Archive for March, 2017
January 16, 2017
The Amir of Qatar, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, has ordered his government to pay the costs of Gaza’s electricity supply for three months, official sources announced on Sunday. Qatar’s Ambassador to Palestine told the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah that his country will pay $4 million per month as part of this agreement.
Mohamed Al-Emadi released a press statement to explain that the funds will be transferred to the PA “immediately” in order to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian in Gaza. He also noted that there are intensified contacts with the authority regarding current proposals to find a permanent solution for the crisis.
The ambassador explained that these decisions were made after a meeting between Amir Tamim and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh in Doha.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
Davos, Switzerland (AFP)
Jan 17, 2017
The rise of China will be a source of global stability not conflict, major oil supplier Saudi Arabia said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.
“As China gets integrated into the world, and into the world financial and economic systems, it has a tremendous interest in stability of those systems,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.
“And so I think the rise of China should be one that is welcomed, not one that is viewed as a source of a threat,” he told a discussion in the Swiss resort, where 3,000 members of the political and business elite gathered for annual talks.
Asia is the number one market region for Saudi Arabian oil.
Jubeir’s comments came after China’s President Xi Jinping warned, also at Davos, against scapegoating globalization for the world’s ills or retreating behind protectionist walls.
US President-elect Donald Trump has blamed China and globalization for the loss of millions of American factory jobs.
Washington is a longstanding ally of Saudi Arabia but ties were strained under President Barack Obama, who hands power to Trump on Friday.
Riyadh felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and other regional conflicts while tilting towards Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran.
Jubeir said he expects the Trump administration to be more engaged in the Middle East, and the world in general, while “rebuilding” relationships with allies.
“I think the change will happen,” the Saudi minister said.
Among Saudi concerns has been the regional role of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is backed by Iran.
“Our concern is that Lebanon not be a source of danger to us, mainly Hezbollah,” Jubeir said.
But the election in November of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, who was backed by Hezbollah, will contribute to a “healing process” in Lebanon, Jubeir said.
“He has acted as a statesman as soon as he was elected” and last week visited Riyadh as his first foreign stop, the Saudi minister said.
Source: Space War.
DUBAI – Dubai has tested a Chinese prototype of a self-driving hover-taxi, its transport authority said on Monday, with the aim of introducing the aerial vehicle in the emirate by July.
The test of the one-man electric vehicle comes as the city state in the United Arab Emirates seeks to ensure a quarter of its means of transport are self-driving by 2030.
The EHang 184 can travel on a programmed course at 100 kilometers an hour (60 mph) at an altitude of 300 meters (1,000 feet), the authority said in a statement.
A passenger simply needs to select a destination for the autonomous taxi to take off, fly the route and touch down in the chosen spot monitored by a ground control center, it said.
The vehicle, made by Chinese drone manufacturer EHang, can recharge in two hours and make trips of up to 30 minutes.
“The autonomous aerial vehicle exhibited at the World Government Summit is not just a model,” authority head Mattar al-Tayer said on Monday.
“We have already experimented (with) the vehicle in a flight in (the) Dubai sky,” he said in English.
The authority was “making every effort to start the operation of the autonomous aerial vehicle in July 2017” to help reduce traffic congestion, Tayer said.
The quadcopter is powered by eight propellers, the authority said.
It has highly accurate sensors and can resist extreme temperatures, it said. The emirate is known for its scorching summers.
In November, Dubai agreed a deal with US startup Hyperloop One to study the construction of a near-supersonic transport link to the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi.
Home to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, Dubai is a leading tourist destination in the Gulf, attracting a record 14.9 million visitors in 2016.
Source: Middle East Online.
Monday 16 January 2017
Protesters set abalze a city hall was set ablaze overnight in Bahrain, the government said Monday, as fresh violence erupted over the executions of three men convicted of a deadly bomb attack on police.
The fire in the building at Shamalia, south of the capital Manama, was eventually brought under control, said the interior ministry, without explicitly linking it to the executions.
“According to initial reports, the fire was intentional and the specialized services are taking the necessary measures,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
The blaze came after three men were put to death by firing squad on Sunday over the bomb attack on police in 2014, sparking clashes between angry protesters and security forces.
“Sami Mushaima, Ali al-Singace and Abbas al-Samea were convicted of manufacturing and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that were detonated remotely after luring first responders into the fatal ambush,” said a statement by Bahrain’s London Embassy.
Their executions were the first in the country since 2010. Rights campaigners said the three men were tortured into confessions.
Protests continued overnight, with dozens of men and women marching through the streets of Sanabes village chanting slogans against the Khalifa dynasty, according to witnesses.
Demonstrators tried to reach the main street of Sanabes, the hometown of the three executed men.
Sanabes is the closest village to the Pearl roundabout, the epicenter of a month-long uprising that the security forces crushed in mid-March 2011.
The square’s famous monument was razed to the ground after the protesters were driven out.
Protests turned violent overnight in several other villages, according to other witnesses who said police opened fire to disperse demonstrators, wounding several of them.
Bahrain’s authorities do not permit international news agencies to cover events independently.
The executions were criticized by international human rights groups, as well as Britain and the European Union.
Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah strongly condemned the executions.
Bahrain, which has been ruled by the Sunni Khalifa monarchy for more than two centuries, has a majority Shia population which has long complained of marginalization.
It has been rocked by sporadic unrest since the Gulf-backed security forces brutally crushed the Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011.
Source: Middle East Eye.
January 15, 2017
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain on Sunday carried out its first executions since an Arab Spring uprising rocked the country in 2011, putting to death three men found guilty of a deadly bomb attack on police.
The executions of the Shiite men drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and sparked outrage among opponents of the Sunni-ruled government, who see the charges as politically motivated. Activists allege that testimony used against the condemned men was obtained through torture.
Bahrain’s public prosecution said the death sentences were carried out by firing squad. Photos shared by activists purporting to show the bodies of the men showed a tight grouping of multiple gunshot wounds to the heart.
The executions were the first in the U.S.-allied nation since 2010 and followed a spike in protests in solidarity with the convicted men. Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima and Ali al-Singace were found guilty in 2015 of killing two Bahraini policemen and an Emirati officer deployed to bolster the country’s security forces in a bomb attack the previous year. A court upheld their death sentences last Monday.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia that hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the waters around the Arabian Peninsula and is the naval counterweight to nearby Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Government forces crushed the 2011 uprising with help from allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the country continues to face low-level unrest led by a majority Shiite population that feels marginalized by the Sunni monarchy.
Bahrain also maintains close ties to Britain, which is building a naval base of its own in the country. Over the past two and a half months, Prince Charles, Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have all paid visits to the island.
Johnson made a point of underscoring Britain’s opposition to the death penalty hours after the sentences were carried out. “The Bahraini authorities are fully aware of our position and I have raised the issue with the Bahraini government,” he said in a statement.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Saturday in solidarity with the condemned men as rumors spread that their executions were imminent. Images shared on social media showed activists blocking roads with burning debris and hurling petrol bombs in clashes with police.
Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher who monitors Bahrain for Human Rights Watch, called the executions inflammatory and unjust as he urged the kingdom’s allies to “publicly and unequivocally condemn these killings.” Amnesty International deputy director Samah Hadid called the executions “a deeply regressive step.”
Protests and clashes continued Sunday despite a heavy presence of riot police deployed in predominantly Shiite areas. Witnesses said shops were shuttered in Daih, where the 2014 bombing happened. Garbage bins were seen overturned and set alight in the streets.
One police officer was wounded when several people shot at a police patrol in Bani Jamra, west of the capital Manama, the Interior Ministry said Sunday. It gave no further details. The Ashtar Brigade, a Shiite militant group that claimed the 2014 police attack and a number of other bombings in Bahrain, took responsibility for the attack on the police officer on social media. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the post, though it came in a forum often used by the group.
Iran, which supported the 2011 uprising but denies any role in the violence, condemned the executions. “The lack of transparency in the unfair trial of the three Bahraini citizens was confirmed by the international community, human rights and all popular bodies all around the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said in remarks carried by state-run media.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah also condemned the execution of the three men, calling it “a crime” and “extrajudicial killing” that would undermine any chance for a political solution in Bahrain.
The militant group, which has been critical of the Bahraini government’s crackdown on the Shiite uprising, said international silence toward what takes place in Bahrain must be met with the “largest solidarity campaign.”
Al-Samea and Mushaima alleged they were subjected to electric shocks, beatings, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and sexual assault while in custody, Amnesty International reported in 2015. Al-Singace’s mother says her son was also tortured, according to British rights group Reprieve.
“It is nothing short of an outrage — and a disgraceful breach of international law — that Bahrain has gone ahead with these executions,” Reprieve director Maya Foa said. “The death sentences handed to Ali, Sami and Abbas were based on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture, and the trial an utter sham.”
Government officials did not respond to a request for comment Sunday on the torture allegations. Bahraini officials have previously said the government is opposed to any kind of mistreatment and has safeguards in place to prevent it.
Bahrain’s last execution was of a Bangladeshi man in 2010. A number of death sentences have been issued since then. The three put to death Sunday were the first who had held Bahraini citizenship executed since 1996, according to Reprieve, though they were technically stateless at the time of their deaths after being stripped of their citizenship when convicted.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.
March 8, 2017
A joint study by two European non-governmental organisations that have strong links to EU parliamentarians and other senior European and international figures has accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and playing a “destructive role” in the region.
The study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), led by former Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, and the International Committee in Search for Justice (ISJ), both Brussels-based NGOs, paints a dire picture of Iranian interventionism in the region, and accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being directly involved.
“[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalized and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilization operations around the Middle East.
The report, released earlier this week, criticized the IRGC for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
“In all four, the IRGC has a direct, considerable military presence,” the report detailed, adding that the troop presence in Syria alone in the summer of 2016 was “close to 70,000 Iranian regime proxy forces”. This included not only Iranians, but also sectarian Shia jihadists recruited, trained, funded and controlled by the IRGC, hailing from Iraq, Afghanistan and further afield.
The report exposed the locations of 14 IRGC training camps within Iran where its recruits are divided up according to their nation of origin and the tasks they are allotted, whether front line combat or international terrorist activities.
The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”
According to the researchers who compiled this report, one of the worst affected countries due to Iranian meddling and interventionism is Iraq. Even Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, who was recently appointed to the post in January 2017 used to be the head of the Iraq desk at the IRGC.
‘Designate IRGC as terrorists’
Iran has been increasingly emboldened to act since former US President Barack Obama authorized the much touted nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, the NGOs argued. The deal, brokered by the so-called P5+1, was designed to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions that likely sought to acquire atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since sanctions have been largely lifted at the beginning of 2016, Iran has enjoyed increased financial and economic clout, which it has subsequently invested in its efforts to destabilize and influence more than a dozen countries in the Middle East.
The main countries assessed in the report include: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Palestine. The latter is seen by experts on the region to be a public relations campaign conducted by Tehran to increase its Islamic credentials by appearing to support the Palestinians against Israel, while helping regimes around the region crush Palestinian refugee communities.
A prominent example of Iranian support for the brutal crackdowns against Palestinians was in Iraq after the illegal 2003 US-led invasion, where Palestinian refugees were perceived by Iran and their proxy Shia jihadists as being pro-Saddam Hussein. Iranian assistance for killing Palestinians also occurred in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, during the ongoing war against dictator Bashar Al-Assad.
Among its recommendations in its conclusion, the report argued that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, Europe and Middle East, with its operations curtailed and the organisation expelled from the entire Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria.
The NGOs also recommended “sanctioning all financial sources and companies affiliated with the IRGC” as well as “initiating international efforts to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the [IRGC’s] Quds Force.”
Source: Middle East Monitor.