His Majesty King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Amman on the latest developments in the peace process in view of the recently revived Palestinian-Israeli talks. The King called on building on the ongoing efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to push forward the stalled peace process. According to a statement by the Royal Court, the meeting aimed at ensuring that “progress in the peace talks would meet Palestinian aspirations and at the same time protect Jordanian interests, particularly final status issues at this critical stage”.

Jordan

 

His Majesty King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Amman on the latest developments in the peace process in view of the recently revived Palestinian-Israeli talks. The King called on building on the ongoing efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to push forward the stalled peace process. According to a statement by the Royal Court, the meeting aimed at ensuring that “progress in the peace talks would meet Palestinian aspirations and at the same time protect Jordanian interests, particularly final status issues at this critical stage”.

 

Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour announced last month that the Jordan National Petroleum (JNP) Company will resume gas exploration operations in Jordan after British Petroleum (BP) abruptly ended its operations in the Kingdom. BP halted drilling in the Risha gas field in the eastern desert claiming discouraging results on the second well as a reason for its decision. The company was given a 7,000-square-kilometer concession in the Risha gas field in 2010 to appraise and explore gas production in the area. However, the energy giant notified the government of its decision not to drill a third well and leave the country.

 

 

Minister of Water Hazem Nasser has announced that pumping from the Disi Water Conveyance Project is now at its full capacity. The pumping began last month at 105 million cubic meters (mcm) and reached the project’s full capacity of 110 mcm. According to Nasser, the increase will improve the country’s socio-economic status, as pumping provides more water for longer hours to citizens. The governorates that will see a major improvement in their water supply are those that suffer from recurring water cuts and shortages, including Irbid, Zarqa, Madaba and Mafraq.

 

- The government has declared that its decision to grant civil rights to the spouses and children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians will carry no political implications. According to Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour, these rights are meant to alleviate problems facing families of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians, including rights to public education and healthcare services. The prime minister’s announcement came to alleviate fears that this move will lead to settling Palestinians in Jordan in light of recent plans to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. 

 

 - According to the Department of Statistics (DOS) the unemployment rate for the last quarter of 2013 has dropped to 11% from 14% in the third quarter. The report revealed that unemployment among males stood at 9.5% compared to around 19% amongst females. The figures were slightly better than 2012, as unemployment in the last quarter of that year stood at 12.5%, registering a 1.5% decrease in the number of jobless Jordanians.

 

Middle East

 

- Egyptians have approved their new constitution by a landslide vote, as 98.1% of the ballots came in favor of the proposed charter. The turnout in the military-backed constitution referendum reached 38.6% and was boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. The new constitution will replace the one that was adopted in December 2012 under ousted president Mohammad Morsi. Authorities have been widely promoting the new constitution, Egypt’s fourth in less than three years, as safeguarding the rights of women and free speech.

 

Saudi Arabia’s healthcare is finally going through a much-needed overhaul as two of the country’s largest hospital operators prepare for a stock market listing. The public offering is set to prompt a major healthcare boom in the oil-rich Kingdom. Despite the extensive growth in national income, the government’s public healthcare services have not reflected the nation’s wealth. Saudis have been complaining of the mediocre standards offered at public hospitals and clinics. The government, in light of the Arab Spring, has now launched a full-scale reformation of the healthcare sector to dispel signs of discontent, thus positioning Saudi Arabia as a major market for healthcare industries.

 

Al Nusra Front in Lebanon has declared its responsibility for the latest of a series of bomb attacks targeting Syria’s ally Hezballah in the Lebanese capital. The suicide car bomb killed four people in south Beirut and injured 35 others. The Lebanese army confirmed discovering remains of explosive devices, along with body parts claimed to be those of the suicide bomber. This is the second time Haret Hreik, in the heart of Hezballah’s Al Dahieyeh stronghold, was targeted last month. On January 2, a car bomb exploded on the same street killing five civilians, and was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group. Another explosion in Hermel in the eastern Bekaa Valley claimed the lives of three people. Hezballah has been the target of six explosions since the Shiite group announced that it was sending fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

 

- Morocco has scrapped a controversial law that allowed child rapists to marry their victims to escape punishment. Parliament unanimously approved amending Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code. The amendment was proposed last year by the Islamic-led government. Human rights groups hailed the decision as a move in the right direction, urging the government to take further steps in ensuring more protection for women and gender equality across the board. The movement to change the law came after 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

 

Riots broke out around Tunisia over worsening economic situations and new tax hikes. Though the decision to levy taxes was quickly reversed by the outgoing premier, it fell short of quelling public anger. One person was killed in clashes and 50 people were detained around the country. Tunisia has been suffering economically since the offset of the revolution that overthrew former authoritarian president Zain El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Tourism, one of the country’s main GDP sources, received a severe blow as tourists stayed away. Official numbers state that unemployment currently stands at 17%. Last year, the economy registered some growth at 2.7% after it shrank by 2% in 2011. 

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