Archive for July, 2014

US plans largest ever sale of Hellfire missiles to Iraq

Washington (AFP)

July 29, 2014

The United States plans to sell 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq in a $700 million deal, officials said Tuesday, as Washington tries to help Baghdad retake ground captured by Sunni militants.

The US government, which has been reluctant so far to take military action in support of Baghdad, has rushed hundreds of the missiles to Iraq to help the Shiite-led government counter jihadists, who have seized areas north and west of the capital.

The proposed sale is the largest yet of the lethal missiles, which the Iraqis fire from AC-208 Cessna Caravan planes and other aircraft.

The deal calls for 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R Hellfire missiles and related equipment, parts, training and logistical support worth a total of $700 million, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Tuesday.

“Iraq will use the Hellfire missiles to help improve the Iraq Security Forces’ capability to support current on-going ground operations,” the agency said.

The State Department has approved the deal and US law requires the government to inform members of Congress of a possible weapons sale. Lawmakers are not expected to try to block the sale.

Washington in July alone has delivered 466 Hellfire missiles to Iraq, and has shipped 780 since January, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

Another 366 missiles will be delivered in August, he said.

The missiles, manufactured by US defense giant Lockheed Martin Corporation, have been used on American Predator and Reaper drone aircraft to take out suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

President Barack Obama has sent more than 200 US military advisers to Iraq to “assess” the state of the Iraqi army, while leaving open the possibility of US air strikes in the future.

The advisers delivered their initial evaluation earlier this month and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and top officers are still reviewing their findings, Kirby said.

The Obama administration has signaled reluctance to be drawn into major military action, and has argued that the jihadists exploited a failure by the Shiite-led government to forge cooperation with Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

“There’s not going to be a US military solution here. It’s just not going to happen,” Kirby said.

He also rejected the idea that the administration was “dithering” in its review of the assessment by military advisers.

Kirby said there was a sense of urgency but “whatever recommendations flow from these assessments have got to be the right ones, have got to be sound, and have to be based on logic, and not done in a rush.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_plans_largest_ever_sale_of_Hellfire_missiles_to_Iraq_999.html.

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Emirates airline says will not fly over Iraq after MH17

London (AFP)

July 28, 2014

Emirates will stop flying over Iraq due to concerns over jihadist missile attacks following the MH17 air disaster in Ukraine, the airline’s president Tim Clark told The Times on Monday.

Almost 300 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 died when it came down in eastern Ukraine nearly two weeks ago, with Washington and Europe claiming it was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Moscow militants.

“This is a political animal but… the fact of the matter is MH17 changed everything, and that was very nearly in European airspace,” Clark told The Times in an interview published on Monday.

“We cannot continue to say, ‘Well it’s a political thing’. We have to do something. We have to take the bull by the horns,” added the British president of the Dubai-based carrier.

Clark predicted other carriers would also decide to stop flying over Iraq, as the global airline industry reviews the risk of overflying combat zones.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 aircraft, was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people aboard on July 17 when it was downed close to the village of Grabove, in the rebellion-wracked region of Donetsk in east Ukraine.

“The horrors that this created was a kick in the solar plexus for all of us,” Clark told the daily paper.

“Nevertheless having got through it we must take stock and deal with it.”

On Sunday meanwhile, the commercial director of Malaysia Airlines called for a complete overhaul of the way flight paths are deemed safe following the plane’s downing by a suspected missile.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Hugh Dunleavy said the disaster would have “an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry”, claiming that airlines can no longer depend on aviation authorities for reliable information about flying over conflict zones.

“For too long, airlines have been shouldering the responsibility for making decisions about what constitutes a safe flight path, over areas in political turmoil around the world,” he wrote.

“We are not intelligence agencies, but airlines, charged with carrying passengers in comfort between destinations.”

Source: Space Mart.

Link: http://www.spacemart.com/reports/Emirates_airline_says_will_not_fly_over_Iraq_after_MH17_999.html.

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France says ready to facilitate asylum for Iraq’s Christians

Paris (AFP)

July 28, 2014

France said Monday it was ready to help facilitate asylum for Christians in Iraq displaced by a jihadist onslaught, saying it was “outraged” by their persecution.

“We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a joint statement.

Thousands of Christians and other minorities have fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and other areas after Islamic State insurgents led a sweep across Iraq’s north and west last month.

The militants had ordered Christian families to convert to Islam or leave the city, prompting the mass exodus.

Those who failed to comply were threatened with execution, and the property of those who left was forfeited to the Islamic State, a statement from the group seen by AFP said.

“France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness,” both ministers said.

“The ultimatum given to these communities in Mosul by ISIL is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations that are historically an integral part of this region,” they added, referring to the jihadist group’s former name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Christian presence in the region spans close to two millennia.

Before the 2003 US-led invasion, more than a million Christians lived in Iraq, including more than 600,000 in Baghdad and 60,000 in Mosul, as well as a substantial number in the oil city of Kirkuk and in Basra.

The United Nations Security Council has already denounced the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, warning such actions can be considered crimes against humanity.

In a unanimous declaration adopted last week, the Council condemned “in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations and those who refuse its extremist ideology in Iraq by ISIL and associated armed groups,” it said.

“The members of the Security Council further recall that widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable.”

The Council also asked that the Iraqi government and the UN intensify their efforts to serve the “urgent” humanitarian needs of people displaced by the conflict and to tackle the “terrorist threat” against minorities.

Fabius and Cazeneuve, meanwhile, said they would soon hold talks with the representatives in France of Iraq’s Christian communities.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/France_says_ready_to_facilitate_asylum_for_Iraqs_Christians_999.html.

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Bahrain files lawsuit to suspend Al-Wefaq activities

2014-07-20

DUBAI – Bahrain has filed a lawsuit to suspend Al-Wefaq’s activities for three months after the largest Shiite opposition group violated the kingdom’s law on associations, the official BNA news agency reported Sunday.

Political parties are banned in Bahrain, as in other Gulf Arab monarchies, and Al-Wefaq has the status of an association.

The ministry of justice said Al-Wefaq must rectify its “illegal status following the annulment of four general assemblies for lack of a quorum and the non-commitment to the public and transparency requirements for holding them,” as per Bahraini regulations, said BNA.

The ministry said it “filed the lawsuit following the insistence of Al-Wefaq on breaking the law… as well as its failure to amend violations related to its illegal general assemblies and the consequent invalidity of all its decisions,” BNA reported.

Al-Wefaq has led the protest movement that started in February 2011 by Bahrain’s Shiite majority against the ruling Sunni regime and has repeatedly called for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

Earlier this month, Bahrain’s chief prosecutor charged the head of Al-Wefaq, cleric Ali Salman, and his political assistant, ex-MP Khalil Marzooq, with violating a law on foreign contacts after they met the US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.

Bahrain has said the meeting at the US embassy violated the law stipulating that contacts between political associations and foreign parties “should be coordinated with the foreign ministry and in the presence” of its representative.

Manama had told Malinowski, who is the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, that he was “unwelcome” and should “leave immediately.”

Bahrain is a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran. Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty, and Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=67204.

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Emirates paves way for Middle East space program with mission to Mars

London, UK (SPX)

Jul 25, 2014

The United Arab Emirates has announced plans to launch a mission to Mars by 2021. A first for the Arab world, the mission and accompanying Space Agency are a big deal for the UAE – scientifically and politically.

Investing in space activities is not new territory for the UAE. Its investments in space-related technology has already exceeded some US$5.4 billion, developing satellite data, mobile satellite communications and earth mapping and observation facilities.

This is not surprising when we live in an age where space hardware is important for a range of practical everyday uses such as telecommunications and navigation. Accordingly, many countries have invested in purchasing satellites and their launches, data from space, and other space infrastructure.

Next level space missions

But there is something unique about the UAE’s announcement of plans to create a space agency and launch an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021. The plans indicate that the UAE will develop its own spacecraft building and perhaps also launching capabilities.

While many countries participate in space activities through the purchase of hardware and launches from external providers, the ability to build and launch their own craft domestically lifts a country to the next level of the space faring elite.

The announcement also implies that the UAE plans to pursue hugely expensive space activities with a primarily scientific purpose. Yes, this project has a practical purpose in that it is to inspire UAE technology growth and the education of forthcoming scientists. However a country is also making a statement when it moves from space-related activity for purely practical purposes, to the more heady goals of exploration, inspiration and science.

Power, prestige and politics

The leap from practical to primarily scientific space activity is noteworthy. This is partly because a space program is a way for states to assert their prestige.

There is historical precedent that undertaking space activities for exploration garners prestige and indicates power: financial strength, technological capabilities and also ideologically the capability to be at the forefront of an area of research that taps into humanity’s biggest goals.

The origins of putting human-made objects into space were during the Cold War between the US and the USSR, often referred to as the first space race.

But we have moved on from the days where space was a bipolar activity: many countries have space capabilities and activities are undertaken for a wide range of reasons. Also non-state actors are increasingly active in space, including several (such as Mars One) that have planned manned missions to Mars.

Still, the UAE’s Mars mission has a political subtext on several levels. Domestically, it is timed to shore up nationalistic sentiment for the 50th anniversary of the country’s formation. Regionally, the project indicates leadership within the Middle East region. And globally, the mission marks the entry of an Arab nation into the elite club of countries with such ambitious space programs.

Success guaranteed?

Will this project work, both scientifically and in order to build international prestige? Scientifically, Mars missions have proved tricky. Many have failed, including the UK’s Mars Beagle 2 rover, which reached Mars in 2003 but failed upon landing on the Martian surface. Therefore it remains to be seen what exactly the plans are for the UAE’s Martian device, and what it will achieve.

Politically, the planned program to Mars and also the creation of an UAE Space Agency makes a powerful statement. It puts the Middle East on the map with regards to space exploration for scientific purposes. It could also drive the creation of a Middle East space program, akin to that of the European Space Agency.

This does not undermine the scientific value or importance of the project proposed by the UAE. The space science research community is well-networked transnationally, and a well-funded project to the red planet by the UAE should be welcomed.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Emirates_paves_way_for_Middle_East_space_program_with_mission_to_Mars_999.html.

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Qatar proposes the establishment of a commercial port in Gaza

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Qatar has proposed the establishment of an internationally-supervised commercial port at the Gaza Strip as a temporary solution to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people until they establish their independent state along the pre-1967 borders.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Attiyah made the proposal during the meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was held in Cairo on Monday to discuss the steps that will be taken by the Arab League to confront the brutal Israeli aggression on the people of Gaza.

Al-Attiyah said that the international community should find guarantees that would enable the Palestinian Authority to pay salaries to Gaza’s employees, who represent more than 50,000 families.

“This requires Arab diplomatic action that should depend on Arab influence at the international level,” he said.

On Monday, Egypt proposed an initiative for a ceasefire in Gaza.

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian initiative states: “Israel shall cease all hostilities against the Gaza Strip via land, sea, and air, and shall commit to refrain from conducting any ground raids against Gaza and targeting civilians.

“All Palestinian factions in Gaza shall cease all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel via land, sea, air, and underground, and shall commit to refrain from firing all types of rockets, and from attacks on the borders or targeting civilians.”

The Egyptian initiative also called for the opening of crossings “and the passage of persons and goods through border crossings shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.

“Other issues, including security issues shall be discussed with the two sides.”

On the method of implementation, the Egyptian foreign ministry said: “It has been decided to initiate implementation of the de-escalation agreements at 9am on July 15, 2014, pending the implementation of a full ceasefire within 12 hours of the announcement of the Egyptian initiative and its unconditional acceptance by both sides.”

Over a week ago, Israel launched a military operation on the Gaza Strip, labeling it “Operation Protective Edge” and alleging that it aims to stop rockets fired from Gaza towards Israeli towns and cities.

The Israeli military attack has resulted in more than 200 Palestinian deaths and the injury of more than 1,390. Some 80 per cent of those killed in the Israeli offensive are civilians.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/12834-qatar-proposes-the-establishment-of-a-commercial-port-in-gaza.

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UAE to create space agency, send unmanned probe to Mars

Abu Dhabi (AFP)

July 16, 2014

Oil-rich United Arab Emirates announced Wednesday it will create a space agency with the aim of sending the first Arab unmanned probe to Mars by 2021.

“The UAE has entered the space race with a project to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 in the Arab world’s first mission to another planet,” said an Emirati government statement.

It added that a UAE Space Agency is to be created to drive the project.

“We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us,” said the UAE vice president and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

The statement said UAE investments in space technologies have already topped 20 billion dirhams ($5.44 billion).

The country has Al-Yah Satellite Communications, a satellite data and television broadcast company, mobile satellite communication company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, and Earth mapping and observation system Dubai Sat.

The new agency will coordinate the country’s space technology sector and supervise the probe mission which will take nine months to make the journey to Mars.

The United Arab Emirates, a seven-emirate federation formed in 1971, will become the ninth country in the world with space programs to explore the Red Planet, according to the statement.

Source: Space-Travel.

Link: http://www.space-travel.com/reports/UAE_to_create_space_agency_send_unmanned_probe_to_Mars_999.html.

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