Archive for March 27, 2016


Washington (UPI)

Mar 11, 2016

An Indonesian request to purchase AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles from the United States has been approved by the State Department.

The proposed deal under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program is worth about $90 million, said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages the FMS program.

“The proposed sale improves Indonesia’s capability to deter regional threats and strengthen its homeland defense,” DSCA said in its required notification to Congress. “Indonesia is able to absorb this additional equipment and support into its armed forces.”

The proposed sales package is for 36 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAMs and one Missile Guidance Section. Also included are control section support equipment, spare parts, services, logistics, technical contractor engineering and technical support, and loading adaptors.

The prime contractor for the proposed sale will be determined by competition, DSCA said, and its implementation will not require the assignment of any U.S. government or contractor representatives to Indonesia.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Indonesia_gets_State_Dept_approval_for_missile_purchase_999.html.

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Monday, 14 March 2016

Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zend has been sacked after making “offensive” remarks about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the Anadolu Agency reported Prime Minister Sharif Ismail announcing yesterday.

“Sharif Ismail, head of the Council of Ministers, has decided to dismiss Ahmed Al-Zend, minister of justice, from his post,” government spokesman Hossam Al-Qaweesh told Anadolu.

Earlier yesterday, two separate lawsuits were raised with Egypt’s prosecution authorities against Al-Zend accusing him of “insulting” Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

A judicial source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu that Egyptian Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq had received two legal complaints against Al-Zend based on recent televised remarks in which he had “insulted the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him”.

According to lawyer Amr Abdel-Salam, who lodged the first complaint, when replying to a question about the detention of journalists, Al-Zend said: “If the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – insulted me, I would put him in jail.”

After his comments sparked widespread public outrage, he was asked by the Council of Ministers to tender his resignation. When he refused, the decision was taken to sack him, according to state media.

Al-Zend, a prominent judicial figure under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, was a vocal supporter of the 2013 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/24473-egypts-justice-minister-sacked-after-insulting-islams-prophet.

March 20, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities called off the Galatasaray-Fenerbahce derby in Istanbul about two hours before kickoff on Sunday, citing an unspecified threat, and said the match would be played at a later date.

A brief statement from the Istanbul governor’s office said the match was canceled following “the assessment of serious intelligence,” but didn’t provide details. It said the decision was made following “the request and the agreement” of the two bitter rivals.

Unconfirmed media reports said there was a bomb threat at the stadium. The decision came a day after an Islamic State group-linked suicide bomber killed himself and four foreign tourists on Istanbul’s main pedestrian street. The attack was the sixth suicide bombing in Turkey since July that have either been blamed on the IS group or claimed by Kurdish militants.

It came amid heightened alert in Turkey in the run-up to the Kurdish spring festival of Newroz, which have led to violent confrontations between Kurdish protesters and Turkish security forces in the past.

Earlier, fans were told that the game would be played without spectators, the state-run Anatole Agency reported, leading to protests by fans who were already inside the stadium. But authorities later decided to delay the game.

Also Sunday, Turkey’s national team canceled training scheduled for Monday in Istanbul ahead of international games against Sweden and Austria, Hurried newspaper reported, adding that training would take place in the city of Antalya.

March 19, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A suicide attack on Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping street Saturday killed five people, including the bomber and an Israeli citizen, in the sixth suicide bombing in Turkey in the past year. Several foreigners were among 36 people wounded, according to the health ministry.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the explosion occurred outside a local government office on Istiklal Street, which is also home to cafes, restaurants and foreign consulates. Police swiftly sealed off the area as ambulances and a forensic team rushed to the scene after the bombing about 11 a.m. Normally packed cafes were either closed or virtually empty, with business owners making frantic calls to loved ones to assure them of their safety. Rattled tourists wondered where to go.

“It was one loud explosion,” said Muhammed Fatur, a Syrian who works at a butcher shop near the scene of the explosion. “Police came to the scene and sealed off the area.” Eli Bin, the head of Israel’s rescue service MDA, told Channel 2 TV “there is one Israeli killed whose family has been notified” and said 10 Israelis were wounded in the attack. Turkey’s private Dogan news agency said the Israeli killed in the attack was a woman. Israel was investigating to see if its nationals were purposely targeted.

Turkey’s health minister, Mehmet Muezzinoglu, said the 36 people wounded included six Israelis, two Irish citizens and one person each from Iceland, Germany, Dubai and Iran. Turkey was already on edge following two recent suicide car bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group that is an off-shoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The most recent bombing attack, on March 13, targeted bus stops on Ankara’s busiest street, killing 37 people including two bombers.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu convened a security meeting in Istanbul following the attack. His deputy, Numan Kurtulmus said in televised remarks “it is clear that some people are giving logistic support (to terrorists), that some are giving political support and that they are even providing financial support as well as arms.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack. A senior government official said authorities were still trying to determine who carried it out, with suspicion focusing on Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists on the issue.

British singer Skin wrote on Facebook that the blast went off near her ISTANBUL HOTEL and that buildings “shook like paper.” She also expressed solidarity with the “innocent people and their families caught in this evil situation.”

Turkey has had heightened security in Ankara and Istanbul in the run-up to a Kurdish spring festival of Newroz on March 21, which Kurds in Turkey traditionally use to assert their ethnic identity and demand greater rights.

Cengiz Fidaner, who owns a cafe near the explosion site, told the AP “the explosion was not so big but I felt it in my heart because our people died. They want a war but our people want peace. This is because of Newroz.”

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack in Istanbul, describing it as “yet another terrorist outrage targeting innocent civilians and our ally Turkey.” And the U.S. embassy in Turkey expressed shock over the attack on its Twitter account. “We mourn with the families of the lost, and we wish the injured a speedy recovery.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javar Zarif, who was in Istanbul to meet with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, also condemned the “inhumane” attack and offered his condolences. The Irish foreign and trade minister, Charlie Flanagan, expressed “horror and sadness” at the attack and confirmed that a number of Irish citizens were among the injured.

Video posted on social media apparently capturing the aftermath of the blast showed several motionless bodies lined up at the foot of shuttered shops as a second ambulance arrives at the scene. On Thursday, Germany had closed its embassy in Ankara, the German school in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul, which is in the same neighborhood as the blast, following a security warning. Twelve German tourists were killed in a January suicide attack in a historic district of Istanbul.

Saturday’s explosion marks the sixth suicide attack in the country since July. The previous five attacks, which have killed more than 200 people, were either blamed on the Islamic State group by Turkish authorities or claimed by the PKK’s off-shoot.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey for three decades in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. A 2-1/2 year peace process between the government and the PKK broke down in July, reviving the conflict. Since then, the country’s security forces have launched large-scale operations against Kurdish militants in several southeast cities and towns, which have raised human rights concerns amid scores of civilian deaths.

Turkey, which is also a partner in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State, has also been drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict and forced to absorb 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

Fraser reported from Ankara. Bram Janssen in Istanbul, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

27 March 2016 Sunday

Syrian troops backed by Russian forces recaptured the famed ancient city of Palmyra from the ISIL group on Sunday in a major victory over the extremists.

Army sappers were defusing mines and bombs planted by ISIL in the city’s ancient ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site where the extremists sparked a global outcry with the systematic destruction of treasured monuments.

“After heavy fighting during the night, the army is in full control of Palmyra — both the ancient site and the residential neighborhoods,” a military source told AFP.

ISIL fighters pulled out, retreating towards the towns of Sukhnah and Deir Ezzor to the east.

ISIL overran the Palmyra ruins and adjacent modern city in May 2015.

It has since blown up two of the site’s treasured temples, its triumphal arch and a dozen tower tombs, in a campaign of destruction that UNESCO described as a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court.

The extremists used Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater as a venue for public executions, including the beheading of the city’s 82-year-old former antiquities chief.

The oasis city’s recapture is a strategic as well as symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad, since it provides control of the surrounding desert extending all the way to the Iraqi border.

ISIL, behind a string of attacks in the West including last week’s Brussels bombings, is under growing pressure from Syrian and Iraqi military offensives to retake key bastions in its self-proclaimed “caliphate”.

On Thursday, the Iraqi army announced the launch of an offensive to recapture second city Mosul, held by the extremists since June 2014.

– ‘Heaviest losses’ for ISIL –

ISIL lost at least 400 fighters in the battle for Palmyra, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

“That’s the heaviest losses that ISIL has sustained in a single battle since its creation” in 2013, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“It is a symbolic defeat for ISIL comparable with that in Kobane,” a town on the Turkish border where Kurdish fighters held out against a months-long siege by ISIL in 2014-15, he added.

Russian forces, which intervened in support of longtime ally Assad last September, have been heavily involved in the offensive to retake Palmyra despite a major drawdown last week.

Russian warplanes conducted more than 40 combat sorties in just 24 hours from Friday to Saturday, targeting “158 terrorist” positions, according to the Russian defense ministry.

Elsewhere in Syria, a ceasefire in areas held by the government and non-extremist rebels has largely held since February 27, in a boost to diplomatic efforts to end a five-year war that has killed more than 270,000 people.

The recapture of Palmyra sets government forces up for a drive on the extremists’ de facto Syrian capital of Raqa in the Euphrates valley to the north.

“The army will have regained confidence and morale, and will have prepared itself for the next expected battle in Raqa,” a military source said on Saturday.

With the road linking Palmyra to Raqa now under army control, ISIL fighters in the ancient city can only retreat eastwards towards the Iraqi border.

Palmyra was a major center of the ancient world as it lay on the caravan route linking the Roman Empire with Persia and the east.

Pledging Russian support for the offensive to retake the city earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin described it as a “pearl of world civilization”.

Situated about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Damascus, it drew some 150,000 tourists a year before it became engulfed by Syria’s devastating civil war.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/170922/syria-regime-retakes-palmyra-in-major-victory-over-isil.

March 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The main Syrian Kurdish group declared a federal region on Thursday in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria, a move that was immediately rejected by both the government and opposition.

Nawaf Khalil, an official with the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, told The Associated Press that the announcement was made at a conference being held in the town of Rmeilan in the northeastern province of Hassakeh.

The move was rejected by the Syrian Foreign Ministry describing it as “unconstitutional and worthless.” It warned against any attempt to encroach upon the integrity of Syrian territory. The Syrian National Coalition, one of the main Syrian opposition groups, also said it rejects such unilateral declarations and warned of any attempt to form autonomous regions that, “confiscate the will of the Syrian people.”

Khalil said participants in the Rmeilan meeting have approved a “democratic federal system for Rojava-Northern Syria.” Rojava is a Kurdish word that refers to three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under Kurdish control in northern Syria: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.

Khalil said participants who include Turkmen, Arabs, Christian and Kurds in northern Syria said after they approved the draft that they are now preparing a final statement that will be read later Thursday.

“Federal and Democratic Syria is a guarantee of coexistence and brotherly relations between people,” read a banner posted online from inside the room of the Rmeilan conference. Salih Muslim, the co-president of the PYD, said by telephone that those meeting “are setting up the basis on how constituencies will deal with each other.”

Meanwhile in Moscow, the commander of the Russian Air Force said the withdrawal of the bulk of the Russian forces from Syria should be complete in two to three days. Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Thursday that the Air Force aims to meet President Vladimir Putin’s deadline and pull out in the next two to three days.

Putin on Monday announced the withdrawal of most of the Russian forces from Syria to end a five-and-a-half-month campaign there. The first group of bombers left for Russia on Tuesday. Moscow didn’t specify how many aircraft and troops would be withdrawn. It has not revealed how many soldiers it has deployed to Syria, but U.S. estimates of the number of Russian military personnel vary from 3,000 to 6,000.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced yesterday that it would pay around $6 million to reconstruct and repair Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, Arab48.com reported.

Some $1.78 million has been allocated for rebuilding houses which were destroyed by the Israeli occupation during the 2014 Israeli offensive against Gaza.

The remaining $4.22 million, UNRWA said, has been allocated for repair works in the partially damaged houses during the same offensive.

UNRWA said repairing and rebuilding damaged homes is a top priority, stressing that it is still committed to supporting families affected by the unrest.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24597-unrwa-distributes-6m-for-reconstruction-of-gaza.

March 19, 2016

NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) — Sanitation workers began removing mountains of trash from the suburbs of Beirut on Saturday in what residents hoped would mark the end of Lebanon’s eight-month garbage crisis. Early in the day, dozens of trucks started carrying trash to the Naameh landfill just south of the capital, one of three landfills opened as part of a temporary solution announced by the government a week ago.

As garbage began piling up in Beirut last year, protesters formed the “You Stink” movement, demanding sweeping reform in Lebanon’s government. Since the peaks of the protest in the summer, authorities managed to blunt the public anger by ensuring that the streets of Beirut were kept relatively garbage-free. However, the trash was instead pushed to the city’s periphery, where it piled up along roadsides and the banks of the Beirut River.

The government said last week that Naameh, the country’s main landfill, will open again for just two months. The crisis began in July, when the Naameh landfill was scheduled to close with no realistic alternatives; Naameh area residents said the dump was over capacity and began blocking the roads to prevent garbage trucks from reaching it.

Despite anger by residents, there were no protests against the reopening of the landfill on Saturday. In the north Beirut suburb of Jdaideh, home to one of the largest trash piles, a bulldozer loaded thousands of trash bags into trucks. Fadwa Saad had to put a mask to avoid the smell of the trash that could be seen from her balcony.

“We are coughing, we have allergies and there are mosquitoes and flies in our homes,” she said. “They say they are removing trash. We hope that they really remove it, not only do it for one day and leave the rest.”