Cairo, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) — The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.
Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is around 70% complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia's 100 million people.
But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.
Speaking at the U.N. last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he would "never" allow Ethiopia to impose a "de facto situation" by filling the dam without an agreement.
"While we acknowledge Ethiopia's right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt," he said.
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewude, also speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, said her country believes "the use of the river should be (decided) according to international law and fair and equitable use of natural resources."
Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo's overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.
"We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks," an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. "All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means."
Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while "respecting each other's Nile water equities."
Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the U.N. Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.
That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.
An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far "were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia."
"Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention," the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.
The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam's 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts.
That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region's periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.
Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Nile supplies more than 90% of Egypt's freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.
Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt's own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.
"It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity," he said.
The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.
El-Sissi is set to meet with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.
Ethiopia hopes to finish the much-delayed project by 2023. The dam's manager, Kifle Horro, said the project is now 68.5% complete and preparations are underway to finalize power generation from two turbines by next year.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the "risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework."
In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt's pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.
"Egypt is not a small county," he wrote in a Sunday column. "If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory."
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.
"If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water," he wrote on Facebook. "The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response."
Jerusalem, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he had failed to form a majority government in parliament, marking a major setback for the embattled Israeli leader that plunges the country into a new period of political uncertainty.
In a statement, Netanyahu said he had worked "tirelessly" to establish a unity government with his chief rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, but been repeatedly rebuffed. Facing a Wednesday deadline, Netanyahu said he was returning the "mandate" to President Reuven Rivlin, who will now ask Gantz to try to form a coalition. Gantz, however, could face an equally difficult task.
While Netanyahu remains at the helm of his Likud party, his announcement marked the second time this year that he has been unable to form a government. With Israel's attorney general set to decide in the coming weeks on whether to indict Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, the longtime Israeli leader could come under heavy pressure to step aside. One party rival, Gideon Saar, has already indicated he would challenge Netanyahu if Likud holds a primary.
In last month's national election, Netanyahu fell short of securing a 61-seat parliamentary majority. But Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first opportunity to form a government because he had more support — 55 lawmakers — than Gantz, who was supported by only 54.
Netanyahu had hoped to form a broad "unity" government with Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party. But Netanyahu insisted that his coalition include his traditional allies, a collection of hardline and religious parties, drawing accusations from Gantz that he was not negotiating in good faith.
"Since I received the mandate, I have worked tirelessly both in public and behind the scenes to establish a broad, national unity government. That's what the people want," Netanyahu said in a statement.
"During the past few weeks, I made every effort to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table. Every effort to establish a broad national unity government, every effort to prevent another election," he said. "To my regret, time after time he declined. He simply refused."
For Netanyahu, who marked his 70th birthday on Monday, it was another painful setback. In an earlier election in April, Netanyahu also failed to win a parliamentary majority and was forced to call the indecisive Sept. 17 election. Now, for the first time since Netanyahu was elected in early 2009, the country faces the possibility of choosing a different leader.
In a short statement, Gantz's Blue and White party said that "now is the time of action."
"Blue and White is determined to form the liberal unity government, led by Benny Gantz, that the people of Israel voted for a month ago," it said.
Gantz has vowed to unify the country and restore national institutions after Netanyahu's decade-long rule, which has deepened Israel's religious and political divides and been roiled by corruption allegations.
In contrast to Netanyahu, whose political career spans three decades, the 60-year-old Gantz is a newcomer who only burst onto the scene over the last year. The towering former general's party, Blue and White, is a newly formed centrist coalition that includes the popular secular politician Yair Lapid as well as other former senior military officers and some of Netanyahu's fiercest critics.
At times, Gantz has criticized Netanyahu's handling of security issues, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and has touted his time as army chief, when he oversaw a devastating 2014 war in Gaza. He also has hinted at reviving the peace process with the Palestinians. But Gantz has been vague, apparently wary of alienating potential coalition partners, and focused most of his efforts at portraying himself as a fresh alternative to Netanyahu.
There is no guarantee, however, that Gantz will succeed.
He has expressed willingness to form a partnership with Likud, but not if Netanyahu continues to lead while he faces such serious legal problems. For the time being, Likud has remained steadfastly behind its leader.
Without Likud, Gantz will have a hard time securing a majority in parliament. The opposition to Netanyahu includes a diverse group of parties, ranging from Arab parties to the secular ultranationalist party Yisrael Beitenu, that are unlikely to sit together in partnership.
If Gantz fails during his 28-day window, a majority of lawmakers could try to endorse a third candidate, something that has never happened before. And if that fails, the country would be forced into the unprecedented scenario of a third election in under a year.
Akcakale, Oct 21 (AP/UNB) — Angry over the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, residents of a Kurdish-dominated city pelted departing American military vehicles with potatoes Monday as they drove through.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said U.S. troops will stay in eastern Syria to protect Kurdish-held oil fields for at least the coming weeks and he was discussing options to keep them there.
A video by the Kurdish news agency showed a convoy of armored vehicles driving through the northeastern city of Qamishli. People in the street hurled potatoes at the vehicles, shouting, "No America," and "America liar," in English.
"Like rats, America is running away," one man shouted in Arabic. Another shouted obscenities and talked of babies in Kurdish-held areas who have died in the Turkish offensive.
The scene encapsulated the Kurds' feelings of betrayal and added a new indignity to an American withdrawal that has been rushed and saw several close brushes with Turkish-backed forces. The Kurds were stunned when President Donald Trump two weeks ago abruptly decided to pull U.S. troops out of border areas, abandoning their allied Kurdish-backed fighters ahead of Turkey's invasion. After the assault began Oct. 9, Trump ordered a general withdrawal from Syria.
At another location, near the town of Tal Tamr, a group of protesters raised banners to departing US troops late Sunday, according to an Associated Press video.
One man blocked the way of a U.S. van with a poster reading: "Thanks for US people, but Trump betrayed us."
The Kurdish-led force was a key ally of the United States in the long and bloody fight that eventually brought down the Islamic State group's rule over northeast and eastern Syria. Abandoned by U.S. forces, the Kurds agreed to a cease-fire deal brokered by Washington that requires them to leave a section of the border, handing it over to Turkish-backed forces.
Esper said he is discussing an option that would keep a small residual U.S. military force to secure oil fields located in eastern Syria and continue the fight against Islamic State militants.
Speaking during a visit to Kabul, he said he has not made a final decision on that option and has not yet presented it to Trump. He underscored the importance of protecting the oil fields from IS to ensure the militants don't profit from them
He said American troops who are working with Kurdish-led forces to guard the oil fields are still in place. The withdrawal could take weeks, he said, and troops around the town of Kobani on the border with Turkey are the first leaving.
As part of the cease-fire deal, Kurdish forces on Sunday pulled back from the border town of Ras al-Ayn on Sunday, paving the way for Turkish troops deployment in the area. Under the deal, the Kurds are to withdraw from a stretch of territory 120 kilometers (75 miles) along the border and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep. Qamishli is east of that area.
A senior Kurdish official, Redur Khalil, said Monday his forces are complying with agreement and are preparing to complete the withdrawal. He called for an international mechanism to protect Kurdish civilians who want to stay in their towns after Kurdish-led fighters leave.
Most Kurdish civilians have fled Ras al-Ayn, fearing killings or repression by Turkish-backed forces, and any still in the territory that the Kurdish fighters are leaving are likely to do the same.
More than 176,000 people have been driven from their homes in the violence. About 70,000 of those are children, the international aid group Save the Children said Monday. It said thousands are taking refuge in schools and abandoned buildings without electricity or in open fields in Kurdish-run areas around northeast Syria.
"Thousands of children and their families have once again had to leave everything they own to flee conflict and take shelter in unhygienic conditions without the basic necessities," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children's Syria Response Director.
Khalil said Turkey continues to violate the cease-fire, accusing its troops of shelling a village at dawn and seeking to carry out military operations. He criticized the U.S. as guarantor of the cease-fire deal, saying it has not forced Turkey to adhere to it.
"The American guarantor remains weak in its position in deterring the Turkish violations," he said.
On Monday, Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, accused the Kurdish-led forces of 30 live fire violations of the four-day-old truce, including an attack that killed one Turkish soldier. He said Turkey retaliated against these attacks.
Cavusoglu renewed warnings that his country will resume its military offensive in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters don't vacate the region before the cease-fire is set to end Tuesday evening.
"If they don't withdraw, our operation will re-start," Mevlut Cavusoglu said speaking in Istanbul. He added, however, that Kurdish fighters were complying with the deal and withdrawing.
Turkey says it wants to return Syrian refugees to the areas evacuated. A crucial meeting between Turkish and Russian leaders is expected to further address arrangements along the Syria-Turkish border.
Beirut, Oct 21 (AP/UNB) — Protesters closed major roads around Lebanon ahead of an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday, as politicians scrambled to put together a rescue plan for the country's crumbling economy and stem five days of mass anti-government protests.
Demonstrators placed barriers across major intersections in Beirut as well as other cities and towns across the country. Schools, universities, banks and government institutions remain shuttered as the country is gripped by the largest protests since the so-called Cedar Revolution in 2005.
Hundreds of thousands participated in Sunday's marches in downtown Beirut, in what has turned into a widening revolt against the country's sectarian status-quo and entire political elite. The outrage over the government's mismanagement of the economic crisis and proposed new taxes has unified Lebanon's often fractious society.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri has given his government — an unwieldy national coalition of nine largely sectarian parties — a deadline that expires Monday evening to come up with convincing solutions to the economic crisis. He is expected to put forward a reform plan during the Cabinet's morning meeting at the presidential palace in Beirut's southeastern suburb of Baabda.
Amid the unrest, Lebanese troops were deployed on the main road to the palace to clear the way for Hariri and government ministers to reach Baabda.
Local media reported that the government's plan includes measures such as raising taxes on the country's banking sector, cutting salaries of top officials, legislators and ministers by half, abolishing taxes imposed recently and fixing the electricity sector that has cost state coffers billions of dollars over the past years.
Many protesters say they don't trust any plan by the current government. They've called on the 30-member Cabinet to resign and be replaced by a smaller one made up of technocrats instead of members of political factions.
The protests are building on long-simmering anger at a ruling class that has divvied up power among themselves and amassed wealth for decades but has done little to fix a crumbling economy and dilapidated infrastructure.
"I am with the reforms. I am against the destruction of Lebanon," said Rabih Zghaib a protester in Beirut. "Lebanon has been badly damaged by the politicians for 30 years. Today their thrones are shaking."
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed hope that Lebanon's government and political parties pay "attention to people's demands," the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
It was the first remarks by an Iranian official about the protests in Lebanon.
Iran enjoys wide influence in Lebanon through the militant Hezbollah organization that is armed and funded by Tehran. Hezbollah and its allies have a majority of seats in Lebanon's parliament and Cabinet.
In 2005, Lebanon witnessed protests and a mass uprising against Syria's occupation of the country, after Damascus was blamed for the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a large car bomb.
Cairo, Oct 21 (Xinhua/UNB) – Egypt inaugurated on Sunday the Middle East's largest metro station in the capital Cairo as part of the country's plans to renovate the city's fastest means of transportation.
Egyptian Transportation Minister Kamel al-Wazir attended the official launch of operations of Heliopolis Station, a facility constructed on 10,000 square metres, according to a statement by the transportation ministry.
The minister said that the air-conditioned station is the largest subway station in Egypt, the Middle East and Africa, adding that the cost amounted to about 1.9 billion Egyptian pounds (116.8 million U.S. dollars).
Al-Wazir added that the government is determined to continue developing the subway network in accordance with the best international standards as it is one of the key solutions to reduce traffic congestion in the overcrowded city.
The three-level station is 225 meters long, 22 meters wide and 28 meters deep from the street level. It includes eight exits and entrances, 18 fixed stairways, 17 escalators and four elevators.
The station, which is on Cairo Metro's third line, is located in the middle of Heliopolis Square, one of the largest squares in the capital.
The 45-km-long third line is vital as it connects the east with the west of Cairo. It is also linked with the first and second lines. In addition, the third line will be also connecting Cairo with the new administrative capital through the electric train which is being currently built.
Over 3.5 million of Cairo's 21 million inhabitants rely on the metro network, one of the oldest in the Middle East and Africa, for their daily travel.
In 2018, Egypt raised the price of tickets on Cairo's underground metro, based on the length of each stop.
Commuters are now charged a base fare of 3 Egyptian pounds for the first nine stops, 5 pounds for up to 16 stops, and a maximum of 7 pounds for more than 16 stops.
The increase came amid accumulated losses of hundreds of millions of Egyptian pounds and a total deficit of 94 percent in the maintenance and renovation budget of the 2017-18 fiscal year for the metro system, which put the network at risk.