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Two Jordanians sentenced to 15 years over alleged royal plot

Two Jordanians sentenced to 15 years over alleged royal plot

A Jordanian state security court has sentenced two former officials to 15 years in prison over an alleged plot against the Western-allied monarchyBy OMAR AKOUR Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 8:36 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleAMMAN, Jordan — A Jordanian state security court on Monday sentenced two former officials to serve 15 years in prison over an alleged plot against the Western-allied monarchy involving the half-brother of King Abdullah II.Bassem Awadallah, who has U.S. citizenship and once served as a top aide to King Abdullah II, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were found guilty of sedition and incitement charges.They are alleged to have conspired with Prince Hamzah, the king’s half-brother, and to have sought foreign assistance. They denied the charges, and Alaa al-Khasawneh, a lawyer for Sharif, said they would appeal the verdict. He declined to comment further.They two men were swept up in a wave of arrests in April and Hamzah was placed under house arrest. The rare public rift at the highest levels of the monarchy sent jitters across the region, with countries racing to express support for Abdullah.Hamzah denied the allegations in video statements released in April after he was placed under house arrest, saying he was being silenced for speaking out against corruption and poor governance by the ruling system. The palace drama exposed deep-rooted economic and social challenges in the country, which has long been seen as a bastion of stability in a volatile region.The royal family says it resolved the dispute with Hamzah, whose exact status is unknown but was never formally charged. Awadallah’s U.S. lawyer says his client alleged he was tortured in Jordanian detention and fears for his life.Abdullah is expected in Washington on July 19, when he will be the first Arab leader to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House. Jordan is a close U.S. ally in the Middle East and is seen as a key partner in eventually reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.Lt. Col. Muwafaq al-Masaeed, a military judge, announced the verdict following a closed-door trial that consisted of just six hearings. The two were sentenced to 15 years for each of two felonies, but the judge said only one sentence would be imposed on them.Before the verdict was announced, Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by Awadallah’s U.S.-based family, told The Associated Press that the trial was “completely unfair.”Awadallah says he has been been beaten, subjected to electrical shock and was threatened with future mistreatment “if he didn’t confess,” Sullivan said.Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts and former acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said any conviction would be appealed.The court denied requests by Jordanian defense lawyers to call witnesses and prosecutors only shared purported transcripts, but not audio, from surveillance of the alleged plotters.The prosecutor’s office at the state security court denied the trial was unfair, saying Awadallah was given due process in line with Jordanian law and was not mistreated in any way. It said Awadallah only raised the torture allegations as the verdict neared.Awadallah, who also holds Jordanian and Saudi citizenship, served as head of the royal court and government minister in Jordan. He has extensive business interests in the Gulf and has advised Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on attracting foreign investment. The Awadallah family urged the Biden administration to call for his release.

Israeli, Jordanian leaders meet amid push to improve ties

Israeli, Jordanian leaders meet amid push to improve ties

An Israeli official says Israel’s new prime minister met secretly with the Jordanian king last weekBy OMAR AKOUR Associated PressJuly 8, 2021, 6:58 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleAMMAN, Jordan — Israel’s new prime minister met secretly with the Jordanian king last week, an Israeli official confirmed Thursday, as the two countries announced new agreements on water and trade.The agreements, concluded during a meeting between their foreign ministers, signaled improved relations with Israel’s new government following years of strained ties under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Under the deal, Jordan will purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water from Israel and increase its exports to the occupied West Bank from $160 million a year to around $700 million, the two countries announced in official statements.Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid — the guiding force behind the new government formed last month — met at the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday.The deals came in the wake of a secret meeting last week between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Bennett took office last month, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.The Israeli news site Walla, which broke the story, described the meeting as positive and said the two leaders agreed to open a “new page” in relations. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, confirmed the meeting had taken place.Jordan said technical teams will iron out the details of the trade deal in the coming days, and that talks on implementing the export ceiling will be held among Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials.Safadi called for renewed efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Israel to halt “illegal” measures that undermine such efforts.He stressed the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem that is under Jordanian custodianship. He also said it would be a “war crime” to evict Palestinian families from their homes in east Jerusalem. Both issues fueled tensions that helped ignite an 11-day war in Gaza between Israel and the territory’s militant Hamas rulers in May.Lapid called Jordan an “important neighbor and partner,” and said Israel would work to strengthen ties and expand economic cooperation. He had highlighted the importance of mending fences with Jordan when he took office last month.Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, a Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalist group, said the deal marks a “dramatic increase” in water exports from Israel, which he said had not exported more than 10 million cubic meters per year until now.He said Jordan still faces a water deficit of 500 million cubic meters a year and would have to import considerably more to ensure a continuous supply for all its needs. Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and its water shortages are expected to worsen with climate change.Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have been strained in recent years over tensions at Al-Aqsa, Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in war-won lands and the lack of any progress in the long-moribund peace process.Both Jordan and the Palestinians were adamantly opposed to the Trump administration’s Mideast plan, which would have allowed Israel to annex up to a third of the occupied West Bank. Israel captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want as part of their future state.Abdullah is set to visit the White House later this month. The Biden administration has called on all sides to take steps that could help lay the groundwork for a resumption of possible peace talks. Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade.———Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.