Archive for November, 2015


November 25, 2015

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Under the Iraqi town of Sinjar, Islamic State group militants built a network of tunnels, complete with sleeping quarters, wired with electricity and fortified with sandbags. There, they had boxes of U.S.-made ammunition, medicines and copies of the Quran stashed on shelves.

The Associated Press obtained extensive video footage of the tunnels, which were uncovered by Kurdish forces that took the city in northwestern Iraq earlier this month after more than a year of IS rule.

“We found between 30 and 40 tunnels inside Sinjar,” said Shamo Eado, a commander from Sinjar from the Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga. “It was like a network inside the city.” “Daesh dug these trenches in order to hide from airstrikes and have free movement underground as well as to store weapons and explosives,” Eado said using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. “This was their military arsenal.”

The video, shot by a freelancer touring the town with Kurdish fighters, showed two tunnels running several hundred meters (yards), each starting and ending from houses, through holes knocked in walls or floors.

The narrow tunnels, carved in the rock apparently with jackhammers or other handheld equipment, are just tall enough for a man to stand in. Rows of sandbags line sections of the walls, electrical wires power fans and lights and metal braces reinforce the ceilings. One section of the tunnel resembled a bunker. Dusty copies of the Quran sit above piles of blankets and pillows. Prescription drugs — painkillers and antibiotics — lie scattered along the floor.

In another section of the tunnel, the footage shows stocks of ammunition, including American-made cartridges and bomb-making tools. IS has been digging tunnels for protection and movement throughout the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, even before the U.S.-led coalition launched its campaign of airstrikes against the group more than a year ago. “This has been part of ISIS’ strategy from the very beginning,” said Lina Khatib a senior research associate at the Arab Reform initiative, a Paris-based think-tank. “ISIS has been well prepared for this kind of intervention.”

The Islamic State group took control of Sinjar in August 2014, killing and capturing thousands of the town’s mostly Yazidi residents. Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq with roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, are considered heretics by the hard-line Islamic State group. Hundreds of women are thought to still be in IS captivity, those who have escaped say many Yazidi women are forced to convert to Islam and marry IS fighters.

After pushing IS out of Sinjar, peshmerga officials and local residents have uncovered two mass graves in the area. One, not far from the city center is estimated to hold 78 elderly women’s bodies. The second grave uncovered about 9 miles (15 kilometers) west of Sinjar contained between 50 and 60 bodies of men, women and children.

Eado, the peshmerga commander, said that as Kurdish forces clear Sinjar of explosives, he expects to find more tunnels and evidence of atrocities. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Associated Press writers Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, and Susannah George in Baghdad, Iraq, contributed to this report.

Advertisements

September 21, 2015

BRUSSELS (AP) — A survey of defectors from the Islamic State group has found that many quit the organization because they decided it was too brutal or corrupt, or because it made war too frequently against other Sunni Muslims.

The survey, issued Monday by a London-based think tank, relied on the public statements of 58 people known to have left IS since last year. Peter Neumann, the report’s author, said its findings shatter the image of unity and determination that IS seeks to portray.

The survey found common narratives among defectors, including disappointment that life under IS is so harsh, that the group is corrupt and un-Islamic, and that it commits atrocities against other Sunni Muslims.

Neumann said the defectors’ statements, if given wide circulation, could deter future recruits from joining Islamic State.

November 25, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday that it said ignored repeated warnings and crossed into its airspace from Syria, killing at least one of the two pilots in a long-feared escalation in tensions between Russia and NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced what he called a “stab in the back” and warned of “significant consequences.”

The shoot down — the first time in half a century that a NATO member has downed a Russian plane — prompted an emergency meeting of the alliance. The incident highlighted the chaotic complexity of Syria’s civil war, where multiple groups with clashing alliances are fighting on the ground and the sky is crowded with aircraft bombing various targets.

“As we have repeatedly made clear we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after the meeting of the alliance’s decision-making North Atlantic Council, called at Turkey’s request.

The pilots of the downed Su-24 ejected, but one was killed by Syrian rebel fire from the ground as he parachuted to Earth, said the Russian general staff, insisting the Russian jet had been in Syrian airspace at the time. One of two helicopters sent to the crash site to search for survivors was also hit by rebel fire, killing one serviceman and forcing the chopper to make an emergency landing, the military said.

Stoltenberg urged “calm and de-escalation” and renewed contacts between Moscow and Ankara. Russia has long been at odds with NATO, which it accuses of encroaching on Russia’s borders, as well as with Turkey’s determination to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said Turkey “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.” At a news conference with French President Francois Hollande, he said the incident underscored the “ongoing problem” with Russia’s military operations in Syria, where the Russians have been targeting groups near the Turkish border. Calling Russia an “outlier” in the global fight against the Islamic State group, Obama said that if Moscow were to concentrate its airstrikes on IS targets, mistakes “would be less likely to occur.”

On Sept. 30, Russia began a campaign of massive airstrikes in Syria, which it says are aimed at destroying fighters of the Islamic State group but which Western critics contend are bolstering Assad’s forces.

Before Tuesday’s incident, Russia and the West appeared to be moving toward an understanding of their common strategic goal of eradicating IS, which gained momentum after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, as well as the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai desert. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Turkey said its fighter pilots acted after two Russian Su-24 bombers ignored numerous warnings that they were nearing and then entering Turkish airspace. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkey said the Russian warplanes violated its airspace “to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles … for 17 seconds” just after 9:24 a.m.

It said one of the planes then left Turkish airspace and the other one was fired at by Turkish F-16s “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and crashed on the Syrian side of the border. Russia insisted the plane stayed over Syria, where it was supporting ground action by Syrian troops against rebels. Rebel forces fired at the two parachuting pilots as they descended, and one died, said Jahed Ahmad, a spokesman for the 10th Coast Division rebel group. The fate of the second pilot was not immediately known.

A visibly angry Putin denounced what he called a “stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices” and warned of “significant consequences” for Russian-Turkish relations. Hours later Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cancelled a planned visit to Turkey on Wednesday.

Russia “will never tolerate such atrocities as happened today and we hope that the international community will find the strength to join forces and fight this evil,” Putin said. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country had the right to take “all kinds of measures” against border violations, and called on the international community to work toward “extinguishing the fire that is burning in Syria.”

But despite the harsh words, some analysts believe that Russia and Turkey have reasons not to let the incident escalate, because of economic and energy ties and their common opposition to IS. “Relations have been very strained between Russia and Turkey of late, so Moscow will be trying its utmost to contain the damage this might cause,” said Natasha Kuhrt, a lecturer in international peace and security at King’s College London.

A Turkish military statement said the Russian plane entered Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province. Turkish officials released what they said was the radar image of the path the Russian plane took, showing it flying across a stretch of Turkish territory in the country’s southernmost tip.

Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said the U.S. heard communication between Turkish and Russian pilots and could confirm that Turkish pilots issued 10 verbal warnings before the plane was shot down.

A U.S. defense official in Washington said the Russian plane flew across a 2-mile section of Turkish airspace before it was shot down, meaning it was in Turkish skies for only a matter of seconds. The official, who was not authorized to discuss details of the incident, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Turkey has voiced concern over Russia’s bombing of ethnic Turkmen areas in Syria and complained that the Russian operations have complicated the possibility of creating a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, as well as moderate rebels fighting Assad.

Syrian Turkmen are Syrian citizens of Turkish ethnicity who have lived in Syria since Ottoman times and have coexisted with Syrian Arabs for hundreds of years. They were among the first to take up arms against Syrian government forces, as Turkey lent its support to rebels seeking to topple Assad.

In late 2012, they united under the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, a coalition of Turkmen parties which represents Syrian Turkmens in the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition opposition group. The military wing of the assembly is called the Syrian Turkmen Brigades and aims to protect Turkmen areas from government forces and the Islamic State group.

Turkey has vowed to support the Syrian Turkmen and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday criticized Russian actions in the Turkmen regions, saying there were no Islamic State group fighters in the area.

Turkey has complained repeatedly that Russian planes supporting Assad are straying across the border. On Friday, Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador demanding that Russia stop operations in the Turkmen region.

Last month, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that it said had violated Turkey’s airspace. The country changed its rules of engagement a few years ago after Syria shot down a Turkish plane. According to the new rules, Turkey said it would consider all “elements” approaching from Syria an enemy threat and would act accordingly.

Following earlier accusations of Russian intrusion into Turkish airspace, the U.S. European Command on Nov. 6 deployed six U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to help the NATO-member country secure its skies.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Robert Burns in Washington, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

November 17, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday reappointed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form a new government after his party’s stunning victory in the Nov. 1 election.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, founded by Erdogan, secured a dramatic gain that few had predicted in the parliamentary election, regaining a majority that it lost in the previous election in June.

The Nov. 1 election was a re-run called by Erdogan after Davutoglu failed to form a coalition partnership with any of the three opposition parties in parliament. The new election was held amid renewed violence in Turkey, and Erdogan and Davutoglu argued that only a single-party majority could restore stability. The renewed fighting between Turkey’s security forces and Kurdish rebels has left hundreds of people dead and shattered an already-fragile peace process.

Turkey also suffered two massive suicide bombings at pro-Kurdish gatherings that killed some 130 people, apparently carried out by an Islamic State group cell. Davutoglu was expected to present a Cabinet list for Erdogan’s approval either on Thursday or Friday.

Earlier Tuesday, newly elected lawmakers were sworn into office during a ceremony at parliament’s first session since the election. The oath taken by prominent Kurdish legislator Leyla Zana however, was declared invalid, after she failed to keep to the wording and swore allegiance “before the great nation of Turkey” instead of the “Turkish nation” — avoiding a term many Kurds object to.

Zana also began her oath by turning toward Erdogan and expressing — in Kurdish — her wish “for an honorable and lasting peace” between Turks and Kurds. It was not clear if she would retake the oath. Officials said she would not be able to participate in parliament until she is formally sworn-in.

Zana had caused a storm during a similar oath-taking ceremony in 1991, when she spoke Kurdish in parliament, defying a ban on using the language in official settings. She later spent 10 years in prison for alleged links to the Kurdish rebels.

Zana’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, favors the resumption of peace efforts to end the Kurdish conflict.

November 25, 2015

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s president declared a 30-day state of emergency across the country and imposed an overnight curfew for the capital Tuesday after an explosion struck a bus carrying members of the presidential guard, killing at least 12 people and wounding 20 others.

The government described it as a terrorist attack. The blast on a tree-lined avenue in the heart of Tunis is a new blow to a country that is seen as a model for the region but has struggled against Islamic extremist violence. Radical gunmen staged two attacks earlier this year that killed 60 people, devastated the tourism industry and rattled this young democracy.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack against the presidential guard, an elite security force that protects only the president. President Beji Caid Essebsi, who wasn’t in the bus at the time, declared the state of emergency and curfew on the Tunis region. He convened an emergency meeting of his security council for Wednesday morning.

Speaking on national television, he said Tunisia is at “war against terrorism” and urged international cooperation against extremists who have killed hundreds around Europe and the Mideast in recent weeks, from Paris to Beirut to a Russian plane shot down over Egypt.

“I want to reassure the Tunisian people that we will vanquish terrorism,” he said. Police fanned out throughout central Tunis after Tuesday’s explosion, and ambulances rushed to the scene, evacuating wounded and dead. Top government ministers visited the scene of the attack after it was cordoned off by police.

Interior Ministry spokesman Walid Louguini told The Associated Press that at least 12 were killed and 20 wounded in the attack. Witness Bassem Trifi, a human rights lawyer, said the explosion hit the driver’s side of the bus, describing a “catastrophic” scene.

“I saw at least five corpses on the ground,” he told the AP. “This was not an ordinary explosion.” The attack came days after authorities visibly increased the security level in the capital and deployed security forces in unusually high numbers.

Earlier this month, Tunisian authorities announced the dismantling of a cell that it said had planned attacks at police stations and hotels in the seaside city of Sousse, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of Tunis. Sousse was one of the targets of attacks earlier this year.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking in Washington, said the U.S. government was still seeking details on what happened in Tunis, but added, “We strongly condemn the attack.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Tunis earlier this month, pledged expanded economic and security support for Tunisia, whose popular uprising unleashed the democracy movements across the region in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.

Kerry said the U.S. and Tunisia would soon begin negotiations on a major loan guarantee and were discussing expanded military cooperation, including intelligence sharing and the possible use of drones to collect information about potential threats. A U.S. military team was expected in Tunisia around late November to begin those talks.

Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country to have solidified a new democracy, but it is facing serious economic and security challenges. Tunisia’s tourism industry has been hit especially hard this year. Shootings at a luxury beach hotel in Sousse last June killed 38 people, mostly tourists, while in March, an attack by Islamist extremists at Tunisia’s famed Bardo museum near the capital killed 22 people.

The attack came two weeks before a group of Tunisians heads to Oslo to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to the country’s National Dialogue Quartet for negotiations that rescued the country’s fledgling democracy from a constitutional crisis.

Tunisia’s influential Islamist party also denounced the explosion, and urged Tunisians to unite behind the security forces as they hunt for the perpetrators. “Tunisia is targeted because it is a democracy and represents a model of moderate Islam,” it said.

The U.N. Security Council “stressed that no terrorist attack can reverse the path of Tunisia towards democracy and its efforts towards economic recovery and development.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations “will continue to stand with the people of Tunisia as they confront the scourge of terrorism and continue to consolidate and strengthen their democracy.”

Charlton reported from Paris. Matthew Lee in Washington also contributed.

November 15, 2015

ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — Police in the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya detained dozens of people Sunday during a series of protests denouncing a G-20 summit that is underway in a nearby seaside resort, although the demonstrations were mostly peaceful.

Security is tight during two-day meeting that was expected to be dominated by discussions about how the G-20 nations will respond to the deadly Paris attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group. Demonstrators were being kept miles away from the venue at a secluded seaside resort some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Antalya city.

A group of some 500 youths belonging to a Turkish nationalist association gathered in the city, holding up card-board effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama and denouncing U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Police allowed the group to march briefly only after they agreed to leave the effigies behind.

Hundreds of members of Turkish left-wing groups and trade unions later held another protest denouncing the organization which gathers the world’s wealthiest economies. They marched in central Antalya carrying a banner that read in Turkish and in English: “Killer, colonialist, imperialist war organization G-20 get out!” Police detained dozens of demonstrators after one of the demonstrators threw fireworks at police while the crowd was dispersing.

Earlier, police detained four protesters who wanted to walk to the venue of the G-20 summit to deliver a letter to participants. Police also detained a group of about 20 protesters who refused to undergo a security check, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Separately, members of Turkey’s ethnic Uighur community also gathered in the city to protest China’s treatment of the Muslim minority. Chinese President Xi Jinping is among the summit participants. Turkey has turned a sports center in Antalya into a temporary detention center in case of large-scale protests.

November 15, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkey has ended negotiations with China on building a missile defense system.

The Anadolu Agency, citing unnamed officials, said Sunday that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu decided to abandon the missile tender over the possibility that Turkey may construct its own “national” defense system.

The deal with China had been a source of tension with NATO partners, who said they would not integrate Chinese-made hardware with a European-wide system. The indications that the deal is being abandoned come as leaders from the 20 leading world economies— including China and NATO allies— are meeting in Turkey in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris.

Western leaders are discussing how to respond to the attack that French President Francois Hollande called an act of war.

November 05, 2015

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey has granted access to 30 suspected grave sites in military-controlled areas in northern Cyprus, a move that will significantly speed up exhumation work, an official with a committee searching for missing persons on the war-divided island nation said Thursday.

Paul-Henri Arni, the U.N.-appointed member of the Committee on Missing Persons, said such access will accelerate the work to an estimated three years. He said it’s important to move ahead quickly because many witnesses with information on such graves are elderly.

“It’s a race against time,” Arni told The Associated Press. “The only credible sources of information we have are these witnesses and they’re dying fast.” Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Some 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots had disappeared from the mid-1960s during fighting between the two communities, as well as the invasion.

In the last decade, the remains of 1,020 people have been exhumed. Turkey still maintains some 35,000 troops in the island’s north, where Turkish Cypriots declared independence that’s recognized only by Ankara.

It’s not the first time that Turkey has allowed crews to dig in military-controlled areas that dot the island’s north and where access is strictly prohibited, but Arni said work has proceeded too slowly. He said his group has information of possible burials regarding all 30 sites, but declined to give an estimate on how many people might be buried there.

Turkey’s decision comes as U.N.-brokered talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus have been significantly ramped up. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Turkish Cypriot leader’s confirmation that Turkey has granted access to the sites, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The U.N. chief “is encouraged by the steps being taken to build trust and confidence between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities as the two sides have begun intensified talks this month,” Dujarric said.

The Cypriot government welcomed Turkey’s move, adding that it now expects Ankara to do more to help uncover the fate of the missing, including granting access to its military archives as well as allowing crews into areas where exhumed remains have been reburied.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that measures to move sovereign institutions to Jerusalem are underway, Anadolu has reported.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the PA foreign ministry in Ramallah, Abbas said that this would be achieved soon, but through “political and diplomatic” efforts. The foreign ministry building was funded by China and a Chinese delegation headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yan attended the ceremony.

“Today in Ramallah, but soon in our capital Jerusalem, where we will move all our sovereign institutions,” Abbas said. “This is what we are working on and this will be through political and diplomatic efforts, which the foreign ministry and our embassies abroad are taking part in.”

Hailing PA-Chinese friendship, Abbas added that China has been and is still one of the largest supporters of the Palestinians’ hope for freedom and independence. “We are looking forward to receiving you in our eternal capital, East Jerusalem,” he told the Chinese delegation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22277-palestinian-authority-to-move-institutions-to-jerusalem.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The head of the Hamas Political Bureau renewed his movement’s call on Friday for a national leadership for the ongoing Palestinian uprising, Al-Resalah has reported.

“We have to work together based on one strategy to achieve active national goals,” Khaled Meshaal told Al-Quds TV channel. “We [Hamas leaders] are working to achieve an agreement on the tactics and tools of Al-Quds Intifada as well as an agreement to achieve strategic goals together.”

Meshaal stressed the importance of forming a united field leadership for the intifada, which was ignited at the beginning of October as a response to the continuous Israeli violations against the Palestinian people and Jerusalem, mainly in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22282-hamas-renews-call-for-national-uprising-leadership.