Ammon News, Editor's Choice

UNHCR commends Jordan’s efforts to address refugee needs

[6/20/2017 7:26:37 PM]

AMMONNEWS - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has praised Jordan’s “courage” and support for Syrian refugees as the agency on Tuesday marked World Refugee Day. A UNHCR statement said the resilience and courage of more than 65 million people who have been forced to flee war, persecution and violence was celebrated yesterday. Commending Jordan’s efforts in supporting the refugee population after the Syrian crisis which started six years ago, UNHCR Representative to Jordan Stefano Severe said: “The courageous steps taken by the government of Jordan following the London and Brussels conferences should be applauded. I welcome the decision of the government to approve consecutive grace periods for Syrians to apply for work permits, and the waiving of the work permit fees.” One of the countries most impacted by the consequences of forced displacement in the world, Jordan is host to 1.3 million refugees, with the latest UNHCR figures showing that the Kingdom hosts the second largest number of refugees per capita in the world, with 1 in 11 people forcibly exiled. Jordan is also the seventh-largest refugee-hosting country in the world, with over 735,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered for international protection with UNHCR across 40 nationalities, the statement added. This year, the World Refugee Day was held under the theme “#WithRefugees”, in a bid to emphasise and celebrate the importance of inclusion. “Refugees unable to return to their countries want nothing more than protection and the opportunity to make something of their lives to benefit themselves, their families and their host communities”, the organisers said. Refugees in Jordan are facing increased hardship, with 93 per cent of them living under the poverty line. UNHCR is working together with the government and partners to break through such challenges with medium-term initiatives like cash assistance. But, with the Syrian crisis in its seventh year and international funding requirements unmet, broader solutions have now become the imperative, the statement noted. In 2016, a major shift was operated with regards to livelihood opportunities for refugees in Jordan. Following the London “Supporting Syria and the Region” donor conference, the government eased restrictions on Syrian refugees to obtain work in certain employment categories that preclude competition with local workers. Some 50,000 work permits have been issued or renewed so far, and improvements have been noted in work contracts, according to the statement. To manifest support and solidarity with refugees, the UN agency also launched a #WithRefugees petition over recent days in Amman. The agency described it as “an expression of support and solidarity as well as a call to decision makers around the world to take action on one of the most pressing issues of our times”.

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Astronomically, Sunday is the first day of Eid al-Fitr

[6/20/2017 8:41:04 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Ramadan is calculated to end on Saturday, June 24 - the same weekday as it began. Sunday will therefore be the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a member of the Arab Union For Astronomy and Space Sciences, Khaled Al Za’aq, told Al Arabiya. Eid al-Fitr officially starts when the new moon is spotted in the sky, making the Eid holiday different around the world. The celebrations begin when the fasting month of Ramadan ends and the following month of Shawwal begins. Traditional greetings during the Islamic holiday begin with “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Have a blessed Eid.” Families gather together to pray, share meals and mark an end to the holy fasting month of Ramadan. *Al Arabiya

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Syria, Jordan in talks to reopen border-crossing

[6/17/2017 7:07:29 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Syria and Jordan have entered into talks mediated by Russia to reopen the Nassib Border-Crossing, Al-Masdar learned today from a military source. If the talks are successful, the rebel forces at the Nassib Border-Crossing will be ordered to withdraw from the area by their Jordanian partners. Reopening the Nassib Border-Crossing would have a positive impact on Syria’s strained economy, as both countries were once key trade partners in the region. *Almasdar News

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‘Jordan builds on previous electoral achievements to boost democracy’

[6/13/2017 5:29:10 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan is building on its previous electoral achievements in order to advance democracy and expand popular participation in the decision-making process, the Independent Election Commission's (IEC) President Khaled Kalaldeh said. In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, he said that the August 15 local and municipal elections will replace assigned consultative councils for local executive councils with elected councils, in a bid to enhance the monitoring role of citizens. Kalaldeh cited recent polls showing that 41 per cent of Jordanians were aware of the laws governing local and municipal elections, while a later poll showed an increase in the rate to 50 per cent. He attributed this to the commission's awareness raising efforts. Meanwhile, 69 per cent of the survey sample said they were willing to take part in the upcoming local and municipal elections, he said, noting that cross-country awareness sessions will pick up after Ramadan. Preparations Objections to initial voters' lists exceeded 10,000 as voters were allocated to constituencies based only on their place of residence, while, in parliamentary elections, voters could vote in constituencies of their origin or based on a representative quota, according to the official. The commission will finish looking into voters' challenges by July 2, as candidacy registration starts on July 3, for a three-day period, he said, adding that candidates can withdraw until 14 days prior to the voting date, in order to allow the candidates' lists to take their final shape. Kalaldeh said the commission will take into consideration observatory reports on September's parliamentary elections, which included "comments on secondary procedures" like facilitating observers and media personnel, as well as commitments to pre-election silence. Regarding promotional campaigns, he said IEC's committees that are responsible for monitoring candidates' campaigns across the 115 constituencies have stopped more than 15 violations. Most of the times, violations resulted of candidates not knowing it is illegal to start promotional campaigns before July 3, Kalaldeh noted. Decentralisation Under the Decentralisation Law, the country is divided into 158 districts, with the distribution of the total number of 303 representatives varying according to area and population, in addition to a 10 per cent (32 seats) quota for women who do not make it through direct election. In addition to the 335 winners, an additional 15 per cent will be assigned by the Cabinet, raising the overall number of local council members to 380, with one-third of them required to be women. Local councils will meet at least once a month and are tasked with setting up the municipality's budget, in addition to suggesting and monitoring development projects, according to Kalaldeh, who added that the suggested budget plans will be referred to the municipalities' executive councils. What the Decentralisation Law offers is that consultative councils, which are usually assigned by mayors, will be elected for the first time, a matter that gives greater room for voters' monitoring role, he noted. Municipalities Jordan is divided into 100 municipalities in addition to the Greater Amman Municipality, which comprises 22 local councils, where each is represented by a single representative. The 100 municipalities are of two types: 18 municipalities that have no local councils, and 82 municipalities with 355 local councils, with each council made up of five members, including at least one woman. In municipalities with local councils, candidates with the highest votes are entitled to become representatives in the municipal council, with their number depending on the seats allocated for the council. Kalaldeh noted that Aqaba and Petra commissions only have elections for local councils. Regarding women representatives, he said the law has made it possible for local and municipal councils to have all-women members, while it is not possible for all-men councils. "We noticed in our field visits that the majority of those who attend awareness-raising sessions are women. Many of them show up after reading and understanding the laws and regulations," he said, adding that he expects the upcoming elections to witness the highest rates in women’s participation. Regarding political parties, Kalaldeh said they have higher opportunities for representation due to their experience in public service, although the local councils are service-based, “not political”. Youth The municipalities and decentralisation laws have lowered the age of eligible candidates to 25 years to encourage the participation of the younger generation, he underlined. As youth comprised 40 per cent of voters in September's parliamentary elections, the IEC is giving particular attention to addressing youth-related questions and raising awareness among this segment, mainly through social media outlets. Kalaldeh cited "decent" levels of positive participation, and "considerable" views of videos and promotional material, which he said shows that many young Jordanians are either supportive or neutral. On addressing negative remarks, he said the IEC encourages those willing to boycott the upcoming local and municipal elections to register as candidates if they do not see any candidates who represent their views. Observers Online registration for local and international observers representing institutions was opened in May, Kalaldeh said, noting that the final number is not ready yet, but local observers exceeded 10,000 and international observers exceeded 1,000 in September's parliamentary elections. Regional training centre Under a recent partnership, USAID will support the IEC through direct financing, without intermediate bodies, to eliminate administrative costs, he said, adding that the short-term purpose of the partnership is to support the upcoming local and municipal elections. In the medium-term, the partnership will establish a regional training centre that pools accumulative national, regional and international expertise concerning elections, Kalaldeh said, noting that Jordan has developed a “rich experience” in democracy over the years. "Jordan has introduced a new, international procedure of reading out the voting paper in front of a recording camera, in order to keep it as a reference until the period of contesting elections results is over," he said, noting that transparency of previous elections has improved Jordan's place in the Freedom House's ranking from "not free" to "partially free". The IEC has contacted partners in the United States, Australia, Mexico, India and 11 Arab countries to collaborate in order to provide a condensed, theoretical, practical and academic experience for those seeking training in this field. The centre is expected to operate within months after the conclusion of the upcoming local elections. Long-term partnership includes supporting future IEC projects regarding democracy promotion in schools and universities. *JT

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Arab League supports Kuwait's mediation over rift with Arab states

[6/13/2017 1:31:08 PM]

AMMONNEWS - The Arab League on Tuesday expressed support of Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad efforts to solve the Qatari crisis. In a phone call between Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Abu Gheit and First Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Ahmad al-Sabah said that the league fully supports Kuwait's efforts to end the dispute between the Gulf states and Doha. Talks between the two officials also tackled the latest developments and steps taken by Kuwait to end the crisis. Abu Gheit said he appreciated Kuwait's mediation, adding that: "What Emir of Kuwait is doing represents all Arabs not only the Gulf states". The Secretary General hoped that all parties reach a common ground to solve their differences and establish sound relations based on non-interference in internal affairs of any party. He also stressed the need to activate principals of good neighborhood, respect political choices of all countries, as well as the importance of abiding by the Arab League Charter and resolutions on fighting terrorism and extremism by all countries.

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UN Special Envoy for Yemen headquarters to move to Amman

[6/8/2017 10:57:04 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Amman, the capital of Jordan, will be the headquarters of the office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Jordanian foreign ministry has announced. According to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), the announcement was made following a meeting between the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. This came days after UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s motorcade was shot by Houthi militias during his visit to Sanaa, hindering his mission. ‘Forbidden’ from returning to Sana’a Meanwhile, Houthi leader Saleh al-Samad, head of the political council of the militias, said that the UN envoy is “forbidden” from returning to Sanaa and accused him of bias, demanding the United Nations choose a new envoy who respects the will of the Yemeni people. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, returned to Yemen for a new round of consultations to discuss the chances of military truce and the resumption of Yemen’s peace negotiations stalled since August 2016, reported diplomatic sources on Thursday.

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Jordan pins hopes on US-Russian accord on southern Syria

[6/7/2017 11:18:20 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan is intensifying diplomatic efforts to help forge an agreement between the United States and Russia to establish a safe or de-escalation zone in southern Syria. Jordan hopes to prevent the vast Syrian Badia area, which extends along Jordan’s northern borders with Syria, from turning into a battlefield involving US-led coalition forces and rebel allies on the one hand, and regime and Iran-backed militias on the other. Jordanian and US sources have confirmed that US and Russian officials met in Amman sometime late May. “The meeting in Jordan was one part where the United States and Russia, Israel and Jordan can work together to have [a] de-escalation zone in the south of Syria,” one US source, who requested anonymity, told Al-Monitor. Local newspapers reported May 30 that Jordan is participating in the talks to determine the nature of the safe zone and the composition of the forces that will be deployed. The reports said that Jordan would agree to any force stationed on its northern border except for Islamic State (IS) fighters or militia forces supported by Iran. They noted that a new round of talks will resume soon. Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed May 4 in Astana to create four de-escalation zones in Syria, including one in southern Syria. The United States was not part of the agreement, but its participation in the Amman talks signals its eagerness to be part of an understanding with Moscow to set up security arrangements in southern Syria, primarily to protect Jordanian and Israeli interests. The United States, along with other Western nations, maintains military presence at al-Tanf base in southeast Syria close to the borders with Iraq and Jordan. The base is used to train and supply US-backed rebel groups, collectively known as the New Syrian Army, which is comprised mainly of local tribes in the Badia region. Al-Tanf is located on the Damascus-Baghdad highway and therein lies its strategic value for the United States, the Damascus regime and Iran. On May 18, coalition planes hit a pro-Syrian government convoy after firing warning shots and when Russia failed to dissuade those troops from moving into the de-conflicted area near al-Tanf. Following that incident, the United States imposed a 55-kilometer (34-mile) safe zone around the base and boosted its combat power. Still, Syrian government forces and allied militias have taken a town about 50 kilometers from al-Tanf in late May, while Russia reported May 21 that it has placed paratroopers in the Suwayda province in southern Syria to “take the role of advising the Syrian government troops in the area.” On May 29, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that Tehran was ready to dispatch troops to Syria to monitor compliance with the May 4 agreement with Russia and Turkey to create four de-escalation zones in Syria. For Jordan, the stability of southern Syria, which borders Jordan, is a top national security goal. Having denied Syrian allegations that it was part of a US plan to invade southern Syria, Jordan's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mahmoud Freihat reiterated June 1 that the Jordanian army will not have any presence inside Syria. But Jordan wants Washington and Moscow to agree to make southern Syria free of Iran-backed militias as well as IS militants. The United States is reported to have insisted that it wants the area from Quneitra, on the Syrian-Israeli border, through Suwayda to al-Tanf free of Iran-backed militias such as Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with only symbolic regime presence on the border crossing with Jordan. For Iran and Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the US-Jordanian demand is problematic at best. Tehran has been accused by Jordan and the United States of attempting to create a land corridor that extends from Iran, via Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon. Al-Tanf is crucial for the Iranian plans. For Damascus, there are fears that a US military presence in northeastern Syria could extend to the south once IS militants are driven out of Raqqa. The border triangle around al-Tanf is quickly becoming a potential conflagration point. On June 2, reports spoke of an infiltration by the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), comprised mostly of Iraqi Shiites, into Syrian territory near Hasakah. The PMU is believed to be trying to reach the strategically important Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, which is still controlled by IS. From Deir ez-Zor, the PMU can then link up with Syrian government forces and move to the Abu Kamal border crossing with Iraq and control the northern part of Syria’s Badia area. That area has become a point of tension recently between the US-led coalition and Iranian-backed militias. Amid these fast-developing events on the ground, the Amman trilateral talks assume additional importance. Political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi believes that the talks will succeed in reaching an agreement that essentially satisfies both Moscow and Washington. He wrote in Ad-Dustour daily May 31 that Russia has now accepted US presence in al-Tanf and will agree to the demand that southern Syria be free of IS and Iran-backed militias. In return, Russia wants the Syrian army to raise its flag over the border crossing with Jordan and extend its control of Daraa province. On June 2, it was reported that the Syrian army had dispatched a sizeable force toward Daraa, the old part that is under the control of rebels who are part of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. This appears to be in accordance with the trilateral Amman talks, but Rantawi cautioned in another piece in Ad-Dustour on June 4 “a major offensive in Daraa could also be an attempt by Damascus and Tehran to sabotage a Russian-American agreement.” Political commentator Mohammad Abu Rumman is optimistic about the outcome of US-Russian talks on southern Syria. He wrote in Al-Ghad daily May 30 that creating a safe zone that extends from Quneitra in the west to al-Tanf in the east is good news for Jordan. “It fulfills our strategic objectives including the return of Syrian refugees, reopening our borders with Syria, removing the terrorist threat from our northern borders and reviving plans for reconstruction in southern Syria,” he noted. He added that the real challenge to this understanding lies with Iran and the regime. “On the other hand, such an understanding raises fears that it will be the first step toward the partition of Syria,” Abu Rumman wrote. His fears were echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin May 30, who, while praising the de-escalation zones, expressed hope that “these zones do not become a prototype for the future territorial division in Syria.” Al-Monitor

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