JERUSALEM: Israel freed 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners yesterday in line with commitments to the US-backed peace process, but moved in tandem to ramp up settlement in annexed east Jerusalem. The move was denounced by the Palestinian Authority, which said it “destroys the peace process.”
Plans to build another 1,500 settler homes in the city’s Arab eastern sector came to light almost immediately after Israel began freeing 21 prisoners to the West Bank and another five to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. The sequence was almost a mirror image of August 13, when a first tranche of 26 prisoners were freed and Israel announced construction of more than 2,000 new settler homes, mostly in east Jerusalem.
“The prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) and the interior minister (Gideon Saar) agreed on four building plans in Jerusalem,” a senior Israeli source said, confirming a military radio report.
The announcement was timed to trump headlines focusing on the celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza after the 21 prisoners walked free into their respective home territories shortly after 1 am.
In the West Bank, thousands of people turned out to welcome home the 21 prisoners at a formal ceremony at Mahmud Abbas’s presidential compound in Ramallah, cheering and waving flags, many capturing the moment on cellphones. The prisoners had left Ofer prison in two minibuses with blacked-out windows. They were driven to Beitunia crossing where fireworks split the night sky as they tasted freedom for the first time in 20 years or more.
First Mers case in Oman
MUSCAT: Oman has discovered the first case of the Mers coronavirus in the Gulf sultanate, Health Minister Ahmed Al Saeedi said yesterday. The patient, a 68-year-old Omani man, was receiving treatment at a hospital in Nazwa, 150 km west of Muscat, and was “stable,” Saeedi said. He said the case, the first in Oman, had been discovered on Tuesday, and that the patient had diabetes. Oman News Agency said the patient was “suffering from a chest infection”.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has so far claimed 62 lives worldwide, with most of the deaths occurring in Saudi Arabia, where the disease first appeared in September 2012, according to the World Health Organisation.
Envoy involved in crash leaves Iran
TEHRAN: A Saudi diplomat involved in a fatal road accident while allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol has left Iran, media reported yesterday. “The diplomat left Tehran on September 27 after the end of an examination of his case,” the official Irna news agency quoted an “informed source” as saying, without giving further details. An Iranian citizen was killed mid-March when the Saudi diplomat’s car reportedly hit another vehicle on a expressway in Tehran while speeding at 130kph.
Iranian authorities said the accident happened because the diplomat had been driving while drunk and barred him from leaving the country pending “clarification of the (legal) status”. Consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Iran under its Islamic law.
Saudi Arabia jails Jordanian spy
RIYADH: A Saudi court yesterday sentenced a Jordanian to nine years in prison and 80 lashes after he was convicted of spying for Israel, local media reported. The specialised court charged the man with “contacting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and contacting a Zionist intelligence officer in voice and picture via email, as well as agreeing to go to them and cooperate with their intelligence,” reported Alriyadh daily on its website.Agencies