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Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank has increased dramatically under the recently dissolved coalition government, a report by an Israeli human rights organization reveals.

In a survey published on June 25, the Israeli Peace Now movement said that since the current government took office in June 2021, the building of new settlement units in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, has risen by 62 percent compared with the previous Benjamin Netanyahu leadership.

Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on June 20 announced a deal to dissolve the parliament, appointing Lapid as prime minister of an interim government, and triggering early elections.

The decision follows “exhausting attempts to stabilize the coalition,” a joint statement said.

The Peace Now report shows that despite its commitment to a status quo regarding the occupation, a year after the government took office, it not only continued the policies of previous governments, but also stepped up the settlement project and the oppression of Palestinians.

The report indicated a 26 percent increase in planning housing units in settlements — 7,292 compared with an annual average of 5,784 housing units under the Netanyahu government.

Six new outposts and a new settlement in Hebron, the first in 40 years, were among the government’s approvals.

The Bennett-Lapid government deepened the expulsion policy of Palestinians and their restriction to the constrained enclaves in Areas A and B.

As of June 6, the Israeli civil administration had demolished 639 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, causing 604 people to lose their homes.

In East Jerusalem, 189 structures were demolished and 450 Palestinians left homeless.

According to the Peace Now report, only 10 building permits were granted for Palestinians, compared with 1,448 housing units whose construction began in the settlements in the second half of 2021 and 2,526 in the entire year.

Under the Bennett-Lapid government, 86 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank alone compared with 41 under the Netanyahu governments.

Khalil Al-Tafkaji, a Palestinian expert specializing in settlement affairs and director of the map department at the Arab Studies Association in Jerusalem, told Arab News: “The Israeli right is in agreement on two things: Settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it was a fierce competition between the two governments as to who accelerates the increase in settlements.”

The Israeli settlements program in the Palestinian territories has been “green lighted” by all Israeli governments as they seek to raise the number of settlers to 1 million in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by 2025, Al-Tafkaji said.

“All Israeli parties, without exception, do not think of giving the Palestinians a state, but rather see them living in cantons surrounded by settlements and their streets on all sides,” he said.

“The settlers are now leading an intifada of physical attacks against the Palestinians and their property in the West Bank because of their high number and sense of absolute power.”

The Bennett-Lapid government declared 22,000 dunams of land as a nature reserve in the Nachal Og area, south of Jericho. It continued the trend of the Netanyahu government in changing the reality in the Temple Mount (the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound) and the erosion of the status quo.

The supporters of a two-state solution in the Israeli government have failed to stop these actions and left the policies regarding the occupation to those who support the settlement project.

Settlement activity across the West Bank flourished during former US President Donald Trump’s time in power, even though it was considered illegal under international law and threatened the two-state solution.

Palestinians see it as one of the main obstacles to establishing an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

Arabic and international

Grease star Olivia Newton-John dies aged 73

Singer Olivia Newton-John, who gained worldwide fame as high school sweetheart Sandy in the hit musical movie Grease, died on Monday after a 30-year battle with cancer. She was 73.

Newton-John “passed away peacefully at her ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends”, said a statement from her husband John Easterling posted on her official social media accounts.

The multiple Grammy-winning entertainer, whose career spanned more than five decades, including chart-topping songs such as Physical, devoted much of her time in later years to charities after first being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.

The British-born and Australian-raised star dedicated a number of albums and concerts to raise funds for research and early detection of the disease, including the construction of a health center named after her in her adopted home Melbourne.

 

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Arabic and international

Mecca: Joy as pilgrims able to touch ancient Black Stone

Pilgrims in the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia can once again touch and kiss one of Islam’s most revered relics – the Black Stone set in the sacred Kaaba building.

A barrier around the Kaaba that was set up at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has now finally been removed.

Pictures show excited worshippers clamouring to get near the Black Stone.

The barrier, set up for social distancing, has been removed just in time for the Umrah pilgrimage season.

The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims who are able to must perform at least once in their lifetime. It takes place at a set time of year: in 2022, it ran from 7 to 12 July.

The Umrah pilgrimage can be undertaken at any time of the year and attracts millions from around the world. Pilgrims may also visit the holy city of Medina.

Saudi Arabia dropped most of its stringent Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, which meant that the Hajj pilgrimage last month was nearly back to normal for the first time since the pandemic started.

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Arabic and international

India’s faltering rice output can cause a new food crisis

Threat to the output of the world’s biggest rice exporter comes when food costs are soaring, inflation rampant globally.

Rice could emerge as the next challenge for global food supply as a shortage of rain in parts of India, by far the world’s biggest exporter, has caused planting area to shrink to the smallest in about three years.

The threat to India’s rice production comes at a time when countries are grappling with soaring food costs and rampant inflation. Total rice planted area has declined 13% so far this season due to a lack of rainfall in some areas, including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, which account for a quarter of India’s output.

Traders are worried that a drop in rice production will complicate India’s inflation fight and trigger restrictions on exports. Such a move will have far-reaching implications for the billions of people that depend on the staple. India accounts for 40% of global rice trade, and the government has already curbed wheat and sugar exports to safeguard food security and control local prices.

The jump in India’s rice prices reflect concern about output. Prices of some varieties have soared more than 10% in the past two weeks in major growing states such as West Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh due to deficient rain and increased demand from Bangladesh, said Mukesh Jain, a director at Sponge Enterprises Pvt., a rice shipper. Export prices may climb to $400 a ton by September from as much as $365 now on a free-on-board basis, he said.

Most of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia, making it vital for political and economic stability in the region. In contrast to the surge in wheat and corn prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rice has been subdued due to ample production and stockpiles, helping to ward off a bigger food crisis.

Much is riding on the rice crop in India and the monsoon’s progress. Some agricultural scientists are optimistic that there’s still time to continue planting and make up for some of the shortfall. Rain is forecast to be normal for August to September, which may improve crop output.

 

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