AMMAN: Jordan and the UK signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cybersecurity collaboration between both countries, the Jordan News Agency reported.
The MoU was signed by Jordanian National Center for Cyber Security Director Bassam Maharmeh and British Ambassador to Jordan Bridget Brind.
The NCSC stated that the agreement reflects the countries’ efforts to safeguard the economic, social and security benefits of using transparent and safe cyberspace.
“The memorandum is in line with the national strategy for cybersecurity and serves the NCSC’s efforts to achieve a safe and reliable Jordanian cyberspace that enables growth and prosperity,” it added.
Both countries aim to also raise public awareness of the threat of cybercrime.
RAMALLAH: Morocco’s support for the Palestinians during the Atlas Lions’ historic World Cup run shows the cause has not been “buried,” says Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub.
Like several other Arab nations, Morocco has agreed to full diplomatic ties with Israel — but this has not stopped its players from making clear their loyalties regarding the decades-old conflict.
They unfurled a Palestinian flag on the pitch after their stunning Dec. 6 upset victory against Spain, and also after beating Canada during the group stage.
Moroccan players have also made pro-Palestinian social media posts during the tournament.
Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza and annexed East Jerusalem have — like much of the Middle East — embraced Morocco, the first Arab nation to reach a World Cup semifinals.
Ramallah sporting goods store owner Saeed Al-Ramahi said enthusiasm for the Moroccan team seemed unquenchable, with all of their jerseys sold out. “If I had 300,000 shirts, I would have sold them all in the last two days,” he said.
Rajoub, the Palestinian top football official, said this proves the enduring support for the Palestinian cause, regardless of any decisions made by Arab leaders.
“The World Cup reveals the lie that the Palestinian cause has been buried by the recent normalization agreements” said Rajoub, who is also the secretary-general of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.
Rajoub described the World Cup, including the Moroccan gestures and the widespread expressions of Palestinian solidarity across Qatar, as “a slap in the face to the idea of normalization.”
The leading Palestinian public polling group, in a study released on Tuesday, argued that “the World Cup in Qatar helps restore Palestinian public trust in the Arab world after years of disappointment.”
“The vast majority of the Palestinians say they have now regained much, or some, of the lost confidence in the Arab peoples in light of the solidarity with Palestine expressed by the fans during the football games,” said the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Gaza’s rulers Hamas, said the World Cup has affirmed the importance of the Palestinian cause “on the international scene.”
JERUSALEM: Legal advisers to Israel’s parliament and outgoing government on Wednesday criticized a bid by a far-right politician to give himself expanded powers as next police minister, warning that his proposed changes clashed with democratic principles.
Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power party was promised the National Security Ministry, with authority over police, under a coalition deal with Prime Minister- designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
Though Netanyahu’s hard-right new government has yet to be finalized, Ben-Gvir has already submitted a bill that would amend police regulations.
It would give him, as minister, greater control over the police chief and police investigations.
Ben-Gvir, who placed third in a Nov. 1 election thanks in part to his law-and-order platform, has defended the bill as consolidating a chain of command between government and police.
But center-left lawmakers have warned that the amendments could politicize criminal probes and prosecutions — and noted Ben-Gvir’s record that includes 2007 convictions for incitement against Arabs and support for an outlawed Jewish militant group.
“The draft does not strike an appropriate balance … between the powers of the minister and the professional independence of law enforcement bodies,” Amit Merari, deputy attorney-general, told a parliamentary panel convened to discuss the bill after it passed its first reading on Tuesday.
“Taken together, the proposed directives have the potential to deal real and grave damage to the core principles of democratic rule in the State of Israel,” she said, adding that any amendment should be sought after the government is sworn in.
A parliamentary legal adviser, Miri Frenkel-Shor, said the draft was inconsistent with principles set out by a state commission of inquiry that “police must be totally free in its investigations, with only the authority of the law above it”.
Ben-Gvir has disavowed some of his past conduct.
He says that, in Cabinet, he will serve all of society. But he has also played down violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and wants Israeli security forces to be freer to open fire when faced with Arab unrest.
Seeking to allay domestic and foreign concerns at the far-right rise, Netanyahu — who has already served a record 15 years in top office — says he will ultimately set Israeli policy.
Yet the issue of police independence has also touched a nerve among Netanyahu’s critics given his ongoing corruption trial, in which he denies all wrongdoing and accuses law enforcement authorities of a politicized witch hunt against him.
Addressing the parliamentary panel, Ben-Gvir called his bill “a historical correction that would be requisite for any democratic country.” Sitting beside him, the Israeli police chief, Inspector- General Yaacov Shabtai, was more circumspect.
“We are not opposed to changes, but it is important that such dramatic changes be implemented through deep discussion,” Shabtai said. “The police is not an army. The police interacts with civilians and not, like an army, with a designated enemy.”
AMMAN: Shops in some Jordanian provincial cities shut on Wednesday in solidarity with thousands of lorry drivers who have staged several days of sporadic strikes in protest at high fuel prices, drivers and witnesses said.
Truck drivers have launched partial work stoppages and sit-ins over the last week, mainly in Jordan’s impoverished southern provinces, to demand that the government reduce diesel prices, saying mounting costs have led to losses for their businesses.
The crisis has led to congestion in the country’s main Red Sea port of Aqaba where cargo has piled up, and has disrupted normal trailer- truck transport of imported goods to the capital Amman and other cities.
Some shops in the provincial cities of Maan, Tafileh and Karak announced business closure on Wednesday in solidarity with the striking lorry drivers, witnesses and drivers said.
“They have not left us with dignity, officials don’t feel for us. We cannot feed our kids anymore,” said Abdullah Kreishan, a truck driver from the city of Maan.
Some activist strikers have threatened to stage street protests in provincial cities on Friday.
Anger with the authorities over worsening living standards, corruption and high fuel prices has in the past triggered civil unrest in Jordan.
The government has promised to look into the strikers’ demands but has said it already has paid over 500 million dinars ($700 million) to cap fuel price hikes this year.
Under an International Monetary Fund’s structural reform program, fuel prices are adjusted monthly in line with global market fluctuations.
Jordan has a fleet of about 20,000 trailers, many owned by individuals, who say living conditions are worsening and high inflation is making it harder to make money.
Haulage of goods and cargo to the main neighboring markets has not been severely affected.
AZRAQ, Jordan: At a grocery store checkout in the Jordanian refugee camp of Azraq, Sameera Sabbouh stares wide-eyed into a scanner to pay for her shopping — her iris scan unlocking payment from a digital aid account with the help of block- chain technology.
Many of the nearly 40,000 Syrians who live in the camp recognize the convenience of the cashless, card-free payment method, which verifies recipients’ identity by referencing a UN database, but few said they like it.
“It’s really tiring. It doesn’t take the eye scan in the first try — it is two or three times before it takes the scan,” said Sabbouh, a mother of two from Aleppo who fled the city in 2015. “I would rather have my fingerprint scanned.”
Introduced in 2017, the World Food Programme’s Building Blocks initiative was one of the first to harness blockchain technology in humanitarian aid delivery, and it now reaches more than 1 million refugees in Jordan and Bangladesh.
The system enables the tracking, coordination and delivery of multiple types of assistance, including cash, food, water and medicine, and has saved about $2.5 million in bank fees on millions of transactions, according to the WFP.
But digital rights groups question the use of such new technology among vulnerable groups such as refugees, and the need for them to surrender sensitive biometric data in order to receive vital food aid.
“The refugees are guinea pigs,” said Petra Molnar, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, adding that she was troubled that such “experiments” were being conducted on marginalized groups.
“Imagine what would happen at your local grocery store if all of a sudden iris scanning became a thing; people would be up in arms. But somehow it is OK to do it in a refugee camp,” she said.
Others question whether refugees reliant on aid are in a position to give informed consent.
“The issue of consent has a question mark on it,” said Dima Samaro, an independent human rights researcher based in Tunisia. “Did they give consent because they are content, or because they are being forced?”
Responding to such criticism, Roland Schoenbauer, a spokesperson for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said refugees were informed about the objectives of gathering their data when they were asked to give permission.
“UNHCR doesn’t share biometric data with anybody under the sun,” he said in an interview at the Azraq camp, adding that if refugees chose to opt out of the program they would still receive the same level of assistance.
As the number of people fleeing war, poverty, persecution and environmental disaster reaches record levels worldwide, states have turned to a range of digital technologies to monitor the flow of people and control their access to services.
These include smart IDs, GPS monitors and blockchain, the decentralized database technology that underpins cryptocurrency.
But while states and aid agencies say these technologies have increased efficiency and reduced waste, the systems have sometimes exposed vulnerable refugees to surveillance and commercial exploitation of their data, critics say.
“Imagine if this were to fall in the hands of bad faith actors,” said Marwa Fatafta, Middle East and North Africa policy manager at digital rights group Access Now, warning that refugees also had fewer legal protections and safeguards in countries without strong data protection laws.
“Collecting biometric data to identify someone is a very invasive form of identification. It is not necessary, it is not proportionate, and it violates international standards on privacy which UN agencies should subscribe to,” she said.
UNHCR has already faced criticism over its collection of Rohingya refugees’ data at the vast refugee camps where they live in Bangladesh.
Human Rights Watch said in a report last year that the agency had not conducted a full data impact assessment, and had in some cases failed to obtain refugees’ informed consent for their data to be shared with Myanmar, the country they had fled.
Similarly, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, there were fears that biometric databases and sensitive data gathered by aid agencies and the government would fall into their hands and used to hunt down activists and dissidents.
AL-MUKALLA: A Yemeni Ph.D. holder who had just completed a degree at a university in Morocco has been found dead off the coast of Spain after the boat he was traveling in to reach Europe capsized.
Dhef Allah Al-Thaifani reportedly drowned when the vessel transporting illegal immigrants from Morocco overturned in waters adjacent to the Spanish city of Ceuta.
The incident has prompted fresh demands for an end to the conflict in Yemen and warnings to Yemenis not to attempt the dangerous crossing to Europe.
According to Yemen news site Al-Masdar Online, Yemeni citizen Al-Thaifani had gained a doctorate in modern Islamic thinking from Mohammed V University in Rabat.
He lost his position at Yemen’s Ministry of Endowment after being replaced by a relative of a top ministry official who reportedly petitioned the government to reinstate him and restore his wages.
His wife died from a cancer-related illness in 2019.
Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, told Arab News: “As the war drags on, many elites unable to return to the country have started looking for secure living conditions in Europe.”
The war in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized power and expanded throughout the country. Thousands of Yemenis were driven from their homes and many eventually found refuge in government-controlled areas in neighboring countries, or further afield.
In November, three young Yemenis were discovered dead off the coast of the Greek island of Samos after their boat capsized in high winds. They were among 12 illegal immigrants who had left the Turkish province of Izmir by boat for Europe.
The flow of illegal Yemeni immigrants attempting to enter Europe through Poland via Belarus has prompted the Yemeni Embassy in Warsaw to advise its citizens not to enter Poland owing to strict security measures and several deaths.
In a tweet, officials said: “The embassy in Warsaw reminds all our citizens not to be enticed by smuggling groups or seek illegal entrance into Polish territory.”
According to media reports, Yemen-based smuggling groups as well as others in countries such as Egypt, have been involved in transporting Yemenis illegally to transit points in nations such as Turkey or Belarus, and then telling them to cross the border into EU territories.
Last year, many Yemenis froze to death on the border between Belarus and Poland, while the Yemeni Embassy in Poland evacuated many more.
Al-Fakih said: “The influx of Yemenis to Europe has grown, although their numbers are relatively small compared to those of immigrants from other war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Palestine.”