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UN calls for next phase of Hodeidah agreement amid stalemate

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip…

UN calls for next phase of Hodeidah agreement amid stalemate

JERUSALEM: When Palestinian preschooler Aisha a-Lulu came out of brain surgery in a strange Jerusalem hospital room, she called out for her mother and father. She repeated the cry over and over, but her parents never came.Instead of a family member, Israeli authorities had approved a stranger to escort Aisha from the blockaded Gaza Strip to the east Jerusalem hospital. As her condition deteriorated, the child was returned to Gaza unconscious. One week later, she was dead.A photo of Aisha smiling softly in her hospital bed, brown curls swaddled in bandages, drew an outpouring on social media. The wrenching details of her last days have shined a light on Israel’s vastly complex and stringent system for issuing Gaza exit permits.It is a bureaucracy that has Israeli and Palestinian authorities blaming each other for its shortfalls, while inflicting a heavy toll on Gaza’s sick children and their parents.“The most difficult thing is to leave your child in the unknown,” said Waseem a-Lulu, Aisha’s father. “Jerusalem is just an hour away, but it feels as though it is another planet.”So far this year, roughly half of applications for patient companion permits were rejected or left unanswered by Israel, according to the World Health Organization. That has forced over 600 patients, including some dozen children under 18, to make the trek out of the territory alone or without close family by their side.The system stems from the Hamas militant group’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, when it violently ousted the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt responded by imposing a blockade that tightly restricted movement in and out of Gaza.The blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming, has precipitated a financial and humanitarian crisis in the enclave. For years, Gaza’s 2 million residents have endured rising poverty and unemployment, undrinkable groundwater and frequent electricity outages. Public hospitals wrestle with chronic shortages of drugs and basic medical equipment. Israel blames Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, for the crisis.In what it portrays as a humanitarian gesture to help Gaza’s civilians, Israel permits Palestinian patients to seek medical treatment at hospitals in Israel and the West Bank once they pass a series of bureaucratic hurdles. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that issues the permits, says it insists that all patients cross with an escort, usually a close relative, unless they wish to go alone or require immediate treatment that doesn’t allow time for security screening.In order to get a permit, patients must first submit a diagnosis to the West Bank-based Palestinian Health Ministry, proving that their treatment isn’t available in Gaza. Then a Palestinian liaison requests exit permits from COGAT, which reviews the applications and passes them to Israel’s Shin Bet security agency for background checks.According to WHO, the approval rate has plummeted in recent years.It said that in 2012, Israel allowed in 93 percent of patients and 83 percent of their companions for treatment. For the month of April 2019, the figure stands at just 65 percent of patients and 52 percent of their companions.A COGAT official disputed the figures, saying they don’t take into account that the number of permit applications has grown as Gaza’s health care system deteriorates, and that Israel has started issuing permits less regularly but for prolonged stays. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under agency rules, said COGAT is working to ease restrictions by designating a permit specifically for parents of child patients.After being diagnosed with brain cancer, Aisha received immediate approval to get out of Gaza for what was hoped to be life-saving surgery. But when her parents approached the Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission for escort permits, their process ground to a halt.To their bewilderment, Palestinian officials told them not to apply, saying it was too risky.At 37, Waseem is below the age that Israel deems acceptable for swift entry on security grounds. Today, all men under 55 require extra screening, which means waiting, usually for months, according to Mor Efrat, the Gaza and West Bank director for Physicians for Human Rights Israel. As for Aisha’s mother, Muna, a quirk of her upbringing in Egypt left her without an official Israeli-issued ID card required to receive a permit.“We tell families to find a companion that won’t give Israel any reason to refuse,” said Osama Najar, spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry. “We want to save the child and, yes, that can mean sending them alone.”In this sense, the Palestinian Authority “acts as a subcontractor for Israel,” said Efrat, forcing parents to make a difficult choice: delay their child’s urgent care, or search for someone else that Israel would be more likely to let cross.Aisha’s parents said they scoured for alternatives, applying for an aunt and her 75-year-old grandmother, but Israel rejected both.The girl’s only remaining hope, the Palestinian office told them, was to apply for as many older women as possible from their extended social network. A permit for Halima Al-Ades, a remote family acquaintance whom Aisha had never met, was approved.Muna said she had no choice but to sign COGAT’s consent form and whisk her daughter out of Gaza for immediate treatment. She said the frustration of the sprawling bureaucracy, and the painful memory of her 5-year-old daughter crying for her on the phone during her last days, haunts her.“It was the hardest time of my life,” she said. “My heart was being ripped out every day and every hour.”Aisha’s doctor in Jerusalem, Ahmad Khandaqji, said he has treated countless lone patients from Gaza over the past year, but that Aisha’s story stuck with him. “She felt abandoned and betrayed,” he said. “We saw how that directly impacted her recovery.”

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Middle East News

Israel: Palestinian killed, 2 Israelis hurt in car ramming

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill,…

Israel: Palestinian killed, 2 Israelis hurt in car ramming

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were also present.Pompeo also reassured Hariri of “the commitment of the United States to support Lebanon and its institutions, to preserve its security and stability, and to procure the needs of the Lebanese people.”He also praised “Lebanon’s commitment to providing support to more than one million Syrian refugees residing on its soil, who have fled the injustice of the Assad regime.”“We call for continuing the discussions related to the remaining points related to the Blue Line (the UN’s border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) and the Lebanese maritime borders (with Israel). We are ready to mediate the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel and hope to reach concrete results,” Pompeo added.After the meeting, Hariri said he hoped to “reach a conclusive decision in the upcoming months regarding the border demarcation negotiations.” He thanked the US for its “continuous support for the Lebanese Army,” and restated Lebanon’s commitment to fighting terrorism.He also noted Lebanon’s “continuous support for the Cedar Conference (of international investors) and its investment plan, which is highly necessary to the Lebanese economy.” During a Cedar conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon secured pledges of $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, which are dependent on economic reforms.Earlier, Hariri spent more than an hour with David Malpas, president of the World Bank, during which he assured the financier: “Lebanon’s relationship with the World Bank is very important and we continue to cooperate in various sectors, especially electricity, telecommunications and waste management.”The prime minister said that he also explained to Malbas “the challenges that we face in Lebanon on the economic and political levels.”Regarding the IMF’s reluctance to cooperate with Lebanon, Hariri said: “The IMF focuses mainly on the financial situation, while the World Bank is our partner and we are executing many projects with them.”Asked whether or not his meetings in Washington made him optimistic that Lebanon’s credit rating will improve, Hariri said: “I know that Lebanon’s financial figures are critical and we have a great challenge with (credit rating agency) Standard & Poor’s, and we are working on improving our rating. However, this does not mean that our situation is not good; on the contrary, we are taking all necessary steps that would lead us to safety. The most important thing is not to respond to bad news by not performing our duties, and to reach safety.”Lebanese authorities are awaiting the latest Standard & Poor’s report, which is due to be released on Aug. 23. They fear the nation’s credit rating will be downgraded to CCC, which would have negative repercussions on its economy, the banking sector and on the value of the Lebanese pound, especially given the strained political situation in the country at a time when it needs to begin implementing reforms required by Cedar investors.Hariri was concluding a visit to Washington that comes less than a week after the Lebanese government reconvened following 40 days of inactivity in the wake of an incident in Mount Lebanon on June 30, during which two bodyguards working for Minister for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib were shot and killed. This led to a political standoff between Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, leader of the Democratic Party and an ally of Al-Gharib, who each blamed the other’s supporters for the violence. A reconciliation agreement was reached on Aug. 9.During his visit, Hariri also met Undersecretary of Defense John Rudd. They discussed “ways to support the Lebanese army and the security forces,” according to the prime minister’s office. He also met with Treasury officials, including Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, in light of the announcement by the US of fresh sanctions on Hezbollah officials. On July 9, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Hezbollah MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and on Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.The US accuses Hezbollah of “using its members in the Lebanese Parliament to manipulate institutions to support the financial and security interests of the terrorist group and to promote malicious activities of Iran.” It also accuses Hezbollah of “threatening economic stability and security in Lebanon and the region as a whole, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”

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Pompeo praises Lebanese government for standing firm against Iranian threat

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill,…

Pompeo praises Lebanese government for standing firm against Iranian threat

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised the commitment of the Lebanese government to protecting its country in the face of the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.It came during his meeting in Washington with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, and David Hill, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were also present.Pompeo also reassured Hariri of “the commitment of the United States to support Lebanon and its institutions, to preserve its security and stability, and to procure the needs of the Lebanese people.”He also praised “Lebanon’s commitment to providing support to more than one million Syrian refugees residing on its soil, who have fled the injustice of the Assad regime.”“We call for continuing the discussions related to the remaining points related to the Blue Line (the UN’s border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) and the Lebanese maritime borders (with Israel). We are ready to mediate the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel and hope to reach concrete results,” Pompeo added.After the meeting, Hariri said he hoped to “reach a conclusive decision in the upcoming months regarding the border demarcation negotiations.” He thanked the US for its “continuous support for the Lebanese Army,” and restated Lebanon’s commitment to fighting terrorism.He also noted Lebanon’s “continuous support for the Cedar Conference (of international investors) and its investment plan, which is highly necessary to the Lebanese economy.” During a Cedar conference in Paris in April 2018, Lebanon secured pledges of $10.2 billion in loans and $860 million in grants, which are dependent on economic reforms.Earlier, Hariri spent more than an hour with David Malpas, president of the World Bank, during which he assured the financier: “Lebanon’s relationship with the World Bank is very important and we continue to cooperate in various sectors, especially electricity, telecommunications and waste management.”The prime minister said that he also explained to Malbas “the challenges that we face in Lebanon on the economic and political levels.”Regarding the IMF’s reluctance to cooperate with Lebanon, Hariri said: “The IMF focuses mainly on the financial situation, while the World Bank is our partner and we are executing many projects with them.”Asked whether or not his meetings in Washington made him optimistic that Lebanon’s credit rating will improve, Hariri said: “I know that Lebanon’s financial figures are critical and we have a great challenge with (credit rating agency) Standard & Poor’s, and we are working on improving our rating. However, this does not mean that our situation is not good; on the contrary, we are taking all necessary steps that would lead us to safety. The most important thing is not to respond to bad news by not performing our duties, and to reach safety.”Lebanese authorities are awaiting the latest Standard & Poor’s report, which is due to be released on Aug. 23. They fear the nation’s credit rating will be downgraded to CCC, which would have negative repercussions on its economy, the banking sector and on the value of the Lebanese pound, especially given the strained political situation in the country at a time when it needs to begin implementing reforms required by Cedar investors.Hariri was concluding a visit to Washington that comes less than a week after the Lebanese government reconvened following 40 days of inactivity in the wake of an incident in Mount Lebanon on June 30, during which two bodyguards working for Minister for Refugee Affairs Saleh Al-Gharib were shot and killed. This led to a political standoff between Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Talal Arslan, leader of the Democratic Party and an ally of Al-Gharib, who each blamed the other’s supporters for the violence. A reconciliation agreement was reached on Aug. 9.During his visit, Hariri also met Undersecretary of Defense John Rudd. They discussed “ways to support the Lebanese army and the security forces,” according to the prime minister’s office. He also met with Treasury officials, including Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, in light of the announcement by the US of fresh sanctions on Hezbollah officials. On July 9, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on Hezbollah MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, and on Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.The US accuses Hezbollah of “using its members in the Lebanese Parliament to manipulate institutions to support the financial and security interests of the terrorist group and to promote malicious activities of Iran.” It also accuses Hezbollah of “threatening economic stability and security in Lebanon and the region as a whole, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”

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Saudi-UAE committee in Aden ‘to oversee separatists withdrawal’

JEDDAH: A Saudi-UAE committee arrived in Aden Thursday to oversee the withdrawal of southern separatist troops from positions they seized last week from the government. The delegation arrived in the temporary Yemeni capital to ensure troops loyal to the Southern Transitional Council leave government institutions, Al Arabiya reported, citing a Yemeni government source. Yemeni presidential…

Saudi-UAE committee in Aden ‘to oversee separatists withdrawal’

JEDDAH: A Saudi-UAE committee arrived in Aden Thursday to oversee the withdrawal of southern separatist troops from positions they seized last week from the government.

The delegation arrived in the temporary Yemeni capital to ensure troops loyal to the Southern Transitional Council leave government institutions, Al Arabiya reported, citing a Yemeni government source.

Yemeni presidential guard forces took over Al-Maasheeq palace after the STC withdrew following calls from the Arab Coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the source said.

The government has ruled out talks with the STC until it hands over to the presidential guard all the positions it captured.

The separatists and the government, who are meant to be on the same side in the fight against the Houthis, clashed for several days after tensions overspilled at a commander’s funeral. 

The separatists seized the palace on Saturday and at least 40 people, including civilians, were killed in the fighting.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Monday urged forces in the city to observe a ceasefire.

The call followed talks in Mina between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Also Thursday, thousands of Yemenis rallied in Aden in support of the separatists.

South Yemen was an independent country until it merged with the north in 1990.

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