UNRWA Chief: UN to hold emergency meeting to discuss financial crisis

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will call for an emergency meeting to discuss the NGO’s financial situation later this month.

Speaking during a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo yesterday, Krähenbühl stressed that the agency’s financial situation had deteriorated as a result of the reduction in donations from certain states which he did not name.

UNRWA is looking for alternatives to bridge the funding gap, he added.

Shoukry stressed Egypt’s keenness to coordinate efforts in the hopes of providing the necessary support to alleviate the worsening economic and social situation in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.

On 23 January the US informed UNRWA that it is withholding $65 million in aid until a review is undertaken of the agency’s work.

Read: Leading humanitarian groups urge US to rethink cuts to UNRWA

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US Defense Secretary Mattis says chlorine gas used by Assad regime in Syria

Fri, 2018-02-02 20:30

WASHINGTON: US defense secretary James Mattis has said Friday that chlorine gas has been weaponized and used repeatedly by the Syrian government.
Mattis said to reporters that the Assad regime would be ill advised to “go back to violating the chemical weapons convention.” Mattis added that he has not seen evidence of use of sarin gas by Syrian government but is concerned and looking into reports from the ground.

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Hariri: Lebanon will not force Syria refugees to return

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that his country would not force Syrian refugees to return home.

Hariri made the announcement speech at a donor conference in Beirut calling for $2.68 billion in humanitarian aid for the crisis this year.

“We want the refugees to live in a dignified way, to take their children to school and to have this generation of Syrians return to rebuild their country,” he said.

Stressing that Lebanon would abide by international law, Hariri said that refugees would only return “once favourable conditions are available”.

My government’s position is very clear. Nobody’s going to force anyone to go back if they don’t want to go back.

He also pointed out the help that Lebanon had already delivered much aid to Syrians in the country through their cooperation with the UN.

Read: Donors endorse Jordan’s $7.3bn Syria refugee response plan

“Our situation is much better than some countries that did not allow these refugees to enter, at least we opened our doors, and we saw the fear and despair in their eyes and the reality of the conflict of their country.”

UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Philippe Lazarini, echoed the prime minister’s statement, but warned that Lebanese society is witnessing “increasing fatigue” as a result of the refugee crisis. He highlighted that such concern may turn into anger and tension between different segments of society, amid great pressures on employment opportunities, if not addressed by the government.

Read: 17 Syrian refugees frozen to death in Lebanon

“Return should always be based on a free and voluntary decision, full awareness of the actual situation of the refugees themselves, and should be far from any form of coercion,” Lazareni said.

“The government and the international community will not only be able to know the size of the population and assess needs, but will facilitate the implementation of sustainable solutions outside Lebanon, through the transfer of refugees to a third country or voluntary repatriation to Syria, when conditions allow,” he promised.

The clarification on refugee policy comes after comments from Lebanese President Michel Aoun last year calling for the international community to help Syrians in Lebanon return to “calm” parts of Syria because his country could no longer cope.

Aoun said he wanted the safe return of refugees and was not asking those who have political problems with the Syrian government to go back, but also asked international aid agencies not to “scare” refugees who want to return from doing so.

The president also rejected a proposal to give citizenship to Syrian refugees, instead citing the need to look for a speedy solution to the conflict in its neighbouring country.

One million Syrian refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon, and the number of Syrians in the country is expected to be much higher as there are thousands of unregistered families and many more who are awaiting formal recognition. They make up one quarter of the country’s population.

Read: Syrian refugee in Jordan invents laser microscope

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Poll: Right-wing and religious block gaining power in Israel

Israel’s right-wing religious bloc has strengthened its position within the Knesset, a new poll has found.

According to the survey, if elections were to be held today, the Israeli right would open up an 18 seat lead over the left and the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be re-elected to become Israel’s longest serving premier.

The next parliamentary elections are due in November 2019, but despite the corruption charges surrounding Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister would easily strengthen his position with a stronger coalition of right wing groups to back him.

According to the poll by the Hebrew daily Yisrael Hayom, the Likud would retain the 30 seats it won in 2015, but the poll suggest that ring-wing groups like the Jewish Home party, led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, would become the second largest party. The shift towards the right would be further reinforced by a number of religious parties like the Haredi parties, United Torah Judaism who also stand to gain seats.

Read: Knesset warned of ICC investigation in 2018

The shift to the right would be reinforced further by Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. The poll found that Lieberman’s party would double its seats to eight.

In contrast, opposition groups are predicted to loose seats in the Knesset. The left-wing block made up of Labour and Hatnua parties would fall from 24 seats to just 13 while the Arab Joint List party would lose five seats maintaining control of just eight.

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EU: Israel using tourism to legitimise illegal settlements

Israel is using tourism to legitimise its illegal settlement construction, European Union (EU) diplomats have warned.

According to a leaked EU report obtained by the Guardian, Israel is developing archaeological and tourism sites to legitimise illegal settlements in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

The conclusions in the report, which is written annually by the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem, paints a bleak picture of the situation and the conditions facing 37 per cent of the city’s residents who are Palestinians. It raises concerns over Israel’s ongoing home demolitions and the displacement of the Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents.

EU diplomats said that Israel, the occupying power, was using tourism projects “as a political tool to modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimise and expand settlements”. The projects are said to include settler run excavation sites in the heart of majority-Arab districts, a proposed cable car project with stops on confiscated land and the designation of built-up urban areas as national parks.

Read: New Likud bill proposes Israel annex West Bank settlements

The report said that Israeli settlers as well as government institutions were pushing a “narrative based on historic continuity of the Jewish presence in the area at the expense of other religions and cultures”. EU officials cited the City of David project, which is a government-funded archaeological park in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan that provides tours in the ruins of ancient Jerusalem.

Israel was accused of “promoting an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings”. The report raised concerns over the fate of the World Heritage site of Jerusalem, by concluding that these projects were turning the ancient city “into a commercial theme park”.

Local Palestinian residents are absent from the narrative being promoted to the visitors.

The EU considers Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the construction of settlements as illegal. It fully backs the rights of Palestinians to a national home in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. This week the EU Commission backed the Palestinians by allocating over $17 million for projects in occupied Jerusalem. The projects, according to the Wafa news agency, are intended to preserve “the Palestinian existence and identity in the holy city.”

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Israel hears petition on police tactics against journalists in Jerusalem

The Israeli High Court of Justice will hear on Sunday a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against Israel Police’s targeting of journalists and obstruction of their work in occupied East Jerusalem.

The association filed the petition in July 2017 after the Israel Police prevented journalists from entering the Old City of Jerusalem to cover events that took place after Israel erected metal detectors at the doors of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The petition stated that the prohibition prevented journalists from carrying out their duties, noting that it was not the first time Israel Police used such tactics in times of crisis in Jerusalem, but they increased during these events and in the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

According to the petition such practices by the police constitute a serious impediment to the media, journalists and photographers’ ability to carry out their mission.

Read: Israel wounded over 100 journalists since US move on Jerusalem

The text of the petition emphasised that media coverage is the most effective means for the public to criticise the authority, and that informing every citizen of what is happening in reality is critical to maintaining a free market of ideas, especially if the events covered are at the heart of the conflict lived by Israel and affects the political debate, therefore preventing the coverage violates the freedom of expression and the public’s right to obtain information about the authorities’ practices.

The petition stressed that it is the duty of the police to do everything in its power to enable journalists to carry out their important and vital mission and not to prevent them from reaching certain areas or restrict their movement and allow them to be present only in a narrow and specific environment, or suppress them and confiscate their equipment.

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By the numbers: U.S January NFP fallout

  • Non-farm payrolls: +200k vs. +148k prev.
  • Private payrolls: +196k vs. prev. +146k)
  • Manufacturing payrolls: +15k vs. prev. +25k
  • Unemployment rate: +4.1% vs. prev. +4.1%
  • Average hourly earnings: +0.34% m/m, +2.9% y/y vs. prev. +0.4% m/m, +2.7% y/y
  • Workweek hours: 34.3 vs. prev. 34.5 – -0.2
  • U.S 10-year yield: +2.83%
  • U.S employers added +200,000 jobs in January (employers added an average of +181k a month in 2017).

    Construction, manufacturing and restaurants had strong job growth, while Government payrolls grew by +4k last month.

    Strong back-month revisions for average hourly earning and headline job prints – Dec payrolls revised to +160k and Nov revised to +216k

    Average hourly earnings rose +0.34% from Dec following an upwardly revised +0.4% gain. Year-over-year, it was +2.9% compared with projections for a +2.6% increase. December’s gain was revised upward to +2.7%.

    USD (€1.2455, £1.4165, ¥110.33, C$1.2361) is better bid across the board, while the 10-year yield has backed up to +2.834% as wage growth is starting to accelerate.

    US Yields Near Four Year High Ahead of Jobs Data

    Are Rising Yields Weighing on Equity Markets?

    It’s been another rocky start to trading in Europe on Friday and the US looks on course for a similar open, with Dow futures off around 1%.

    It’s been another big week for earnings, with Apple, Amazon and Alphabet all releasing number after the close on Thursday and another 11 S&P 500 companies reporting today. At the same time, there’s been a number of important data releases this week as well as a monetary policy announcement from the Federal Reserve which has triggered another rally in US yields, with the 10-year Treasury having hit a high of 2.8%, the first time we’ve seen these levels since April 2014.

    We’ve also seen corresponding rises in Europe with Gilt yields at their highest since May 2015 and Bunds at their highest since September 2015. This may well be contributing to the declines we’ve seen recently across Europe – along with the corresponding appreciation of the euro and pound – and could now be taking its toll on US stocks. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve entered a risk-off period or that stocks are headed for a correction but a sharp rise in yields, as we’ve seen, can also weigh on equity markets.

    DAX Slips to 4-Week Lows as Deutsche Bank Shares Plunge

    US Jobs Data Eyed as Fed Insists That Inflation Will Rise

    With yields now rising, all eyes will be on the US jobs report today. With the Fed anticipating higher inflation and markets buying into the idea of higher rates, the jobs data will be very closely monitored. Naturally, the non-farm payrolls and unemployment numbers will be noted, with around 180,000 new jobs expected, but it’s the earnings that people will be most interested in.

    If we’re going to see a sustainable increase in inflation to 2%, wages will need to rise at a faster rate than they have for years now. The Fed has repeatedly claimed that labour market slack is deteriorating and that higher wages and inflation should follow but that is yet to materialise. Whether that’s due to slack still existing that standard measures overlook or other structural issues, it creates a problem for the central bank which is intent on continuing to raise rates. Wages are expected to have risen by 2.6% in January, up from 2.5% in December which is an improvement but not enough to satisfy the doubters.

    What to look for in U.S payrolls (NFP)

    Bitcoin’s Slump Continues as Losses Near 60% Since Mid-December

    Bitcoin’s slump is continuing on Friday, with the cryptocurrency now trading close to $8,000 and down another 10%, with a raft of stories being blamed for its latest decline. In much the same way that every day seemed to produce another good news story for cryptocurrencies in November and early December during its ascent, we’re currently seeing the opposite in motion during its downfall with hardened regulation, outright bans, hacking and investigations being a daily occurrence.

    Source – Thomson Reuters Eikon

    Whether its Indian authorities cracking down on cryptocurrencies, Facebook banning adverts or the US CFTC subpoenaing Bitfinex and Tether – as suspicions grow on the relationship between the two after speculation that the latter is being created to drive the price of bitcoin higher – it seems that there’s a lot of negative news at the moment and that’s seriously taking its toll. Bitcoin is now down close to 60% from its peak and some others are faring even worse, with Ripple down around 80% in the last month following its own meteoric rise last year.

    The buy the dip mentality that supported the rise of cryptos last year even through some testing times is fading by the day. We’ve seen some resilience at times over the last month and a half, most notable around $13,000 and $10,000 in bitcoin but both of these eventually gave way. In much the same way that it was difficult to pick the peak on the way up, it’s tough to pick the bottom now but based on current sentiment and momentum, it looks likely that the rout isn’t quite over yet.

    Economic Calendar

    For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

    Paris prosecutor calls for detention of Tariq Ramadan for alleged rape

    Fri, 2018-02-02 19:10

    PARIS: A Paris prosecutor has called for the ongoing detention of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna, for his alleged involvement in two incidents of rape.
    Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, was taken into custody Wednesday as part of a preliminary enquiry in Paris into rape and assault allegations made against him.
    A regular face on French television, Ramadan is the most prominent figure to be held in France over sexual assault and harassment claims that emerged with the #MeToo campaign.

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    Millions of empty homes, but migrants to Indian cities cannot rent them

    Fri, 2018-02-02 13:50

    MUMBAI: Tens of thousands of people migrating to Indian cities each day cannot find adequate housing, as rental markets shrink despite millions of homes remaining vacant, government data shows.
    The share of rental housing in cities has fallen by nearly half over the past five decades, according to the government’s annual economic survey released this week.
    Rent control, unclear property rights, and a focus on building homes for ownership rather than renting are at the root of the problem, it said.
    “Policies related to housing need to recognise that India has an increasingly fluid population (and) that across the income spectrum, rental housing is an important foothold into a city for new arrivals,” the survey said.
    A quarter of India’s urban population lives in informal housing, including slums, due to the critical shortage of affordable accommodation, according to the social consultancy firm FSG in Mumbai.
    That number is likely to increase with migration from the countryside to cities, as people seek better job prospects.
    A government plan to provide housing for all by 2022 is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes.
    But most states are behind target, and analysts say the programme will not solve homelessness.
    Finalising the national urban rental housing policy may help resolve the issue, as the current draft offers more protection from hostile tenants and gives them more incentive to rent, said Anuj Puri, chairman of ANAROCK Property Consultants.
    “The lack of a clear regulatory framework has resulted in many house owners preferring to keep their houses vacant rather than renting them out,” Puri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
    The share of rental housing in Indian cities declined to 28 percent in 2011 from 54 percent in 1961, according to the economic survey.
    At the same time, the number of vacant homes in cities rose to 11.1 million in 2011 from 6.5 million a decade earlier. Vacant houses make up more than 12 percent of total urban housing stock.
    The financial hub of Mumbai, where more than half the population lives in slums and informal settlements, has nearly half a million vacant homes, survey data showed.
    “The fact that such a large number of houses continue to be vacant is not just ironical, but reflects a serious policy failure,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of the New Delhi-based advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network.
    The government must prioritise “social rental housing, tax vacant properties, and control real estate speculation,” she said.

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