Latest Entries »

September 26, 2016

SAARBRUECKEN, Germany (AP) — At the intersection, Mohammed al-Haj waited patiently for the “green man.” No cars were coming, no policemen watching. Back home in Syria, he wouldn’t hesitate. But here in Germany, it’s the law, you only cross when the walk light is green.

“I don’t want to get into the habit of not waiting for him,” said the 27-year-old Mohammed. “I felt from the first day, that this is a country of law and order.” This is one world Mohammed lives in, guided by rules, where he says he knows his rights and his responsibilities. It’s a world where he can plan for the future, after arriving a year ago among hundreds of thousands of refugees.

But at the same time, Mohammed is living in a second world: The hell of Syria. First thing every morning, he checks on the Internet and social media for the latest in the constant stream of grim news. He can’t stop, even though he feels helpless, following day by day the destruction of his home city, Aleppo.

“Syria is like a nightmare that travels with me wherever I go,” he said. “I could just be sitting here doing nothing and suddenly learn that someone I know has died.” The Associated Press followed Mohammed in the summer of 2015 as he made the arduous trek from Turkey to Germany. In August, the AP revisited him in the German city of Saarbruecken.

He shares a Spartan two-bedroom apartment with three other Syrian men. There’s little furniture, and none of them have beds. A blackboard hangs on a wall, and one of his housemates has drawn on it a map of Syria topped by the flag of Syria’s opposition.

Mohammed receives a monthly government stipend of 370 euros ($400), and his rent, utility bills and language school are paid for. He’s grateful for it — he says Germany “opened its door for me and gave me everything I have.”

Still, the money is barely enough. He rarely eats out, sits at a cafe or goes to a movie. He has one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes. He can’t visit Syrian friends settled elsewhere in Germany because public transport is too expensive for him.

It’s a similar situation for many others. In 2015, at least 477,000 refugees — more than 160,000 of them Syrians — applied for asylum status, and another 310,000 have applied so far this year. Five days a week, Mohammed attends German classes. He often walks the 25-minute route to the language institute to save the tram fare. After four months of studies, he can now converse reasonably well in German.

As he spoke to the AP one weekend evening in Saarbruecken, two German men walked by, stark naked. Mohammed was unfazed. There’s a group of anarchists in town who sometimes walk around nude, he explained.

There are things he has had to get used to. You don’t take off your shoes entering a German’s home, like you do in Syria. You don’t just drop by unexpected. And he never calls a German after 10 p.m. It’s all a world apart from Syria.

The war has scattered Mohammed’s family, as it has for many Syrians. One sister lives in the Turkish city of Killis, another in Izmir and a third in Lebanon. His parents live in Izmir with a brother, and his other brother is stuck in Syria, driving a taxi.

Mohammed is the farthest away, unable to reach the rest of his family. All he has are calls. After every one, he said, “my heart aches.” Every few days, Mohammed talks on WhatsApp to his parents in Turkey.

In almost every sentence, they say “inshallah” — “God willing” — or “al-hamdulillah” — “thanks be to God.” The generic Arabic phrases are a cushion, letting parents and child avoid burdening each other with their hardships, trying to keep each from worrying about the other.

In July, Mohammed learned of the latest of his friends to die. He woke up in the morning, checked Facebook and saw that Tareq al-Bayanooni, a rebel commander, had been killed by an air strike outside Aleppo.

It felt, he said, like a stab in the heart. “But I did not cry. Honestly, I have run out of tears.” Al-Bayanooni was the fifth of his childhood friends to be killed, guys he played with in his neighborhood streets as a kid. From his broader friends and acquaintances, he guesses 20 to 25 have died — the ones he knows about, anyway.

At the time, it looked like the opposition-held part of Mohammed’s home city of Aleppo was on the verge of being crushed. Mohammed kept going back to his telephone to follow the news. His studies suffered. “I was feeling down, I lost my concentration,” he said.

Making it even harder, he felt he couldn’t call friends or relatives still in Aleppo. “How can I be in the safety of Germany so far away from home and call someone in Aleppo to ask how they are doing?” he said. “I will only get ‘Thanks be to God’ and nothing else. He gives that answer because he could die five minutes later.”

Mohammed’s housemates tease him over how closely he follows the war. He understands, they’re fed up with war. Mohammed also wants to move on with his German life. He aims to enroll at a German university by the fall of 2017. Plan B is to enroll in a vocational training program as a quicker way of gaining employment. When he gets a job, he will pay taxes — perhaps 30 or 35 percent of his income — and he says that will repay the money he is now getting from the government.

For now, his entire future hangs on learning German. If he doesn’t pass an exam in October, he’ll have to repeat, delaying everything. “Germany needs a great deal of patience,” he said. “My journey is long, and without patience I will not complete it.”

September 26, 2016

SAARBRUECKEN, Germany (AP) — At the intersection, Mohammed al-Haj waited patiently for the “green man.” It seemed a bit silly: No cars were coming, no policemen watching. Back home in Syria, he wouldn’t hesitate.

But here in Germany, it’s the law, you only cross when the walk light is green. “I don’t want to get into the habit of not waiting for him,” said the 27-year-old Mohammed. “We must all respect German customs and traditions.”

This is one world Mohammed lives in, one guided by rules, where he says he knows his rights and his responsibilities. It’s a world where he can be ambitious and plan for the future, even as he tries to negotiate his place in a country where he arrived a year ago among hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Western Europe.

“I felt from the first day, that this is a country of law and order,” he said. But at the same time, Mohammed is living in a second world: The hell of Syria. First thing every morning, he checks on the internet and social media for the latest in the constant stream of grim news and carnage. He is immersed in its chaos, where any moment can mean death, families are dispersed, and everyone struggles for the most basic needs. He can’t stop, even though he feels helpless, following day by day the destruction of his home city, Aleppo, as Syrian government forces besiege its rebel-held neighborhoods.

“Syria is like a nightmare that travels with me wherever I go,” he said. “I could just be sitting here doing nothing and suddenly learn that someone I know has died.” The Associated Press followed Mohammed in the summer of 2015 as he made the arduous trek from Turkey, where he had lived with his family since fleeing Syria, across the sea to Greece, then through the Balkans to Germany.

In August, the AP revisited him in the German city of Saarbruecken. Over the past year, Europe has been deeply shaken by the flood of refugees. Governments are struggling with how to absorb the newcomers. In a backlash, right-wing nationalist parties have gained ground. A string of terror attacks has further stoked xenophobia and distrust of the refugees.

For Mohammed, those storms seemed distant. Instead, he has been focused on building his future, while still absorbed in the turmoil of his homeland. __ During Mohammed’s trek across Europe last year, the young man had to be quick-thinking, always on the alert for any opening to get to the next stage of his journey, through bureaucracy, hostile border guards and rough weather. It suited his get-it-done nature.

Now he has to rely on patience and the slow, frustrating work of waiting to reach his goals. He shares a Spartan two-bedroom apartment with three other Syrian men he met in the camp where they were housed when they first arrived in Germany.

There’s little furniture, and what there is was mainly given to them by German friends and acquaintances. In the living room, there’s only two armchairs and a coffee table. None of them have beds. Mohammed sleeps on a mattress on the floor in a small room he shares with one of the others. His clothes are hung on the wall. No wardrobe.

In the kitchen are hot plates, a small oven and a refrigerator. On the table sits what is likely to be found at any Syrian home: Olive oil, olives, thyme and pita bread. A blackboard hangs on the wall, and one of his housemates has drawn a map of Syria topped by the flag of Syria’s opposition.

Mohammed receives a monthly government stipend of 370 euros ($400), and his rent, utility bills and language school are paid for. He’s grateful for it — he says Germany “opened its door for me and gave me everything I have.”

Still, the money is barely enough. He rarely eats out, sits at a cafe or goes to a movie. He has one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes. He shops at discount stores. He can’t visit Syrian friends who have been settled elsewhere in Germany because public transport is too expensive for him.

It’s a similar situation for many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have flowed into Germany. In 2015, at least 477,000 refugees — more than 160,000 of them Syrians — applied for asylum status, and another 310,000 have applied so far this year.

The country is struggling to absorb them into the economy. So far, around 33,000 refugees found jobs since early 2015, mostly in menial labor or as cleaners and security guards. Mohammed’s focus now is on learning German. He can’t get a decent job without a certificate in the language, and his main ambition of entering university would be out of the question.

Five days a week, he attends his German classes in the morning. He often walks the 25-minute route to the language institute to save the tram fare. He takes a flask of home-made coffee to avoid buying it at cafes.

After four months of studies, he has reached level three out of six and can now converse reasonably well in German. German is tough, he said. Other refugees give up on learning it and just take unskilled jobs or even try to leave Germany for an Arab nation.

“But those who are thinking along these lines came here without a goal in mind,” he said. “I must be patient.”

In July, Mohammed learned of the latest of his friends to die.

He woke up in the morning, checked Facebook and saw that Tareq al-Bayanooni, a rebel commander, had been killed by an air strike outside Aleppo.

It felt, he said, like a stab in the heart.

“But I did not cry. Honestly, I have run out of tears.”

Al-Bayanooni was the fifth of his childhood friends to be killed, guys he played with in his neighborhood streets as a kid. From his broader friends and acquaintances, he guesses 20 to 25 have died — the ones he knows about, anyway.

Mohammed had lived his entire life in Aleppo, once Syria’s largest and most diverse city. In the early days of the war, he’d served as a volunteer at an Aleppo hospital, where the AP first met him in 2012.

By June and July this year, it looked like the opposition in Aleppo was on the verge of being crushed. Troops and militias loyal to President Bashar Assad cut off all roads into rebel enclaves.

Mohammed was watching every moment.

All those living in the opposition areas — some 300,000 people — “are my family,” he said. He feared they would meet the same fate as those in other towns besieged by Syrian forces — like Daraya, outside Damascus, where residents were reduced to eating grass.

He kept going back to his telephone to follow the news. His studies suffered. “I was feeling down, I lost my concentration … I was worried people would starve,” he said.

Making it even harder, he felt he couldn’t call friends or relatives still in Aleppo.

“How can I be in the safety of Germany so far away from home and call someone in Aleppo to ask how they are doing?” he said. “I will only get ‘Thanks be to God’ and nothing else. He gives that answer because he could die five minutes later. ”

Then in early August, rebel fighters outside broke through the blockade.

“It was such a joy,” Mohammed said. “The power of faith is what triumphed.”

It didn’t last. In the weeks since, hundreds have been killed in Aleppo in continued bombardment of rebel-held neighborhoods.

Mohammed’s housemates tease him over how closely he follows the war. He understands, he explains, they’re fed up with war.

“We, as a people, have been destroyed and disabled,” he said. “Every one of us is enduring a calamity of some sort…In Germany, when a child trips, our humanity compels us to reach out and lend a helping hand. So you can imagine what it’s like for a Syrian father to see his own child ripped to bits by bombs.”

On a rare day out, Mohammed and a friend went to have lunch in the historic center of Saarlouis, just north of Saarbruecken. But as soon as they sat at a restaurant, the German waiter started removing the cutlery, wine glasses and plates from the table, all with a not-too-subtle air of hostility.

Lunch is over, and it’s break time for the servers, he told them brusquely.

“He could have told us that in a more friendly way,” Mohammed said, as he and his friend got up to look for another place to eat. “He could have said, ‘We’re sorry, but we’re closed now,’ and told us when they will reopen.”

Was he rude because they’re Arabs?

Mohammed shrugs it off. “The waiter may have been tired or stressed out. Maybe he had a problem,” he said. “Anyway, you cannot judge an entire people by the behavior of just one individual.”

He said he has yet to come face to face with xenophobes and racists. “I know they exist, but I just have not come across one of them,” he said.

“Swear to God, I find the Germans to be beautiful people, they are always smiling and laughing. They are worthy of respect.”

He thinks back to his time living in Turkey. The Turks, he said, treat Arabs in a racist way. “They look down on us.”

“In Turkey, when they don’t understand you, they start to yell and scream,” he said. But if he speaks in broken German to a German, they use sign language and “try to help as much they can.”

As he spoke to the AP one weekend evening in Saarbruecken, two German men walked by, stark naked.

Mohammed was unfazed. There’s a group of anarchists in town who sometimes walk around nude, he explained.

“They live to drink, smoke pot and listen to music,” he said.

There are things he has had to get used to. You don’t take off your shoes entering a German’s home, like you do in Syria. You don’t just drop by unexpected. And he never calls a German after 10 p.m. “There is a great deal of respect for privacy,” he said.

But with the sense of law and order, he said he feels equal to Germans. The police, he said, treat people “with respect, not like in the Arab world where they insult and beat you.”

Two of Mohammed’s housemates, Mohammed Zalt and Mazen al-Ali, said their German friends advised them not to leave home for a day or two after a mass sexual assault on women in Cologne last New Year’s eve. But Mohammed said he didn’t change his routine. His first concern is always whether the attackers are Syrians. “When I learn that they were not, I am relieved.”

“In fact, I fear for my life here like everyone else,” he said. “I fear a street explosion from a terror attack will hurt me.”

Every few days, Mohammed talks on WhatsApp to his parents in Turkey.

In almost every sentence, they say “inshallah” — “God willing” — or “al-hamdulillah” — “thanks be to God.” They’re generic Arabic phrases that reassure while being diplomatically vague. They’re a cushion, letting parents and child avoid burdening each other with their hardships, trying to keep each from worrying about the other.

“When will you come home? I’ve made makdous for you,” Mohammed’s 55-year-old mother said, referring to a popular Syrian dish of pickled eggplants stuffed with nuts, topped with yoghurt.

She was joking. She knows very well that her son can’t get to Turkey for the time being.

“I’ll come home soon, inshallah,” Mohammed told her.

She told him that she and his 65-year-old father had just come from the market and that they hauled 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tomatoes up the six flights to their apartment. They’ll dry the tomatoes in the sun to use in winter, when they’re more expensive.

That alarmed Mohammed. “Why are you carrying 10 kilos of tomatoes?” he gently reproached his father.

Ever since his parents moved to a new apartment in Izmir on the sixth floor with no elevator, he worries. His father jokes every time he brings it up that it’s a good workout for him.

“It’s torture every time he says this to me,” Mohammed said.

In every call too, his mother repeats the same prayer for Mohammed, “May God grant you success.” His father’s advice: “Look after yourself. Spend your time with good people and stay away from those who are bad.”

The war has scattered Mohammed’s family, as it has for many Syrians.

One sister lives in the Turkish city of Killis, near the border with Syria. The oldest of her four children, a 16-year-old boy, is now the family’s sole breadwinner.

Another sister lives in Izmir, and a third in Lebanon.

His parents moved from Killis to Izmir to live with one of Mohammed’s two brothers. He works 12 hours a day, six days a week in a metal shop. The job pays $600 a month, barely enough to support his wife, three children and parents.

Mohammed’s other brother is stuck in Syria, driving a taxi.

And Mohammed is the farthest away, unable to reach the rest of his family. All he has are the calls.

After every one, he said, “my heart aches.”

Mohammed is still planning. When his house mates move on, he’ll ask the landlord to get German tenants so he’ll have no choice but to speak German. “I’ll be fluent in just about a year,” he predicted.

He aims to enroll at a German university by the fall of 2017 for a degree in mass media or languages — German and English. Plan B is to enroll in a vocational training program as a quicker way of gaining employment.

“When my German is perfect and I have a job, I will be just like any other German. I will be paying taxes, perhaps 30 or 35 percent of my income, and that would be the repayment of the money I am getting from the government now.”

He’ll also be able to move ahead in his personal life. He hasn’t thought about dating since he arrived in Germany. He feels he has nothing to offer yet, and he doesn’t want to just meet a woman on the street.

At university, he said, he can get to know a woman. He imagines he’ll date someone poor like him.

“Our poverty will be sweet. We will discuss issues, share experiences and read each other’s mind,” he said. “It’s nice to be poor and then slowly earn more and more money.”

A year ago, he said he would only marry a Syrian or a German woman of Arab origin, but now he says he’s more flexible.

“She can be a Muslim or a Christian,” he says. Before marriage, he says, they would work out issues like how the children would be raised and what his wife would wear in public.

“She will also have to tell me what I need to change myself.”

For now, his entire future hangs on learning German. His final exam for the third level of his course is in October. If he doesn’t pass that, he’ll have to repeat, delaying everything.

“Germany needs a great deal of patience,” he said. “My journey is long, and without patience I will not complete it.”

September 20, 2016

UC Berkeley has reinstated a course on Palestinian history which was suspended last week.

The school’s dean announced the decision after the teacher revised the course description.

“Palestine: A Colonial Settler Analysis” course was suspended by social science dean Carla Hesse after receiving a complaint from Jewish and civil rights groups that the course syllabus appeared to describe a politically motivated, anti-Semitic class.

Activists protested against the decision saying it threatened academic freedom.

Paul Hadweh, a student who teaches the one unit course, said he wasn’t told that it had been suspended.

“The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me,” Hadweh said. “To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”

The dean said she suspended the class for review after discovering that neither she nor the chair of the ethnic department had seen or approved the course syllabus.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160920-uc-berkeley-reinstates-palestine-course/.

30 September 2016 Friday

Palestinian activists have recently launched a campaign to boycott Facebook after the popular social-media platform blocked several Palestinian accounts and deleted numerous posts — at Israel’s request — for alleged “incitement”.

Earlier this week, campaigners — using the hashtag #FBCensorsPalestine — called on supporters to refrain from posting on Facebook between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Jerusalem time) on Sept. 25.

Hussam al-Zayegh, the campaign’s Gaza-based spokesman, told Anadolu Agency that the initiative had been launched in response to what he described as Facebook’s “pro-Israel bias”.

According to al-Zayegh, the world’s most popular social-networking site is actively working to undermine Palestinian activists and journalists who rely on Facebook to help spread their message.

Earlier this month, Facebook signed an agreement with the Israeli authorities that will — among other things — allow the latter to monitor all Palestinian content posted on Facebook and delete whatever posts, pages or personal accounts that are deemed objectionable.

According to Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Facebook administrators have complied with some 95 percent of the Israeli authorities’ requests to date.

“We demand that the Facebook administration clarify the agreement signed with Israel, which we believe targets freedom of opinion and expression,” al-Zayegh said.

The agreement, he went on to assert, directly contributes to the persecution of Palestinian activists — both on the ground and in cyberspace.

Al-Zayegh and his fellow campaigners intend to push ahead with the initiative until all its demands have been been met.

“We will not stop our campaign until Facebook withdraws from the agreement and respects international laws and standards safeguarding the freedom of opinion and expression,” he said.

Next Friday, according to al-Zayegh, members of the campaign plan to stage a demonstration outside Facebook’s New York headquarters to press for their demands.

Accounts blocked

Recently, the Facebook accounts of 12 administrators and editors at two leading Palestinian news agencies — Shehab News Agency and the Al-Quds News Network — were deleted without prior notice or warning.

Mohamed al-Zaneen, an editor at Shehab News Agency, told Anadolu Agency that he had not been able to accesses his account for more than five days.

“I believe this step was taken after the agreement was struck between the Facebook administration and Israel,” al-Zaneen said, adding that his account had also been blocked during Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza Strip.

According to officials at the two news agencies, dozens of letters were sent to the Facebook administration asking why the pages had been blocked.

Facebook later restored the blocked pages and apologized for what it said had been a “mistake”.

Global audience

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, over 120 Palestinians — including 20 women — have been detained by the Israeli authorities for alleged “incitement to violence” on Facebook.

Due to a lack of evidence, most of these were held under Israel’s policy of “administrative detention”, which allows “suspects” to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian MP and leader of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, told Anadolu Agency that Palestinian activists — through the use of social media — had recently succeeded in bringing Palestinian suffering before a global audience and exposing the crimes of Israel’s decades-long occupation.

This was especially the case, Barghouti noted, during Israel’s devastating military onslaught against the Gaza Strip in 2014 and the subsequent third Palestinian “intifada” (“uprising”).

“Palestinian activists have succeeded in winning a large part of public opinion over to the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Israel now sees these social-media activists as a major threat to its international image.”

Barghouhti went to assert that Israel’s policy of arresting Palestinians for alleged “incitement” over posts made on social media “will not deter young Palestinian activists from exposing the occupation’s ongoing crimes”.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/palestine/177954/palestinians-launch-drive-against-facebook-censorship.

Dalshad Abdullah

07 September 2016 Wednesday

Erbil-Kurdish politician Siru Qadir revealed on Tuesday that President of Kurdistan Regional Government Masoud Barzani has proposed a solution for Mosul’s post-ISIS stage.

Barzani’s solution, according to the Kurdish politician, lies in dividing the province into three new separate provinces and holding a referendum in which the citizens decide whether they want to join the region or not.

Qadir also said that during his last visit to Baghdad KRG’s Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani told Iraqi Prime Ministers and the other Iraqi parties that the solution for problems between Kurdistan and Iraq lies in dividing the region from Iraq.

Moreover, Qadir told Asharq Al-Awsat that a new stage will start after liberating Mosul from ISIS. “This stage,” according to Qadir, “is considered a dangerous one if there was no prior plan, and Masoud Barzani is stressing on the necessity of providing a plan for post-ISIS in Mosul since the region cannot return as it was and be threatened by those extremists.

Therefore, Peshmerga forces will not withdraw from the regions they liberated until these regions are put within an administrative framework and their fate is determined.”

Qadir added: “In the meantime, Mosul’s problem has become Iraq’s problem as the only problem remaining for Kurds is in Mosul.”

A Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian war is expected to be waged in Mosul too with the presence of Sunni forces, ISIS terrorist group and the arrival of Popular Mobilization militias to the province.

All these pave a way for religious and sectarian conflicts to occur if no prior plan was put to control it and prevent any sectarian bloodshed, Qadir said.

The Kurdish politician further explained that Barzani’s proposal indicates that Mosul should be divided into three separate provinces, each given to Shi’ite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds.

This proposal is considered the best solution for Nineveh’s current problem, he said.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: http://english.aawsat.com/2016/09/article55357921/barzani-divide-mosul-post-isis-three-provinces.

September 8, 2016

Egypt has the fourth highest rate of illiteracy in the Arab world with 14.5 million people aged 10 and over would couldn’t read or write in 2015, statistics released by UNESCO revealed yesterday…

Released to make World Literacy Day, the figured showed that of the 23.7 per cent of the population who were illiterate, 9.3 million were female.

Yemen has the highest illiteracy rate in the Arab world with 30 per cent of its population unable to read and write. Morocco came second with 28 per cent and Sudan third with 24 per cent.

Meanwhile, Palestine has the lowest illiteracy rate among Arab countries with only three per cent of its population affected.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160908-egypt-fourth-highest-illiteracy-rate-in-arab-world/.

2016-09-09

DIYARBAKIR – Turkish police on Friday fired tear gas and water cannon on hundreds of demonstrators in the Kurdish-majority southeast protesting against the suspension of over 10,000 teachers for suspected links to militants, an AFP journalist reported.

Around 200 protesters, including affected teachers, gathered in front of the education directorate in Diyarbakir, whistling and shouting slogans, in protest of the suspensions which targeted educators mainly from the region.

“We will win by resisting!” and “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!” the group shouted.

The police called the demonstration “illegal” and urged protesters to disperse before using tear gas and water cannon when the group kept on their protest across the road.

At least 30 protesters were detained by police, the AFP journalist said.

Turkey on Thursday suspended 11,500 teachers suspected by the education ministry of having engaged in activities in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.

A Turkish official said the teachers were placed on paid leave until a formal investigation was concluded.

The suspension came just over a week before the new school year gets underway in Turkey.

The number of suspended teachers was expected to climb to 14,000 — a figure first pronounced by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim during a key visit to Diyarbakir last weekend. There are 850,000 teachers in Turkey.

The Turkish military has waged a relentless offensive against the PKK in the southeast and in northern Iraq, after the rupture of a ceasefire last year.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK first took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out an independent state for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=78628.

September 09, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister has suggested that a landmark deal to stop migrants reaching the European Union can be salvaged despite disagreement on conditions for relaxing visa restrictions for Turkish citizens traveling to the bloc.

Easing concern across Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters during a joint news conference with top EU officials Friday that a “common understanding” had emerged and that a consensus could be reached. He said, however, that a “concrete road map” should be worked out to lift travel restrictions.

“I believe that with this understanding we will overcome the problem,” Cavusoglu said after talks with EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn. Europe’s migration crisis will be a central issue at next week’s EU leaders’ summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, as the member states remain rattled by Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU and recent gains for the nationalist vote in Germany.

In Athens, the leaders of France, Italy and five other EU Mediterranean countries gathered Friday to discuss immigration and the continent’s debt crisis. “It’s important to issue a message of cooperation at this important time, following the Brexit vote and with populists and extremists trying to block Europe,” French President Francois Hollande said.

“In the name of Europe, its southern members are facing difficulties on the migration issue … So they must be helped, reinforced, so that we can allow for asylum seekers, but so there can also be an efficient control of immigration.”

More than a million refugees and migrants traveled from Turkey to Greece and on to other EU countries. But numbers have declined dramatically since Balkan nations fenced off their borders and the EU-Turkey deal took effect in March. Border closures have left some 60,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece, most in hastily built camps.

Turkey had threatened to scrap the deal — which also promises 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) to help support refugees in Turkey — if the EU failed to fulfill by October a promise to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel.

Plans to loosen visa rules came to a standstill after Turkey balked at the EU’s demand that it relax its anti-terrorism laws, over concerns they could be used to target academics and journalists. With the EU-Turkey deal still largely holding, Athens is pressing EU members to abide by commitments under a relocation program which has covered less that 10 percent of the 33,000 placements promised to migrants in Greece so far.

Greece was also angered by suggestions it should return to EU immigration rules that existed before last year’s crisis. A government spokesman on immigration said Athens rejected calls to reactivate the so-called Dublin Regulation, which requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach and would allow other EU members to send asylum-seekers back to Greece.

“A country such as Greece which receives a large number of refugees from Turkey, and also hosts a large number of refugees — practically without any outside help — cannot be asked to receive refugees from other European countries,” Giorgos Kyritsis told The Associated Press. “That would be outrageous.”

Malta’s prime minister, speaking at the end of the Athens conference, also criticized EU migration policy. “The current system of tackling migration in Europe is simply not working,” Joseph Muscat said. “The Dublin system is out of synch with reality, and here are six countries which are saying ‘we need to fix that for Europe to remain and to be relevant.'”

Paphitis reported from Athens. Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Menelaos Hadjicostis in Istanbul, and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

2016-09-08

ANKARA – Turkey will not turn its clocks back from this winter, staying on summer time all year round in a bid to better utilize daylight, according to a decree published in the official gazette on Thursday.

The decision will also apply on the Ankara-backed breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), meaning the divided Mediterranean island will have two different time zones in the winter months.

The clocks in Turkey went forward one hour from March 27 for summer time, in line with the rest of Europe.

But this setting will now remain in place throughout the year across the country, according to the decree adopted at the cabinet meeting the day earlier.

The clocks were to have gone back one hour on October 30 when Turkish summertime officially ends.

But now, there will be no winter adjustment and Turkey will stay all year round on summer time.

The decree, which immediately comes into force, said the decision was aimed at “making more use of daylight” during the winter time.

The decision means that Turkey will be three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) all year long and two hours ahead of continental Europe in winter.

“I abolished the winter-summer time difference,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a speech to provincial governors.

“There will be no confusion now. The hours will be the same in winter and summer.

“You will change, not the hours. Time economy,” he quipped to the governors.

Meanwhile the TRNC, which is recognized only by Ankara, followed Turkey’s decision and will also stay on summer time all year round, according to a decision made by its cabinet on Thursday.

The decision means that when winter starts on October 30, the internationally-recognized Greek Republic of Cyprus will be one hour behind the Turkish breakaway north until summer time resumes.

The island, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

The latest round of long-stalled UN-brokered peace talks were launched in May 2015, with both sides expressing hope an elusive Cyprus settlement can finally be reached in 2016.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=78598.

September 07, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.

In a “flash update ” on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.

A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the U.N. agency said. Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. “Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it,” he said in a text message to The Associated Press.

In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting “terrorists.”

OCHA said the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly 7 million displaced internally.

In London on Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders unveiled a plan for a political transition designed to bring an end to the war. It called for the departure of President Bashar Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.

The High Negotiations Committee envisaged a three-phase plan, beginning with six months of negotiations with Assad’s government to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.

This would be followed by the establishment of a transitional government body and the departure of Assad “and his clique,” according to HNC chief Riad Hijab. The HNC called for U.N.-supervised elections to be held 18 months thereafter. Hijab conceded there were formidable obstacles hindering the implementation of this plan.

Keaten reported from Geneva.