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How the Gaza war affected Palestinian politics | Israel-Palestine conflict



For many Palestinians it was clear that the recent war in Gaza was going to inevitably affect the Palestinian political scene. After all, war is an extension of politics.

The military escalation in Gaza was triggered by events in Jerusalem, where Israeli forces repeatedly stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque and were preparing to expel yet another group of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. As anger among the Palestinians simmered and protests repeatedly broke out, violently suppressed by the occupation forces, the Palestinian Authority (PA) only made feeble statements that no one paid attention to.

The Arab world issued verbal condemnations and stopped at that; some Arab states, notably the ones that normalised relations with Israel last year, did not even do as much. The international community similarly released its familiar statements of “concern”, calling on “both sides” to de-escalate.

As Israeli brutality intensified and much of the world’s governments remained mum, some Palestinians called for Hamas to intervene. On May 10, the resistance movement issued an ultimatum to the Israeli forces to withdraw from Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah. They did not comply, so al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, fired rockets towards Jerusalem.

The response of the occupation forces was swift. They started bombarding Gaza, destroying civilian homes and killing hundreds of Palestinians, including 66 children. But that did not stop the rockets towards Israel. The Iron Dome intercepted many, but not all. The destruction they caused was minuscule compared with what Gaza suffered once again, with many residential buildings destroyed and the infrastructure of the strip completely decimated. But they did cause some casualties, closed Tel Aviv airport and disrupted public life in many Israeli cities and towns.

Hamas’s response to Israeli aggression was welcomed by many Palestinians in and outside Gaza. Pro-Hamas chants could be heard at protest sites in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the 1948 territories.

In the West Bank, Palestinians took to the streets in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and Gaza, demanding an end to the PA’s “security cooperation” with Israel. In response, the PA’s security forces attacked some of the protests and arrested some activists.

On May 14, the PA appeared no longer to be able to control the situation in the West Bank and massive protests gathered across the occupied territory, with the Israeli army killing 11 Palestinians.

After the ceasefire was announced, the PA’s suppression of Palestinian activism continued. The Palestinian security forces under its control launched a campaign of arrests against Palestinian activists, trying to intimidate them into silence.

Many Palestinians believe that it is the PA’s weakness and cooperation with Israel that has allowed Israeli forces to commit crimes against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem with no consequences. It is under the PA’s watch that  the expulsion of Palestinian families has continued, as part of the brutal judaisation of the city, and so have the regular violent raids on Islam’s third holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In fact, in the eyes of many Jerusalemites, the PA is complicit in the Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land and property in Jerusalem. It has never taken action against Palestinian individuals known to facilitate these takeovers.

The PA’s feeble condemnations and continued security cooperation with Israel during the protests and the war on Gaza only further confirmed this belief. Thus, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his party, Fatah, find themselves in a very weak political position after the violence in Jerusalem and the war in Gaza. Along with Israel, they seem to be the biggest losers in this confrontation.

By contrast, Hamas has gained even more popularity among Palestinians, having been handed by Israel and the PA the exclusive claim to defending Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah.

The political loss the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah faced was also clear on the international scene. Except for a phone call with US President Joe Biden, in which he was asked to try to reduce tensions in the West Bank, Abbas appeared politically isolated.

During the ceasefire negotiations between Hamas and Israel, Hamas leaders talked directly to regional and international mediators, while PA officials were sidelined.

In the confrontation with Israel, Hamas sacrificed dozens of its fighters, lost some of its military capabilities, and suffered the consequences of the enormous destruction in Gaza as a result of the Israeli bombing. Yet the movement feels that it has gained regional and international political legitimacy owing to its military performance. This, combined with its rising popularity among Palestinians, has given the movement a significant political boost.

These developments came at a time when the Palestinians were supposed to head to the polls to cast their votes in the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years. But in late April, Abbas postponed the elections under the pretext that Israel did not agree to allow polling stations to open in occupied Jerusalem. This decision frustrated the Palestinian public, who saw it as a denial of their most basic democratic right.

Both Abbas and the Israeli government feared that a free Palestinian election may bring Hamas to power in the West Bank as well, given the low support Fatah enjoyed and its many internal divisions. Now these fears are even more pronounced.

Hamas for its part saw the protests and the support in the Palestinian streets as a referendum on its performance and now considers itself capable of leading the Palestinians not just in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

This, coupled with the near-consensus among all Palestinian factions, except Fatah, that the leadership of the Palestinian national movement should not remain in the hands of Abbas, does not spell anything good for the ageing president’s political prospects.

That is why it is likely that the PA will continue to postpone elections to avoid allowing Hamas to capitalise on its growing popularity. The Biden administration, a committed supporter of Israel, also wants to avoid a Hamas victory and will likely back such a decision.

Such a scenario would not be accepted by Hamas, which has started reaching out to all Palestinian political factions, with the exception of Fatah, to try to form a unified national leadership in defiance of the unelected government in Ramallah. This move will certainly be met with a lot of resistance from Fatah as well as regional and international actors, which do not want to see Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian leadership.

The PA, with the support of its foreign backers, can continue to postpone the elections, but its legitimacy will only suffer further decline. Sooner or later, it will reach a point where its leadership position will become unviable. The Palestinian people, reinvigorated in their struggle by the protests in Jerusalem and the war in Gaza and the growing support they are receiving from abroad, are increasingly showing little tolerance for Palestinian leaders who do not have their best interests at heart.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France




South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News




Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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