Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 38-41

Issues In The News

Compiled By Delinda Hanley

ARABIAN PENINSULA

Gulf Countries Provide Political and Humanitarian Support to Palestinians:

As the number of Palestinian casualties continues to increase in the popular uprising sparked by Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Haram Al-Sharif, Arab Gulf countries are providing substantial help to Palestinian protesters in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel in the form of political support, medical help, and financial aid. While street protests against Israeli repression are being held everywhere in the Middle East from Morocco to Indonesia, Arab Gulf governments, charity organizations and individuals are contributing funds to the families of victims, sending planeloads and truckloads of medical supplies, and flying the wounded to Gulf hospitals for treatment.

Since early October, planes from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait have been delivering medical supplies and evacuating wounded Palestinians, who have received hospital treatment in Amman and many Gulf states. In Saudi Arabia King Fahd, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, launched the Al-Quds Intifada Fund, which is raising millions of Saudi riyals. At the Arab summit in Cairo, King Fahd led the way to establishing a $200 million fund to help the families of the victims and another $800 million fund to preserve the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem.

Blame Taxes, Not OPEC:

As protests over gas prices spread across Europe, Gulf motorists defended OPEC against Westerners who blame the organization for the dramatic rise in prices. They pointed out that the price of oil is universal, and that it is the amount of tax levied on it by governments which accounts for the price difference. Gulf nationals vacationing in Europe this past summer were shocked at the prices they had to pay for gas, but found that prices in their tax-free countries remained very low. The Saudi Gazette reported in mid-September that a liter of gas cost 28 cents in the United Arab Emirates, and as little as 21 cents in Kuwait.

OPEC Head Blames U.S.:

Shortly before the U.S. decided to release oil from its emergency reserves, OPEC president and Venezuelan energy minister Ali Rodriguez said that the upward trend of oil prices does not reflect market reality, and is not caused by any imbalance between supply and demand. Instead, he said, one should look to the United States, where over 130,000 wells were closed in 1998, and where there is inadequate refining capacity and insufficient products being introduced into the market. He gave assurances, however, that OPEC would continue to work to reduce prices.

Rift Valley Fever Epidemic Strikes Saudi Arabia, Yemen:

An outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, first reported on Sept. 11 in the Jizan province of Saudi Arabia bordering Yemen, already has claimed more than 83 lives and infected more than 413 people, 194 of whom have been successfully treated. The virus, which attacks livestock and can be transmitted by mosquitoes and contact with blood and other bodily fluids (but not through well-cooked meat), was first diagnosed by Saudi physicians days before test results were sent from the U.S. Symptoms can include hemorrhagic fever, diarrhea, burst arteries, renal failure, headache and vomiting. The disease, which was first documented in 1930 in Kenya’s Rift Valley, can kill livestock, especially sheep and goats, and causes them to abort. The disease has since appeared in Egypt, Madagascar, Mauritania and Somalia, but this is its first recorded occurrence outside Africa. The Saudi and Yemeni governments are cooperating in bringing the epidemic under control, launching intensive campaigns to eradicate the virus. Assistance has been forthcoming from international and foreign organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccines exist, but are available only from the U.S. Defense Department, which has already supplied 100 doses. These are administered only to veterinarians and public health workers in the field.

Remains of Saudi Pilot Recovered:

A joint Iraqi-Saudi operation recovered the remains of the Saudi pilot shot down by Iraqi forces during the 1991 Gulf war. The remains of Col. Mohammed Nazerah, found buried in an Iraqi minefield, were sent to Geneva for tests to confirm his identity. Hundreds of people were reported missing after the multinational force ended Iraq’s seven-month occupation of Kuwait. Accounting for the missing is one of several conditions Iraq must meet before U.N. sanctions imposed after its invasion of Kuwait can be lifted.

Antiquarians Meet in Riyadh:

Officials responsible for museums and departments of antiquities in the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council met for two days in Riyadh in September. TheSaudi Gazette reported that the undersecretaries discussed numerous topics, including positive and negative points in the joint work in museums and antiquities, and how to overcome common obstacles. The officials were particularly concerned with finding ways of improving cooperation among member countries and foreign archeological missions.

Two Firsts for Bahraini Women:

Bahraini women working in the commercial or industrial sectors have begun to be designated as “businesswomen” rather than “businessmen” on ID cards issued by the Interior Ministry. The Saudi Gazette reported that Fatma Jawad became the first Bahraini woman to be so described under the “occupation” category on her ID. Prime Minister Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa had said in May that women will be allowed to sit on the country’s consultative council. Also, in Sydney, two Bahraini women and one Yemeni woman became the first female athletes from the Arabian Peninsula ever to compete in the Olympics.

Kuwaiti Protesters and Government Support Palestinians:

The Kuwaiti people and their government have wholeheartedly joined the rest of the Arab world in supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against their Israeli oppressors. A solidarity march in Kuwait City on Friday, Oct. 6 drew an estimated 3,000 protesters, while the state welcomed wounded Palestinians into its hospitals for treatment, referring to them as “heroes” and promising continued help and support. Relations between Kuwait and the Palestinians had previously been at a low ebb since the Palestinians’ support for Saddam Hussain in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Kuwait to Double Airport’s Capacity:

Contractors announced recently that Kuwait has embarked on a $39 million project to enlarge its international airport, increasing its capacity to six million passengers yearly. The project will take two years to complete, and will include a car park, shops, airline offices, restaurants, and other services. The Kuwait United Construction Management is undertaking the project, and will manage the new facility for 18 years. In March of this year airport authorities ordered an $11.6 million radar system that is expected to serve the country for 20 years.

Omanis Elect Women to Council:

Oman’s 11,500 registered voters recently elected the new consultative council scheduled to commence its duties in January 2001. Two women were among those elected to the 83-member council from a candidate pool of 556, including 21 women. The outgoing council also had two women members. The council sits for two years, and has a purely consultative role, limited to advising the government on social and economic legislation.

Qataris Work and Play with Israelis:

With diplomatic ties in place since 1996, the Israeli and Qatari governments have been attempting to enhance relations between their two countries. In a fringe meeting at the United Nations Millennium Summit the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to expand existing ties. The two countries already have offices in each other’s capitals to foster commercial relations. Oman is the only other Gulf country to have ties with Israel. In another development, three Israeli athletes were to take part early October in the final IAAF Grand Prix games in Qatar, in the long jump, high jump and pole vault events. An Israeli team had already competed in the world juniors handball team in Doha in the summer of 1999. They enjoyed tight security, were boycotted by the media, isolated in their hotel and played all their matches to the constant booing of an unwelcoming public. Recent Israeli brutality toward Palestinian protesters has led Qatar to review its current ties with Israel.

UAE Islands Still Disputed:

The member countries of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council have called upon Iran to receive the tripartite committee formed in July 1999 of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar to resolve the issue of the three contested UAE islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Iran currently occupies the islands and claims them as Iranian territory. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal explained that the purpose of the committee is to find a mechanism to “start a dialogue” with Iran over the islands. Iran, however, has rejected GCC statements supporting the UAE’s claim to the islands, insisting on Iranian sovereignty over them. The official Iranian News Agency, IRNA, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying, “Iran considers the three islands...as integral parts of its territory, while it is ready to receive UAE officials in Tehran to discuss the misunder-standing between the two countries.” Sheikh Hamad ibn Muhammad Al-Sharqi, representing UAE President Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, responded by reiterating his country’s call for a peaceful resolution that would boost bilateral relations between the contending nations.

UAE Citizen Offers to Ship Stones to Palestinians:

Siddiq Fateh Ali bin Abdulla al’Khaja, a UAE citizen, has called for shipping 50 truckloads of rocks from local mountains and 500,000 slings made from palm branches to be sent to “the brave Palestinian youths in the West Bank and Gaza,” the Khaleej Times reported on Oct. 5. Al-Khaja undertook to pay for the shipment.

Journalist Attacked in Yemen:

Yahya Alsadami, correspondent for a Kuwaiti daily in Sanaa and for the newspaper of the Yemeni Ministry of Defense, was attacked by six men traveling in a government jeep on Aug. 28, the Arab News reported. The men beat the journalist with the butts of their guns in front of a gathering crowd in a main street, then drove off. Alsadami denied having personal enemies, but did not rule out the possibility that his criticism of certain rulings against some journalists and newspapers may have motivated the attack.

FERTILE CRESCENT

Jordanian Companies Prefer Iraq to Israel:

The Jordanian Chamber of Industry announced in early September that a number of the 50 companies doing business with Israel since the 1994 peace agreement want to cease doing so in order to trade with Iraq instead. Iraqi authorities forbid companies trading with Israel to do business in Iraq. The companies asked the chamber to make the request to the Iraqi government, stating that Iraq is a more important strategic market for them, and that they were ready to break any remaining links with Israel. Jordanian exports to Iraq include vegetable oil, soap, leather and detergent.

U.S. Punishes Lebanon After Israeli Withdrawal:

Outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Salim El-Hoss recently announced that the U.S. is responsible for an indefinite delay in holding a conference of donors to benefit the southern region of the country formerly occupied by Israel. The conference of rich nations had been scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10, and had been expected to raise $1.3 billion needed by Lebanon to rebuild the south, as well as other grants, soft loans, and emergency aid. The prime minister, just returned from New York, announced the delay on Sept. 18. “The postponement in the conference is American punishment against Lebanon because of its national positions concerning the liberation of the south from Israeli occupiers,” he told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. Other explanations put forward for the delay are that the donor countries prefer not to deal with a government due to be replaced in mid-October, and that some countries wanted to see more Lebanese soldiers deployed on the border with Israel, and less of a Hezbollah presence there.

“The Shebaa Farms Are Lebanese”:

Around 200 Lebanese riding in cars and other vehicles recently let themselves into the Bastara Farm in the region of Shebaa still occupied by Israel. Holding aloft banners proclaiming “The Shebaa Farms are Lebanese,” the protesters halted a few yards away from a force of some 50 Israeli soldiers supported by two Merkava tanks and other military vehicles, The demonstrators stayed a few minutes before leaving the occupied territory, returning peacefully the way they had come.

Palestinians in Lebanon Mark Anniversary of Sabra, Shatila Massacre:

Palestinians in Lebanon remembered the more that 2,000 men, women and children who were butchered by Lebanese Christian militiamen under the supervision of the Israeli army on Sept. 16, 1982. They held vigils, rallies, and protest marches calling for the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and set up a photography exhibition as well. The tragedy was the worst to befall any group in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. The anniversary was also marked by demonstrations in the West Bank refugee camp of Balata demanding the right of return “to prevent the repetition of Sabra and Shatila massacres,” according to a spokesman. Similar protests for the same cause took place in Britain and the U.S., as well as in other Arab states.

Syria Expands Diplomatic Ties in Eastern Europe:

Early in September President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria ordered the establishment of diplomatic ties with six of the former Soviet republics: Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova. Earlier the Ba’ath party had appointed some 20 ambassadors to lead Syrian missions abroad.

IRAN/IRAQ

Iran and Algeria Resume Ties:

In a meeting at the U.N. Millennium Summit between Iranian President Mohamad Khatami and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the two countries announced that they would be resuming diplomatic ties after a seven-year hiatus. The break came in 1993 when Algiers accused Tehran of supporting militants and the Islamic Salvation Front in their struggle against the government. President Khatami said in an interview on Algerian television that the situation in the country was an internal Algerian matter, and expressed his regret at the suffering and loss of life caused by the years of civil strife since violence erupted in 1992.

Iran Seeks Inter-Islamic Tourism:

Admitting that the Islamic revolution of 1979 seriously damaged the tourism industry, deputy culture minister in charge of tourism Muhammad Moezzidin announced a compromise between requirements to develop the industry and the concerns of religious leaders who fear that tourism means depravity. The ministry will specifically seek to attract Muslim tourists, and to that effect Iran hosted in early October a meeting of tourism ministers of the member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Isfahan, itself a major Iranian tourist attraction. On the agenda were possible measures to facilitate the obtaining of visas for OIC nationals to visit each other’s countries.

Spanish Group Lands in Iraq:

A chartered Bulgarian plane with a group of 35 Spanish doctors, politicians and businessmen landed in Baghdad on Oct. 25. The flight was the 30th international flight that has landed in recently reopened Saddam International Airport. “The motive of this visit is to express solidarity with the Iraqi people, who need real help from doctors and other medical staff,” the group’s leader, businessman Agustin Ramirez, said. The U.S. says all flights to Baghdad must have clearance from the U.N. sanctions committee on Iraq but some countries, led by France and Russia, dispute this interpretation of U.N. resolutions passed at the end of the Gulf war in 1991.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Paralyzed Palestinians Have Little Support:

In addition to the more than 150 Palestinians killed since late September in the Al-Aqsa intifada, it is believed that 10 percent of the wounded, presently estimated to exceed 5,000, will be paralyzed. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, said that most of the injured are in intensive care units in Jordan or Egypt. There are many paraplegics and handicapped people among them, he noted, because often the spinal cord is hit, or there are serious fractures of the limbs. Many others suffer serious injuries to their eyes. There are only four facilities equipped to deal with the handicapped in Palestinian territories: three in the West Bank and one in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority gives those handicapped a one-time payment of $300, and lacks the means to deal adequately with the situation. The large number of amputees and paraplegics in the population face woefully inadequate resources to support them once they leave the hospital.

Israelis Use Shoot-to-Kill Tactics:

Doctors at Gaza’s Shifa hospital have detected a disturbing pattern in the injuries Israeli soldiers have inflicted on Palestinian demonstrators during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, according to the Oct. 5 London Guardian. IDF soldiers are targeting the head and upper body of their victims. The majority have been shot in the upper body, with rubber-coated bullets as well as live rounds, and 20 percent of patients have been hit in the head.

Spain and Japan Give Medical Aid to Palestinians:

The Foreign Ministry of Spain announced in early October that it is giving $100,000 to Palestinian hospitals to help pay for medicines and other supplies desperately needed by hospitals and clinics treating those injured in the clashes with Israeli forces attempting to crush the popular uprising. Japan also said through its embassy in Cairo that it would supply $500,000 worth of medical aid to the Palestinian Authority. Aid also has been forthcoming from every corner of the Arab world, but Israeli closures of Gaza airport and overland routes, including roads linking Palestinian towns and villages, have made it extremely difficult for aid to reach the designated hospitals, and for the sick and injured to pass through Israeli checkpoints and avail themselves of medical help.

PA Requests U.N. Troops:

Palestinians requested members of the U.N. Security Council to dispatch U.N. troops to Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem in order to protect Palestinians, according to an Oct. 27 Jerusalem Post article. Israeli Foreign Ministry official Mordechai Yedid, declaring that this was just another attempt to bring non-U.S. elements into the peace process, said it would surely fail with a U.S. veto. The article predicted that if the Security Council thwarts the Palestinian attempt to dispatch an international force, their next move may be to reconvene the Conference of High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Settlers Accused of Grisly Murder:

As acts of vandalism, harassment and assault by Israeli citizens against Palestinians intensify, witnesses reported that Palestinian Issam Joudeh Hamad, 38, suffered a particularly gruesome fate on Oct. 9 at the hands of Jewish settlers. Hamad was kidnapped by settlers near the town of Ramallah, shot in the head, then set on fire and his eyes pulled out of their sockets, according to reports by witnesses, police and hospital sources.

Settlers’ Return Stokes Unrest:

Reports about attempts by settlers evacuated last year to return to their illegal settlements have been causing concern among Palestinian officials, who see such moves as highly inflammatory. The Israeli Defense Ministry and army officials made ambiguous and contradictory statements about the matter, but some settlers are in no doubt that they will be allowed to re-establish themselves in areas they were asked to evacuate, sometimes forcibly, as part of the peace agreements. Settlers had rushed to create over 40 illegal settlements in the West Bank in an attempt to prevent the return of land to the Palestinians. The Israeli government had allowed 30 of those settlements to remain.

Christian Arab Families Remain:

Jerusalem Post headlines on Oct. 26 declared that, with the help of foreign embassies, the “Foreign Ministry Helps Hundreds of Christian Families Flee PA Areas.” Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Fr. Raed Abusahlia, after checking with embassies and members of the Christian communities, discovered the report to be untrue, adding, “We wonder also how the Israeli Foreign Ministry is helping our families to flee the PA areas while they claim strict closure on the territories where our people are under military siege, refusing to grant, even the workers, the necessary permits to enter Israel and Jerusalem looking for their daily bread.

“We would like to highlight, once more, that the Arab Christian Community in the Palestinian Territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people,” Father Abusahlia added. “It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations. Therefore, the recent Israeli rumors about getting the town of Beit Jala involved in the recent clashes is not a coincidence, but aim to ”˜divide and rule’ among the one Palestinian people.”

Education Denied:

The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group estimated last September that around 15,000 Palestinian children are denied access to school in occupied East Jerusalem each year because of Israeli discrimination. The group described school facilities in East Jerusalem as “blatantly inadequate.”

NORTH AFRICA

Tunisia Severs Ties With Israel:

Tunisia was the first Arab country to sever diplomatic ties with Israel after the Arab summit in Cairo condemned Israel’s murderous brutality in attempting to quell the Al-Aqsa intifada. The Tunisian Foreign Ministry released a statement to that effect on Oct. 21, announcing that it is closing the Israeli liaison office in Tunis and the Tunisian liaison office in Tel Aviv. Morocco followed suit two days later. Oman had severed its ties with Israel earlier in October, and by the end of October Qatar was reconsidering its ties with Israel. A week earlier an estimated 3,000 Tunisians had marched in peaceful protest against Ariel Sharon and in solidarity with the Palestinians. The Tunisian government already had sent a relief plane bearing 12 tons of medical supplies, food and blankets to the Palestinians.

Call to Lift Sanctions Against Libya:

The Arab League recently asked the United Nations Security Council to lift the sanctions imposed on Libya in 1992. The purpose of the sanctions had been to compel Libya to cooperate in the trial of the suspects in the Lockerbie disaster. TheSaudi Gazette quoted from the Sept. 15 letter addressed by Arab foreign ministers to the president of the Security Council: “The Committee of Seven (Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco) calls upon the Security Council to lift the sanctions imposed on the Libyan Arab Jamahirya immediately and definitively.”

Sudan Gains Backing for Security Council Seat:

Egypt recently declared its support for Sudan’s attempt to gain the African seat in the United Nations Security Council for the year 2001. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said there is an Arab and African consensus to support Sudan’s bid. Sudan is opposed by the United States, whose peace plan to end the civil strife in Sudan between government forces and rebels in the south was recently rejected by Khartoum. Sudan is under U.N. sanctions as a result of its bombing of airfields used by international planes bearing aid to the south. A medicine factory in Khartoum was bombed by the U.S. in 1998 on suspicion that it produced weapons and explosives for the Osama bin Laden group, whom the U.S. accuses of bombing its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

CENTRAL ASIA

Armenian Genocide Vote Canceled:

Bowing at the last minute to concerted pressure from President Clinton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry H. Shelton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Speaker Dennis J. Hastert canceled a House vote on a sure-to-pass nonbinding resolution labeling the systematic massacres of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923 as “genocide.” The resolution had 141 co-sponsors and bipartisan support. The Clinton administration itself had given in to pressure from Turkish officials who had angrily chided the United States, calling on its NATO ally to prevent the adoption of the bill. Warning the U.S. that the bill’s passage would seriously damage bilateral relations, Ankara implied that it no longer would allow the U.S. to launch monitoring and bombing flights against Iraq from Incirlik Air Base. Turkey continues to deny that a systematic genocide took place, claiming that there were many lives lost on both sides as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. The world’s leading historians, and the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, however, seem to differ, as perhaps does President Clinton himself, who claimed in his letter to the Speaker that every year he marks April 24 as “Armenian Remembrance Day, mourning the deportations and massacres of innocent Armenians during that era.”

THE SUBCONTINENT

India on Military Spending Spree:

India in February increased its defense spending by a dramatic 28 percent, and in recent weeks has been spending a good chunk of that money in France, Israel and Russia, its former arms supplier. France will be supplying 10 new Mirage 2000H fighters, at a cost of $340 million, to supplement the 40 old Mirages it sold India in the 1980s, and Russia will provide an aircraft carrier and licenses to produce Sukhoi fighter planes and new battle tanks. Israel, with whom India established diplomatic ties only in 1992, defied international opinion in October and sold India seven Barak missile systems for its navy, and could be selling more of the same to the Indian air force at a later date. Meanwhile, high-ranking Indian and Israeli officials have been shuttling between New Delhi and Tel Aviv in recent months as India seeks to purchase an Advanced Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane and Israel pushes to sell its Phalcon version, which recently gained notoriety in the deal with China blocked by the U.S. Technically, the sale of an AWACS plane to India would come up against U.S-led sanctions on such supplies imposed against India following the series of nuclear tests it conducted in 1998, but so far there has been no pressure on Israel from the U.S.

Pakistan’s Shaheen-II Missile Ready for Tests:

Pakistan has claimed that its indigenous Shaheen-II multi-stage missile, with a range of 2,500 kilometers, is ready to be tested. Pakistan had carried out nuclear bomb tests in 1998. Recently, however, a presidential ordinance prohibited the development, production, stockpiling, use and transfer of chemical weapons.

500 Bangladeshis Killed in Israeli Invasion of 1980s:

“About 5,000 Bangladeshis voluntarily joined their Palestinian brothers to fight against Israel in the Lebanon war in 1981-82,” said Ziaul Kabir Dulu, chairman of the Palestine Repatriated Muktijoddah Sangshad organization, in a Sept. 5 statement. He added that between 400 and 500 Bangladeshis fell and another 500 were taken prisoner by Israel. Bangladeshi officials were not available for comment.

Kashmiri Group Doubles Fighters:

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group of Kashmiri mujahedeen fighting Indian rule of Kashmir, recently announced that its members had braved Indian mines along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, thereby doubling the number of fighters it has in what it calls “occupied Kashmir.” The spokesman did not disclose the actual number of fighters who had crossed the dividing line.

72,000 Afghans in Islamabad:

The number of Afghan refugees settled in Islamabad has exceeded 72,000, according to a survey recently conducted by the Islamabad Capital Territory administration in compliance with a request from the States and Frontiers Region Division. Other departments have yet to report on the number of Afghan nationals living in their territories. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the total at 1.2 million refugees, while the Pakistani government believes their number has exceeded 2 million.

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