on their case through the Jordanian embassy in Nairobi, according to the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a tweet: "The 40 Jordanians were arrested in Kenya for violating the regulations and instructions there."

He added: "The ministry worked to return them to Jordan. They will depart early on Friday to Amman via the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and will arrive on Saturday evening."

The official spokesman for the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Haitham Abu Al-Ful, said that the information available to the embassy in Nairobi was that they were detained for violating Kenyan tourist regulations.

Kenyan media said that Mombasa police had arrested 40 Jordanian tourists on charges of begging in the city's streets.

They explained that the detainees were collecting money in the old town and Mariketti market to finance their travel to the capital, Nairobi.

The media quoted the police chief as saying that the police arrested the Jordanians after they received complaints from Kenyan citizens. He added that the detainees were 19 adults and 21 children. and held valid tourist visas. However, begging violated the terms of their tourist visas, which led to their arrest.

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

Turkey seeks gas price cut from Russia

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 12:19
Turkey seeks gas price cut from Russia
The move comes as Turkey remains highly dependent on Russian gas and its foreign currency reserves continue to dwindle
Ragip Soylu Fri, 09/09/2022 - 13:19
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) attend the inauguration ceremony of a new gas pipeline, 'TurkStream', on 8 January 2020 in Istanbul (AFP)

Turkey is seeking a gas price discount from Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday in an interview with local journalists. 

Erdogan said that he has had talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the gas prices. "If that goes forward positively, that would be really good," he said. "Our only cause is to provide electricity and gas to our citizens in viable conditions."

Erdogan added that he would hold another round of comprehensive talks with Putin in Samarkand, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit later this month.

Turkey and Russia last month agreed to set up a partial payment system for Russian natural gas in local currencies, the Rouble and Turkish Lira.

Turkey is a net energy importer with 45 percent of its gas coming from Russia. The two countries signed a gas deal in January for the next four years, though they did not announce the price tag. Ankara is looking for a discount as its foreign currency reserves are dry.

One source close to negotiations told Middle East Eye that Turkey and Russia were also discussing energy payment postponement.

Turkey's role in the Ukraine war

Turkey is one of several countries that have refused to sign on to western sanctions to isolate Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey has played a pivotal role in the Ukraine war. While it has sold armed drones to Kyiv and closed the straits to Russian ships, the country has also been mediating between both sides.

Ankara helped broker a UN deal in July allowing for the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments from the Black Sea.

Erdogan this week was also rallying against western nations over their treatment of Russia. He said that the West's policies regarding Moscow were based on provocations.

On Thursday, he also echoed Putin and said that most of the grain taken out of Ukraine was going to rich countries instead of poor ones.

"The fact that the grain goes to the countries that have sanctions bothers Putin," Erdogan said. "But we would like to transport Russian grain as well. I will talk about it to him."

Earlier on Wednesday, Putin complained that most of the grain had been going to Europe rather than to countries suffering from food crises. Putin said he would contact Erdogan to discuss possibly limiting the export of grain and food from Ukraine.

In response, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov tweeted that Ukraine had sent 54 vessels to Asia carrying just over one million metric tonnes of grain and another 16 vessels to Africa carrying 469,000 metric tonnes.

Europe had received 32 vessels loaded with 853,000 metric tonnes of grain, he added.

UN data released on 27 August indicates that 75 percent of Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea were destined for non-EU states, with Turkey receiving 21 percent, South Korea 13 percent, Iran 12 percent, and Egypt 11 percent.


Algeria: The Trans-Saharan pipeline, a Nigerian alternative to Russian gas?

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 11:56
Algeria: The Trans-Saharan pipeline, a Nigerian alternative to Russian gas?
Officials and experts say financial hurdles have delayed the ambitious project, but Europe 'would like to see the project up and running within a maximum of two years'
Ali Boukhlef Fri, 09/09/2022 - 12:56
An employee at work in the Afam VI power plant in Nigeria's Port Harcourt in September 2015 (AFP/file photo)
An employee at work in the Afam VI power plant in Nigeria's Port Harcourt in September 2015 (AFP/file photo)

On 28 July in Algiers, following months of negotiations, Algeria, Niger and Nigeria signed a memorandum of understanding formalising the 4,000km Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) project, which will enable Nigerian gas to be piped into Europe.

"This agreement marks the commitment of the three parties to revive a project of regional and international scope, which will boost the social and economic development of our country," Algeria's energy minister, Mohamed Arkab, said shortly after putting his signature to the agreement alongside his counterparts from Niger and Nigeria.

At the moment, this is just an agreement underpinned by "strong political will", Abdelmadjid Attar, a former Algerian energy minister and ex-CEO of the Algerian oil and gas giant Sonatrach, told Middle East Eye. 

Meanwhile, an Algerian energy ministry official told MEE on condition of anonymity that "discussions will carry on between experts from the three countries".

In theory, the project involves building a pipeline designed to pipe gas from the Niger Delta towards In Salah, in the south of Algeria, passing through Niger.

gas pipelines algeria africa

From a base at Hassi R'mel, in the north of the Sahara, nearly 30bn cubic metres of gas could be piped towards Europe via three existing gas pipelines: Transmed, which links Algeria to Italy via Tunisia; Medgaz, supplying Spain from the west of Algeria; and the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline, linking Algeria and Spain passing through Morocco.

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The Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline has been on hold since October 2021 when, after a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the neighbouring Maghrebi nations, Algeria decided not to renew the contract it had entered into with Morocco.

Financing problem

Without fixing a date, the three ministers spoke of the completion of an ambitious project "within the shortest possible timescale". According to experts, the pipeline could be completed in three years "if we push forwards", said Attar. If greater urgency is required, the former minister said, the timescale can be shortened.

'European countries want to see the project up and running within a maximum of two years'

- Former Sonatrach executive

"In the 90s we built the gas pipeline that links Algeria and Morocco in less than two years," said the former head of the Algerian oil and gas giant, indicating that the construction of the Trans-Saharan project could be similarly "swift". 

For that to happen, headway must be made in resolving financing issues. Although Algeria and Nigeria, which together hold 90 percent of the shares in the company charged with constructing the pipeline, may have enough money to complete their respective parts of the project, Niger is too poor to participate in a programme with costs estimated in 2009 to exceed $10bn.

This amount is doubtless now even higher, driving countries such as Algeria to seek out external funding, specifically from China.

Sources within the Algerian ministry cite the "potential" for European financing as these countries actively seek alternatives to Russian gas. "European countries would like to see the project up and running within a maximum of two years," according to a former executive at Sonatrach, the national state-owned oil company of Algeria who spoke with MEE on condition of anonymity. 

The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline project is not a new idea. Algeria first raised the subject with Nigeria in 2002, then with Niger. Subsequently, on several occasions, Nigeria reiterated its desire to pipe gas via trans-African pipelines to supply the European markets, currently supplied by more-costly gas tankers.

Consultations took place without tangible results. Then, in 2016, King Mohammed VI suggested routing a pipeline through Morocco.

On a visit to Abuja, the king expressed his hope that all countries of West Africa would benefit from the project. But such a project would require no less than $30bn and take some 10 years to complete. The project never got off the ground.

'New deal'

For the experts, the procrastination that has characterised the Trans-Saharan project is inextricably linked to the price of gas.

Until 2019, the price of a cubic metre of gas was "barely $4" on the spot markets, which made it an "uninteresting" and "unprofitable" business, Attar told MEE.

The war in Ukraine has changed all that. With the countries of Europe looking for gas suppliers outside of Russia, the TSGP has started to look attractive and "profitable". 

"The project is highly profitable, not least because demand is high. Gas is tomorrow's energy, the energy of the transition, with a ready market driven by geopolitical change," said Attar, adding that the price of gas is nearing $30 per cubic metre and "won't go below the $20 mark, whatever happens".

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The possible start of the TSGP "is coming at a unique time both in terms of the geopolitical panorama and the energy markets, characterised by a high demand for gas and petroleum and a stagnation in supply rooted in falling investment, particularly in the domain of oil and gas exploration, dating back to 2015," said Energy Minister Arkab.

Algeria, which currently exports nearly 56bn cubic metres of gas per year, would initially only be a transit country for the TSGP, but it will "benefit from the transit", Attar said.

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The former executive of Sonatrach told MEE that Algeria "could increase its production capacity to export more energy". That can't be done right now "because Algeria's production is currently at maximum capacity".

On top of these benefits, if the project is completed, Algeria would reap political dividends, boosting its strategic position on the African continent. "Algeria needs to carve out a good place for itself within Africa and not remain on the side-lines," President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said in a televised interview broadcast on 1 August. 

He described the proposed pipeline as a "major African project".

For Attar, the project is also "extremely important at the trans-African level", since it would bring African countries closer together and build ties with Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, "a country with scant resources that will benefit from this project".

Nigeria has the biggest gas reserves in Africa, holding some 5.5 trillion cubic metres (30 percent of the continent as a whole), followed by Algeria with 4.5 trillion (25 percent of production).

In 2020, the two countries accounted for 86 percent of exports of African gas, 58 percent corresponding to Algeria, which has the continent's biggest gas pipeline network, and 28 percent to Nigeria. More than 62 percent of these exports are destined for Europe, according to data supplied by the Policy Center for the New South.

*This article was originally published in French.


Queen Elizabeth II: Why did the British monarch never visit Israel?

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 11:01
Queen Elizabeth II: Why did the British monarch never visit Israel?
Queen, who visited more than 120 countries during her seven-decade reign, accused by some of an unofficial boycott
MEE staff Fri, 09/09/2022 - 12:01
People stand with their dog at Rabin square as Tel Aviv's municipality building is illuminated with the Union Jack flag following the death of Queen Elizabeth (Reuters)

Despite her visiting more than 120 countries and travelling around a million miles during her 70 years on the throne, it has not gone unnoticed that Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday, never visited Israel.

Indeed, no member of the UK's royal family visited the country in an official capacity until 2018, when Prince William, the queen's grandson, arrived for the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, ending what appeared to many as an unofficial boycott.

Reasons given for the apparent snub ranged from a fear of upsetting wealthy Gulf Arab nations and losing subsequent trade deals, to the violent insurgency waged against the British mandate in Palestine by Zionist armed groups prior to Israel's declaration of independent in 1948.

Visiting Jordan in 1984, one of several visits she made to the Middle East, the queen was reported to have said "How frightening" as Israeli fighter jets shot past in the sky as she viewed the West Bank in the distance.

Queen Nour, King Hussein of Jordan's wife, was said to have replied: "It's terrible."

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Later, after viewing a map showing the locations of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, Queen Elizabeth was quoted as saying: "What a depressing map."

Queen Elizabeth II receives the former President of Israel Shimon Peres at Buckingham Palace in London on 20 November 2008, where he was presented with an honorary knighthood (AFP)
Queen Elizabeth II receives the former President of Israel Shimon Peres at Buckingham Palace in London on 20 November 2008, where he was presented with an honorary knighthood (AFP)

The queen's eldest son, who has become King Charles III following her death, made an official visit as Prince of Wales to Israel and the occupied West Bank in January 2020.

In Jerusalem, he delivered a speech at the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

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In his speech, Charles warned that lessons of the Holocaust were still "searingly relevant" and called on world leaders to be "fearless in confronting falsehoods" and violence.

On the same trip, Charles visited the Palestinian town of Bethlehem and prayed for "a just and lasting peace" in the Middle East. He also said he had been "struck by the energy, warmth and remarkable generosity of the Palestinian people".

But Charles has faced criticism over comments written in a private letter to a friend dating from 1986, but subsequently reported in 2017, in which he suggested that the "influx of foreign, European Jews" to Israel was to blame for the continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world, and expressed frustration that US presidents were unwilling to take on the "Jewish lobby" in the United States.

"Surely some US president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby in US?," wrote Charles in the letter following a visit to the Gulf with Princess Diana. "I must be naive, I suppose."

Commenting on the letter in 2017, a spokesperson for Charles said the letter did not state his own views but rather views he had heard expressed during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

"Over the years, the Prince has continued his study of the complex and difficult themes he referenced here. He has built a proven track record of support for both Jewish and Arab communities around the world and has a long history of promoting inter-faith dialogue and cultural understanding,” the spokesperson said.

'Nasty, petty British intrigue'

Writing in 2012 of the queen and her failure to visit Israel, the former Haaretz editor-in-chief David Landau said: "This marvellous, dedicated, 86-year-old sovereign is nobody's puppet. 

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"If she wanted to visit the Jewish state or have one of her close family visit it, she could insist on it, and get her way.

In pictures: Queen Elizabeth II and the Middle East
Read More »

"The sad but inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that she herself is part of this nasty, petty British intrigue to deny Israel that rankling vestige of legitimation that is in their power to bestow or withhold - a royal visit.

"She can and should bin these sour-smelling inhibitions and end this boycott."

Those defending the queen over claims of bias against Israel point out that during her reign she has received several Israeli presidents during their visits to the UK, including Ephraim Katzir, Chaim Herzog and Ezer Weizman, and conferred an honorary knighthood on former Israeli president Shimon Peres.

During a community breakfast event in London in November, Israel's President Isaac Herzog joked that when his father (Chaim Herzog) met the queen they both discussed being direct descendants of King David. 

The queen is also known to have had a strong relationship with Britain's Jewish community, having elevated Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits and his successor, Jonathan Sacks, to the peerage and conferring knighthoods on many other British Jews.

In addition to official visits by Charles and William, the Queen's late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited Israel in 1994 to attend a ceremony honouring his mother, Princess Alice, who is buried at the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem.

Princess Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria who was also connected through marriage to the Greek royal family, spent the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Athens and was recognised by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, as being among the "righteous of the nations" for her efforts in helping a Jewish family to hide.

With the accession of Princess Alice's grandson to the throne, many in Israel will now wonder whether King Charles will become the first British head of state to visit the country. 

Why did Queen Elizabeth never visit Israel?

Israel elections: Humdrum campaign lit up by murder-plot claims, battle for Russian votes

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 10:47
Israel elections: Humdrum campaign lit up by murder-plot claims, battle for Russian votes
Netanyahu, Lieberman fighting all-out for voters from ex-Soviet countries, and a former police officer's allegations have made the fight all the more controversial
Lily Galili Fri, 09/09/2022 - 11:47
Avigdor Lieberman arrives to deliver a statement in 2019 (Reuters)
Avigdor Lieberman prepares to deliver a statement in 2019 (Reuters)

A few days ago, a man unknown to most Israelis alleged on social media that more than 20 years ago Avigdor Lieberman, currently the finance minister, offered him $100,000 to murder a police chief.

Yossi Kamisa, himself a former police officer, was then an activist in Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. Some claim they were close.

Allegations of corruption, money laundering and fraud have previously plagued Lieberman, stalking him at the time of this alleged event up until 2013, when he was acquitted.

Kamisa's bombshell post came soon after Lieberman wrapped up a victorious news conference announcing the end of a teachers' strike that endangered his campaign ahead of elections on 1 November.

The criminal aspect of those allegations will be looked into by Attorney-General Gali Baharv-Miara. The political dimension of this horror story, less than 60 days before Israelis vote, is part of a much broader phenomenon: a tug of war between Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman over the "Russian" vote.

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No wonder Lieberman's first reaction to the allegations, even before he filed a criminal complaint against Kamisa, was a Facebook post entitled "Netanyahu is in panic", not only denying all allegations but also mainly insinuating that the former prime minister is behind the affair. He posted in Hebrew, for all Israeli readers.  

A few days later, Netanyahu reciprocated with a post entitled "Lieberman is in panic". His post was in Russian only. That was a carefully premediated choice of language, addressed at Russian-speaking recipients - Lieberman's voter base.

Benjamin Netanyahu is targeting Lieberman's voter base (Reuters)
Benjamin Netanyahu is targeting Lieberman's voter base (Reuters)

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The scandal refuses to fade away, with a legal probe pending. Meanwhile, Lieberman has referred to Netanyahu as "scum of the earth with no red lines"; in return, Likud, of which Netanyahu is chairman, issued a statement hoping "Lieberman will not offer someone $100,000 to kill Netanyahu".

The Russian-speaking cohort of Israelis who migrated from the former Soviet Union, believed to number around 900,000, is no less confused than the general populace, with one small difference: for them, it is more personal. Some even interpret the furore as an assault on their "Russian" party, Yisrael Beiteinu, or on the community in general.

Most Russian-speaking Israelis at this point don't really care, especially since the validity of these allegations is still obscure and Lieberman has no proof of Netanyahu's involvement.

New parties

One thing that can be said for this drama is that it has livened up a so far lethargic election campaign. Yet it is less visible and less noticeable than other issues, mainly because it is playing out in Russian and is focused on a specific community.

In other words, it is a full-scale war between Netanyahu and Lieberman. After 44 years in Israel, having served as defence and finance minister, Lieberman is still perceived by many as a "new immigrant", and his party, which describes itself as national, the preserve of "Russians" only.

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That image is certainly something Lieberman cultivates prior to all elections, marketing himself as the savior of the "Russian" community, the only one who cares about this community that stills looks for representation.

Yet where once the 12 potential parliamentary seats that could be delivered by the "Russian" community appeared locked in by Lieberman, now they are perceived as far more fluid and worth chasing. Netanyahu is certainly after the votes Lieberman sees as his own legacy.

Israel elections: Jordan seeks to sway Palestinian voters to block Netanyahu return
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There is actually nothing new in this struggle. In all four preceding election campaigns since 2019, Netanyahu and his Likud party were behind the formation of "Russian" parties that presented themselves as an alternative to Yisrael Beiteinu. Those small, insignificant creations were never meant to win. Their only intention was to cause the biggest possible damage to Lieberman's party.

All attempts failed miserably, winning only between 300 to 4,816 votes each, a far cry from the 140,000 necessary for a seat in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Still, Likud does it again.

Behind the scenes of the campaign, there is an attempt to engage leading figures in the Russian-speaking community and form a rival Russian party just to cause significant damage to Lieberman. The new party is not yet in sight, but Lieberman is up in arms.

Days before the new allegations turned into a major scandal, Lieberman was obsessed with Likud's attempt to form another party. He kept referring to it in all interviews, and wrote about it extensively on social media. 

"There is one phenomenon common to all election campaigns," he wrote on Facebook. "Somehow, close to elections, a new party emerges, designed for one purpose only - to 'take a bite' out the cohort of the Russian-speaking supporters of Yisrael Beiteinu. Rumour says that the man behind it is Netanyahu."

This is how Lieberman sounds when he is really worried: cynical and seemingly amused. He is not. He is deeply concerned, and has a very good reason to be so. Netanyahu means business.

It's no longer just the well-known animosity between the two, who for a decade were close allies. Of all the figures who make up the anti-Netanyahu bloc, Lieberman's political elimination can pave Netanyahu's way back to the prime minister's office. If Lieberman fails to cross the electoral threshold, Netanyahu's victory is pretty much secured.

He cannot take out Benny Gantz, the defence minister still perceived by Likud as a potential future partner. He cannot do it to Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is too strong and too big.

He can, and wants, to do it to Lieberman only. In the fifth round of elections, Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival. If all is fair in love and war, the same can be said for hate and war.  

Beyond Israel's borders

The race for the votes of the "Russian" community - and others too - goes beyond the borders of Israel.

Meet the veteran star of Israeli elections: Vladimir Putin, the one Netanyahu used in his previous campaign, posting huge posters of the two leaders with the tagline: "Leader of another league".

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There's an assumption that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will make Putin an electoral pariah. Netanyahu begs to differ. Since the onset of the invasion, he has kept surprisingly quiet about the war. In fact, the "special relations" between Netanyahu and Putin that the Likud leader takes pride in never ended. Soon after Netanyahu was booted from office a year ago, he sent Putin a message: "I'll soon be back."

Just over a month ago, Netanyahu called a surprise news conference, just to accuse Lapid and Gantz of amateurish and incompetent handling of the crisis with Moscow over the activity of the Jewish Agency in Russia. The message was: "I'll do it better. Putin and I."

Those present sensed Netanyahu was back, shamelessly enlisting Putin into his new campaign. According to Russian political scientists, Putin, parallel to the war with Ukraine, is actively involved in reinstating his old loyal friends, like Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, who is now plotting a comeback in Italy. Two of those political analysts told Middle East Eye that Netanyahu falls into the same category.

'Yevgeny Prigozhin controls a system that allows him to infiltrate the internal politics of different countries, including Israel'

- David Aidelman, analyst

In the meantime, Putin might not be enough. An army of internet trolls has been mobilised to spread the message of Netanyahu and his most ardent supporters, nicknamed "Bibists". Lapid's Yesh Atid party filed a criminal complaint and asked the attorney general to investigate the phenomenon it defines as a "poison machine".

It's a social media trend that has parallels in Russia, where internet trolls and disinformation are pumped out to target Moscow's opponents and spread support of the Ukraine war. British intelligence has alleged Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Putin who heads the notorious Wagner Group military contractor, is behind the activity.

Sources who closely follow the involvement of internet trolls in the current Israeli election campaign told MEE that Prigozhin might be linked to the accounts working in favour of Likud and Netanyahu.

David Aidelman, an expert on media and politics in post-Soviet republics, told MEE: "Prigozhin is the most dangerous entity, more dangerous than Putin himself. He controls a system that allows him to infiltrate the internal politics of different countries, including Israel."

Confused? Rightfully so. It is confusing and ugly, unfortunately not the only ugly aspect of 2022's elections.

Tel Aviv, Israel
Israel's humdrum election lit up by murder plot allegations and a battle for Russian votes

Queen Elizabeth II: The Middle East she knew in 1952

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 08:22
Queen Elizabeth II: The Middle East she knew in 1952
When the late monarch took the throne, Britain was still an empire and arguably the strongest power in the region. Since then, kings have fallen and new states arisen
Alex MacDonald Fri, 09/09/2022 - 09:22
Yemeni fighters belonging to the British protectorate, in Aden in 1957 (AFP)
Yemeni fighters belonging to the British protectorate in Aden, in 1957 (AFP)

When the late Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in February 1952, the UK was still an empire that held control over vast swathes of the planet and counted hundreds of millions of subjects.

Since then the world has seen wars, revolutions and coups. Britain's empire has largely disappeared.

Much of the Middle East and North Africa, still a region where the UK holds deep ties - not least through the monarchy - was largely under British control, both directly and indirectly, when she came to the throne.


Cyprus, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen's south, Oman and Sudan were all de jure or de facto ruled by the British Empire, while Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were heavily under the empire's influence.

The Middle East and North Africa in 1952

Much of the traditional control the UK exerted over the Middle East was grounded in a range of monarchies that had been imposed or backed by the empire and maintained close links to Britain's royal family.

Elizabeth ascended to the British throne on 6 February 1952. At that time, Britain directly controlled most of what are now the Gulf Arab states, with only Saudi Arabia and North Yemen as independent states - albeit ones closely aligned to the empire.

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Kuwait would have to wait until 1963 before it became formally independent, while the UAE (then known as the Trucial States), Qatar and Oman would remain protectorates until the 1970s.

Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Jordan were all monarchies aligned with Britain, while the Republic of Turkey would join the Nato alliance that year and come into the Western sphere of influence.

In 1955, Iraq, Iran and Turkey would join Pakistan and the UK in the anti-communist Baghdad Pact.

Four years before Elizabeth became queen, Britain pulled out of Palestine, but not before encouraging Jewish immigration and the Zionist movement's plan to settle there - a policy that rocked a region that is still coming to terms with the creation of Israel.

Though Britain had left Palestine, in the wake of the Second World War the Middle East was firmly in the Western camp - though the fear of communism and Arab nationalism was never far from rulers' minds.

File photo from the early 1950s of a British ship at anchor near the banks of the Suez Canal in Egypt (AFP)
A British ship at anchor near the banks of the Suez Canal in 1950s Egypt (AFP)

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Though no longer a direct colony, Egypt played a crucial role in the empire.

Under the rule of King Farouk, the country was closely aligned with Britain, the former colonial power. Poverty and inequality were rife in the kingdom under Farouk, but British support ensured - for a time at least - his administration's ability to weather the burst of discontent from the populace.

The British had also shared sovereignty over Sudan with Egypt since 1899, maintaining forces in the southern region following their victory in the Mahdist war of 1881-1899.

Crucially, British forces were stationed around the Suez Canal, a route integral to international trade.

Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, the British- and French-owned canal would later become symbolic for Egyptian nationalists of their country's subservience to foreign powers.

Ensuring the steady flow of ocean trade was one of the key goals of the British Empire in the Middle East.

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At the other end of the Red Sea was Aden, in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. The city's port was one of the busiest harbours in the world for trade and travel in the 1950s, overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

Tens of thousands of British soldiers were stationed in Aden. Deals with local tribal leaders helped keep down threats from labour unions and leftists who demanded autonomy and better treatment for native workers - at least for the time being.

In addition to the forces stationed at Suez, control of the canal and Aden left the British fully in control of the quickest shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.

A soldier of the Durham Light Infantry, an infantry regiment of the British Army, landing on Beihan airfield, in the desert of Aden, in 1957 (AFP)
A soldier of the Durham Light Infantry, an infantry regiment of the British Army, landing on Beihan Airfield, in the desert of Aden in 1957 (AFP)

At the time of her accession, Elizabeth counted more than 7,300,000 subjects in the MENA region, while a further 55,000,000 at least were under British influence.

A question of sovereignty

The Iranian government led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who in 1951 had nationalised his country's oil industry, provided real concern for the empire.

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Mosaddegh's decision to take over the British-0wned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company - with the popular support of the communists - was in part motivated by the belief that the company existed as a means of exerting foreign control over Iran.

The takeover alarmed Britain and its allies. But the problem would be rectified soon: a year later, with the backing of the UK and the US, Mosaddegh would be overthrown in a coup and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi would be placed in full control of the country and in full deference to foreign powers.

Across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, other colonial powers still held sway, as well.

Following the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement during World War 1, Syria and Lebanon had fallen under French control but had achieved independence by the 1940s.

Iran and the US: When friends fall out
Read More »

However, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria were still under French colonial rule, while Spain controlled what is now known as Western Sahara.

It would not be long before all demanded their own indepdence, with Algeria plunging in a brutal anti-colonial conflict, while Western Sahara remains a disputed region and site of anti-colonial struggle to this day.

The status quo was not to last.

Just five months after Elizabeth ascended to the throne, a group of nationalist military officials, including Gamal Abdel Nasser, launched a coup d'etat in Egypt, abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic.

That event, perhaps more than any other, kicked off the process ending Britain's role as the dominant power in the Middle East. Nasser's government would later oversee indepedence and the end of UK rule in Sudan in 1956, as well as expelling British forces from Suez and nationalising the canal.

The Suez Crisis that followed would see Britain - and its allies France and Israel - fail to unseat Nasser through military force and re-assert control over the canal. The British Empire's status as the foremost imperial power was over and the US would soon move in to take its place.

"We feel that we are strong, we feel that the world has changed," Nasser said in a speech following the start of the invasion.

"They want to insult us? Well, we can also insult them… can't our papers also insult the Queen and their prime minister?"

An undated photo of British troops, the Highlanders, playing bagpipes in front of the Cairo Citadel in Egypt (AFP)
An undated photo of British troops, the Highlanders, playing bagpipes in front of the Cairo Citadel in Egypt (AFP)

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What the young queen thought - if anything - of these events goes unnoted, as became standard for a figurehead keen to be seen as apolitical.

The same year as the Suez Crisis, King Faisal II of Iraq would pay a visit to London.

In footage taken by British Pathe, Elizabeth, her husband Prince Phillip and other royals and government officials meet Faisal off the train at Victoria Station before being taken by a coach and horses down the thronged street to Buckingham Palace.

During the visit Elizabeth described Iraq as the "model of a modern state built on ancient and famous foundations and confidently facing towards the future".

Within two years, Faisal would be overthrown and killed in a nationalist takeover inspired by Nasser's coup in Egypt. The country would be declared a republic and withdraw from the Baghdad Pact, growing closer to the Soviet Union.

By the end of the 1970s the only remaining monarchy outside of the Gulf was Jordan, with South Yemen becoming a Marxist-Leninist state after independence in 1967 (later uniting with the north in 1990), and Iran's transformation into the Islamic Republic following the 1979 revolution.

The Middle East that Queen Elizabeth knew in 1952

'Google chooses apartheid over justice': Workers protest against Project Nimbus

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 04:50
'Google chooses apartheid over justice': Workers protest against Project Nimbus
Hundreds protest outside Google offices in cities across the US, as pressure builds on company to cut ties with Israel
Azad Essa Fri, 09/09/2022 - 05:50
Google protest
Around 250 workers and activists rallied outside Google's offices in Manhattan, New York, on Thursday (MEE/Azad Essa)

Hundreds of workers and pro-Palestinian activists assembled outside Google offices in US cities on Thursday, calling on the company to stop work on its controversial Project Nimbus, the $1.2 bn contract between the tech behemoths and the Israeli government.

The protests outside several Google offices in four cities come as pressure continues to build inside and outside Amazon and Google to end collaborations with Israel, in what activists are describing as big tech's complicity with Israeli apartheid.

"We are are here because Google's leadership decided that arming the nations of the world, with tools of surveillance, control and violence, is more important than their workers' values, their user safety and Palestinan lives," one worker told the crowd gathered outside Google's offices in Manhattan, New York.

"They have chosen apartheid over justice, and money over morality. They announced this stance to the world when they signed Project Nimbus," the worker added. 

Since Project Nimbus was announced in mid-2021, hundreds of workers at the companies have raised concerns they would be helping facilitate and advance Israel's apartheid project. Training materials leaked to the Intercept show the project will see Google provide advanced artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities to the Israeli government.

"While they provide no specifics as to how Nimbus will be used, the documents indicate that the new cloud would give Israel capabilities for facial detection, automated image categorization, object tracking, and even sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures, speech, and writing," the Intercept wrote.

(MEE/Azad Essa)
 Roksana Borzouei says companies such as Amazon and Google are deeply invested in contracts that end up hurting minorities (MEE/Azad Essa)

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On Thursday, workers from both companies, including at least two Palestinian workers, rallied outside Google headquarters in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Durham, in North Carolina, both to show solidarity with Palestinians and take their campaign inside the tech behemoth to a mainstream audience.

Carrying placards "No tech for apartheid" and chanting :"This Google worker says no tech for apartheid", activists from several organisations, such as MPowerChange and Acre's Crescendo project - as well as tech workers from both companies - said it was unacceptable their employers were profiteering off Palestinian oppression.

Activists told MEE that neither Google nor Amazon have responded to several letters and worker-led petitions that raised issue with the contract.

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The actions on Thursday took place around a week after Ariel Koren, a Google employee, quit her job citing a hostile working environment after she spoke out and organised within Google against Project Nimbus more than a year ago. 

Last week, several Palestinian Google workers posted testimonies to YouTube criticising the company's treatment of Palestinians and its censorship of employees who support them. The Palestinian workers at the rally in NYC did not speak to the media out of fear of workplace retaliation.

In October 2021, workers began a petition calling for the contract to be dropped. Since then, an estimated 800 Google and Amazon employees and 37,500 others have signed on to the call to end the partnership.

"Google and Amazon are standing by this contract and refusing to listen to the thousands of voices of opposition calling on the company to provide transparency, to do the right thing, and ultimately rescind this contact," Koren told MEE.

Organisers said an estimated 250 people assembled in New York and and another 250 in San Francisco, around 150 in Seattle and 40 in Durham.

(MEE/Azad Essa)
 Around 250 workers, activists and others joined the protest in Manhattan, New York, on Thursday  (MEE/Azad Essa)

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In New York, protesters squeezed themselves onto the sidewalk between early evening traffic and the gigantic Google building at 111 8th Avenue in Manhattan, and raised their voices against the company's involvement with the Israeli military.

Building security in plain clothes manoeuvred through crowds, while a handful of police officers stood watch at opposite ends of the block.

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Activists passed out pamphlets to other workers emerging from the Google building.

There were also a handful of Israeli supporters who arrived at the scene, with a giant Israeli flag, to launch a counter-protest.

One Google employee, a product manager, told MEE that he was told to stay inside the building until the protest dissipated. He admitted he hadn't heard of Project Nimbus before.

Dawlat Chebley, a tech worker unaffiliated with either company, told MEE that it was clear that not enough people knew how intrusive big tech had become.

"This protest is so important because people don't realise that tech is our future. People don't realise how controlling tech can be if it's in the wrong hands, and as you can see, it's already in the wrong hands," Chebly said.

"So many people - Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians - we use Google, we use Amazon, we don't realise that it's hurting our own people more than helping," Chebly said.

"If Google says Palestinians don't exist, a majority of people are going to start believing it," Chebly added.

Acknowledging the widescale ignorance on the role of tech and its profiteering off oppression, another protester, Chandra Darice, told MEE she had specifically come to honour those "tech workers who don't want to see their products being used to surveil and oppress the people of Palestine".

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"People who work at places like Google and Amazon want to connect the world, these are global corporations that purport to be innovating in ways that are meant to help all of humankind, but at the same time, they are taking billions of dollars to violate the human rights of other people," Darice said.

(MEE/Azad Essa)
 Several workers expressed alarm that their work would ultimately be used to cause harm to Palestinians (MEE/Azad Essa)

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Objections to Google's involvement with Project Nimbus have also raised concerns among other stakeholders, including shareholders.

On Friday, Kiran Aziz, from KLP, Norway's largest pension fund, told MEE she was "deeply concerned" by Google's insistence to go ahead with Project Nimbus. 

"The human rights situation is worsening with the Israeli government shutting down NGOs, expanding illegal settlements and increasing the killings of civilians - including Palestinian children in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories," Aziz said in a statement sent to MEE.

"Google and Amazon should be aware of the risks and perform due diligence. KLP is writing to both of these corporations to demand transparency and to rescind Project Nimbus on the basis of the clear risks of violating basic human rights."

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KLP is an investor in both Amazon and Google. In June 2021, the pension fund divested from Motorola over its alleged contribution to surveillance in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Neither Google nor Amazon replied to MEE's request for comment.

New York City

Middle Eastern leaders mourn death of Queen Elizabeth

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 19:15
Middle Eastern leaders mourn death of Queen Elizabeth
Condolences from across the Middle East after the death of the monarch
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 20:15
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II attends an equestrian show which included the Omani Royal Cavalry, in the presence of Oman’s leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said (unseen), at Madinat al-Hidayat on 27 November 2010 in Muscat (AFP)

Middle Eastern leaders and royals have sent condolences to the United Kingdom's royal family over the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who had many connections in the region. 

President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan called the queen a "close friend of the UAE and a beloved and respected leader whose long reign was characterised by dignity, compassion and a tireless commitment to serving her country".

Sheikh Tamim al-Thani, the leader of Qatar, said: "Our sincere condolences to the Royal Family and the British people over the death of Queen Elizabeth II, which with her loss the world has lost a great human symbol."

Queen Elizabeth II: A quiet force for national stability
Read More »

In 1979, the queen visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman during a trip to the Gulf.

Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tarik called the queen "a close friend of Oman [who] contributed to strengthening the close bilateral relations between Oman and the UK".

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday sent his condolences to the royal family, saying the queen "left behind an unparallelled legacy of leadership and service".

The queen also hosted many Middle Eastern leaders. On one visit in 2003, Elizabeth drove Saudi King Abdullah around Balmoral. The king, according to a former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, asked the queen to "slow down and concentrate on the road". 

Jordan's King Abdullah II said: "Jordan mourns the passing of an iconic leader. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was a beacon of wisdom and principled leadership for seven decades."

He called the queen "a partner for Jordan and a dear family friend", adding, "we stand with the people and leadership of the UK at this difficult time".

Abdullah's mother was British, and the king was educated at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. He declared a seven-day period of mourning across Jordan.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tweeted: "I offer my sincere condolences, on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Egypt, to the Royal Family, the British Government and the people of the United Kingdom, on the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who led her country for decades with great wisdom."

Lawmakers call for more oversight of US aid to Gulf states, citing civilian harm in Yemen

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 18:16
Lawmakers call for more oversight of US aid to Gulf states, citing civilian harm in Yemen
Republican and Democratic senators call Washington's inability to determine if aid has been involved in civilian harm 'unacceptable'
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 19:16
Yemenis inspect damage following a reported overnight air strike by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, on 24 December 2021 (AFP)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to take further measures to ensure US military support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates does not contribute to civilian casualties in Yemen.

"A failure to reckon with the devastation the United States may be complicit to in Yemen would represent a failure in the Biden administration's stated prioritization of human rights and our core democratic values," the lawmakers said.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee sent letters to the State Department and Pentagon in response to a US congressional watchdog report that found the US had failed to determine how its aid to Gulf allies was linked to civilian casualties.

The lawmakers called the findings "an unacceptable failure".

Yemen war: Islah's political survival hangs in the balance
Read More »

"We urge you to review whether or not the Saudi and Emirati governments are taking the necessary precautions to prevent harm to civilians in Yemen," the letters said.

"If either are found to be in violation, we urge State to halt all arms sales to either country until it can verify they are taking steps to protect civilians."

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published the report, which was obtained by HRW and also reported by the New York Times. The authors said that neither the State Department nor the Department of Defence could "provide evidence" that they had "investigated any incidents of potential unauthorized use of equipment transferred to Saudi Arabia or UAE".

US aid in question

Yemen descended into civil war in 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies, chiefly the UAE, intervened in March 2015 to push the Houthis back.

The Saudi-led coalition has carried out more than 22,000 air strikes in an effort to roll back the Houthi rebels, with one-third striking non-military sites - including schools, factories and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project. The Houthis have targeted Saudi and Emirati cities and infrastructure with drones and missiles.

"The [Saudi-backed] alliance has carried out deadly strikes using combat jets and munitions that have been supplied and maintained largely by American companies with the approval of the State Department and the Pentagon," the GAO report said.

The US began supporting the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen under President Obama. Riyadh has come under criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for the war.

Upon taking office, President Biden pledged to halt offensive support to Washington's Gulf ally, while maintaining defence aid to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is the top buyer of US arms. Between 2017 and 2021, the oil-rich kingdom bought 23 percent of all US weapons sold overseas, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Yemen: Diplomats push for extension of truce as deadline nears
Read More »

In their letter, the lawmakers pointed to $319m in logistical support the US provided to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, without tracking how the countries use that support, "meaning civilian harm could be the direct result of aid provided by the United States without our knowledge".

Biden has sought, amid a global energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, to patch up ties with the kingdom he once pledged to make a "pariah". However, the war in Yemen remains a lightning rod for critics of Saudi Arabia and progressive members of Biden's party, who have asked the White House to clarify the US role in the conflict. 

Fighting in Yemen has largely subsided since a truce was signed in April. Earlier this summer, the warring parties agreed to extend the halt in fighting until October. The UN is working to press the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government to deepen the ceasefire.

Yemen remains a humanitarian catastrophe. The country has been pushed to the brink of famine and more than two-thirds of the country's 30 million population are in need of aid.

Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 17:33
Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96
British monarch dies in Balmoral after short period of illness
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 18:33
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II waits to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York in July 2010 (Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96, Buckingham Palace said on Thursday.

She had been under medical supervision at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she died surrounded by members of her family. 

"The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

"The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow," it added, referring to the queen's successor, Charles, and his wife Camilla.

Elizabeth II was the longest-reigning monarch in British history, ruling since her father George VI died in February 1952. Charles, aged 73, formerly the Prince of Wales, will be known as King Charles III.

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"I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the realms, the Commonwealth and by countless people around the world," he said in a statement.

Charles is the oldest king to step into the position in the history of the United Kingdom.

The UK's newly installed prime minister, Liz Truss, said the queen was "the rock on which modern Britain was built" and was a personal inspiration to her. 

"Our country has grown and flourished under her reign. Britain is the great country it is today because of her."

Condolence messages were shared by leaders from around the world.

US President Joe Biden called the queen a "stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy".

"In a world of constant change, she was a steadying presence and a source of comfort and pride for generations of Britons," according to a White House Statement. "The thoughts and prayers of people all across the United States are with the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in their grief."

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Biden added that he was eager to continue Washington's "close friendship" with King Charles. 

Former US President Barack Obama hailed the queen's "legacy of tireless, dignified public service", while Former President Trump called it "a sad day".

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet that the queen was a friend of France, and a "kind-hearted queen who has left a lasting impression on her country and her century".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Queen Elizabeth II was a good friend of the United Nations, having visited its New York headquarters twice, fifty years apart: "She was deeply committed to many charitable and environmental causes and spoke movingly to delegates at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow."

"I would like to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II for her unwavering, lifelong dedication to serving her people. The world will long remember her devotion and leadership."

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: "[The] Queen was a constant presence in our lives and her service to Canadians will forever remain an important part of our history and our country's history."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz commended her commitment to German-British reconciliation after the Second World War, and said she was a role model even in Germany: "She will be missed, not least [for] her wonderful humour."

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi praised the queen as a "beloved" monarch who represented the UK and the Commonwealth with "balance and wisdom".

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: "Pakistan joins the UK and other Commonwealth nations in mourning her death."

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said the Ghanaian people had fond memories of her "friendliness, elegance, style and sheer joy she brought to the performance of her duties".

Queen Elizabeth II and the Middle East 

The queen was one of the most widely travelled heads of state in history, visiting the majority of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. 

That included a February 1979 visit to the Gulf, which consisted of trips to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Iran had also been on the agenda, though the turmoil surrounding the Islamic Revolution altered the plans.

The following year she embarked on state visits to North Africa, landing in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. During her reign she also visited Libya, Iran, Sudan, Turkey and Jordan. 

Hundreds of global leaders visited the queen during state visits to the UK, including several Arab rulers. 

Among them were four successive kings of Saudi Arabia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in December 2002, nine years before the civil war broke out in his country that would turn him into a pariah.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip pose with Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife Farah Pahlavi during their state visit, March 1961 in Tehran (AFP)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pose with Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife Farah Pahlavi during their state visit, March 1961 in Tehran (AFP)

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On one visit in 2003, Elizabeth drove Saudi King Abdullah around Balmoral. The king, according to a former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, asked the queen to "slow down and concentrate on the road". 

In recent years, her close relationship with governments in the region linked to human rights abuses had come under scrutiny. 

Earlier this year, members of Bahrain's Defence Force accompanied the queen from the Royal Windsor Horse Show, days after MPs urged her to "consider taking the morally correct stance" and revoke her personal invitation to the king of Bahrain. 

She had also maintained a long-standing relationship with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who a British judge ruled was abusing his ex-wife and keeping both his daughters captive after kidnapping them. The two had not been seen together since that court judgement.

A report last year revealed that members of the British royal family had met with autocratic Middle East monarchies more than 200 times since the suppression of the Arab Spring began more than a decade ago. 

During her reign, the queen had been given an array of jewels from foreign leaders, including several lavish gems from the Middle East. 

Among them were the King Faisal diamond necklace, gifted by the eponymous Saudi monarch in 1967, and the King Khalid necklace given to her during a 1979 visit. The latter was often worn by Princess Diana. 

During that 1979 Gulf visit, the queen was also presented with the Qatar pearl and diamond demi-parure - a matching earring and necklace set - by the state's then-emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani.

EXCLUSIVE: Greece spreading 'malicious gossip' about Turkey, ambassador tells MEE

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 17:13
EXCLUSIVE: Greece spreading 'malicious gossip' about Turkey, ambassador tells MEE
Turkey's top diplomat to Greece talks Nato, arms sales and East Mediterranean feud with Middle East Eye, as tensions between allies flare
Sean Mathews Thu, 09/08/2022 - 18:13
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during opening ceremony of a mosque and cultural centre named after him, in Sisak, about 60 kilometres from the capital of Zagreb in Croatia, on 8 September 2022 (AFP)

Turkey’s top diplomat in Greece accused Athens of engaging in “malicious gossip” as tensions between the two Nato allies flare in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In an interview with Middle East Eye, Turkey’s ambassador to Greece, Burak Ozugergin, said Greek officials had engaged in “defamation and slander” against Turkey. “Where we are now should not come as a surprise.”

Ties between the two neighbours have been fraught for decades. They are on opposing sides over a range of issues including maritime and airspace boundaries, energy deposits and the divided island of Cyprus.

Greece warns of Ukraine-style war with Turkey in East Mediterranean
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Earlier this week, Greece sent letters to Nato, the United Nations and the EU asking the organisations to condemn comments by Erdogan that it said were "openly threatening" and “inflammatory”.

Recently, Turkey has been riled by what it claims is a growing military build-up on Greek islands along its coast. Athens maintains that the troops are defensive and stationed to protect Greek territory from superior numbers of Turkish troops across the Aegean.

The Greek islands dotting the Eastern Mediterranean have long been at the centre of tensions between Athens and Ankara. Last month, Turkey accused Greece of locking onto one of its F-16 fighter jets over international waters with a Russian S-300 missile system based on the island of Crete. Greece has denied the allegation. 

“How does the Greeks radar-locking on Turkish aircraft with non-Nato air defence systems like the S-300 exactly help Nato unity?” Ozugergin told MEE.

“For those who aren’t in the know, radar locking on an aircraft is essentially the last step before firing on it,” Ozugergin said.

Greece and Turkey often engage in mock dogfights over Greece’s Aegean islands. Radar is used to “lock onto” a foe’s fighter jet and track it, without actually firing on the aircraft. 

The S-300 was initially ordered by Cyprus in the 1990s. Since Turkey’s 1974 invasion, Cyprus has been divided between a breakaway Turkish north recognised only by Ankara and the internationally recognised government of Cyprus in the south. Athens took possession of the system in order to defuse tensions with Turkey, which warned it would destroy the S-300 upon its arrival. 

'Nato unity'

Greece says that Erdogan’s rhetoric risks inflaming tensions in the strategic region at a time when Nato is occupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Greece has emerged as a key conduit of troops and supplies into Eastern Europe for the US, while Turkey has struck a more independent path.

While Ankara has provided armed drones to Ukraine, it has also refused to agree to western sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow and recently agreed to deepen economic cooperation with Russia.

Bayraktar TB2: UAE in talks to buy large number of armed drones from Turkey
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On Thursday, Erdogan backed President Putin’s claim that grain from a UN-brokered deal meant to address rising food prices was going to "rich countries, not poor ones”.

Greece and Turkey, which both straddle strategic positions along Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, have sought to emphasise their importance to the Nato alliance with western leaders.

During a trip to Washington in May, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned the US Congress against selling arms to Turkey. Ankara requested the US sell it new F-16 fighter jets and modernisation kits for its ageing fleet of aircraft.

“Is Nato unity served well by the Greeks openly trying to prevent the maintenance or strengthening of Turkish armed forces, Ozugergin said. “Or perhaps such unity will be achieved by Greeks relentlessly arming themselves, all the while boasting that it is against Turkey.” 

Greece has asked to join the US’s F-35 co-production fighter jet programme. Turkey was removed from the programme after it acquired the Russian S-400 missile system. 

Early this summer, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would bar the Biden administration from selling or transferring F-16s or modernisation kits to Turkey unless the administration ensures the armaments are not used for unauthorised military flights over Greece. The bill must be passed by the Senate before it becomes law. 

Athens, Greece

Syria: Civilians, including child, killed in Russian air strikes on Idlib

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 16:04
Syria: Civilians, including child, killed in Russian air strikes on Idlib
The attack targeted a sawmill and a house on the outskirts of Hafsarja town in the western countryside of Idlib
Ali Haj Suleiman Thu, 09/08/2022 - 17:04
Members of the Syria Civil Defence looking for victims under the rubble of a house in the western countryside of Idlib on 8 September 2022 (MEE)
Members of the Syria Civil Defence forces looking for victims under the rubble of a house in the western countryside of Idlib on 8 September 2022 (MEE)

At least seven civilians, including a child, were confirmed dead and 12 others wounded after Russian warplanes carried out several air strikes on Idlib in northwestern Syria on Thursday morning, according to local sources.

The attack targeted and bombed a stone sawmill, where several workers were present, and a residential house on the outskirt of Hafsarja town in the western countryside of Idlib.

Abu Amin, one of the civilian observers who track the movement of warplanes and alerts civilians, told Middle East Eye that four Russian warplanes took off from Hmeimim Military Airport in the Lattakia district. The warplanes were identified as two Sukhoi-24, one Sukhoi-34 and a Sukhoi-35. They targeted two areas in western Idlib with 16 air strikes with high-explosive missiles and missiles carrying cluster bombs.

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"At 10:58 in the morning, the first air raid took place near the town of Hafsarja, followed by seven other air raids on the same area,” Abu Amin said. 

He added that the raids caused “a massacre” that killed a total of seven civilians.

The same warplanes also bombed the town of Ghafir in the western countryside of Idlib with another eight air raids, which left no casualties, he said.

The targeted area is very close to a camp for internally displaced Syrians. The camp includes about 15 tents, and the families who lived in those tents were evacuated after the first air raid, according to Abu Khaled, a resident of the camp, who was displaced from the town of Quneitra.

"After we got our families out of the camp, we rushed to the site that was targeted with the first air raid, as the area was full of dust and warplanes were still flying in the air,” he told MEE. 

“When we arrived at the site, we found two bodies, a man and his child, and we quickly grabbed their corpses out of fear of repeated air raids, which the regime and Russia were known to do in the past."

'Deplorable state of fear'

After the second raid, Abu Khaled and several other people from the camp were no longer able to go to the targeted area because it was being monitored by reconnaissance planes.

"After the second raid, we went back to check on our families, whom we evacuated from the camp in a hurry to a nearby area. Our families were in a deplorable state of fear of being targeted," he said.

The Syrian Civil Defence, commonly known as the White Helmets, announced later in the day that the death toll was expected to increase due to the critical injuries among civilians who pulled out from under the rubble of the sawmill and the destroyed house.

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“We faced difficulties while trying to retrieve the dead and wounded for more than two hours due to the monitoring of our vehicles by the reconnaissance plane and the return of warplanes to target the area again,” said Ubadah al-Zikra, a sector commander in the Syrian Civil Defence.

Zikra told MEE that the repeated airstrikes on the same area were an attempt to inflict the largest number of casualties possible among workers in the sawmill and civil defence teams.

Two days ago, Syrian regime forces targeted towns and villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya area, south of Idlib, with missiles, seriously wounding a woman.

Russian warplanes routinely violate the de-escalation agreement in Idlib, the last armed opposition stronghold in the country. In late July, Russia launched an air raid that killed several civilians, most of them children, in the town of Al-Jadida in the western Idlib countryside.

Russia is a backer of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who launched a deadly crackdown on the 2011 uprising against his rule. 

The uprising turned into a bloody conflict that has so far led to the deaths of nearly half a million people and the displacement of half the population.

Idlib, Syria

Bayraktar TB2: UAE in talks to buy large number of armed drones from Turkey

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 15:19
Bayraktar TB2: UAE in talks to buy large number of armed drones from Turkey
Sources tell MEE that an order of 120 TB2s is being discussed in the latest example of growing ties between the regional competitors
Ragip Soylu Thu, 09/08/2022 - 16:19
A Bayraktar TB2 drone is seen at the 30th International Defence Industry Exhibition MSPO in Kielce, Poland on 6 September 6 (Reuters)
A Bayraktar TB2 drone is seen at the 30th international defence industry exhibition in Kielce, Poland, on 6 September (Reuters)

The United Arab Emirates is in negotiations to make a major purchase of armed drones from Turkish producer Baykar, two people familiar with the negotiations told Middle East Eye.

The talks between Baykar and state companies within the Emirati arms procurement agency Tawazun to supply the firm’s famed Bayraktar TB2 drones have continued since March, according to the sources.

Bayraktar TB2 drones have a proven track record against adversaries in conflicts in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. But they had not been used against an army with sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities and state-of-the-art air defence systems until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where they have been deployed by Ukrainian forces.

So far they have proved extremely effective in combating Russian troops deployed deep inside Ukrainian territory, as well as within Russia’s borders.

One of the sources said the negotiations were focusing on the supply of 120 TB2 Bayraktars. “They will come with a package of ammunition, command and control centres, and training. Together it could be a deal of up to $2bn,” the source said.

'Together it could be a deal of up to $2bn'

- Source familiar with negotations

The source added that some of the components of the TB2 might be produced in a Baykar plant in the UAE, if the deal goes forward.

One industry insider told MEE that each Bayraktar TB2 goes for $5m and each aircraft requires 100 MAM-L smart micro munitions, which together are worth $15m. There is also an additional cost for training as well as the command-and-control centres, which varies on the number of drones since each centre can control up to six.

MEE has asked the UAE authorities for comment.

Baykar has ties to the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. One of its top engineers, Selcuk Bayraktar, is married to Erdogan’s daughter, Sumeyye.

Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar said last month that his company has a three-year-long backlog of orders and that his company can produce about 20 Bayraktar TB2s in a month.

Turkey and the UAE began to restore relations over the past year, after 10 years of political and proxy conflicts in places such as Libya, Egypt and the Horn of Africa. Ties were soured further by accusations that the Emiratis were plotting to take down the Turkish government and involved in the 2016 coup attempt, a claim the UAE denies.

During the 2019-2020 Libya war, the UAE and Turkey supported opposite sides of the conflict, with Abu Dhabi supplying the forces of Khalifa Haftar with Chinese-made Wing Loon II drones and Ankara giving authorities in Tripoli Bayraktar TB2s.

The new ties are quickly proving lucrative. There are Emirati plans to invest billions of dollars into Turkish health care, financial technology and startups. Abu Dhabi also signed a $5bn currency swap deal with Turkey earlier this year. The two countries have also started negotiations on a free trade deal.

EXCLUSIVE: UAE in talks to buy large number of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones

Tunisia: Killing of young cigarette seller stirs social tensions

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 14:58
Tunisia: Killing of young cigarette seller stirs social tensions
Customs agent shoots dead 21-year-old Mohsen Zeyani over suspicion of smuggling cigarettes
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 15:58
A large crowd of people gathered outside the Charles Nicolle Hospital, where Mohsen Zeyani died late on Wednesday (social media)

Tunisia on Thursday opened an investigation into the death of a young Tunisian killed in broad daylight by a customs officer over suspicion of smuggling cigarettes, in an incident that has triggered widespread public anger.

Mohsen Zeyani, 23, died in hospital late Wednesday after customs officers shot at a car carrying contraband cigarettes during a raid on contraband smugglers in the Passage district of Tunis, multiple media reports said.

One widely shared video showed a customs agent firing at a car and another showed Zeyani lying on the ground as people attempted to save him, amidst loud screams in the background.

A large crowd of people gathered alongside Zeyani’s family outside the Charles Nicolle Hospital in Tunis, where he died. Local media reported protests in several districts of the capital.

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The customs service said in a statement that one of its patrols had "fired warning shots into the air and at the tyres" of the car after a "crowd of smugglers" threw projectiles at officers.

One member of the patrol was "badly wounded" in the head, the statement said.

The entire patrol was remanded in custody pending the completion of the investigation, it added.

Tunisians have been on the edge as they struggle through high inflation, rampant youth unemployment and shortages of basic goods including sugar, flour and cooking oil.

Since President Kais Saied staged a dramatic power grab in July last year, civil society groups have accused the security services of resorting to similar tactics to those used under autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in a 2011 revolution.

The revolt that toppled Ben Ali was sparked by the self-immolation of a young street trader after his goods were seized by police.

Anti-corruption watchdog I Watch condemned the security services, saying Zeyani's death was "a scene of barbarism and infamy that will haunt this police state".

AFP contributed to this report.

Palestine: Israeli court extends detention of Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh

Thu, 09/08/2022 - 14:08
Palestine: Israeli court extends detention of Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh
It is the third time Ghosheh's detention has been extended since her arrest over the weekend, facing an incitement charge
MEE staff Thu, 09/08/2022 - 15:08
Israeli forces arrested Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh (picture) from occupied East Jerusalem over the weekend (Screengrab)
Israeli forces arrested Palestinian journalist Lama Ghosheh (pictured) from occupied East Jerusalem over the weekend (Screengrab)

Israel has extended the detention of a Palestinian journalist from occupied East Jerusalem, Lama Ghosheh, on charges of "incitement" through social media.

On Thursday, an Israeli magistrate's court decided to keep Ghosheh in custody until next Tuesday upon a request of the Israeli Public Prosecution to complete an investigation.

It is the third time Ghosheh's detention was extended since her arrest over the weekend.

Ghosheh's husband, Yassin Sobeih, told local media that she is facing significant incitement charges through Facebook posts, which she denies.

Sobeih, a former political prisoner, said that Israeli authorities had scared his children during an arrest raid on the family home in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem and vandalised most of its contents. Ghosheh's laptop and smartphone were confiscated during the arrest.

Her lawyer said an arrest warrant was issued against her on the first of September, but the arrest occurred on Sunday.

Sheikh Jarrah was a flashpoint area in 2021 where hundreds of Palestinians protested against Israeli settlers' attempts to seize properties from Palestinians. The protest became a focus of resistance in the occupied West Bank and ignited a war with Gaza Strip.

Ghosheh is the mother of two children, Karmel, five, and Qais, three. She is a journalist and currently working as a researcher at the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, north of Ramallah, and doing a master's degree in Israeli studies.