Archive for February 14, 2015

25 January 2015 Sunday

A Turkish charity on Sunday – in cooperation with a Palestinian NGO – distributed winter clothes to underprivileged families in the Gaza Strip and others who were affected by last year’s devastating Israeli onslaught.

Ahmed al-Najjar, who heads the Peace, Solidarity and Relief Society NGO in the Gaza Strip, said that his organization collaborated with the Turkish Aziz Mahmud Hudayi charity to distribute the winter aid.

The number of families that have benefited from this three-phase program so far is 850, with the first phase costing $50,000, al-Najjar said.

He added that an additional 1,000 families would benefit from the program by the completion of the other two phases.

Alia Abu Zaid, one of the beneficiaries, told The Anadolu Agency that the aid “has eased some of her burden.”

“My husband is unemployed, and I received clothes for my youngest son; now he is happy and warm,” Abu Zaid, a mother of nine, said.

Palestinian resistance factions signed a cease-fire deal with Israel on Aug. 26, ending a 51-day Israeli military onslaught on the Gaza Strip in July and August.

The Israeli offensive left more than 2,160 Palestinians dead – the vast majority of them civilians – and some 11,000 injured.

Source: World Bulletin.


22 January 2015 Thursday

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Turkey would seek the closure of schools in Africa linked to his ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen, opening a new front in his battle with the U.S.-based Muslim cleric.

Erdogan accuses Gulen and his supporters in the judiciary and police of seeking to establish a “parallel state” and of orchestrating a corruption investigation targeting Erdogan’s inner circle in December 2013 as part of a coup attempt.

Followers of Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) movement run a network of schools in Turkey and across the world, including in Africa.

“They might have established educational institutions, but they will be closed down because the Republic of Turkey education ministry will be providing the needed services for students,” he told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said he would follow Ankara’s advice on the issue, having worked with Gulen-linked schools in the past.

“We will follow the guidance of the government because we had never worked with these organisations without the approval of the government,” he told the news conference.

After the corruption allegations emerged, Erdogan purged Turkey’s state apparatus, reassigning thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors deemed loyal to Gulen. In December, a court issued an arrest warrant for the cleric, who has lived in in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Echoing Erdogan’s comments, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Davos that Gulen-linked schools around the world were being used to tarnish Turkey’s image, and the government planned to take action.

“We have taken a strategic decision to gather education activities under a single roof,” he said, adding that the cabinet was expected to consider the matter next week.

Source: World Bulletin.


22 January 2015 Thursday

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still intending to visit Somalia despite a bomb blast outside the presidential palace near a hotel hosting a Turkish delegation of officials.

“An investigation is underway into whether it is a direct attack on the Turkish delegation,” he told a press conference in the Swiss city of Davos.

Earlier today, the Interior Security Ministry of Somalia told The Anadolu Agency that security in the Somali capital has been increased significantly ahead of the planned arrival of the Turkish president Friday.

Erdogan is currently holding talks in Addis Ababa as part of an official visit to Ethiopia which started Wednesday.

No casualties from the blast were reported to be Turks, according to the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu.

Though no group has claimed the attack thus far, the militant Al-Shabab group has often claimed similar attacks in the past.

Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu stressed that Somalia is a country that has high security risks.

He said he talked with the Turkish ambassador in Mogadishu and was told that three Somalis were killed in the attack.

“There are always risks but they cannot shatter Turkey’s resolute stance. Africa policy is among our key policy areas,” he said.

The Turkish premier added that it might be wrong to consider the attack as one aimed solely at Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry announced that a Turk may have been slightly injured in the attack due to broken glass from the hotel.

The ministry added that Somali officials have strengthened security measures following the attack.

Source: World Bulletin.


16 January 2015 Friday

Turkey’s foreign minister will visit Kuwait, Qatar and Yemen, the Foreign Ministry announced Friday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu’s schedule will start on Saturday in Kuwait, where he will spend two days discussing regional and international developments with Kuwaiti officials.

“He is expected to be received by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber III al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah,” a statement from the ministry said.

The foreign minister will then head to Qatar on Monday, where he will meet with his Qatari counterpart Khaled bin Mohamed al-Attiyah; Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani and Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Cavusoglu’s visit to Qatar comes just a month after Qatari intelligence chief Jassem al-Thani’s talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo to prepare for an upcoming joint summit between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

The Turkish foreign minister’s final stop will be in Yemen on Tuesday, where he will hold meetings with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Saidi, president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and prime minister Khaled Bahah.

In an exclusive interview in The Anadolu Agency’s “Editors’ Desk” on Monday, Cavusoglu criticized certain Gulf countries for “lobbying against Turkey,” over elections to the UN Security Council’s non-permanent membership for 2015 and 2016.

“Because of our relations with Egypt, some Gulf States lobbied against us,” Cavusoglu said.

Turkey put forth conditions indicating that normalization of relations with coup-ruled Egypt would be unlikely in the immediate future, unless the country goes back to “full democracy.”

Source: World Bulletin.


16 January 2015 Friday

The present year will see stronger economic growth and lower inflation than the previous year, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the economy Ali Babacan said on Friday.

In an exclusive interview with The Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk at its headquarters in Ankara, Turkey’s top economic policy official Ali Babacan said 2015 will be a better year than 2014 for the country’s economy.

“The Turkish growth rate for 2014 at 3 percent was fine; in 2015, Turkey will be one of fastest growing economies in the EU,” Babacan said.

Turkey will see strong capital and fund inflows this year, Babacan said.

Moreover, the oil price will be a positive factor for Turkish economy.

“Every $10 drop in the oil price decreases the current account deficit by $4.4 billion; the effect of the declining oil price will be felt in Turkey by June.”

Turkey’s energy bill is expected to drop by half in 2015 if oil prices remain around the $50 per barrel mark, according to economists.

The total amount of the current account deficit in the January to November period narrowed to $38.7 billion, indicating a decrease of $18 billion compared with the same period in the previous year, the Turkish Central Bank said on Jan. 13.

Thanks to this decline in the price of oil, Turkey will also be able to reduce inflation to around 6 percent, perhaps even to the 5 percent level, and to boost its growth rate to 4 percent in 2015, Babacan said.

The number of participants in the Individual Pension System has increased to 5.1 million this year, up from about 3 million at the beginning of 2013, with the encouragement of the state contribution of 25 percent of pension deposits. The total volume of the pension funds has recently reached 37 billion Turkish liras ($16.1 billion), up from 20.3 billion Turkish liras ($9.5 billion), Babacan explained.

Regarding the improvement of the investment climate, Babacan announced that there is a package aimed at supporting industrial investments in preparation, and it will be announced within one month.

Babacan also said that Turkey expects a large amount of fund inflows and capital inflows in 2015.

The government wants to create a system for private companies seeking to borrow money using equity-based financing. The Turkish private sector has long-term debt of about $162 billion.

Babacan recalled that the government wants its citizens to keep their gold in banks instead of hiding it under the mattress.

It is believed that over 5,000 tons of gold, currently worth close to $200 billion, are thesaurized by Turkish residents as a form of personal savings, and therefore kept out of the banking system.

Babacan also said that, under its presidency of the G-20 in 2015, Turkey will work for the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the organization.

Regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack, Babacan said that all kinds of terrorist acts must be condemned, no matter their motives may be.

“Terror has no religion. Terror has no nationality, terror has no race. There is no concept like ‘my terrorist- your terrorist.’ We are against all terror and condemn all forms of terrorism,” he said.

Source: World Bulletin.


January 14, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered a ban on access to websites showing Charlie Hebdo’s cover with the image of the Prophet Muhammad.

A court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir prohibited access to the websites in Turkey, the state-run Anadolu News Agency said, after a lawyer reportedly filed a petition saying the four sites were a danger to “public order.”

Earlier, police stopped trucks leaving a pro-secular newspaper’s printing center and checked the paper’s content after it decided to print a selection of Charlie Hebdo caricatures. The paper printed a four-page selection of cartoons and articles in a show of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

Cumhuriyet newspaper said police allowed distribution because the four-page selection of cartoons did not feature the satirical French newspaper’s latest cover. But two Cumhuriyet columnists used small, black-and-white images of the cover as their column headers in Wednesday’s issue.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the columnists’ use of the cover image escaped the attention of police. “While preparing this selection, we respected societies’ freedoms of faith and religious sensitivities,” Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Uktu Cakirozer said in a statement.

“There may have been some (people) who were worried that this would be an issue that would belittle religious beliefs … But I believe that people won’t think that way when they see today’s issue,” Cakirozer later told The Associated Press in an interview.

On the two columnists’ decision to use images of the cover in their columns, Cakirozer said: “That was the personal choice of our writers.” Police intensified security outside Cumhuriyet’s headquarters and printing center as a precaution, and at least five protesters were detained in Istanbul, including one who shouted “you cannot attack my religion or prophet.” Small groups of pro-Islamic demonstrators protested Cumhuriyet in Ankara and in the central city of Konya, Anadolu reported.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan took to Twitter to criticize use of the prophet’s image, calling it an act of “sedition and provocation,” without naming any publications.

Ayse Wieting in Istanbul contributed to this report.


January 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Jubilant Kurdish fighters ousted Islamic State militants from the key Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday after a four-month battle — a significant victory for both the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition.

The Kurds raised their flag on a hill that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. On Kobani’s war-ravaged streets, gunmen fired in the air in celebration, male and female fighters embraced, and troops danced in their baggy uniforms.

The failure to capture Kobani was a major blow to the extremists whose hopes for an easy victory dissolved into a costly siege under withering airstrikes by coalition forces and an assault by the Kurdish militia.

For the U.S. and its partners, Kobani became a strategic prize, especially after they increased the number of airstrikes against IS fighters there in October. “Daesh gambled on Kobani and lost,” said senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

“Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled,” he told The Associated Press from Turkey, adding that he would return to Kobani on Tuesday. Kobani-based journalis Farshad Shami said the few civilians who remained had joined in the celebration. Most of the town of about 60,000 people had fled to Turkey to escape the fighting.

Several U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm that Kurdish fighters have gained full control of Kobani, but added that they have no reason to disbelieve the claims. A senior U.S. official said the Kurds controlled most of the town and have consolidated control particularly in the central and southern areas. The official said Islamic State militants still have a considerable presence in outlying areas around Kobani and are still putting up stiff resistance to the Kurds in those pockets outside it.

U.S. Central Central Command estimates that 90 percent of Kobani is now controlled by Kurdish forces. Kurdish officials and activists said Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands, with only sporadic fighting on the eastern outer edges where the militants retained some footholds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, where searching houses in the eastern suburbs of the town and dismantling and detonating bombs and booby-traps left behind.

Capturing Kobani would have given the IS militants control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines for their positions along the frontier. Now, it is a grave psychological loss for the extremist group, which has been dealt a series of military setbacks in both Syria and Iraq, particularly at the hands of the Kurds.

Last month, Kurdish fighters in Iraq retook the strategic town of Sinjar that had been home to many of Iraq’s minority Yazidis. The focus is now expected to shift to several hundred villages around Kobani still held by the militants. Kurdish activists said they expected the fight for those to be easier than for the town itself.

In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing about 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it and sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing into Turkey.

But the once-nondescript town with few resources quickly became a centerpiece of the international campaign against the Islamic State group. TV crews flocked to the Turkish side of the border and trained their cameras on the besieged town, plumes of smoke rising from explosions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen daily airstrikes on average. More than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town.

At one point in October, the U.S. air dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters — a first in the Syrian conflict. Dozens of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces joined their brethren in Kobani, bringing in heavy weapons that neutralized the Islamic State group’s artillery advantage.

By early January, more than 1,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed and much of its heavy weaponry destroyed. The group continued to invest in resources, bringing in hundreds of reinforcements. Activists said these included many teenagers and even children, signaling a shortage in its forces.

The group made a last stand in the past few weeks, unleashing more than 35 suicide attacks in recent weeks, activists said. But the advancing Kurdish fighters could not be stopped. Nassan said coalition airstrikes intensified in recent days, helping the Kurds in their final push toward IS positions on the southern and eastern edges of Kobani.

The U.S. Central Command said Monday it had carried out 17 airstrikes near Kobani in the last 24 hours that struck IS infrastructure and fighting positions. Shami, the Kurdish journalist, said the remaining IS militants in eastern Kobani vacated quickly, leaving behind fresh food and heavy weapons.

“Their morale collapsed,” he said by telephone as celebratory gunfire echoed in the background. Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, based in Southern Kurdistan, said most of the militants fled to the IS-controlled town of Tal Abyad to the east.

“There are a lot of dead bodies … and they left some of the weapons,” he said. Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory, also confirmed Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands. He said the Kurdish force was led by Mohammed Barkhadan, the Kobani commander of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Barkhadan, a well-known militia commander, led an offensive in 2013 that ousted Islamic militants from the northern Syrian town of Ras Ayn, Aburrahman said. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the IS group, had predicted in November that Kobani would be a defeat for the extremists.

The militant group “has, in so many ways, impaled itself on Kobani,” he said in an interview in Ankara with the Turkish daily Milliyet. There also was joy across the border in Turkey, where Kurds set off fireworks and performed a traditional folk dance to mark the victory by their brethren in predominantly Kurdish Kobani. In Istanbul, police used tear gas and pressurized water to break up pro-Kurdish demonstrations in the city.

Shami said it was a triumph for the “entire world” that had come to Kobani’s rescue. “It is a historic victory, when a small town like Kobani defeats a formidable criminal force like Daesh,” he said.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Suzan Fraser in Ankara; and Bram Janssen in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

16 January 2015 Friday

U.N. aid workers have started delivering food to tens of thousands of people trapped in a besieged district of Homs city in Syria following negotiations with warring parties, officials said on Friday.

In the absence of a nationwide peace deal, relief groups have tried to get localized agreements with fighters on all sides of the conflict to get convoys through to people in battle zones.

The United Nations did not give details of the Homs agreement but local opposition activists told Reuters there was a temporary ceasefire.

Food was sent to Al Wa’er on Thursday, Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s World Food Programme, told journalists in Geneva.

“Following extensive negotiations between parties to the conflict, a first convoy carrying 8,500 family food rations were delivered to the besieged area of Al Wa’er,” — enough food for about 42,500 people for one month, Byrs said.

Two more convoys over the coming days will deliver food to 75,000 people, she added, 30 percent of the estimated quarter of a million people the United Nations says are trapped in besieged areas across Syria.

A U.N. official in Geneva said that the WFP rations were aboard an 18-truck convoy that also delivered some medical supplies and non-food items from other U.N. agencies.

Al Wa’er has witnessed an intensification of shelling and heavy clashes which prevented all access for humanitarian deliveries, WFP said in a statement.

Al Wa’er has been cut off for nearly two years by government forces, opposition activists say. Syrian state media said last month that aid was delivered to Al Wa’er “almost every month.”

The U.N. peace envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has said he wants to start focusing on brokering “freeze zones,” or local truces, in the northern city of Aleppo rather than a peace plan for the whole of the divided country.

“This is why … we have put on the table the proposal of a freeze of heavy fighting in Aleppo, and eventually the return for a united, reconstructed Syrian city as it used to be because it is a symbolic microcosm of all of Syria,” De Mistura told a news briefing in Geneva on Thursday, saying that Islamic State rebel forces were “only 20 miles away from Aleppo”.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad and spiralled into civil war after a crackdown by security forces.

Source: World Bulletin.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Friday that 2,100 Syrians had died in the prisons of the Syrian regime in 2014. The signs of torture appeared on many of their bodies, the observatory said.

The London-based SOHR stressed that the real number is much more than the 2,100 because that figure is only of those families who received bodies and death certificate from prisons.

UN investigators said in last March that they suspected there are war criminals in the units of the Syrian regime army and the armed militants involved in the ‘civil war.’

They added that they were investigating reports of torture, killing and the starvation of prisoners inside the prisons of the Syrian regime. They said there were top intelligence officers on the list suspected perpetrators.

SOHR said that 76,000 Syrians were killed in the war during 2014, while the UN said that more than 200,000 have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

A group of former war crimes prosecutors commissioned by Qatar to investigate possible war crimes in Syria reported in November 2014 that they had proof of systematic torture and killing of 11,000 Syrians inside the regime’s prisons.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Adnan Abu Amer

February 4, 2015

Tyler Huffman

The siege on Gaza is tightening and living conditions deteriorate day by day. Voices are speaking out about the possibility of an implosion because of a lack of any glimmer of hope for Palestinians in light of the continuing closure of crossings and the lack of reconstruction.

Amid these disastrous conditions, Alaa al-Batta, the spokesman for the Palestinian Governmental Committee for Breaking the Siege in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The commission will launch ships from the Gaza port to a number of countries. A ship is prepared to carry patients and students, to be the first vessel departing from the port in the next two months. We have begun the necessary procedures in preparation for building the seaport that will connect the Gaza Strip to the outside world. We have received approval from several countries to begin implementing maritime trips.” He did not name the participating countries.

Al-Monitor learned from government sources in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity, that Turkey, Cyprus and Greece were ready to receive ships coming from the Gaza port.

On Jan. 29, 2014, Palestinian factions in Gaza called for supporting the first maritime voyage from the Gaza port, and to challenge the siege imposed by Israel. Gaza is closed off, deprived of transport and communication with the outside world, resulting in a disastrous situation for thousands of patients, students and humanitarian cases.

Al-Monitor visited the Gaza port, where a banner was hanging that read: “The Port Authority: Gaza International Port.” Written beneath it was: “Project to establish Gaza Port facilities.” There were two additional banners that indicated a departure lounge and an arrival lounge.

Hamas has long fought for the completion of the port, and the issue was included in cease-fire negotiations during the Gaza war in July and August 2014. The movement engaged in tough talks with Israel, under Egyptian auspices, to obtain preliminary approval for establishing the seaport, but it was not achieved.

Hamas knows well that the port’s operation — which was technically inaugurated Jan. 25 — should pass through legal and political procedures with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), so that the Gaza Strip can connect with other ports on the opposite shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, Israel’s refusal of the terms of the truce pushed Hamas to make a unilateral decision — in agreement with the various factions in Gaza — to open the port on Jan. 25. This could provoke Israel, and no one knows how the latter will react to the departure of the first ship from Gaza without its consent.

Immediately after it was announced that work had begun to open the port on Jan. 25, Gaza’s residents responded with varied comments. While some welcomed the move, others wondered how the port could operate without agreement from Israel and the PA. For his part, Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader and former minister of religious endowments, told Al-Monitor, “Opening a seaport in Gaza is linked to the truce agreement concluded after the last war, yet the occupation was not committed to implementing the agreement. We call on the countries of the world to send ships to break the siege on Gaza and inaugurate a maritime route to the Gaza Strip.”

Meanwhile, Ashraf Abu Zayed, the spokesman for the Popular Commission to Break the Siege, told Al-Monitor, “The commission has agreed with contractors to carry out construction work, to actually start establishing the port. It will be Gaza’s window to the world, in light of the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza. We’ve been in touch with a number of European ports, and they’ve expressed willingness to deal with the Gaza port.”

“We’ve contacted the French and Dutch port authorities to secure the $43 million they committed to the port project,” Abu Zayed said. “The costs for the waterway preparations that are currently underway are minor amounts, gathered from businessmen and foreign aid convoys that arrived to Gaza in the past.” He also confirmed that several European states — including Turkey, Greece and Cyprus — were prepared to receive ships through the waterway.

Abdul Fattah Abu Shakr, head of the economics department at An-Najah National University, said France and the Netherlands had pledged $43 million to establish the Gaza port. These two countries had announced that they will finance the seaport’s construction works and train the port’s workers in 2000, before the Al-Aqsa Intifada erupted.

Hatem Abu Shaaban, an engineer and a Palestinian National Council (PNC) member, said in a report published in late 2014 that the operation of the port would provide 2,000 jobs, helping to reduce unemployment in the Gaza Strip. It would also increase revenue for the government, remove Israel’s hands from Palestinian imports and exports, attract businessmen from abroad, revive tourism, facilitate the movement of people to and from Gaza, and strengthen foreign relations with all countries of the world.

Hamas is well aware that Israel will not stand idly by if the Gaza port opens without security monitoring. The Israelis say that the Gaza port, if opened, would become a sanctuary for Iranian and Turkish ships. Moreover, they will not be able to control all the borders of Gaza, nor ensure that weapons and fighters not smuggled into Gaza.

Just hours after the Gaza war ended last Aug. 26, prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahhar was asked if he expected Israel to prevent the operation of the port. “The Palestinian people will build the seaport and the airport without seeking permission from anyone. If anyone attacks our port, we will respond by bombing their port. And if anyone attacks our airport, we will bomb their airport,” he answered, referring to the rockets launched by Hamas toward Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

The PA has refrained from commenting on Hamas’ efforts to open the Gaza port. However, a senior official from President Mahmoud Abbas’ office, speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, said, “The PA is cautious of any effort that will separate Gaza from the West Bank, paving the way for the establishment of a mini-state outside the independent Palestinian state. So long as the port’s opening has not received official approval from the consensus government and the PA presidency, it will further the separation between Gaza and the West Bank — even if it succeeds in lightening the siege on the Gaza Strip.”

It seems that Hamas is moving forward to lift the siege on Gaza by all means possible after the cease-fire talks with Israel came to an end, and relations with Egypt were strained and the PA failed to open Gaza’s crossings to the outside world.

All of this may mean opening the door to a confrontation between Hamas and Israel, calling to mind the Turkish Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.

Source: al-Monitor.