Algeria Bans Iranian Publications in 22nd International Book Fair

Algeria's International Book Fair, Asharq Al-Awsat
Algeria's International Book Fair, Asharq Al-Awsat
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Algeria Bans Iranian Publications in 22nd International Book Fair

Algeria's International Book Fair, Asharq Al-Awsat
Algeria's International Book Fair, Asharq Al-Awsat

Algeria's cultural authorities officially banned dozens of Iranian publications from partaking in the 22nd International Book Fair it hosts.

The book fair kicks off on Thursday in the capital’s eastern suburbs and is scheduled to run until the fifth of November.

Book Fair general manager Hamidou Messaoudi told Asharq Al-Awsat that banned works "incite sectarianism and violence and contradict the Maliki doctrine, which is followed by the majority of the Algerian people."

Messaoudi refused to list banned titles, in an effort to avoid granting them free publicity.

Sources close to the fair’s organizing team said that books subject to exclusion are the product of Iranian publishing houses.

Messaoudi explained that the reading committee closely monitors participating material and has recommended immediate confiscation, informing publishing houses affiliated with banned books that they would not participate in the cultural event.

The government is extremely vigilant when it comes to cultural activity in Algeria, especially with regard to religious and political writings.

Some 10 books were banned from the Exhibition Centre in Algiers, arguing that some "glorify French colonialism” and others strongly attack the military establishment and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika by calling him to step down.

Among the banned works of intellectuals were those belonging to Mohamed Harbi who lives in France.

Authorities reserve the right to disclose the names of publishing institutions that have been banned by, claiming that this will give them the opportunity to file lawsuits on the grounds that their reputation has been harmed.

Algerian authorities also believe that religious books were directly related to rising violence-- groups affiliated with extremist religious movement in the early 1990s staged a number of episodes whose repercussions last to this very day.

Monitoring committees work relentlessly to prevent the proliferation of inciting material calling for jihad among young people.

Security interests have already confiscated a number books and CDs containing technical training on the use of weapons, explosives, and explosive belts.



Mourners Demand Accountability, Bury Loved Ones After Iraq Wedding Inferno 

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of victims of the fatal fire at a wedding celebration, in Hamdaniya, Iraq, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of victims of the fatal fire at a wedding celebration, in Hamdaniya, Iraq, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
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Mourners Demand Accountability, Bury Loved Ones After Iraq Wedding Inferno 

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of victims of the fatal fire at a wedding celebration, in Hamdaniya, Iraq, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)
Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of victims of the fatal fire at a wedding celebration, in Hamdaniya, Iraq, September 28, 2023. (Reuters)

Calls for accountability grew on Thursday for the victims of a deadly fire at an Iraqi wedding celebration in a town as grief-stricken mourners attended a packed memorial service and families buried their loved ones.

More than 100 people died and at least 150 were injured on Tuesday evening in an inferno that government officials have said was enabled by a lack of safety and security measures and the use of highly flammable materials in the building.

In a sermon interrupted at times by the wails of women clad in black, a priest at Al-Tahira Church in Hamdaniya - also known as Qaraqosh - told mourners that Iraq had been united in grief but criticized officials for "your corruption, your favoritism."

"Nothing is up to standard in this country," he said as mourners, some crying, others holding pictures of the deceased, listened on.

"We have to hold those who are responsible accountable... enough, enough!"

Criticism of a lax approach to public safety is common in Iraq, a country where the state has been weakened by recurring conflict since the 2003 US invasion, and where services are impaired by pervasive corruption for which few senior officials are ever held to account.

The tragedy has revived memories of deadly fires that swept through two hospitals in Iraq in 2021, killing at least 174 people in all, that were at the time blamed on negligence, lax regulations and corruption.

Government officials have announced the arrest of 14 people over Tuesday night's fire, including the owners of the events hall, and promised a swift investigation with results announced within 72 hours.

The government has also ordered immediate inspections of large public gathering spaces such as hotels, schools and hospitals.

"There is no such thing as destiny in Christianity; this is manmade," said Botrous Kareem, a local resident who lost five cousins in the fire and was on his way to a cemetery to attend more burials.


Israel Reopens Gaza Crossings, Lets Palestinians Back to Work After Two Weeks 

Palestinian workers gather at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on September 28, 2023, after the crossing was reopened by Israeli authorities. (AFP)
Palestinian workers gather at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on September 28, 2023, after the crossing was reopened by Israeli authorities. (AFP)
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Israel Reopens Gaza Crossings, Lets Palestinians Back to Work After Two Weeks 

Palestinian workers gather at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on September 28, 2023, after the crossing was reopened by Israeli authorities. (AFP)
Palestinian workers gather at the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on September 28, 2023, after the crossing was reopened by Israeli authorities. (AFP)

Israel reopened crossing points with Gaza on Thursday, allowing thousands of Palestinian workers to get to their jobs in Israel and the West Bank, after nearly two weeks of closure prompted by violent protests along the border.

Around 18,000 Gazans have permits from Israeli authorities to work outside the blockaded enclave, providing an injection of cash amounting to some $2 million a day to the impoverished territory's economy.

The move comes amid stepped-up international efforts by Egypt and the United Nations to defuse tensions and prevent a new round of armed conflict in the enclave.

For around two weeks, protestors throwing stones and explosive devices have faced off against Israeli troops who have responded with live fire, killing at least one man and wounding dozens more.

Protests on Wednesday were less intense, and so was the Israeli response. A Palestinian official familiar with mediation efforts told Reuters the development came "upon the request of mediators to de-escalate tensions".

Desperate to go back to their jobs, workers began to flock to the Palestinian side of the crossing soon after Israel made the announcement late on Wednesday.

"We want to go to work and earn a living for our children because the situation was too bad for us the past two weeks," said Khaled Zurub, 57, who works in construction in Israel.

Cogat, the Israeli Defense Ministry agency that coordinates with the Palestinians, said security assessments would determine whether the border remained open.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the Hamas movement that rules Gaza and opposes peace deals with Israel, said Israel was constantly violating Gazans' fundamental right to freedom of movement with repeated border closures and the blockade of Gaza.

Israel blocks many goods from entering Gaza, citing security concerns, and also reserves the right to restrict exports.

According to IMF figures, per capita income in Gaza is only a quarter of that of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The World Bank says unemployment is nearly 50%.


Iraq’s Kirkuk Reports Around 50 Cases of Food Poisoning 

Vehicles move along a road in Iraq's multi-ethnic northern city of Kirkuk (disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad) on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
Vehicles move along a road in Iraq's multi-ethnic northern city of Kirkuk (disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad) on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Iraq’s Kirkuk Reports Around 50 Cases of Food Poisoning 

Vehicles move along a road in Iraq's multi-ethnic northern city of Kirkuk (disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad) on September 5, 2023. (AFP)
Vehicles move along a road in Iraq's multi-ethnic northern city of Kirkuk (disputed between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad) on September 5, 2023. (AFP)

Around 50 people came down with food poisoning at a party in the Iraqi town of Hawija west of the oil city of Kirkuk, state media reported on Wednesday night, adding that the situation was under control.

Some local media organizations said the incident took place at a wedding celebration and said at least 20 people had been taken to hospital for treatment.

The development took place hours after a fire ripped through a packed wedding hall in northern Iraq late on Tuesday, killing more than 100 people.

Fire fighters searched the charred remains of the building in Qaraqosh, also known as Al-Hamdaniya, through Wednesday morning and bereaved relatives gathered outside a morgue in the nearby city of Mosul.


Iraq Mourns After ‘Nineveh Tragedy’

The funeral service of the fire victims was held in Hamdaniya District, Nineveh Province, northern Iraq (Reuters)
The funeral service of the fire victims was held in Hamdaniya District, Nineveh Province, northern Iraq (Reuters)
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Iraq Mourns After ‘Nineveh Tragedy’

The funeral service of the fire victims was held in Hamdaniya District, Nineveh Province, northern Iraq (Reuters)
The funeral service of the fire victims was held in Hamdaniya District, Nineveh Province, northern Iraq (Reuters)

Sorrow gripped Iraq on Wednesday following a tragic fire that had set ablaze a wedding hall in the district of Hamdaniya, located in the Nineveh governorate in the northern part of the country.

The inferno, ignited by fireworks within the hall, led to the loss of at least one hundred lives in the town of Qaraqosh, part of the Hamdaniya district, predominantly inhabited by Christians.

The final casualty count remained conflicting nearly 20 hours after the blaze broke out.

Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul-Amir al-Shammari stated that the latest figures reported by the Nineveh Health Directorate were 93 fatalities and over 100 injuries.

However, local medical reports suggested that the number of fatalities might exceed 120 individuals who lost their lives due to severe burns or suffocation.

Doctors reported receiving dozens of dead children during the night.

It took civil defense personnel an extended period to search for the missing individuals among the debris, with some found trapped amidst charred tables.

As authorities launched a probe, the Interior Ministry reported that the initial findings indicate the incident is not of criminal nature but rather was caused by “lapses in safety and security measures.”

An official from the civil defense department, who requested anonymity, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are still children missing under the rubble.”

Additionally, a high-ranking officer disclosed that a special security force has taken the venue owner into custody for questioning and legal actions, while prior to that, four individuals responsible for organizing the wedding ceremony were apprehended.

Kurdish authorities in Erbil later announced arresting the owner of the banquet hall.

The Iraqi government has declared a three-day national mourning period for the victims, following the announcement by Nineveh’s governor, Najm al-Jubouri, of a week of mourning and the postponement of celebrations for the Prophet's birthday (Mawlid al-Nabi) until further notice.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry extended condolences and expressed solidarity with Iraq and its people while offering their condolences to the families of the victims. They also wished a speedy recovery for the injured.


Condolences Pour in from Across the Globe over Iraq Fire Tragedy

An exterior view of the hall where a fire broke out during a wedding ceremony in Al-Hamdaniya town, northern Iraq, 27 September 2023. (EPA)
An exterior view of the hall where a fire broke out during a wedding ceremony in Al-Hamdaniya town, northern Iraq, 27 September 2023. (EPA)
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Condolences Pour in from Across the Globe over Iraq Fire Tragedy

An exterior view of the hall where a fire broke out during a wedding ceremony in Al-Hamdaniya town, northern Iraq, 27 September 2023. (EPA)
An exterior view of the hall where a fire broke out during a wedding ceremony in Al-Hamdaniya town, northern Iraq, 27 September 2023. (EPA)

The Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed on Wednesday its sincerest condolences to the Iraqi government and people, as well as the relatives of the victims, over the Nineveh fire that killed over 100 people.

The ministry underscored the Kingdom’s solidarity with Iraq and its people, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

A fire ripped through a packed wedding hall in northern Iraq late on Tuesday, killing more than 100 people.

Fire fighters searched the charred remains of the building in Qaraqosh, also known as Al-Hamdaniya, through Wednesday morning and bereaved relatives gathered outside a morgue in the nearby city of Mosul.

The US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski offered her condolences.

“We stand by the Iraqis in their grief for the victims and the injured at Al-Hamdaniya wedding,” Romanowski said in a post on the X platform.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said it was “shocked and pained by the horrible loss of life and injuries in the fire in Ninenveh’s Al-Hamdaniya. An immense tragedy.”

“Our sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones. We wish the injured a speedy recovery,” it added on the X platform.

The European Union mission in Iraq offered its condolences, saying its hearts were with the families of the victims.

It expressed its solidarity with Iraq and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

The spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abou Zeid, said Cairo stands by Iraq, its government and people in wake of the tragedy.

Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri sent a cable to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and his counterpart Mohammed al-Halbousi to offer his condolences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Nasser Kanaani all offered their condolences.

Kanaani added that Iran was ready to treat the wounded.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq stressed the need for the concerned authorities to dedicate all efforts and means to help the victims and their relatives.

It urged the need to open a probe into the accident and bring those responsible to justice.

It also called for ensuring that all public and private buildings meet safety standards to avoid such tragedies from taking place again in the future.


Shtayyeh: Palestinian-Saudi Consensus on Arab Peace Initiative

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh meeting in Ramallah with the new non-resident Saudi ambassador to Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem, Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi (Wafa)
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh meeting in Ramallah with the new non-resident Saudi ambassador to Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem, Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi (Wafa)
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Shtayyeh: Palestinian-Saudi Consensus on Arab Peace Initiative

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh meeting in Ramallah with the new non-resident Saudi ambassador to Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem, Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi (Wafa)
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh meeting in Ramallah with the new non-resident Saudi ambassador to Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem, Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi (Wafa)

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, in a statement on Wednesday, affirmed the existence of consensus that the Arab Peace Initiative is the acceptable basis for all parties regarding the Palestinian issue.

Shtayyeh made these remarks following his meeting in Ramallah with the new non-resident Saudi ambassador to Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem, Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi.

The premier said the Saudi position “is exceptional in its clarity regarding the Palestinian issue, and there is agreement that the Arab Peace Initiative is the acceptable basis for all parties.”

Shtayyeh further emphasized that the appointment of a Saudi ambassador to Palestine conveys a significant message, indicating the alignment of both sides, and underscoring the robust and strategic nature of Palestinian-Saudi relations.

“The rise and progress of the Kingdom is good for Muslims and Arabs and good for Palestine in particular,” said Shtayyeh.

“We are happy with the pioneering and advanced Saudi role in the region and the world, because this pushes the Palestinian cause forward, amid a state of international double standards,” he added.

The prime minister then accused the Israeli government of moving from secular Zionism to religious Zionism.

According to Shtayyeh, this has led to an intensification of settlement activity, an intensification of the raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque, greater aggression, and more killing.

“Israel is waging four wars against us: a war on land by seizing it, a war on people by killing and displacing our people in Jerusalem and elsewhere, a war on money with illegal and unaudited deductions from our money, which has put us on the brink of collapse, and finally a war on the narrative through an attempt to Judaize Jerusalem,” explained the premier.

Shtayyeh observed that despite the Palestinian Authority's view of a lack of a political pathway and the absence of a viable partner within an extremely right-wing Israeli government, Palestinians are actively striving to stabilize their internal affairs and pursue reconciliation efforts.


UN Peace Envoy, Egypt Working to Restore Calm along Gaza Fence

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back during clashes with Israeli troops on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, 26 September 2023. (EPA)
A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back during clashes with Israeli troops on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, 26 September 2023. (EPA)
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UN Peace Envoy, Egypt Working to Restore Calm along Gaza Fence

A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back during clashes with Israeli troops on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, 26 September 2023. (EPA)
A Palestinian protester throws a tear gas canister back during clashes with Israeli troops on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, 26 September 2023. (EPA)

International mediators have stepped up efforts to prevent a new round of armed confrontation between Israel and the Hamas movement, which runs Gaza, amid an escalation in violent protests along the border fence.

"The United Nations is talking to and working with all concerned to improve the lives of people in Gaza, particularly the most vulnerable," UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said on social media platform X on Wednesday, a day after he met Hamas officials in Gaza.

"The situation inside the Strip is dire and we must avoid another conflict that will have grave consequences for all. The people of Gaza have suffered enough and deserve more than a return to calm."

A regional diplomat said Egypt, which brokered numerous truces between Israel and Gaza fighters in the past, had also stepped up its efforts to prevent a slide into another war.

Palestinians in Gaza have held protests along the fence for nearly two weeks, breaking from a period of relative calm.

Gazans say they are protesting over issues including the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount.

Youths have thrown stones and improvised explosive devices at Israeli troops, who have responded with live fire, killing one Palestinian and wounding dozens of others.

Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari told Israel's Kan Radio the protests would fail to win concessions from Israel.

"The priority is to mount a strong defense and prevent the incidents going beyond the fence. Whoever turns the incident into one of terrorism - gets hit and is killed ... They won't get concessions through terrorism," said Hagari.

Israel had shut crossings and stopped workers from coming into its territory since early last week. Israel said reopening "will be subject to ongoing evaluation on the evolving situation in the region".

Economic improvements

A Hamas spokesman had no immediate comment. The group has defended the demonstrations, saying they aimed to protest at Israel's closure and "assaults" against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Several wars and a 16-year Israeli-led blockade have devastated the economy of Gaza and sent the unemployment rate to around 46% percent, one of the highest in the world.

The regional diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said mediators sought more Israeli economic improvements, further ease up on crossings it controlled with Gaza, and an increase in the number of work permits.

In return, he said, Hamas would curb protests and end the use of improvised bombs and incendiary balloons.

He said the protests were not isolated from a financial problem Hamas is facing, worsened by Qatar's slashing of funds.

Qatar has cut a grant it used to offer to support the wages of 40,000 Hamas employees to $5 million from $7 million.

In August, employees received 55% of the wages, not the usual 60%. The group has not paid wages in full for many years.


Lebanese Military Court Sentences ISIS Group Official to 160 Years in Prison

Smoke rises during clashes between members of the Palestinian Fatah group and Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, on Sept. 8, 2023. (AP)
Smoke rises during clashes between members of the Palestinian Fatah group and Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, on Sept. 8, 2023. (AP)
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Lebanese Military Court Sentences ISIS Group Official to 160 Years in Prison

Smoke rises during clashes between members of the Palestinian Fatah group and Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, on Sept. 8, 2023. (AP)
Smoke rises during clashes between members of the Palestinian Fatah group and Islamist militants in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, on Sept. 8, 2023. (AP)

A Lebanese military court has sentenced an official with the extremist ISIS group to 160 years in prison for carrying out deadly attacks against security forces and planning others targeting government buildings and crowded civilian areas, judicial officials said Wednesday.

The officials said Imad Yassin, a Palestinian in his 50s, confessed to all 11 charges against him, including joining a “terrorist organization,” committing crimes in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, shooting at Lebanese soldiers, and transporting weapons and munitions for militant groups.

Yassin, also known as Imad Akl, said he was planning several other attacks, including blowing up two main power stations, the headquarters of a major local television station in Beirut, killing a leading politician, as well as planning attacks on hotels north of Beirut, the officials said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Before joining ISIS, Yassin was a member of other militant extremist groups, including al-Qaeda-linked Jund al-Sham, which is still active in Ain el-Hilweh. In later years, he became ISIS' top official in the camp.

Yassin was detained in Ain el-Hilweh, near the port city of Sidon, six years ago and has been held since. The total 11 sentences that he received count to up to 160 years in prison, the officials said.

The session during which he was sentenced started Monday night and lasted until the early hours of Tuesday, the officials said. The news about his sentence became public on Wednesday.

At the height of its rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014, ISIS claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in different parts of Lebanon that left scores of people dead. Lebanese troops launched a major operation in 2017 during which they captured ISIS-held areas along the Lebanon-Syria border.


Israel Says It Foiled Iranian Plot to Target, Spy on Senior Israeli Politicians

10 November 2022, Israel, Jerusalem: Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane. (dpa)
10 November 2022, Israel, Jerusalem: Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane. (dpa)
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Israel Says It Foiled Iranian Plot to Target, Spy on Senior Israeli Politicians

10 November 2022, Israel, Jerusalem: Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane. (dpa)
10 November 2022, Israel, Jerusalem: Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane. (dpa)

Israel arrested five Palestinians in a plot allegedly hatched in Iran to target and spy on senior Israeli politicians, including Israel's far-right national security minister, the country’s internal security agency said Wednesday.

The Shin Bet security service alleged that an Iranian security official living in neighboring Jordan had recruited three Palestinian men in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and another two Palestinian citizens of Israel to gather intelligence about several high-profile Israeli politicians.

The targets included National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — a firebrand Israeli settler leader who oversees the country's police force in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ultranationalist government — as well as Yehuda Glick, an American-born far-right Israeli activist and former member of parliament.

The plan was foiled by Israeli intelligence officials, the Shin Bet said, without offering evidence.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

Ben-Gvir, who draws inspiration from a racist rabbi, has provoked outrage across the wider Middle East for his particularly hard-line policies against the Palestinians, anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts and frequent public visits to the holiest and most contested site in the Holy Land. The hilltop compound in Jerusalem, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is at the emotional center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Glick is a leader in a campaign that pushes for increased Jewish access and prayer rights at the sacred Jerusalem compound, the holiest site in Judaism home to ancient biblical Temples. Today, the compound houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Since Israel captured the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there. Glick survived a 2014 Palestinian assassination attempt.

The Shin Bet did not elaborate on the identity of the Iranian official in Jordan who allegedly orchestrated the plot. He is not in custody and apparently remains at large.

But the Shin Bet accused three Palestinian men in the West Bank — identified as 47-year old Murad Kamamaja, 34-year-old Hassan Mujarimah and 45-year-old Ziad Shanti — of gathering intelligence and smuggling weapons into Israel. The security service also said that it charged two Palestinian citizens of Israel over their involvement in the plot. It did not specify how the men planned to target Ben-Gvir and the other politicians.

Ben-Gvir claimed that the Palestinian suspects had conspired to “assassinate a minister in Israel,” without clarifying whether he meant himself or another minister. He thanked Israeli security forces for uncovering and capturing what he called the “terrorist squad.”

Ben-Gvir, who has pushed for harsher treatment for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, also vowed to double down on his hard-line policies in response to the revelations. “I will continue to act fearlessly and even more vigorously for a fundamental change in the conditions of the terrorists’ imprisonment,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Israel has considered Iran to be its greatest enemy since it became a theocracy during the 1979 revolution. Iran is a main patron of Lebanon's Hezbollah armed group, which Israel considers the most potent military threat on its borders, and also backs Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip.


Allawi to Asharq Al-Awsat: Saddam Was a Brave Young Man, Power Transformed Him into a Tyrant

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Editor-in-Chief Ghassan Charbel. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Editor-in-Chief Ghassan Charbel. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Allawi to Asharq Al-Awsat: Saddam Was a Brave Young Man, Power Transformed Him into a Tyrant

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Editor-in-Chief Ghassan Charbel. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Editor-in-Chief Ghassan Charbel. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The story began in 1964. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi enjoyed a friendship with a colleague named Abdul Karim Al-Shaikhli, who had returned to the College of Medicine in Baghdad after a long break, due to his involvement in the assassination attempt against Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qasim in 1959.

One day, a skinny young man came to the college, and Al-Shaikhli introduced him to Allawi. His name was Saddam Hussein. Saddam will repeat these visits and will always ask Allawi: “Where is my twin brother?” Allawi would answer that he was attending a lecture and would come after it ended, and the two would exchange conversations over a cup of coffee, then Al-Shaikhli would join them.

A friendship developed between the three, who would later be held in the same prison in 1964. But their paths would then converge, when Saddam became the undisputed master of the Baath party and the country.

In 1978, Saddam attacked Allawi with an axe, but he luckily escaped with his life. However, hostility did not prevent him from acknowledging his opponent’s qualities and characteristics. I asked him to describe Saddam during the first half of the 1960s, he replied: “When we met for the first time, he did not have an important role in the party. But he was a man of nobility and strong will, and was considered one of the party’s fighters and committed to its ideology.”

Allawi admitted that after the fall of Saddam, his government conducted investigations “and did not find a single property in his name, including the presidential plane.” While he blamed the young man he met in medical school for the disasters and tragedies that befell Iraq, he did not deny the qualities he possessed that helped him advance in the party. But he stressed that power turned the young fighter into a tyrannical ruler without a partner or anyone to keep him in check.

Saddam’s cruelty

I asked Allawi about Saddam’s cruelty, and he told me a story:

“I have never seen cruelty like Saddam’s. Here I can mention an important incident. Among the Baathists was a person from Karrada named Hussein Hazbar, who defected and worked with the Syrian wing of the Baath Party in Iraq. One day, a group of Baathists and I were sitting having dinner in the garden of a restaurant. Saddam and Saadoun Shaker came to us. They were cheerful and laughing... They said that they had set a trap for Hazbar, on the suspension bridge, adding that the man was beaten with the butt of pistols, and that he was taken to a hospital...”

“We were appalled by the incident and formed a delegation to go to the hospital to check on the man, and acquit the party of this act, which we saw as cruel and a kind of treachery. I was not part of the delegation, but I knew that five people had attacked Hazbar. He was alone crossing the bridge, so they surrounded him and beat him.”

A feast of surprises

Allawi also recounted how Saddam’s regime dismissed Al-Shaikhli from his post as foreign minister and member of the Baath part on the same evening as his engagement. He recalled:

“The story of Al-Shaikhli’s dismissal from his position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deserves to be mentioned. The man proposed to a girl to marry her. Saddam invited him to dinner with his fiancée, and also invited the Minister of Interior, Vice President of the Republic, Saleh Mahdi Ammash, and his wife. During the dinner, Baghdad Radio broadcast that Al-Shaikhli and Ammash were both relieved of their positions. Al-Shaikhli called me and asked me: Have you heard the news? [...] As I was taking my fiancée to her home, my driver asked me, ‘Did you hear the news?’ I replied: What news? He said: You will be relieved of all your posts and positions in the party and the state.”

Allawi continued: “Al-Shaikhli had participated, along with Saddam, in the attempt to assassinate Qasim. They both fled the country to Egypt, where they lived like brothers. Al-Shaikhli was an Arab nationalist and held senior roles within the party. Years later, the man was put under house arrest. The regime deliberately cut off the electricity to his home under the pretext of unsettled bills. When he went to the Electricity Corporation headquarters, they shot him dead in front of his wife. That was in 1980. Unfortunately, he did not take my advice not to return to Iraq when he was outside the country.”

In prison with Saddam and his companions

Allawi recounted the circumstances of his imprisonment, along with Saddam, in 1964.

“In the fall of 1964, the party decided to launch a coup attempt to restore power. For this purpose, a special body was formed under the name of ‘Jihaz Hanin’, and was led by Saddam, Al-Shaikhli, and Mohammad Fadel. In early September, the coup attempt was uncovered and the authorities launched a massive arrest and persecution campaign. I was among those arrested at that time, along with Saddam, Al-Shaikhli, Salah Omar Al-Ali, Imad Shabib, and Hamid Jawad.”

“Saddam and Al-Shaikhli escaped from prison through a pharmacy in the Al-Saadoun area. They usually returned from court to the prison, but on that day, they claimed that they needed to buy some medicine. They entered the pharmacy with some guards and fled through another entrance, where a car was waiting for them. They laid low until Abdul Rahman Al-Bazzaz, then-prime minister, pardoned them and others, through an official decision. This helped speed up the process of rebuilding and restoring the party, and revived talks about the means to change the regime in Iraq through a military coup.”

“I graduated from medical school in the summer of 1970 and left Iraq to live in Lebanon in October 1971, determined to reach an agreement with others to modify some of the party’s paths by changing the leaders and returning the party to its true spirit. The reasons for me leaving party work were many, most importantly restrictions on freedoms...”

Among those who advised Allawi to leave Iraq was a friend named Nazim Kazar, a famous member of what was known as the “Cruelty Club.”

The man was the director of Public Security and attempted in 1973, along with others, to assassinate Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam together at Baghdad airport, in protest against their control over the party and the state. But when Al-Bakr’s plane was late in arriving, the conspirators thought that the plan had been uncovered. Kazar fled towards the border with Iran, but the army arrested him and quickly liquidated him.

Allawi said: “Kazar was executed quickly. They shot him in the back of the head. No one could confront him even though he was detained. He is the most daring man I have ever met. He knows no such thing as fear. We worked together in the party’s student office. He had unlimited boldness and absolute commitment to the party’s goals. He was as violent as Saddam. Violent, strong and fair. There is no doubt about his integrity.”

At the conclusion of the interview, I asked Allawi about the factors that made Saddam take control of the Baath Party. He replied: “There are two main reasons: the first was his extreme audacity, and the second was the support provided to him by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. Later, Saddam felt that he had control over the party and turned against Al-Bakr... Saddam’s slide into dependence on the family and the Tikrit elements started two months after the Baath Party regained power.”

Allawi’s story is valuable, long and thorny. It cannot fit into a handful of pages. His narration sheds light on some of the features of that stage, especially since he had a direct relationship with the most prominent players in the “Cruelty Club.”