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Can Israel blast Gaza and still make friends in the Gulf?

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Scenes of devastation in Gaza are likely to make it harder for Israel to win its biggest diplomatic prize: recognition by Saudi Arabia. But so far, the other rich Gulf states that invested in opening ties with Israel last year are showing no public sign of second thoughts.

Arab officials have come together to condemn what they describe as flagrant Israeli violations during the past two weeks, from Israeli police action around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque to deadly air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

But in the United Arab Emirates, which along with Bahrain recognised Israel last year under the U.S.-backed “Abraham Accords”, official criticism of Israel now often comes balanced with popular expression of hard words for the other side.

In some cases in the UAE, which has long denounced Islamist political movements, condemnation of the Hamas militants who control Gaza even echoes Israeli talking points.

“Hamas launches rockets from within civilian neighbourhoods and when the response comes Hamas cries ‘where are the Arabs and Muslims’? You have made Gaza a graveyard for the innocent and children,” Waseem Yousef, a Muslim preacher in the UAE, tweeted to his 1.6 million followers on Twitter.

In a country where social media is closely monitored by the authorities, another Emirati, Munther al-Shehhi, tweeted: “I will not stand by or empathise with any terrorist group such as Hamas in support of any cause, even if it is packaged as humanitarian or religious. #No To Terrorism.”

A social media hashtag has even begun circulating among some Gulf Arabs, which reads “#Palestine Is Not My Cause”.

SAUDIS KEEP DISTANCE

So far, such sentiment does not seem to have made inroads too deeply into Saudi Arabia. The biggest, richest and most powerful of the Gulf monarchies is widely presumed to have given its tacit blessing to last year’s decision by neighbours Bahrain and the UAE to embrace Israeli ties. But it held back from recognising Israel itself, and now appears far less likely to do so, at least in the medium term.

Many Saudis have responded to the “Not My Cause” hashtag by posting pictures of King Salman, with his quote: “The Palestinian cause is our first cause”.

On May 13, Saudi television aired footage of a cleric in Mecca praying for Palestinian victory against “the enemy of God”, less than year after the kingdom’s leading imam discouraged rhetoric against Jews following the September accords.

It would now be “inconceivable” that the Saudi leadership could contemplate normalising ties with Israel for at least a couple of years, said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

Last year’s decisions by the UAE and Bahrain, followed by Sudan and Morocco, to recognise Israel were denounced by the Palestinians as abandoning a unified position under which Arab states would make peace only if Israel gave up occupied land.

The UAE and Bahrain argued that their agreements would ultimately benefit the Palestinians, including because Israel had promised to abandon plans to annex West Bank territory.

Abdulrahman al-Towajry, 29, a Saudi national visiting a Riyadh shopping mall, said the countries that had made peace should “really reconsider it” as Israel could not be “trusted to abide by promises”.

“There is strength in unity so if Arab and Muslim countries unite, the conflict would end. It could have ended a long time ago if they had,” he told Reuters.

But the Emiratis and others probably have too much invested in the policy to change course abruptly now.

The agreements have propelled tourism, investment and cooperation in fields from energy to technology. A UAE investment fund has plans to purchase a stake in an Israeli gas field and Dubai’s port operator is bidding for Haifa Port.

“The Abraham Accords are an irreversible process,” said prominent Emirati commentator Abdulkhaleq Abdulla. “It was very clear that it was in keeping with the UAE’s national priorities and strategic interests so there is no going back.”

 

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Riyadh and Marwa Rashad in London; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Mohammed Benmansour in Riyadh; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.

The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.

The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.

“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.

“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Man with 39 wive dies in India

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A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Huawei CFO seeks publication ban on HSBC documents in U.S. extradition case

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Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Monday will seek to bar publication of documents her legal team received from HSBC, a request opposed by Canadian prosecutors in her U.S. extradition case who say it violates the principles of open court.

Meng’s legal team will present arguments in support of the ban in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States, where she faces charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions on business in Iran.

She has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than two years and fighting her extradition to the United States. Meng has said she is innocent.

Lawyers for Huawei and HSBC in Hong Kong agreed to a release of the documents in April to Meng’s legal team on the condition that they “use reasonable effort” to keep confidential information concealed from the public, according to submissions filed by the defense on Friday.

Prosecutors representing the Canadian government argued against the ban, saying in submissions filed the same day that “to be consistent with the open court principle, a ban must be tailored” and details should be selectively redacted from the public, rather than the whole documents.

A consortium of media outlets, including Reuters News, also opposes the ban.

The open court principle requires that court proceedings be open and accessible to the public and to the media.

It is unclear what documents Huawei obtained from HSBC, but defense lawyers argue they are relevant to Meng’s case.

Meng’s hearing was initially set to wrap up in May but Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes granted an extension to allow the defense to read through the new documents.

Hearings in the extradition case are scheduled to finish in late August.

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Howard Goller)

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