Kosovo Establishes Israel Ties, To Open Embassy In Jerusalem

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi gives a statement during a ceremony held over Zoom with his counterpart from Kosovo marking the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Kosovo, at the Israeli Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021. (Photo by menahem kahana / AFP)


Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on Monday, with the Muslim-majority territory recognising Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world.

Israel has since August established ties with a four Arab states under a series of deals brokered by former US president Donald Trump, collectively known as the Abraham Accords.

But the majority-Muslim parties to those accords — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have all said their diplomatic missions will be in Tel Aviv, in line with global consensus against recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.

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In exchange for setting up its mission in Jerusalem, Kosovo gets recognition from Israel, as it seeks to further legitimise its 2008 declaration of independence from its former war foe Serbia.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, officials on Monday signed joint declarations separately in Jerusalem and Pristina.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the ceremony marked “the first time in history that diplomatic relationship are being established over Zoom”.

He added he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem”.

– ‘Historical bond’ –

Kosovo’s top diplomat, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, thanked Israel for becoming the 117th country to recognise its independence, joining much of the Western world.

China, Russia and five European Union members have not granted recognition to Kosovo.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L), mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, signs a joint declaration establishing ties with Kosovo during an official ceremony held over Zoom with his counterpart from Kosovo Meliza Haradinaj Stublla (screen), at the Israeli Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021. – Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on February 1, with the Muslim-majority territory recognising Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world. (Photo by menahem kahana / AFP)

“Kosovo has waited for a very long time to establish diplomatic relations with Israel,” Haradinaj-Stublla said.

“We mark a new chapter in the historical bond between our two countries who have witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and to becoming states,” she added.

Haradinaj-Stublla also thanked Trump, who announced in December 2017 that Washington would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he does not intend to reverse the move.

But Biden’s presidential campaign indicated his administration would seek to reopen a mission in east Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians, who consider the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

– Serbia reaction –

In September, Trump announced at a summit originally organised to strike a deal between Kosovo and Serbia that Kosovo and the Jewish state would establish diplomatic ties.

But the most standout part of the summit was an announcement by Kosovo that it would mutually recognise Israel, and Serbia saying it would follow Washington’s lead in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

So far, however, Serbia has failed to honour its pledge, with some officials claiming the deal was non-binding.

Ashkenazi said Israel was committed to working towards a “stable Balkans”, but Monday’s ceremony could have diplomatic consequences.

Briefing journalists this week, the head of the Balkans division at Israel’s foreign ministry, Dan Oryan, said recognition of Kosovo causes the Serbs significant “pain”.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalise their relationship, but little progress has been made.

Kosovo President Resigns To Face War Crimes Court

In this file photo taken on March 05, 2020 Kosovo President Hashim Thaci pays his respect during a ceremony in Pristina marking the 20th anniversary of the killing of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) founding member and commander Adem Jashari. Photo by Armend NIMANI / AFP)


Kosovo President Hashim Thaci resigned Thursday to face an indictment from a war crimes court in The Hague, a dramatic downfall for a man who has loomed over the former Serbian province for more than a decade.

The 52-year-old said he would step down to “protect the integrity” of the presidency after the court confirmed an indictment against him dating back to the 1990s conflict with Serbia, when Thaci was political chief of Kosovo’s rebel army.

“I will cooperate closely with justice. I believe in truth, reconciliation and the future of our country and society,” he said at a press conference in the capital Pristina.

Thaci, a former premier who has been president since 2016, has long insisted on his innocence over a war that many Kosovars consider a “just” struggle for their independence from Serbian oppression.

Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanian population suffered heavily during the conflict that claimed 13,000 lives and ended only after a NATO bombing forced Serb troops to withdraw from the province.

Serbian military and police officials were later convicted by international justice of war crimes.

But rebel leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)– many of whom have gone on to dominate politics — have also been accused of revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.

– ‘100 murders’ –
In June, prosecutors from the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) accused Thaci and others of being “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” in addition to other crimes including enforced disappearance of people, persecution, and torture.

Thaci did not say Thursday which specific charges in the indictment had been confirmed.

Prosecutors declined an AFP request for comment.

The president’s closest political ally, Kadri Veseli, also said Thursday an indictment against him had been confirmed by the court and that he would go to The Hague.

Set up with EU-backing five years ago, the KSC operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands to protect witnesses from intimidation in a society where former rebel commanders are hugely influential.

Prosecutors have twice accused Thaci of trying to undermine the work of the tribunal.

At home, Thaci is not a hero to all.

For critics, he has become the face of a political elite whose corruption and mismanagement have done little to lift ordinary Kosovars out of grinding poverty.

But few Kosovo Albanians will criticise the legacy of the KLA, with voices from across the political spectrum defending the war after Thaci was first accused.

Twenty years later, relations between Kosovo and Serbia are still tense and complicated, with Belgrade refusing to recognise the independence Pristina declared in 2008.


Kosovo Declares Nobel Laureate Handke ‘Persona Non Grata’

Austrian author and laureate of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature Peter Handke gives a speech during a royal banquet to honour the laureates of the Nobel Prize 2019 following the Award ceremony on December 10, 2019, in Stockholm, Sweden. Anders WIKLUND / TT News Agency / AFP


Kosovo declared Peter Handke a ‘persona non grata’ on Wednesday in the latest protest against his induction as a Nobel literature laureate, barring the Austrian writer from a place he has visited numerous times.

The Swedish Academy’s pick for the 2019 prize has reopened old wounds in the Balkans, where many see Handke as an apologist for Serb atrocities during Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse.

One Nobel committee member resigned over the choice, while Tuesday’s award ceremony was boycotted by representatives of the embassies of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Turkey.

“Today I have decided to declare Peter Handke as not welcome in Kosovo. He is a non-grata person… Denying crimes and supporting criminals is a terrible crime,” Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli wrote on Facebook.

The writer is not popular among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian-majority, who fought Belgrade for independence in a 1998-99 war that claimed 13,000 lives.

But he was a frequent guest in the tiny Serb enclave of Velika Hoca, one of several small ethnic Serb communities scattered around the former Serbian province.

Handke has visited Velika Hoca at least five times and donated nearly 100,000 euros ($110,000) to the community of 500 people, whose village is nestled among the rolling hills of southern Kosovo.

“Even if there are big problems, I think life has a good rhythm here”, the writer said during a 2014 visit.

“I can be alone here. I can hide. I can walk very hidden behind the hills,” he added.

Barred from Sarajevo

Handke’s elevation to Nobel laureate has also been painful for many Bosnian Muslims, as he is accused of questioning the genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995.

On Wednesday he was formally barred from Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, where the regional government said his appearance would “provoke the anger and humiliation” of war victims.

Yet he is still welcome to visit the Serb-run zone that spans nearly half of Bosnia’s territory — a legacy of the war that left the country carved up along ethnic lines.

On Tuesday Handke told RTRS, the public broadcaster in Bosnia’s Serb-run region that he would like to visit “in the spring”.

Handke has defended his work and denied any allegiance to the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Critics say Handke made his loyalties clear by speaking at the funeral of Milosevic, who died in 2006 while on trial in The Hague for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Handke’s 1997 book “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia” was also accused of minimising Serb war crimes.

But among Serb fans, Handke is still celebrated for taking note of their suffering during the conflicts and challenging the narrative that Serbs were the sole aggressors in the wars.

In Belgrade, one politician suggested creating a human rights prize in Handke’s name on Wednesday.

Handke was one of “very few who searched for the truth during the 1990s,” said MP Mirjana Dragas, describing the author as a “brave, but above all great, novelist”.

Winks, Mount Net First England Goals In Kosovo Rout

England’s Harry Winks (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying Group A football match between Kosovo and England in Prishtina on November 17, 2019.


England wrapped up their impressive Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 4-0 rout of Kosovo on Sunday as maiden international goals from Harry Winks and Mason Mount ensured they will be among the top six seeds in next year’s tournament.

Gareth Southgate’s side booked their Euro 2020 berth by thrashing Montenegro 7-0 on Thursday and they finished a dominant run by dispatching Kosovo in Pristina thanks to goals from Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mount.

Although England weren’t at their best, it was a rewarding finale for the Group A winners, who clinched the high seeding that should help them avoid a tough group in the finals.

Winks’ maiden England goal, in his sixth appearance, was the key moment before second-half strikes from Kane and Rashford and Mount’s first international goal.

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With all three of their Euro 2020 group games and the semi-finals and final being played at home for England, the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists will go into the November 30 draw as one of the main contenders for the trophy.

In contrast to the racist abuse that marred England’s qualifiers in Montenegro and Bulgaria, the gratitude still felt in Kosovo for the United Kingdom’s involvement in the country’s liberation, after the Kosovan war in the 1990s, was clear to see.

Before kick-off, the stadium announcer addressed the crowd with the words: “We always appreciate your support in the most difficult days. Twenty years on, we are here as equals. God bless you England.”

Kosovo supporters shouted the names of the England players and held up the flag of St George cards.

The loudest cheers were reserved for Sterling, who was back in the England team after the winger was dropped against Montenegro following his clash with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez in the canteen of England’s training base on Monday.

Sterling had England’s first sight of goal when he took Kane’s pass and made space for a stinging strike that drew a solid save from Arijanet Muric.

Kane Milestone

With footing on the Fadil Vokrri Stadium pitch proving difficult, England struggled to find their rhythm at times and Kosovo’s Milot Rashica took advantage to test Burnley keeper Nick Pope, who was making his first start.

Winks supplied the breakthrough in the 32nd minute when the Tottenham midfielder ran onto Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass, evaded the obligingly slow-to-react Kosovo defence and slotted home with ease.

Throughout a comfortable qualifying campaign, the main concern for Southgate has been England’s erratic defending and they were nearly exposed when Amir Rrahmani was left unmarked to head just wide early in the second half.

That shaky rearguard creaked again moments later as Rrahmani found himself in acres of space but headed woefully wide with the goal at his mercy.

England’s class told in the second half and Kane hit the post with a snap-shot from Sterling’s pass.

The same pair linked up for a milestone second goal in the 79th minute.

Sterling eased past his marker and sent in a deflected cross that England captain Kane finished off at the far post.

Kane has netted in all eight qualifiers and is the first England player for over 90 years to score 12 international goals in a calendar year.

It was also England’s 35th goal of the qualifying campaign, breaking their previous record total from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

There was still time for Rashford to slot home from Sterling’s pass in the 83rd minute before Mount took Kane’s delivery and coolly finished in stoppage time.


British Police Arrest Fan For Abusing Sterling

England’s midfielder Raheem Sterling runs with the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying Group A football match between England and Kosovo at St Mary’s stadium in Southampton, southern England on September 10, 2019. Adrian DENNIS / AFP


Raheem Sterling was the target of racist abuse from a Bulgaria fan during England’s 4-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win at Wembley on Saturday.

The fan was ejected from the stadium and arrested in the latest in a string of racist incidents involving high-profile players in recent weeks.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed to Britain’s Press Association that the male was arrested and taken to a north London police station on suspicion of an aggravated public order offence.

However, following enquiries, he was released with no further action.

UEFA was informed of the incident through its matchday delegate.

Sterling, who has been an outspoken campaigner in the fight against racism, was the subject of discriminatory language during the first half of the match.

“We can confirm that an individual, who was seated in the away section of the stadium, was ejected and subsequently arrested for discriminatory abuse during the England v Bulgaria match,” said a spokesperson for the FA.

“Wembley Stadium operates a zero tolerance policy on anti-social and discriminatory behaviour and anyone found guilty will be ejected and reported to the police.”

A Chelsea fan was banned for life from attending matches at Stamford Bridge for racist abuse aimed at Sterling in December last year.

Belgium and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants while playing for Inter Milan at Cagliari earlier this month, while Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are among those to be sent racist abuse on social media after missing penalties for the Red Devils.

Speaking on the eve of the Bulgaria match, Rashford said he believed racism was becoming an increasing problem in football.

“It seems to me like things have been going backwards rather than forwards,” said Rashford.

“To be honest, I’ve always said that the more we speak about it, it doesn’t have much of an impact.

“We’ve tried. There’s been examples everywhere where people have spoken out and I wouldn’t say they’ve been ignored, but nothing has really changed.”


Kosovo Repatriates 110 Citizens From Syria

A woman displaced from Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province carries a child as she walks in al-Hol camp for displaced people, in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria / AFP


Kosovo on Saturday repatriated 110 of its citizens from Syria, mostly mothers with their children having followed their partners who went to join jihadist groups in the war-torn country.

“Today, in the early hours of the morning, a very sensitive and important operation was conducted with the help of the United States in which the Kosovar government repatriated 110 citizens from the war zone in Syria,” justice minister Abelard Tahiri told a news conference.

The group was made up mostly of women and children, but there were also four fighters, he said.

Some 300 Kosovars joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the interior ministry.

Around 70 of them were killed and 120 have come home, with most arrested on their return.

Kosovo passed a law four years ago allowing citizens to be jailed for up to 15 years if they leave the country to join armed groups abroad.

Kosovo Declares Day Of Mourning For Late US President Bush

People pay respects as the remains of former US President George H. W. Bush lie in state in the US Capitol’s rotunda on December 3, 2018, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski / AFP


Kosovo has declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the late US president George H.W. Bush, who was seen as an early ally of the ethnic Albanians in the former Serbian province.

Passionately pro-US, Kosovo flies American flags in front of many government offices and businesses in a sign of gratitude for the US-led NATO intervention that helped severe it from Serbia in 1999.

On Wednesday, the day of Bush’s funeral, Kosovo flags will be flown at half-mast across the country in his honour, President Hashim Thaci’s office said in a statement Tuesday.

It will be a “sign of state and civic respect for (Bush’s) contribution to the freedom of Kosovo”, the statement said.

Morning classes in Kosovo schools on Wednesday will also be dedicated to the US leader.

“Bush has been engaged every time in promoting Kosovo’s affairs” on the world stage, said education minister Shyqiri Bytyci at a press release.

In the 1990s, Bush’s administration showed an early interest in the plight of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who were marginalised under Serbian rule.

His government hosted Kosovo Albanians in Washington and in 1992 he warned then-Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic that the US would respond militarily if Serb troops started a war in Kosovo.

Less than a decade later war broke out between Serbian troops and ethnic Albanian guerillas.

In 1999, a US-led NATO air campaign forced Serbia to withdraw, ending the conflict and paving the way for Kosovo to declare independence in 2008.

A main street in the capital Pristina is also named after the late Bush’s son and also an ex-president, George W. Bush, whose administration lent key support when Kosovo declared independence.

Bill Clinton, who was US president during the NATO bombing, is also celebrated with his own boulevard and a statue on a Pristina street corner.


Kosovo’s Mandela’ Adem Demaci Dies At 82

Adem Demaci, Adem Demaci. Credit: Facebook


Rights activist Adem Demaci who spent 28 years behind bars in Tito’s Yugoslavia for speaking out about discrimination against ethnic Albanians — earning him the nickname Kosovo’s Mandela — has died at the age of 82.

Born in 1936, his long years in jail under the rule of communist leader Josip Broz Tito came to an end in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was freed in South Africa.

An advocate of independence for Kosovo, Demaci was awarded the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov prize for human rights in 1991.

“Our teacher has died,” deputy speaker of the parliament Xhavit Haliti told MPs, announcing his death in parliament.

Lawmakers observed a minute’s silence in memory of Demaci whose “life and work will be remembered for as long as the Albanian nation and Albanians are alive,” Haliti said.

For the many who hailed him as the father of Kosovo, Europe’s newest nation, he was addressed as “Bac,” a title reserved for the wisest and most influential member in Kosovo families.

During his nearly three-decades-long incarceration, Amnesty International recognised Demaci as a prisoner of conscience.

But the authorities remained unmoved and he was not even allowed a temporary release to attend his mother’s funeral.

“I was in luck in that I was isolated (in a solitary confinement) and no one could see me crying for days,” he later said.

After his release in 1990, Demaci took up the chair of a prominent Kosovo’s human rights watchdog.

By the mid-1990s, he was part of protests by ethnic Albanians against violence by the regime of the late Slobodan Milosevic.

Demaci “is a man who simply refuses to submit to physical or political oppression,” his biographer Shkelzen Gashi wrote.

Breaking ranks with the “peaceful resistance policy” of late leader Ibrahim Rugova, Demaci became a spokesman of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the pro-independence guerrilla movement that fought Serb armed forces in the 1998-1999 conflict.

He won the hearts of many ordinary Kosovans during the three-month bombing campaign by NATO against Milosevic’s forces in 1999, by staying in Pristina, unlike the majority of politicians who fled fearing reprisals by the Serbian regime.

After the NATO campaign ended the conflict, Demaci, also the president of Kosovo’s writer association and the author of several novels, mostly stayed away from politics.

He used his influence to urge fellow Albanians to refrain from revenge attacks on the remaining Serb minority in Kosovo, promoting ethnic reconciliation.

In Kosovo, ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 per cent of a population of 1.8 million.

“Both peoples will reconcile and both will earn the right to join Europe,” he said ahead of an EU-brokered deal in 2013 to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia.