‘Common issues between Palestine and the peoples of the African continent’ President Abbas tells African Union summit

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PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas told the 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday that resuming the peace efforts requires a multi-lateral mechanism under the umbrella of the United Nations.

‘We call on the African Union and its member states to have representatives in this mechanism or send (representatives) to the international conference, to be organised in accordance with the resolutions of international community,’ Abbas told the conference.

He added: ‘This should be based on the principle of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders and the end of the Israeli occupation of the land of the State of Palestine, including East Jerusalem.’

The President stressed the importance for all states to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem, in line with the UN Security Council resolution 478 of 1980, and not to recognise any measures contrary to the UNSC resolutions on Jerusalem and the Palestinian question.

‘Our commitment to the option of peace is an option we have been seeking for decades. But US President Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem has made the United States a side biased with Israel, thus excluding itself as an intermediary in the peace process. As such, it (the US) will not be able to propose a just and equitable peace solution in the Middle East.’

Abbas praised the African efforts to combat terrorism and extremism. He said: ‘We are working with dozens of countries in the world to combat terrorism.’ He expressed readiness to ‘partner with the African continent in the development programme, and to conclude cooperation agreements and exchange experiences in health, agriculture, energy, public administration and cooperation between businessmen through the Palestinian Agency for International Cooperation.’

‘The struggle against colonialism, racism, injustice and the right of peoples to self-determination are common issues between Palestine and the peoples of the African continent.’

• Turkey on Sunday stepped up its offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria for a ninth, in a campaign that has strained relations with the United States. After several days of poor visibility because of heavy rain and fog, Turkish warplanes and artillery took advantage of the clear skies and pounded the hill of Barsaya near the Kurdish town of Afrin in northwestern Syria, official news agency Anadolu said.

Turkey launched operation ‘Olive Branch’ on January 20 against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes. While Turkey brands the YPG a ‘terror’ group, the militia has received support from the US, its fighters spearheading the battle against the Islamic State group across swathes of Syria.

Despite souring relations with NATO ally Washington, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expand the offensive against the YPG to Manbij, east of Afrin. And in a sign the Turkish campaign has rendered prospects for peace in Syria even fainter, authorities in the war-torn country’s Kurdish autonomous region said they will not attend peace talks in Russia’s Sochi.

‘We said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin we could not attend Sochi,’ regional official Fawza al-Yussef said. Rebel backer Turkey is one of the sponsors of the talks in the Black Sea resort on Monday and Tuesday, along with Damascus allies Russia and Iran.

Turkey’s air and artillery strikes on Sunday were even fiercer than previous days, said a correspondent on the Syrian-Turkish border who saw towers of smoke rising into the sky.

Turkish channel NTV broadcast live footage on Sunday showing rocket fire targeting Barsaya hill, located to the north of Afrin, near the strategic border town of Azaz. ‘I spoke earlier with a commander who said: “With God’s help, we will take over Barsaya very soon”,’ Erdogan said in a speech in Corum in northern Turkey.

Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies said they had captured the hill, before losing it again a few hours later. Sunday’s battles ‘are very fierce on Barsaya… which is strategic because it overlooks Azaz on the Syrian side and Kilis on the Turkish side’, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said. ‘Today’s clashes are more intense,’ he added.

Turkish relations with the US have dipped over their stances on the YPG – which Ankara says is a ‘terrorist’ offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, which has waged a war against the Turkish state for three decades, is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

US President Trump earlier this week urged Erdogan to ‘de-escalate’ his forces assault on Afrin as he expressed concern about ‘the destructive and false’ anti-American rhetoric emanating from Turkey. Adding fuel to the fire, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday urged the US to ‘immediately withdraw’ its personnel from Kurdish-held Manbij, which Ankara has also threatened to attack.

‘We are going to cleanse Manbij’ after Afrin, government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday, according to Anadolu. Manbij was retaken from IS by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in 2016 as part of a push that would later recapture the city of Raqa from the jihadists.

Faced with the Turkish onslaught, the YPG’s political arm, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), appealed to the international community to pressure Ankara into halting its offensive. Five Turkish soldiers have died since ‘Olive Branch’ was launched, while around 40 others have been injured. One soldier who was killed on Saturday was laid to rest later on Sunday in Istanbul.

The fighting has also led to a heavy loss of civilian lives. According to the Britain-based Observatory, 42 civilians have been killed since January 20, including 12 children, most of them in Turkish air strikes. In a sign of the sheer ferocity of the fighting, 69 pro-Turkish rebels were killed, as were 66 Kurdish fighters.

Earlier this month, the US-led coalition fighting IS said it was working to create a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria, which would include the YPG. Several nations, including Germany and France, as well as the European Union, have expressed concern over the Turkish offensive against a country where over 340,000 people have already been killed since war erupted in 2011.

• Israeli Holocaust survivors are pleading with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his plan to forcefully expel tens of thousands of African migrants, citing their own experiences as outcasts.

‘We, who know precisely what it’s like to be refugees, to be homeless and bereft of a state that preserves and protects us from violence and suffering, cannot comprehend how a Jewish government can expel refugees and asylum seekers to a journey of suffering, torment and death,’ the 36 signatories wrote in an open letter published in English by Haaretz newspaper on Friday.

The appeal came on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 3, Netanyahu announced implementation of a plan to deport about 38,000 migrants who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, and gave them until the end of March to leave voluntarily or face jail and eventual expulsion by force.

He defended his decision at the weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday, denying that the potential deportees were refugees. ‘We are acting against illegal migrants who come here not as refugees but for work needs,’ he said. ‘Israel will continue to offer asylum for genuine refugees and will remove illegal migrants from its midst.’

He did not say to which country they would be sent but Israel tacitly recognises it is too dangerous to return the Sudanese and Eritreans home. Aid workers and media have named Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda has publicly denied being a destination.

The website of the Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) says that of 10,000 asylum requests from Eritreans in Israel, only seven have been granted, while one Sudanese has received asylum.

It does not state the number of Sudanese applicants, but government figures from October 2016 list 8,066 Sudan nationals among the migrants. A 2016 UN commission of inquiry into Eritrea’s regime found ‘widespread and systematic’ crimes against humanity and said an estimated 5,000 people flee the country each month.

The International Criminal Court has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide linked to his regime’s counter-insurgency tactics in the 14-year-old Darfur conflict. ASSAF says that there are ‘thousands’ from the Darfur region of western Sudan among those seeking asylum in Israel whose applications have yet to receive an answer.