AMMAN: The death toll from the building collapse in Jordan’s capital Amman rose to 10 on Thursday after rescue teams recovered another body from the rubble.
The discovery was made as the search continues for survivors of the accident, the Public Security Department said. As well as the fatalities, 10 people were injured in the collapse.
Following his return from France on Wednesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah chaired a meeting at the National Center for Security and Crisis Management to keep abreast of the situation, the royal court said in a statement.
He urged that all those affected by the collapse of the residential building in Amman’s El-Luweibdeh neighborhood be provided with all necessary medical care and support, it said.
He also called for greater awareness of how to deal with old buildings, it added.
On a visit to the PSD on Thursday, the king praised the professionalism of the civil defense teams and stressed the need for more training and specialized equipment to deal with similar tragedies in the future, according to a separate statement from the royal court.
On Wednesday, Civil Defense Chief Hatem Jaber said that search and rescue operations would continue until all those believed to have been trapped were pulled out.
At least 25 people are thought to have been in the building when it collapsed on Tuesday. About 300 civil defense personnel are involved in the search and rescue mission.
Among those rescued so far are a five-month-old baby girl named Malak and a man in his 50s. The infant is currently being treated at the Luzmila Hospital in El-Luweibdeh, and is said to be in a fair condition.
Hussam Najdawi from the Greater Amman Municipality said the building that collapsed was nearly 50 years old, adding that the residents of four neighboring buildings had been evacuated as a safety precaution.
Technical teams from the municipality would assess the condition of several other old buildings in El-Luweibdeh, Najdawi said.
Although the GAM has been criticized for not taking care of old buildings it said it was not to blame for the collapse, which was the result of “irresponsible construction inside the property.”
GAM spokesperson Nasser Rahamneh told the government-owned Al-Mamlakah TV that the municipality’s job was organizational rather than technical.
The Jordanian Engineers Association said earlier it warned the GAM in 2017 about the deteriorating condition of several old buildings in Amman and called for urgent action to prevent them from collapsing.
Residents of the property that fell said its owner had been carrying out construction work on the ground floor which had weakened the support structure and caused cracks to appear in their apartments.
Local people told Arab News previously that developers had been building large residential units for foreign expatriates without “paying attention to the fact that the neighboring houses are very old and very fragile.”
El-Luweibdeh is a preferred neighborhood for expatriates in Jordan.
Following the collapse, the Amman prosecutor general opened an investigation into the incident and ordered the detention of the owner of the building, as well as its maintenance and technical contractors.
RAMALLAH: Israel is deliberately impeding progress toward a two-state solution and can no longer be considered a reliable partner in the peace process, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN on Friday.
Israel had acted with “total impunity” against people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Palestinians’ trust in the prospects for peace was “regressing,” he said.
“(Israel) is, through its premeditated and deliberate policies, destroying the two-state solution,” the Palestinian Authority president said in a speech to the UN General Assembly.
“This proves unequivocally that Israel does not believe in peace. Therefore, we no longer have an Israeli partner to whom we can talk.”
Many Palestinians told Arab News that Abbas was frank, straightforward and direct in his diagnosis of the suffering of Palestinians.
Walid Masharqa from Jenin said he was satisfied with Abbas’ speech, which “conveyed the message of the suffering of the Palestinian people due to the policies of the Israeli occupation.”
He added: “I did not expect from the president more than that. When he gives a yearlong deadline to end the Israeli occupation and threatens to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and stop security coordination with Israel, he uses that as a means to put pressure on Israel.”
Twelve months ago, Abbas addressed the UN by video link and said he was giving Israel one year to withdraw from occupied territory or he would no long recognize the Jewish state based on pre-1967 borders. He did not mention that ultimatum on Friday, but focused instead on the lack of international recognition of the Palestinian territories.
Nasser Odeh from the village of Arora, north of Ramallah, told Arab News: “What power does President Abbas have other than receiving the world’s sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians? The Palestinians do not have the slightest means to put pressure on the US and European countries.”
He also underlined the world’s bias in favor of Israel.
“The biggest threat to Israel is Abbas’ decision to dissolve the PA, but does dissolving the authority benefit the Palestinian cause and serve the Palestinian citizen? The PA, despite all its shortcomings, is a demand of the Palestinian people, and Abbas’ program remains better than that of his political opponents, especially Hamas,” Odeh added.
Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Al-Khatib told Arab News that he did not follow Abbas’ speech because he knew in advance that he would not say anything new.
Basem Naim, head of the Hamas political department in Gaza, said Abbas spoke logically and sensibly.
“Still, his words did not reflect a shift in his attitude toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He will not take decisions such as stopping security coordination with the Israeli occupation, improving relations with Palestinian factions, ending the Palestinian division, withdrawing recognition of Israel and holding general elections in the Palestinian Territories,” he said.
“As long as Abbas’ words are not translated into action, they will remain just media news for 24 hours. Israel will not change its position on the PA based on Abbas’ speech.
“Therefore, they should reconsider their relationship with Israel and the US, and implement the decisions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which demanded the withdrawal of recognition of Israel and the cessation of security coordination with it,” Naim added.
Ahmed Ghuneim from the Fatah movement in East Jerusalem told Arab News that he was expecting Abbas’ speech to mention last year’s ultimatum to Israel, “but he never spoke about it.”
“He did not tell the Palestinians what they were waiting to know, namely what will Abbas do after the expiration of the deadline,” he said.
Ghuneim added that the president’s speech reflected the extent of Abbas’ frustration and despair.
He criticized him for “selling grief and begging instead of taking courageous and daring decisions that could embarrass Israel before the world.”
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967, and since 2007 has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamists of Hamas.
NEW YORK: Sudan’s ruling military general, who mounted a coup nearly a year ago, said he will not run in future elections for a civilian-led government, but offered no timeline on when a vote might happen in order for him to relinquish power. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan spoke with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday. It marked nearly one year after he mounted a coup that upended the Arabic-speaking African nation’s short-lived transition to democracy after three decades of repressive rule by strongman Omar Bashir. Asked if he would consider running in future elections, Gen. Al-Burhan replied: “I don’t think so.”
Sudan’s inflation was expected to hit a staggering 245 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
When pressed further, he said: “I do not have a desire to put myself forward (as a candidate) nor do I want to continue in this work.” Underpinning last year’s coup were tensions that had been building between supporters of military rule and those who support civilian rule — with both sides frustrated by the country’s worsening economic conditions. Sudan has been mired in political turmoil for over three years. Its economy has teetered and inflation was expected to hit a staggering 245 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Since the coup last October, pro-democracy protesters have marched through the streets demanding the generals hand over power to civilians. They’ve denounced Al-Burhan’s takeover, which occurred when the military dissolved the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as well as the Sovereign Council, a power-sharing body of military officers and civilians that had been ruling Sudan since late 2019. Troops have opened fire at protesters, killing some of the marchers and detaining hundreds. While no police or security forces have been convicted in the deaths, Al-Burhan said around five or six are under investigation. “No one killed protesters in the way that’s being depicted,” he said. “Protesters clashed with police, and the police dealt with them according to the law to protect public property.” Gen. Al-Burhan said that once an elected government is in place, the armed forces would be another institution of that government rather than retain a higher status. During the interview, Gen. Al-Burhan said he would not run in future elections. But he stopped short of giving a date for when elections will be held, despite previously saying a vote could be held in July 2023. Instead, he said the gridlock lies with political groups that need to agree on a date for the vote. He insisted the military had no role in that discussion. “We are talking about political participation and widening that participation, whether that is Hamdok or someone else, this person will not succeed without a wide base to rule Sudan,” Gen. Al-Burhan said. “The only authority to rule is through elections, with no one imposing their will on another.” He also brushed aside strains within his own transitional government, denying there were any disagreements with the deputy chief of Sudan’s ruling military council, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, better known by his nickname Hamedti. Local media over the past weeks reported disputes between the two generals. Dagalo has also acknowledged the failure of the October military’s takeover. Amid the political upheaval, millions of Sudanese are suffering from high prices and a currency that’s dropped dramatically in value against the dollar. The ruling military leader blamed countries and institutions, which he did not name, for being behind Sudan’s deteriorating economic situation. Sudan is in the midst of a deepening food crisis caused by “a cocktail of factors,” according to the country’s World Food Programme representative, Eddie Rowe, who spoke at a UN press conference. Sudan has seen two years of poor harvests, a summer of devastating flooding and is struggling to access vital grain imports from eastern Europe following the war in Ukraine. In response to October’s coup, many major UN donors have withdrawn funding from the country. To help ease Sudan’s crisis, Rowe called for lasting peace, a reliable government, and further international aid and support. Following the coup, the administration of President Joe Biden suspended $700 million in financial assistance intended to support Sudan’s transition to a fully civilian government. The State Department said the full aid package, which may have included other aid beyond the $700 million, had been put on “pause” pending a review of developments in Khartoum. There are those “who promised to provide assistance to Sudan, but they did not honor their promises. There was much support from those external actors but regretfully this assistance ceased for political purposes,” Gen. Al-Burhan said.
NEW YORK CITY: Britain is bringing back VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors — including British expats — to boost its flagging retail sector, Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng said on Friday.
Kwarteng told Parliament the government would also replace the previous paper-based system with a digital one as soon as possible.
It is welcome news for British expats living in the Gulf who, along with foreign visitors, will be able to claim the value added tax they pay during visits home before they leave the country — as long as they can prove they live abroad.
“This is excellent news. It will make shopping so much cheaper when I go home,” said British expat Lucy Land, who lives in Saudi Arabia.
“Hopefully the new digital claim system the chancellor has announced will make the process easier. I was always put off before by the paperwork.”
But she said she did have some concerns.
“While it is welcome news — every penny counts these days — I do wonder how the government will be able to pay for the many services the state provides. Something will surely have to give?”
British expats pay hundreds of pounds in VAT during their trips back to the country. Costs stack up with evenings spent in restaurants with old friends and family, or shopping for those prized items not available in their host nation.
“It’s good news. I spend a fortune when I go home. So being able to claim some of that back is going to help a lot, because VAT is a lot in Britain,” said British expat Robbie Jones, who lives in Dubai.
“The cost of living crisis has hit us all, so it will be nice to be able to have fraction-less outgoings and I think this will be great news for British retailers who have felt the pinch as people spend less.”
Visitors to the country used to be able to claim back the tax they paid on shopping at the airport or rebate agencies before leaving the country.
But the rebate was scrapped on Dec. 21, 2020 by the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
“Britain welcomes millions of tourists every year, and I want our high streets and airports, our ports and our shopping centers to feel the economic benefit. So we have decided to introduce VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors,” Kwasi Kwarteng told Parliament during the presentation of a mini-budget.
Linda Ellett, KPMG’s UK head of consumer markets, retail and leisure, said the move would increase the UK’s competitiveness when it comes to attracting international visitors.
“This is all the more key as we look to find ways to create economic growth, return international tourism to pre-pandemic volumes, and withstand rising inflation on the high street,” she said.
TEHRAN: Thousands demonstrated across Iran on Friday at government-backed pro-hijab counter rallies, after a week of bloody protests over the death of a woman arrested for wearing the Islamic headscarf “improperly.” At least 50 people have been killed by security forces in the anti-government protests, Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based organization, said on Friday — more than three times the official death toll of 17, which includes five security personnel. The street violence, which IHR says has spread to 80 towns and cities, was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd who had spent three days in a coma after being detained by the morality police in Tehran. As part of the crackdown, Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the Internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world. The US announced Friday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand Internet services, days after SpaceX owner Elon Musk said he would seek an exemption from sanctions to offer his company’s Starlink satellite service in the Islamic republic. The new measure will allow technology companies to “expand the range of Internet services available to Iranians,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said. On Friday, thousands took to the streets in support of the hijab and a conservative dress code at government-backed counter rallies in Tehran and other cities including Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom and Tabriz. “The great demonstration of the Iranian people condemning the conspirators and the sacrileges against religion took place today,” Iran’s Mehr news agency said. State television broadcast footage of pro-hijab demonstrators in central Tehran, many of them men but also women dressed in black chadors. Amini died on September 16, three days after she was hospitalized following her arrest by the morality police, the unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women. Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation. After she was pronounced dead, angry protests flared and spread to major cities, including Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz as well as the capital. In the latest violence, security forces fired “semi-heavy weapons” at demonstrators during overnight clashes in the northern city of Oshnaviyeh, the Oslo-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said on Friday. The report could not be independently verified. In nearby Babol, demonstrators were seen setting ablaze a large billboard bearing the image of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in videos shared online. Iran Human Rights said that its updated toll of 50 dead included six people who were killed by fire from security forces in the town of Rezvanshahr in the northern Gilan province on Thursday night, while the other deaths were recorded in Babol and Amol. A previous toll from the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) put the death toll at 36. Some women demonstrators have defiantly taken off their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering crowds, video footage spread virally on social media has shown. Security forces have arrested activists including Majid Tavakoli, who has been repeatedly imprisoned in recent years, including after disputed 2009 elections. Demonstrators have hurled stones at them, set fire to police cars and chanted anti-government slogans, IRNA reported. “The government has responded with live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas, according to videos shared on social media that have also shown protesters bleeding profusely,” the CHRI said. Internet access has been restricted in what web monitor NetBlocks has called a “curfew-style pattern of disruptions” amid the angry protests sparked by Amini’s death. “Online platforms remained restricted and connectivity is intermittent for many users and mobile Internet was disrupted for a third day on Friday,” NetBlocks said. Access to social media services, Instagram and WhatsApp have been blocked since Wednesday night, and connections were still largely disrupted on Friday. The measure was taken in response to “the actions carried out via these social networks by counter-revolutionaries against national security,” Iran’s Fars news agency said. President Ebrahim Raisi, at a news conference in New York where he attended the UN General Assembly, said: “We must differentiate between demonstrators and vandalism.” The unrest comes at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as the Iranian economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by sanctions over its nuclear program.
BEIRUT: At least 77 people drowned when an illegal migrant boat traveling from Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast in the eastern Mediterranean. Around 150 people, mostly Lebanese and Syrians, were on board the small vessel that went down on Thursday off the Syrian city of Tartous. “Seventy-seven people have died,” Syria’s Health Minister Hassan Al-Ghabash told Agence France-Presse. Lebanon has become a starting point for illegal migration, with its citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamoring to leave their homeland. Illegal “death boats” set off every day from the northern coast of Lebanon. Some succeed in reaching their destination, a few are rescued by the coast guards of the countries in whose territorial waters their boats capsize, and the rest are swallowed up by the sea.
Former Tripoli MP Mustafa Alloush told Arab News: “People have completely lost hope that the situation in Lebanon could improve and there are mafias exploiting this.” He said 95 percent of such illegal trips succeed in reaching their destinations, and those people who make it to Europe encourage their relatives and acquaintances to make the same journey. He added: “The Lebanese authorities know who these smugglers organizing such trips are. They get huge sums of money. Security officers are paid off to facilitate such journeys or turn a blind eye. “Why did this boat head toward Syria? Is it not to escape UNIFIL (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon), which patrols Lebanese waters? “Drug trafficking is illegal, but remains active given the amounts of money paid to dealers and distributors. “The same goes for human trafficking and smuggling. Money is paid, specifically to those who are supposed to protect people in this country.” Caretaker Minister of Public Works Ali Hamieh said: “This type of boat was not made for such trips and cannot carry that many people. It turned out that it was recently imported and arrived in Lebanon two months ago.” Most passengers were residents of northern Lebanon, some were Palestinian refugees from the Nahr Al-Bared camp, but the majority were Syrians, from Idlib, Aleppo and Latakia. These Syrians had illegally made their way into Lebanon to escape by sea through the north of the country. Among the victims were two girls who were buried in Akkar, north Lebanon, after being transported there by car from Tartous. The mayor of Qarqaf, in Akkar, said: “The mother of the two girls drowned, as did her two sons. The father is still alive, but he is in a hospital in Syria.” The boat had embarked from Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region, with passengers paying $3,000 for children and $7,000 per adult for the trip. Lebanon’s Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party Ali Hijazi, who traveled to Tartous on Friday, said survivors had informed him the boat “left from Minyeh on Tuesday morning and experienced a technical malfunction. It capsized due to the waves on Thursday morning.” The Lebanese Army announced it has arrested eight suspected smugglers. The tragedy coincided with the announcement on social media of another boat that left the northern coast of Lebanon bound for Italy and broke down between Greece and Turkey. Its passengers were rescued and are currently in Turkey.