Archive for August 13, 2018


15.05.2018

AFRIN, Syria

A foundation linked to Turkey’s top religious body said Tuesday it will distribute aid to 40,000 Syrians during the holy month of Ramadan in Syria’s terror-liberated city of Afrin.

Turkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV) head Mehmet Savas Polat told Anadolu Agency that they accelerated humanitarian aid projects in the eve of Ramadan.

“We will distribute iftar [fast-breaking meals] to up to 20,000 people and also food packages to 20,000 more people in Afrin within the scope of Ramadan aid,” Polat said.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin, northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.

On March 18, Turkish-backed troops liberated the Afrin town center, which had been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK terrorists since 2012.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkish-charity-to-send-ramadan-aid-to-syrias-afrin/1146985.

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April 30, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — A missile attack targeting government outposts in Syria’s northern region killed 26 pro-government fighters, mostly Iranians, a Syria war monitoring group said Monday, amid soaring Mideast tensions between regional archenemies Israel and Iran.

Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that it was carried out by neighboring Israel. The attack came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked to President Donald Trump on the phone. The White House said the two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East, “especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities.”

A day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ratcheted up the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Iran and offered warm support to Israel and Saudi Arabia in their standoff with Tehran. “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The United States is with Israel in this fight,” he added on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.

Israel has cited Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the late Sunday night attack appears to have been carried out by Israel and targeted an arms depot for surface-to-surface missiles at a base in northern Syria known as Brigade 47. The Observatory said four Syrians were also among the casualties.

It said the death toll could rise as the attack also wounded 60 fighters and there were several others still missing. Iranian state television, citing Syrian media, reported the attack. However, an Iranian semi-official news agency denied reports that Iranian fighters were killed or that Iranian-run bases were hit. The Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed Iranian informed official in its report but did not elaborate on the denial.

Another semi-official news agency, ISNA, said the strike killed 18 Iranians, including a commander, in a suburb of the central city of Hama. It cited “local sources and activists” for its report. The missiles targeted buildings and centers which likely include a weapons depot, ISNA reported.

The Syrian government-owned Tishrin newspaper quoted what it called “sources on the ground” as saying that the attack on military positions in Aleppo and Hama provinces consisted of nine ballistic missiles fired from American-British bases in north Jordan. The report could not be independently confirmed.

There was also no immediate comment from Israel, which rarely confirms or denies its attacks in Israel. Israeli media reported that the security cabinet will hold an unscheduled meeting later Monday on the subject of the nuclear deal with Iran.

President Donald Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European and other parties.

Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to back Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s seven-year civil war. The attack comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and Israel following an airstrike earlier this month on Syria’s T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the T4 attack.

Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that T4 attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it. On Monday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the time when Iran’s enemies can “hit and run” is over.

“They know if they enter military conflict with Iran, they will be hit multiple times,” he said in comments during a meeting with workers, according to his website. He did not specifically refer to the latest attack in Syria.

Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview published last Thursday that his country will strike Tehran if attacked by archenemy Iran, escalating an already tense war of words between the two adversaries.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Monday quoted chief of Fatimayoun Brigade, an Iran-backed Afghan militia in Syria fighting alongside Iranian forces, as saying their base near Aleppo was not targeted during the strikes and they had no casualties. It did not elaborate.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian TV reported a “new aggression,” with missiles targeting military outposts in northern Syria. The state-run television reported that the missiles targeted several military positions before midnight Sunday outposts in the Hama and Aleppo countryside.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar daily, that is considered close to the militant Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and the Syrian government said the attack targeted “important arms depots used by the (Syrian) army and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.” It said that missiles used in the attack appear to have been bunker buster.

Syria-based opposition media activist Mohamad Rasheed said that base that came under attack is about 10 kilometers (7 miles) outside the city of Hama, adding that the airstrike led to several explosions in the arms depot. He added that the area is known as the Maarin Mountain or Mountain 47.

Rasheed said that some of the exploding missiles in the arms depot struck parts of Hama, adding that residents in areas near the base fled their homes. He said the base has been run by Iranian and Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

August 12, 2018

SALT, Jordan (AP) — Jordanian search teams pulled the bodies of three suspected militants from the rubble of their hideout, a government official said Sunday, hours after assailants opened fire and set off explosions that killed four members of the security forces trying to storm the building.

The clash late on Saturday was among the deadliest between suspected militants and Jordanian security forces in recent years. It raised new concerns about attempts by domestic and foreign militants to carry out attacks and destabilize the pro-Western kingdom.

Jordan has played a key role in an international military coalition that helped push back the extremist group Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. The chain of events in Jordan began Friday when assailants detonated a home-made bomb under a police car guarding a music festival in the predominantly Christian town of Fuheis, west of the capital of Amman.

The blast, labeled a terrorist attack by Jordan’s prime minister, killed a police officer. Jordanian authorities did not say what motivated the Fuheis attackers, and there was no claim of responsibility.

Security forces chasing the suspects zeroed in on a multi-story building in the town of Salt, near Fuheis, and attempted to storm it late Saturday. The suspects holed up inside opened fire and set off powerful explosions, officials said. A wing of the building collapsed.

In initial statements late Saturday, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghuneimat said three members of the security forces were killed. She said Sunday that a fourth officer had died and that the bodies of three suspects were pulled from the rubble. Five suspects are in custody.

The Hala Akhbar news website linked to Jordan’s military said the suspects are Jordanians and that the cell had planned to attack security installations and other sensitive targets. The site said the suspects had been armed with explosives, grenades and weapons.

Jordan has been a target for attacks by Islamic State in recent years. In June 2016, a cross-border car bombing launched from Syria killed seven Jordanian border guards. In December 2016, a shootout at a Crusader castle in the southern town of Karak left 14 people dead, including seven members of the security forces, four militants and three civilians.

Jordan is considered to an important security ally, particularly by the United States and Israel which view any signs of unrest there with concern. The kingdom has cracked down on suspected militants in recent years, imposing prison terms of several years for suspected sympathizers, including those expressing support for militant ideology on social media.

At the same time, hopelessness and alienation among some of the kingdom’s young people, driven by high youth unemployment, have provided fertile ground for recruitment by militant groups.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

August 11, 2018

BARDO, Tunisia (AP) — Thousands of Muslim fundamentalists protested Saturday in front of the nation’s parliament to decry proposals in a government report on gender equality that they claim are contrary to Islam.

Men and veiled women marched under a blazing sun from Tunis to Bardo, outside the capital where the parliament is located, to protest the report by the Commission of Individual Liberties and Equality. The report, among other things, calls for legalizing homosexuality and giving the sexes equal inheritance rights.

Security was heavy during the protest, which remained calm despite the anger the report has triggered. The crowd, who came from towns around Tunisia, cried out “Allahu akbar (God is great)” as they marched.

The protest was organized by the National Coordination for the Defense of the Quran, the Constitution and Equitable Development. The commission was put in place a year ago by President Beji Caid Essebsi, who is expected to speak about it on Monday, Women’s Day in Tunisia. It was not immediately clear whether the proposals would eventually be put before parliament.

The North African nation has, since its independence from France in 1956, been a standard-bearer in the Muslim world for women’s rights. But the proposals in the 300-page report, known as the Colibe report, would take human rights, including women’s rights, to another level. It proposes to end the death penalty and legalize homosexuality, which the current penal code outlaws and punishes with three years in prison.

The equal inheritance proposal is an abrupt change from current practices, which see males in a family receiving double the inheritance of females. The topics touching on sensitive areas have riled Muslims who embrace a literal reading of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

“I’m here to defend the word of God and oppose any projects that harm the Islamic identity of our people,” said Kamel Raissi, a 65-year-old retiree. “We totally reject the Colibe report which contains an underhanded hate for Islam,” said Abdellatif Oueslati, a nurse from Jendouba, 155 kilometers (95 miles) west of Tunis.

The authors of the report say the proposals conform with the nation’s 2014 Constitution and international human rights obligations. “They in no way contravene Islamic precepts, but embody an enlightened reading of these precepts, which put them in step with the evolution of society,” said Abdelmajid Charfi, a university professor who is one of the report’s authors.

Protesters at Saturday’s rally were not convinced. Tarek Azouz worried that the proposals amounted to a “wish to destroy moral values” by legalizing homosexuality. If acted upon, he said, “we’ll end up with gay marriage.”

Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

August 12, 2018

ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan. Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.

Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects. “The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.

Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. ” Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.

Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan. “What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.

“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said. On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.

“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri. Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.

For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.

Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.

Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who wet over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.

Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.

Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

August 10, 2018

Qatar is set to be knocked off its perch as the richest country in the world by the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

For several years the gas rich Gulf state held the envious status of the richest country in the world. Its per capita GDP was around $127,600 a year ago, according to the International Monetary Fund and with Luxembourg quite a way off in second place, with $104,003, Qatar’s status seemed to have been safe.

However the global casino hub of Macau has reached parity with Qatar’s GDP per capita and is predicted to outstrip Qatar by 2020, with $143,116 per capita GDP, according to projections from the IMF. The prediction will put Macau ahead of the current No. 1 Qatar, which will reach $139,151 in the same timeframe.

A former Portuguese outpost on the southern tip of China, Macau has become a gambling capital since returning to Chinese control almost two decades ago.

It is the only place in China where casinos are legal, turning it into a magnet for high-rollers from the mainland. Macau’s gross domestic product has more than tripled from about $34,500 per capita in 2001, the IMF data shows.

The wealth gap between the two places is also expected to widen beyond 2020, with Macau’s GDP per capita set to reach $172,681 by 2023, according to data compiled from the April edition of the IMF’s Global Economic Outlook database. Qatar’s, meanwhile, will grow to just $158,117.

Small developed countries or regions are more likely to rank top of world rich lists when there are fewer people to divide the wealth. The per capita calculation works in favor of Macau, whereas the oil-rich nation of Qatar has a population of 2.57 million.

Qatar has also endured a period of sluggish economic growth as a result of sanctions imposed by its Gulf neighbors; Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Doha’s economy has recovered but its ability to maintain the level of growth seen in past is unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future under the current climate.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180810-qatar-set-to-be-knocked-off-its-position-as-richest-country-in-the-world/.