Archive for category Arabian Peninsula
By Dana Moukhallati
June 9, 2020
The first Arab space mission to Mars, armed with probes to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, is designed to inspire the region’s youth and pave the way for scientific breakthroughs, officials said Tuesday.
The unmanned probe Al-Amal — Hope in Arabic — is to blast off from a Japanese space centre on July 15, with preparations now in their final stages.
The project is the next giant step for the United Arab Emirates, whose colossal skyscrapers and mega-projects have put it on the world map.
The UAE sent its first astronaut into space last year and is also planning to build a “Science City” to replicate conditions on Mars, where it hopes to build a human settlement by 2117.
Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager, said that apart from the ambitious scientific goals, the mission was designed to hark back to the region’s golden age of cultural and scientific achievements.
“The UAE wanted to send a strong message to the Arab youth and to remind them of the past, that we used to be generators of knowledge,” he told AFP.
“People of different backgrounds and religion coexisted and shared a similar identity,” he said of the Arab world, where many countries are today wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.
“Put your differences aside, focus on building the region, you have a rich history and you can do much more.”
– Narrow window –
Sarah al-Amiri, the mission’s deputy project manager, said it was imperative that the project have a long-term scientific impact.
“It is not a short-lived mission, but rather one that continues throughout the years and produces valuable scientific findings — be it by researchers in the UAE or globally,” she told AFP.
She said that the probe will provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics in Mars’ atmosphere with the use of three scientific instruments.
The first is an infrared spectrometer to measure the planet’s lower atmosphere and analyse the temperature structure.
The second, a high-resolution imager that will provide information about the ozone; and a third, an ultraviolet spectrometer to measure oxygen and hydrogen levels from a distance of up to 43,000 kilometers from the surface.
The three tools will allow researchers to observe the Red Planet “at all times of the day and observe all of Mars during those different times”, Amiri said.
“Something we want to better understand, and that’s important for planetary dynamics overall, is the reasons for the loss of the atmosphere and if the weather system on Mars actually has an impact on loss of hydrogen and oxygen,” she said, referring to the two components that make up water.
Sharaf said that fueling of the probe is to begin next week.
It is scheduled to launch on July 15 from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center and return to Earth in February 2021, depending on many variables including the weather.
“If we miss the launch opportunity, which is between mid-July and early August, then we’d have to wait for two years for another window,” Sharaf said.
But hopes are high that the mission will take place as scheduled, and not be derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a new sign of warming ties between Israel and Gulf Arab nations, the Jewish state Tuesday wished the UAE success with the mission.
We “hope this step will contribute towards deeper cooperation between all countries in the region,” its foreign ministry’s “Israel in the Gulf” Twitter account wrote in Arabic.
Source: Mars Daily.
July 30, 2019
LONDON (AP) — A dispute between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over the welfare of their two young children will play out over the next two days in a London courtroom amid reports the princess has fled the Gulf emirate.
The case beginning Tuesday in Britain’s High Court pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. The princess is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion.
The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in Dubai’s ruling family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned.
July 04, 2019
LONDON (AP) — A legal battle between the powerful, poetry-writing ruler of Dubai and his wealthy estranged wife is leading toward a showdown in a London courtroom later this month. The family division court case scheduled on July 30 pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and an accomplished Olympic equestrian on friendly terms with horse aficionado Queen Elizabeth II.
The hearing is expected to focus on who will have custody of their two young children now that the princess has left Dubai. She is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens, a private street lined with some of the world’s most expensive homes and cars.
When The Associated Press asked via intercom for an interview with Princess Haya or one of her representatives, a man emerged to say there would be no comments made on her behalf. He didn’t indicate whether she was in the residence.
The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in his extended family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned on and off for several years and had been abused. Her friends say she was forcibly returned after commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India when she tried to flee the Emirates.
The sheikh, who is the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates in addition to being the ruler of Dubai, is among the most influential figures in the Middle East. He also composes poetry, a long tradition among Gulf Arabs, and it was his own words that sparked the initial rumors that Haya had fled Dubai.
The talk started after a verified Emirati Instagram account followed by the Dubai ruler’s son posted a poem last week attributed to Sheikh Mohammed. The poem, titled “You Lived and You Died,” is about disloyalty, leading to speculation it is about Princess Haya.
“You betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed,” the poem says. “Your time of lying is over and it doesn’t matter what we were nor what you are.” The harsh words caused reverberations and speculation throughout royal circles in the Middle East and beyond.
The princess, 45, and Sheikh Mohammed, 69, were married in 2004 and have a daughter, 11, and son, 7, together. Both were educated at elite English universities and they share a love for horses. Media reports indicate she took the children with her when she left Dubai. Under Islamic law, a woman can at least nominally retain custody of her children in a divorce. Nonetheless, decisions about schooling, travel and lifestyles of the children often remain with the father in the Middle East. Given the Dubai ruler’s power, it is unlikely Princess Haya would have had a say in her children’s ability to leave the UAE had she not reportedly fled with them.
Haya’s half-brother is Jordan’s current monarch, King Abdullah, who was pictured at her side when she wed Dubai’s ruler, reportedly becoming his sixth wife. She is a former Olympic athlete who competed in equestrian show jumping in the 2000 Sydney Games, a taboo-breaking feat for women from traditional Muslim countries. Her love of sports and horse riding began early — she was just 13 when she became the first female to represent Jordan internationally in equestrian show jumping.
Haya has long stood out from other wives of Gulf Arab rulers not only because of her Jordanian royal background and Olympic ambitions, but because she was seen and photographed in public. Most rulers’ wives in the Gulf are never photographed and their faces and names aren’t known to the public. But Princess Haya wasn’t only visible at humanitarian events, often seated front row in Dubai by her husband’s side, but was a stylish fixture in glossy magazines and at prestigious equestrian events in the U.K,, like the Royal Ascot and Epsom Derby.
In a 2009 Daily Mail interview, the princess said she deliberately postponed marriage until she could meet a man “who doesn’t feel he has to mold me.” She was quoted as saying, “You have to accept that you’re in control of yourself but not your destiny.”
The government of Dubai hasn’t commented on the media reports about Princess Haya fleeing with her children to Europe.
February 14, 2020
LAC ASSAL, Djibouti (AP) — “Patience,” Mohammed Eissa told himself. He whispered it every time he felt like giving up. The sun was brutal, reflecting off the thick layer of salt encrusting the barren earth around Lac Assal, a lake 10 times saltier than the ocean.
Nothing grows here. Birds are said to fall dead out of the sky from the searing heat. And yet the 35-year-old Ethiopian walked on, as he had for three days, since he left his homeland for Saudi Arabia.
Nearby are two dozen graves, piles of rocks, with no headstones. People here say they belong to migrants who like Eissa embarked on an epic journey of hundreds of miles, from villages and towns in Ethiopia through the Horn of Africa countries Djibouti or Somalia, then across the sea and through the war-torn country of Yemen.
The flow of migrants taking this route has grown. According to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, 150,000 arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2018, a 50% jump from the year before. The number in 2019 was similar.
This story is part of an occasional series, “ Outsourcing Migrants,” produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
They dream of reaching Saudi Arabia, and earning enough to escape poverty by working as laborers, housekeepers, servants, construction workers and drivers.
But even if they reach their destination, there is no guarantee they can stay; the kingdom often expels them. Over the past three years, the IOM reported 9,000 Ethiopians were deported each month.
Many migrants have made the journey multiple times in what has become an unending loop of arrivals and deportations.
Eissa is among them. This is his third trip to Saudi Arabia.
In his pockets, he carries a text neatly handwritten in Oromo, his native language. It tells stories of the Prophet Muhammad, who fled his home in Mecca to Medina to seek refuge from his enemies.
“I depend on God,” Eissa said.
“I HAVE TO GO TO SAUDI”
Associated Press reporters traveled along part of the migrants’ trail through Djibouti and Yemen in July and August. Eissa was among the travelers they met; another was Mohammad Ibrahim, who comes from Arsi, the same region as Eissa.
Perched in the country’s central highlands, it’s an area where subsistence farmers live off small plots of land, growing vegetables or grain. When the rains come, the families can eat. But in the dry months of the summer, food dwindles and hunger follows.
The 22-year-old Ibrahim had never been able to find a job. His father died when his mother was pregnant with him — she told him stories of how his father went off to war and never returned.
One day, Ibrahim saw a friend in his village with a new motorcycle. He was making a little money carrying passengers. Ibrahim went to his mother and asked her to buy him one. He could use it, he told her, to support her and his sister. Impossible, she said. She would have to sell her tiny piece of land where they grow corn and barley.
“This is when I thought, ‘I have to go to Saudi,’” Ibrahim said.
So he reached out to the local “door opener” — a broker who would link him to a chain of smugglers along the way.
Often migrants are told they can pay when they arrive in Saudi Arabia. Those who spoke to the AP said they were initially quoted prices ranging from $300 to $800 for the whole journey.
How the trip goes depends vitally on the smuggler.
In the best-case scenario, the smuggler is a sort of tour organizer. They arrange boats for the sea crossing, either from Djibouti or Somalia. They run houses along the way where migrants stay and provide transport from town to town in pickup trucks. Once in Saudi Arabia, the migrants call home to have payment wired to the smuggler.
In the worst case, the smuggler is a brutal exploiter, imprisoning and torturing migrants for more money, dumping them alone on the route or selling them into virtual slave labor on farms.
Intensified border controls and crackdowns by the Ethiopian government, backed by European Union funding, have eliminated some reliable brokers, forcing migrants to rely on inexperienced smugglers, increasing the danger.
THE LONG WALK
Eissa decided he would not use smugglers for his journey.
He’d successfully made the trip twice before. The first time, in 2011, he worked as a steel worker in the kingdom, making $ 25 a day and earning enough to buy a plot of land in the Arsi region’s main town, Asella. He made the trip again two years later, walking for two months to reach Saudi Arabia, where he earned $ 530 a month as a janitor. But he was arrested and deported before he could collect his pay.
Without a smuggler, his third attempt would be cheaper. But it would not be safe, or easy.
Eissa picked up rides from his home to the border with Djibouti, then walked. His second day there, he was robbed at knifepoint by several men who took his money. The next day, he walked six hours in the wrong direction, back toward Ethiopia, before he found the right path again.
When the AP met him at Lac Assal, Eissa said he had been living off bread and water for days, taking shelter in a rusty, abandoned shipping container. He had a small bottle filled with water from a well at the border, covered with fabric to keep out dust.
He had left behind a wife, nine sons and a daughter. His wife cares for his elderly father. The children work the farm growing vegetables, but harvests are unpredictable: “If there’s no rain, there’s nothing.”
With the money he expected to earn in Saudi Arabia, he planned to move his family to Asella. “I will build a house and take my children to town to learn the religious and worldly sciences,” he said.
The 100-mile (120-kilometer) trip across Djibouti can take days.
Many migrants end up in the country’s capital, also named Djibouti, living in slums and working to earn money for the crossing. Young women often are trapped in prostitution or enslaved as servants.
The track through Djibouti ends on a long, virtually uninhabited coast outside the town of Obock, the shore closest to Yemen.
There, the AP saw a long line of dozens of migrants led by smuggling guides, descending from the mountains onto the rocky coastal plain. Here they would stay, sometimes for several days, and wait for their turn on the boats that every night cross the narrow Bab el-Mandab strait to Yemen.
During the wait, smugglers brought out large communal pots of spaghetti and barrels of water for their clients. Young men and women washed themselves in nearby wells. Others sat in the shade of the scrawny, twisted acacia trees. Two girls braided each other’s hair.
One young man, Korram Gabra, worked up the nerve to call home to ask his father for the equivalent of $200 for the crossing and the Yemen leg of the trip. It would be his first time talking with his father since he sneaked away from home in the night.
“My father will be upset when he hears my voice, but he’ll keep it in his heart and won’t show it,” he said. “If I get good money, I want to start a business.”
At night, AP witnessed a daily smuggling routine: small lights flashing in the darkness signaled that their boat was ready. More than 100 men and women, boys and girls were ordered to sit in silence on the beach. The smugglers spoke in hushed conversations on satellite phones to their counterparts in Yemen on the other side of the sea. There was a moment of worry when a black rubber dinghy appeared out in the water_a patrol of Djibouti’s marines. After half an hour it motored away. The marines had received their daily bribe of around $100 dollars, the smugglers explained.
Loaded into the 50-foot-long open boat, migrants were warned not to move or talk during the crossing . Most had never seen the sea before . Now they would be on it for eight hours in darkness.
Eissa made the crossing on another day, paying about $65 to a boat captain — the only payment to a smuggler he would make.
“IT WAS A TERRIBLE THING”
Ibrahim took an alternative route, through Somalia. He traveled nearly 900 kilometers (500 miles), walking and catching rides to cross the border and reach the town of Las Anoud.
Isolated in Somalia’s deserts, the town is the hub for traffickers transporting Ethiopians to Yemen. It is also a center for brutal torture, according to multiple migrants. The smugglers took Ibrahim and other migrants to a compound, stripped him and tied him dangling from a wooden rafter. They splashed cold water on him and flogged him.
For 12 days, he was imprisoned, starved and tortured. He saw six other migrants die of severe dehydration and hunger, their bodies buried in shallow graves nearby. “It’s in the middle of the vast desert,” he said. “If you think of running away, you don’t even know where to go.”
At one point, smugglers put a phone to his ear and made him plead with his mother for ransom money.
“Nothing is more important than you,” she told him. She sold the family’s sole piece of land and wired to smugglers just over $1,000.
The smugglers transported him to the port of Bosaso on Somalia’s Gulf of Aden coast. He was piled into a wooden boat with some 300 other men and women, “like canned sardines,” he said.
Throughout the 30-hour journey, the Somali captain and his crew beat anyone who moved. Crammed in place, the migrants had to urinate and vomit where they sat.
“I felt trapped, couldn’t breathe, or move for many hours until my body became stiff,” he said. “God forbid, it was a terrible thing.”
Within sight of Yemen’s shore, the smugglers pushed the migrants off the boat into water too deep to touch the bottom.
Flailing in the water, they formed human chains to help the women and children onto shore.
Ibrahim collapsed on the sand and passed out. When he opened his eyes, he felt the hunger stabbing him.
“FAR FROM MY DREAMS”
Migrants with reliable, organized smugglers are usually transported across Yemen in stages to the migrant hub cities further down the line, Ataq , Marib, Jawf, and Saada where half the distance is under internationally-recognized government control and the second under Houthi rebels, fighting US-backed coalition since 2015.
But for thousands of others, it’s a confusing and dangerous march down unfamiliar roads and highways.
A security official in Lahj province outside the main southern city, Aden, said bodies of dead migrants turn up from time to time. Just a few days earlier, he told the AP, a farmer called his office about a smell coming from one of his fields. A patrol found a young migrant there who had been dead for days.
Another patrol found 100 migrants, including women, hidden on a farm, the official said. The patrol brought them food, he said, but then had to leave them.
“Where would we take them and what would we do with them?” he asked, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the press.
Many migrants languish for months in the slums of Basateen, a district of Aden that was once a green area of gardens but now is covered in decrepit shacks of cinder blocks, concrete, tin and tarps, amid open sewers.
Over the summer, an Aden soccer stadium became a temporary refuge for thousands of migrants. At first, security forces used it to house migrants they captured in raids. Other migrants showed up voluntarily, hoping for shelter. The IOM distributed food at the stadium and arranged voluntary repatriation back home for some. The soccer pitch and stands, already destroyed from the war, became a field of tents, with clothes lines strung up around them.
Among the migrants there was Nogos, a 15-year-old who was one of at least 7,000 minors who made the journey without an adult in 2019, a huge jump from 2,000 unaccompanied minors a year earlier, according to IOM figures
Upon landing in Yemen, Nogos had been imprisoned by smugglers. For more than three weeks, they beat him, demanding his family send $500. When he called home, his father curtly refused: “I’m not the one torturing you.”
Nogos can’t blame his father. “If he had money and didn’t help me, I’d be upset,” he said. “But I know he doesn’t.”
Finally, the smugglers gave up on getting money out of the boy and let him go. Alone and afraid at the stadium, he had no idea what he’d do next. He had hoped to reach an aunt who is living in Saudi Arabia, but lost contact with her. He wanted one day to go back to school.
“It’s far from my dreams,” he added, in a dead voice.
After a few weeks, Yemeni security forces cleared out the stadium, throwing thousands back onto the streets. The IOM had stopped distributing food, fearing it would become a lure for migrants. Yemeni officials didn’t want to take responsibility for the migrants’ care.
Eissa, meanwhile, made his way across the country alone. At times, Yemenis gave him a ride for a stretch. Mostly he walked endless miles down the highways.
“I don’t count the days. I don’t distinguish, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday,” he said in audio message to the AP via Whatsapp.
One day, he reached the town of Bayhan, southern Yemen, and went to the local mosque to use the bathroom. When he saw the preacher giving his sermon, he realized it was Friday.
It was the first time in ages he was aware of the day of the week.
He had traveled more than 250 miles (420 kilometers) since he landed in Yemen. He had another 250 miles to go to the Saudi border.
“PRAY FOR ME”
In the evenings, thousands of migrants mill around the streets of Marib, one of the main city stopovers on the migrants’ route through Yemen. In the mornings, they search for day jobs. They could earn about a dollar a day working on nearby farms. A more prized job is with the city garbage collectors, paying $4 a day.
Ibrahim had just arrived a few days earlier when the AP met him, his black hair still covered in dust from the road.
Ibrahim had wandered in Yemen for days, starving, before villagers gave him food.
He made his way slowly north. Not knowing the language or the geography, he didn’t even know what town he was in when a group of armed fighters snatched him from the road.
They imprisoned him for days in a cell with other migrants. One night, they moved the migrants in a pickup, driving them through the desert. Ibrahim was confused and afraid: Where was he going? Who had abducted him? Why?
He threw himself out of the back of the pick-up, landing in the sand. Scratched and battered, he ran away into the darkness.
Now in Marib, he was stranded, unsure how to keep going. His arm was painfully swollen from an insect bite. He wouldn’t be able to work until it was better. The only food he could find was rice and fetid meat scraps left over from restaurants.
Using the AP’s phone, he called his mother for the first time since the horrific calls under torture at Las Anoud.
“Pray for me, mama,” he said, choking back tears.
“I know you are tired and in pain. Take care of yourself,” she told him.
Was it worth all this to reach Saudi Arabia, he was asked.
He broke down.
“What if I return empty-handed after my mother sold the one piece of land we have?” he said. “I can’t enter the village or show my face to my mother without money.”
North of Marib, migrants cross into Houthi territory at Hazm, a run-down town divided down the middle between the rebels and anti-Houthi fighters. It’s a 3-mile (5-kilometer) no-man’s land where sniper fire and shelling are rampant.
Once across, it is another 120 miles (200 kilometers) north to the Saudi border.
Eissa walked that final stretch, a risk because the militiamen have a deal with migrant smugglers: Those who go by car are allowed through; those on foot are arrested.
“Walking in the mountains and the valleys and hiding from the police,” Eissa said in an audio message to the AP.
He traversed tiny valleys winding through mountains along the border to the crossing points of Al Thabit or Souq al-Raqo.
Souq al-Raqo is a lawless place, a center for drug and weapons trafficking run by Ethiopian smugglers. Even local security forces are afraid to go there. Cross-border shelling exchanges and airstrikes have killed dozens, including migrants; Saudi border guards sometimes shoot others.
Eissa slipped across the Saudi border on Aug. 10. It had been 39 days since he had left home in Ethiopia.
After walking another 100 miles, he reached the major town of Khamis Mushayit. First, he prayed at a mosque. Some Saudis there asked if he wanted work. They got him a job watering trees on a farm.
“Peace, mercy, and blessings of God,” he said in one of his last audio messages to the AP. “I am fine, thank God. I am in Saudi.”
To see the full photo essay on the migrants’ journey, click here.
To see a photo essay, “Portraits of Ethiopian girls, women on the march to Saudi,” click here.
Digital producers Nat Castañeda and Peter Hamlin contributed to this report.
March 05, 2020
LONDON (AP) — A British court found that the ruler of Dubai conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation against his estranged wife and ordered the abduction of two of his daughters, documents unsealed Thursday show.
A judge at the High Court in London ruled that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 70, “acted in a manner from the end of 2018 which has been aimed at intimidating and frightening” his ex-wife, Princess Haya, 45.
Judge Andrew McFarlane said the sheikh “ordered and orchestrated” the abductions and forced return to Dubai of two of his adult daughters from another marriage: Sheikha Shamsa, then 19, in August 2000, and Sheikha Latifa in 2002 and again in 2018.
The judge made the ruling in January but the sheikh fought to prevent it from being made public. The U.K Supreme Court quashed that attempt on Thursday. The Dubai ruler and his ex-wife have been battling in a British court over the welfare of the two children they have together.
The sheikh’s lawyers had sought the children’s return to Dubai, while Princess Haya asked for them to be made wards of the British court and stay in the U.K. Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, moved to London last year and applied to the court for protective orders, using British laws intended to safeguard victims of forced marriage and domestic abuse. The forced marriage protection was requested for her daughter.
September 25, 2019
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — An American, a Russian and the first space flyer from the United Arab Emirates blasted off Wednesday on a mission to the International Space Station. A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off at 6:57 p.m. (1357 GMT) from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome to lift a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft into orbit.
The ship carrying NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Hazzaa al-Mansoori, a military pilot from the UAE, docked at the International Space Station about six hours later.
It was the third spaceflight for Skripochka and the first for Meir and al-Mansoori, who flew to the station was on an eight-day mission under a contract between the UAE and Roscosmos. Al-Mansoori was the first of two men chosen by the Gulf Arab nation to fly to the space station.
The trio will join two Russians, three Americans and an Italian aboard the space station. Meir and Skripochka will spend more than six months in orbit. Al-Mansoori will return to Earth next week with Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin and NASA’s Nick Hague.
By Michael Mathes, with Dmitry Zaks in London
June 20, 2019
Saudi Arabia’s controversial military campaign in Yemen suffered a double blow Thursday as US lawmakers voted to block President Donald Trump’s arms sales to Riyadh hours after Britain temporarily suspended similar sales.
In Washington, the Senate voted to prevent $8.1 billion in US arms in a symbolic bipartisan rebuke to the president and his close ties with the kingdom.
A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in voting against 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
The votes were only assured this week when Republican leadership agreed to hold the sensitive roll calls on the arms sales, which critics say will aggravate the devastating war in Yemen.
Trump’s administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sales in May, declaring Iran to be a “fundamental threat” to regional stability.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia’s historic rival Iran, which backs the Huthi rebels in Yemen.
But critics in the United States and Britain have expressed concern about the devastating toll that the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in neighboring Yemen has taken on civilians.
“When they target civilians how can we continue to sell those arms?” Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, author of the resolutions, said Thursday.
The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and triggered what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst existing humanitarian crisis.
Britain’s temporary sales suspension was announced by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox after a British court ordered the government to “reconsider” the sales due to their toll on non-combatants.
“We disagree with the judgement and will seek permission to appeal,” Fox said in a statement delivered in parliament, adding authorities “will not grant any new licenses to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”
Government figures analyzed by CAAT show that Britain, which accounts for 23 percent of arms imports to Saudi Arabia, has licensed nearly 5 billion pounds ($6.4 billion, 5.6 billion euros) in weapons to the kingdom since its Yemen campaign began in 2015.
Germany halted all arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to Saudi opposition columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 killing and called on other EU governments to follow suit.
– ‘Resolve or weakness’ –
The process in Washington, traditionally a major provider of weaponry to the kingdom, is more protracted.
The measures, which passed with votes of 53-45 and 51-45, now go to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, where they are expected to win approval and then head to the president’s desk.
Trump is likely to veto them, and it will remain an uphill climb for Congress to come up with a two-thirds vote to override a veto.
Some of the president’s allies in Congress are outraged by Saudi Arabia’s behavior.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he hoped his vote to block the sales would “send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you’re acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship.”
Khashoggi’s murder in Turkey by Saudi agents triggered a full-blown crisis in Riyadh’s relations with the West.
“There is no amount of oil that you can produce that will get me and others to give you a pass on chopping somebody up in a consulate,” Graham said.
Senator Tom Cotton, a hawk who backs Trump’s policies in the Gulf, warned colleagues that Tehran would be watching the Saudi arms sales votes “for signs of resolve or weakness” by Washington.
Congress rebuked Trump in March with a historic resolution curtailing the president’s war-making powers and ending American support for the Saudi-led coalition.
Trump vetoed the measure in April.
Source: Space War.
January 14, 2019
The CEO of Israeli spyware company NSO Group has admitted that its software was used to spy on the Emir of Qatar.
In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend, Shalev Hulio admitted that his company’s product was used to spy on Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, as well as Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
The interview disclosed that NSO’s “Pegasus” software – which can be used to remotely infect a target’s mobile phone and then relay back data accessed by the device – was used to intercept phone calls and text messages made by both the Qatari foreign minister and the Emir. These conversations reportedly concerned “hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom to Iran and Hezbollah for the release of several Qataris,” some of which was allegedly sent to the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani.
This spying was seemingly undertaken at the behest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Hulio revealed that the Israeli Defense Export Control Agency (DECA) authorized three deals with the UAE for the sale of NSO software, despite the fact that DECA is only supposed to give authorization for the “purpose of fighting terrorism and crime”.
These deals – allegedly mediated by former senior Israeli defense officials with close ties to a senior Emirati official – raised a total of $80 million in revenue for NSO.
NSO’s Pegasus software has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months after the product was revealed to be complicit in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Though Hulio stressed in the interview with Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection,” it appears that Saudi Arabia used NSO software to spy on many of Khashoggi’s friends and associates.
US whistle-blower Edward Snowden has been at the forefront of these claims, telling the Israeli newspaper: “I do not pretend that NSO is involved in hacking [directly] into Khashoggi’s phone, so their denial does not take us to a different conclusion. The evidence shows that the company’s products were involved in hacking into the phones of [Khashoggi’s] friends Omar Abdel Aziz, Yahya Assiri, and Ghanem Al-Masarir.”
The UAE is also known to have been using NSO’s software for some time. In 2016, Citizen Lab and Apple revealed there were attempts to infect an iPhone owned by the Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor had raised the alarm after receiving suspicious text intended to “bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and control of the device through a spy software created by the NSO Group”.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
January 12, 2019
BANGKOK (AP) — An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.
The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.
Her case highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.
Alqunun is flying to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat. One with what appears to be a glass of wine and her passport and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hastag “I did it” and the emojis showing plane, hearts and wine glass.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the U.N.’s request,” Trudeau said.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said earlier in the day. “She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.
Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy. She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language. She already speaks more than passable English, in addition to Arabic.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision. “The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.
It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.
“When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities who need immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed at which countries consider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok told The Associated Press in an email reply on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada decided to take her in. He added that, ultimately, the outcome was a good one. “She’s going to be safe,” he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, cited Alqunun’s “courage and perseverance.” “This is so much a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights, valuing the independence of youth to forge their own way, and demanding governments operate in the light and not darkness,” he said in a statement.
Alqunun was stopped Jan. 5 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and took her plight onto social media. It got enough public and diplomatic support that Thai officials admitted her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials, who granted her refugee status Wednesday.
Alqunun’s father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him. Surachate said the father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight. He said Alqunun’s father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.
“He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes,” Surachate said. Canada’s decision to grant her asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia. In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.
No country, including the U.S., spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis. On Friday, Trudeau avoided answering a question about what the case would mean for relations with the kingdom, but he said Canada will always unequivocally stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.
Canadian officials were reluctant to comment further until she landed safely in Canada. Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wanted to seek refuge in Australia. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met Thursday with senior Thai officials in Bangkok. She later said Australia was assessing Alqunun’s resettlement request.
Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.
He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.
Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.
Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press video journalist Samuel McNeil in Sydney contributed to this report.
January 11, 2019
BANGKOK (AP) — Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the U.N. refugee agency on accepting a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse by her family, Thai police said Friday.
Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the U.N. was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was stopped at a Bangkok airport last Saturday by Thai immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.
While barricading herself in an airport hotel room, the 18-year-old launched a social media campaign via her Twitter account that drew global attention to her case. It garnered enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status on Wednesday. Alqunun’s case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.
By Friday, Alqunun had closed down her Twitter account. Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who got in contact with Alqunun while she was stuck in the airport hotel room and has kept in touch with her, said Friday in a Twitter posting that Alqunun “is safe and fine.”
“She’s just been receiving a lot of death threats,” McNeill wrote, adding that Alqunun would be back on Twitter after a “short break.” Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wishes to seek refuge in Australia.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later told reporters that Australia is assessing Alqunun’s request for resettlement but there was no specific timeframe.
Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.
He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.
Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.