Israel Says It Foiled Iranian Plot to Spy on Politicians

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Israel arrested five Palestinians in a plot allegedly hatched in Iran to target and spy on senior Israeli politicians, including Israel’s far-right national security minister, the country’s internal security agency said Wednesday.

The Shin Bet security service alleged that an Iranian security official living in neighboring Jordan had recruited three Palestinian men in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and another two Palestinian citizens of Israel to gather intelligence about several high-profile Israeli politicians.

The targets included National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — a firebrand Israeli settler leader who oversees the country’s police force in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultranationalist government — as well as Yehuda Glick, an American-born far-right Israeli activist and former member of parliament.

The plan was foiled by Israeli intelligence officials, the Shin Bet said, without offering evidence.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations.

Ben-Gvir, who draws inspiration from a racist rabbi, has provoked outrage across the wider Middle East for his particularly hard-line policies against the Palestinians, anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts and frequent public visits to the holiest and most contested site in the Holy Land. The hilltop compound in Jerusalem, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is at the emotional center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Glick is a leader in a campaign that pushes for increased Jewish access and prayer rights at the sacred Jerusalem compound, the holiest site in Judaism home to ancient biblical Temples. Today, the compound houses the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Since Israel captured the site in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there. Glick survived a 2014 Palestinian assassination attempt.

The Shin Bet did not elaborate on the identity of the Iranian official in Jordan who allegedly orchestrated the plot. He is not in custody and apparently remains at large.

But the Shin Bet accused three Palestinian men in the West Bank — identified as 47-year old Murad Kamamaja, 34-year-old Hassan Mujarimah and 45-year-old Ziad Shanti — of gathering intelligence and smuggling weapons into Israel. The security service also said that it charged two Palestinian citizens of Israel over their involvement in the plot. It did not specify how the men planned to target Ben-Gvir and the other politicians.

Israel has considered Iran to be its greatest enemy since it became a Shiite theocracy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran is a main patron of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which Israel considers the most potent military threat on its borders, and also backs Palestinian Islamist militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

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Bahrain Says 2 Soldiers Dead in Attack Near Saudi-Yemen Border

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Two soldiers from Bahrain were killed along the border between war-torn Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the Bahraini military said on Monday, in an attack highlighting persistent insecurity in the area.

The victims “were martyred while performing their sacred national duty to defend the southern borders of the sister Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” which has led a military coalition against Yemen’s Houthi rebels since 2015, the military said in a statement.

The incident occurred as Saudi Arabia is pushing for a durable cease-fire nearly a year and a half after agreeing to a truce with the Houthis that has largely held despite officially expiring last October. The statement from Bahrain’s military said the “terrorist act” was perpetrated by Houthi “attack drones” in an undisclosed location in southern Saudi Arabia, “despite the cessation of military operations between the parties to the war in Yemen.”

The Saudi coalition did not respond to a request for comment, and there was no immediate comment from the Houthis.

Bahrain was one of several countries that contributed troops to the coalition mobilized by Saudi Arabia after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The ensuing war has left hundreds of thousands dead through direct and indirect causes and displaced millions of people in what the United Nations calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Peace push

Hopes for peace were boosted in March when Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has backed the Houthis, announced a surprise rapprochement deal.

The following month, Mohammed al-Jaber, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, traveled to Sanaa to meet with Houthi officials in what he described as a bid to “stabilize” last year’s truce.

Last week, Houthi officials completed five days of talks in Riyadh, the first public visit by a Houthi delegation to Saudi Arabia since hostilities broke out.

Neither face-to-face meeting has yielded any major announcements, but both sides have described the exchanges as “positive.”

The process appears to have snagged on Houthi demands which include payment of their civil servants’ salaries by the displaced Yemeni government and the launch of new routes from Sanaa airport.

Also on Monday, Hans Grundberg, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, concluded a visit to Riyadh for talks on what his office described in a statement as “a sustainable nationwide cease-fire.”

Those meetings tackled issues including “measures to improve living conditions in Yemen” and pay public sector salaries, the statement said.

“This is a critical juncture, and Yemen needs the support and accompaniment of the region and the international community to navigate the path towards sustainable peace and development,” Grundberg said.

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Crowd Roars as Xi Opens Hangzhou Asian Games

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Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the COVID-19-delayed 19th Asian Games on Saturday in the city of Hangzhou during a shiny and at times raucous opening ceremony on Saturday.

Spectators in the city’s 80,000-capacity stadium let out a huge roar as Xi was introduced and walked in to sit with visiting dignitaries, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Games, delayed a year because of China’s measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, will be the country’s biggest sporting event in over a decade in several metrics, with around 12,000 athletes from 45 nations competing in 40 sports.

After the Chinese flag was brought out, the first team out was Afghanistan, whose female athletes, based abroad due to sport for women being banned by the Taliban, walked together with their male counterparts. Their flag-bearers carried the tricolor flag for Afghanistan which is used by international resistance movements and shunned by the Taliban.

Several teams, including Chinese Taipei, were vocally welcomed by the spectators, but none more so than the home team, whose athletes are expected to dominate the medals table once again.

They also mark a stark contrast to the cheerless Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, which took place under China’s strict zero COVID conditions.

“I feel excited, particularly as a Hangzhou local,” said a man surnamed Zhao on his way into the stadium. “It’s a great chance to show the world how nice our city is. It was … delayed by a year, but that gave us a chance to prepare even better.”

Roads in a sizable “traffic control area” around the city’s Olympic stadium were blocked off, at least one metro station was shut, other Games centers were closed, and deliveries were disrupted on Saturday.

Some locals felt the security measures, always tight when Xi makes a visit, were overdone.

“I think it shows they’re too nervous, right?,” said Hangzhou resident Li Jian. “I think we should be a little more confident.”

One local social media user was told due to safety rules surrounding the Games that a pencil sharpener they had ordered could not be delivered.

“How dangerous is the sharpener?” the user wrote. “Will I be able to use it to kill foreign country leaders?”

Organizers have not disclosed spending on the Games, although the Hangzhou government has said it spent more than $30 billion in the five years through 2020 on transport infrastructure, stadiums, accommodation and other facilities.

Organizers hoped a high-tech opening ceremony on Saturday would help drum up excitement for the Games. Interest at home has been muted as the economy sputters and some question the cost of hosting the mega-event.

Dozens of smiling volunteers greeted journalists arriving in Hangzhou this week, with some expressing relief the event was finally getting started.

The official slogan of the event, “Heart to Heart, @Future,” represents the goal of uniting the people and countries of Asia through these games, officials have said, but geopolitical tensions and rivalries threatened to overshadow that effort this week.

Xi called on the West to lift sanctions on Syria and offered Beijing’s help in rebuilding the war-shattered country on Friday during rare talks with the long-ostracized Syrian leader al-Assad.

Also on Friday, India protested over a visa issue that affected three of its athletes at the games, leading India’s sports minister Anurag Thakur to cancel his trip.

Japan’s top government spokesperson said on Tuesday that Tokyo would do its utmost to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in China as the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea has chilled ties.

“We should promote peace through sports, adhere to the principle of goodwill towards neighbors and mutual benefit and … resist the cold war mentality and confrontation between camps,” Xi told dignitaries at a banquet before the ceremony on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua reported.

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Netanyahu Gets His Long-Coveted Biden Meeting at UNGA Sidelines

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U.S. President Joe Biden met Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. They discussed Iran’s nuclear threat, Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank, and its attempts to overhaul the country’s judicial system, which critics say is a threat to democracy. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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Dozens of Syrians Are Among Missing in Libya Floods

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A Syrian dentist, a confectioner who made mouthwatering Arabic sweets, a carpenter.

Syrians from all walks of life had left their war-torn country for the Libyan city of Derna over the past years, looking for work and better opportunities.

Now, dozens of them are missing and feared dead after Mediterranean storm Daniel unleashed catastrophic flooding that tore through the coastal city on Sunday night, wreaking destruction and washing entire neighborhoods out to sea.

The death toll has eclipsed 11,000 and more than 10,000 are missing. Five days on, searchers are still digging through mud and hollowed-out buildings in Derna, looking for bodies.

According to a war monitoring group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 42 Syrians have been confirmed dead in Libya while the real number could be as high as 150.

The victims include both Syrians who were living and working in Libya long term and Syrian migrants who were using Libya as a transit point in efforts to reach Europe, most often by way of perilous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe boats organized by smugglers.

Two years ago, Nisma Jbawi’s 19-year-old son, Ammar Kanaan, left their home in Syria’s southern province of Daraa — one of the epicenters of the 2011 uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He headed to Libya, where he planned to work and save money to pay Syrian authorities a fee of about $8,000 that would spare him from compulsory military service.

Jbawi said her son last spoke with her on Sunday afternoon. He told her he would close the sweet shop where he worked and go home because a strong storm was expected. She tried repeatedly to call him on Monday, without success. His WhatsApp account shows his phone was last online around 1:30 a.m. Monday.

“We still have hope,” she said, tears choking her up.

As the storm pounded Derna late Sunday, residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed. Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

On Tuesday, Kanaan’s uncle drove to Derna from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi where he works — only to find that the building where his nephew lived had been washed out to sea.

“All who were inside are presumed dead,” Jbawi said.

Rami Abdurrahman, who runs the Observatory, said he has not been able to confirm a single survivor out of the 150 Syrians missing in Derna. But definite numbers are hard to come by in the chaotic aftermath of the destruction.

Like Syria, where the civil war has killed half a million people and forced more than 5 million to become refugees around the world, Libya has been through its own years of conflict.

The oil-rich North African country has been split between rival governments in the east and west since 2014, backed by various militia forces and international patrons. Derna is governed by Libya’s eastern administration, where military commander Khalifa Hiftar wields significant power.

Still, for some Syrians, Libya offered prospects of a better life. Syrians can easily get into Libya on a tourist visa and find work — wages are higher than what many earn at home.

Zeid Marabeh, 19, went to Libya two years ago from the central city of Homs and worked as a carpenter.

He recounted to The Associated Press over the phone from Derna how he watched water surging toward his building on Sunday night.

“Then I heard a loud boom,” Marabeh said. It was the moment the dams collapsed.

When water levels started rising in his neighborhood, he frantically ran toward higher ground — the nearby Eastern Shiha hill. From there, he saw the water destroy almost everything in its path.

He went back on Monday morning, after the waters subsided, to check on his uncle and relatives. The building where they lived had disappeared. His uncle, Abdul-Ilah Marabeh, his aunt, Zeinab, and their 1-year-old daughter, Shahd, were gone.

Marabeh said he looked through the rows of bodies laid out on their street but could not find his uncle’s family.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday, members of the Qalaji family were receiving condolences for their eight family members killed in Derna.

Firas Qalaji, 45, his wife, Rana Khateeb, and their six children were to be buried in Libya, the family said in a statement. Mohammed Khier Qalaji said in Damascus on Saturday that his brother, a car mechanic, had been living in Libya since 2000.

He said that he has another brother, Shadi, in Derna, who survived the floods despite swallowing large amounts of water. He said Shadi was only able to find the bodies of his brother and one of his nieces — the bodies of the rest were still missing.

He said that three hours before the storm, Firas and his family had a video call with his mother and sisters in Damascus and they started reciting verses from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. “Forgive me mother,” he quoted his brother as telling their mother.

“It was as if he felt something was about to happen,” Mohammed Kheir Qalaji said.

Ghina al-Qassim said her nephew, Hani Turkomani, was a dentist who arrived in Derna some nine months ago “to improve his life.” His cousins, already there, had found him a job.

After the floodwaters subsided, the cousins, who survived the tragedy, went looking for him. They said his apartment was full of water and mud but a large hole in the wall raised their hopes that he might have escaped from the building or been pulled out by rescue workers, al-Qassim said.

“God willing,” she added.

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5 Killed as Rival Factions Clash in Lebanon's Largest Palestinian Refugee Camp

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Clashes intensified Wednesday in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, leaving at least five people dead and more than a dozen wounded, Lebanese state media and security officials said. Scores of civilians have been forced to flee to safer areas.

The latest deaths bring to 11 the number of people killed since the fighting erupted again in Ein el-Hilweh camp near the southern port city of Sidon on Sept. 7, despite multiple cease-fire agreements.

Stray bullets hit residential areas outside the camp, including several that struck a fire engine as firefighters were battling a blaze near an army post, the state-run National News Agency said. The blaze was not related to the camp fighting.

The fighting broke out last week after nearly a month of calm in Ein el-Hilweh between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and members of militant Islamic factions.

Fatah and other allied factions had intended to crack down on suspects accused of killing a senior Fatah military official in the camp in late July.

NNA reported that among the five killed on Wednesday were three Fatah members. It said 15 people were also wounded in the clashes.

A top official with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzouk, arrived in Beirut on Tuesday to push for an end to clashes with no success.

Ein el-Hilweh is home to some 55,000 people according to the United Nations and is notorious for its lawlessness and violence.

Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Many live in the 12 refugee camps that are scattered around the small Mediterranean country. Ein el-Hilweh was established in 1948 to house Palestinians who were displaced when Israel was established.

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IAEA Head Concerned at 'Decrease in Interest' in Iran Nuclear Escalation

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The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Monday he was concerned the international community was losing interest in holding Iran to account over its advancing nuclear program.

The comments follow an easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, who announced a prisoner swap last month.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in confidential reports seen by AFP that Iran had made “no progress” on several outstanding nuclear issues.

These include reinstalling IAEA monitoring cameras that Tehran had removed from its nuclear sites and explaining the presence of uranium particles found in Iran.

IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said on Monday he had noticed a “decrease in interest” from IAEA member states, without naming them.

“There is a certain routinization of what is going on there [in Iran] and I am concerned about this, because the issues are as valid today as they were before,” he told reporters on the first day of the IAEA board of governors’ meeting in Vienna.

Diplomatic sources say the United States and the so-called E3 group — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — have no plan this week to censure Iran for its lack of cooperation with the IAEA.

Instead, at the behest of Washington, they will submit a joint declaration to the IAEA board meeting, which is expected to gain broad support, a source told AFP.

Last month, Iran said it has reached a prisoner exchange deal with the United States, which includes the release of five U.S. citizens held in Tehran and several Iranians detained in the U.S.

“We are aware that there is a bilateral process of sorts. We have been informed by the United States about this. But when it comes to the nuclear part, [it is] not clear what is being discussed,” Grossi stressed.

“There are many pressing issues on the international agenda, but I think it is important to continue to support the agency in its work,” he continued.

In 2015, major world powers reached a deal with Iran, under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.

That started to unravel in 2018 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it and reimposed sanctions.

Tehran in turn stepped up its nuclear program.

Efforts to revive the deal have been fruitless so far.

Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.

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New Earthquake Aftershock Hits Morocco as Death Toll Tops 2,000 

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A magnitude 3.9 aftershock shook Moroccans on Sunday even as rescuers worked to find survivors in the mounds of rubble left in villages from the powerful earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people on Friday night.

The United Nations estimated that 300,000 people were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, the country’s most powerful in a century. Rescue efforts were slow, and some Moroccans complained on social networks that the government wasn’t allowing more rescue workers into the country to help.

“We know there is a great urgency to save people and dig under the remains of buildings,” said Arnaud Fraisse, founder of Rescuers Without Borders, who had a team stuck in Paris waiting for approval to go to Morocco. “There are people dying under the rubble, and we cannot do anything to save them.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that the U.S. “reached out immediately” to Morocco to help in the rescue effort. “We’re ready to go,” he said.

Neighbors were still searching for survivors buried on the slopes of the High Atlas Mountains, where houses of mud brick, stone and rough wood were cracked open. Mosque minarets were toppled and the historic old city of Marrakech also suffered extensive damage.

The earthquake on Friday felled buildings not built to withstand such a mighty force, trapping people in the rubble and sending others fleeing in terror.

“We felt a huge shake like it was doomsday,” Moulay Brahim resident Ayoub Toudite told The Associated Press. “Ten seconds and everything was gone.” Tremors were felt as far away as Huelva and Jaen in southern Spain.

The interior ministry said 2,012 people had been killed and 2,059 injured, including 1,404 in critical condition. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the quake was 72 kilometers southwest of Marrakech.

Those left homeless by the quake’s destruction slept outside Saturday in the streets of Marrakech or under makeshift canopies in Atlas Mountain towns like Moulay Brahim that were among the hardest hit.

King Mohammed VI ordered three days of national mourning starting Sunday as flags were lowered across the country. The army mobilized specialized search and rescue teams, and the king ordered water, food rations and shelter to be provided to those who lost their homes.

The king called for mosques across the kingdom to hold prayers Sunday for the victims, many of whom were buried Saturday amid the frenzy of rescue work nearby.

Rescues picked through rubble with their bare hands in the village of Amizmiz near the epicenter. Fallen masonry blocked narrow streets. Outside a hospital, around 10 bodies lay covered in blankets as grieving relatives stood nearby.

“When I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet and the house leaning, I rushed to get my kids out. But my neighbors couldn’t,” Mohamed Azaw told the Reuters news agency. “Unfortunately, no one was found alive in that family. The father and son were found dead and they are still looking for the mother and the daughter.”

Rescuers stood atop the pancaked floors of one building in Amizmiz, bits of carpet and furniture protruding from the rubble. A long queue formed outside the only open shop as people sought supplies. Underlining the challenges facing rescuers, fallen boulders blocked a road from Amizmiz to a nearby village.

Nearly all the houses in the area of Asni, about 40 kilometers south of Marrakech, were damaged, and villagers were preparing to spend the night outside. Food was in short supply as roofs had collapsed on kitchens, said villager Mohamed Ouhammo.

Street camera footage in Marrakech showed the moment the earth began to shake, as men suddenly looked around and jumped up, and others ran for shelter into an alleyway and then fled as dust and debris tumbled around them.

The quake was recorded at 18.5 kilometers, a relatively shallow depth and typically more destructive than deeper quakes of the same magnitude. It was Morocco’s deadliest earthquake since 1960, when a quake was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mohammad Kashani is an associate professor of structural and earthquake engineering at the University of Southampton in Britain. Kashani compared scenes of the aftermath to images from Turkey, where a massive earthquake in February left more than 50,000 people dead.

“The area is full of old and historical buildings, which are mainly masonry. The collapsed reinforced concrete structures that I saw … were either old or substandard,” Kashani said.

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Egypt Inflation Hits Record High of Nearly 40% 

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Annual inflation in Egypt hit 39.7% in August, official figures showed Sunday, an all-time high as the Arab world’s most populous country grapples with a punishing economic crisis.

It comes after a previous record of 38.2% in July and amid an unrelenting downturn that has seen the currency shed half its value against the U.S. dollar since early last year.

Food and drink prices alone rose 71.9% year-on-year, said the state statistics agency CAPMAS.

The economic crisis in the import-dependent country was catalyzed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, which destabilized crucial food supplies and unsettled global markets.

Investors pulled billions out of Cairo’s foreign reserves, which remain buoyed by deposits from wealthy Gulf allies, whose promises to purchase Egyptian state assets have however fallen short of government targets.

Even before the current crisis, 30% of Egyptians were living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, with another 30% considered vulnerable to also falling into poverty.

Egypt, with more than 105 million people, has been dependent on bailouts in recent years, from both oil-rich Gulf allies and the International Monetary Fund.

According to Ministry of Planning figures, the country’s external debt bill has tripled over the past decade, rising to a record high of $165.4 billion this year.

Researcher Robert Springborg of the Italian Institute of International Affairs has blamed Egypt’s economic model, in which the military plays a key role, arguing it is based on “profligate borrowing for prestige projects with limited economic benefits.”

The crowning jewel of the government’s projects is the $58 billion New Administrative Capital that experts have called “a vanity project.”

Delayed IMF program

Last year, the IMF approved a $3 billion loan for Egypt conditioned on “a permanent shift to a flexible exchange rate regime.”

The smaller-than-expected loan was intended to unlock other sources of funding, namely from regional allies.

But Egypt has failed to raise its target funding, and the IMF has not issued its first review of the program or the second tranche of the loan. Both were originally expected in March.

The IMF and Gulf capitals have demanded a fully flexible exchange rate, economic reforms and an end to the notoriously obscure business dealings of the military.

But despite repeated rumors of a fresh devaluation, authorities have kept the pound pegged at around 31 EGP to the dollar since January.

Consumer prices have continued to steadily rise, adding to the burden of families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Severe foreign currency shortages have also heavily impacted the economy, limiting imports and causing a parallel currency market to surge up to 25% higher than bank rates.

Remittances from Egyptians abroad, the country’s biggest source of foreign revenue, have been falling since the crisis began, as people turn to the parallel market to send money home.

Between July 2022 and March 2023, the central bank reported a 26.1% fall in remittances — one of several “volatile, vulnerable” sources of foreign currency Egypt relies on, according to Springborg.

Cairo’s foreign reserves have slowly inched upwards since the crisis began, reaching $34.9 billion in August, according to the central bank — still $7 billion less than before the Ukraine war.

Around $29 billion of those are deposits from wealthy Gulf allies, according to the central bank.

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