Archive for August, 2017
June 30, 2017
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Qatar’s defense minister held talks with his Turkish counterpart on Friday as the Gulf nation’s feud with four other major Arab states deepens amid a sweeping list of demands to Doha, including the closure of a Turkish military base there.
U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, discussed ways to resolve the dispute in a telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said. Defense Ministry officials said Qatar’s Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah met with Turkey’s Fikri Isik in Ankara, but did not provide details.
Turkey is adamant to keep its base in the small Gulf Arab state and has sided with Qatar in the dispute, which saw Arab countries cut ties to Doha earlier this month, accusing it of supporting terror groups. Qatar denies the accusation.
In a sign of support, Turkey shipped supplies to Doha to help ease its isolation and swiftly ratified military agreements with Qatar, allowing the deployment of soldiers to its base. A contingent of 23 troops departed for Doha last week, joining some 90 soldiers already there.
Erdogan has rejected the four Arab nations’ demand for an end to Turkish troop presence in Doha, calling it “disrespectful” and saying that Turkey would not seek permission from others over its defense cooperation agreements.
Turkey insists its troop deployment to Qatar aims to enhance regional security and is not aimed against any specific country. The White House said Trump and Erdogan spoke about ways to overcome the crisis “while ensuring that all countries work to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology.”
“President Trump emphasized the importance of all our allies and partners increasing their efforts to fight terrorism and extremism in all its forms,” the White House statement added. Other demands presented to Qatar by the four nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — include shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network and curbing diplomatic ties to Iran.
Erdogan has said the demand for Al-Jazeera’s shutdown is an attempt to strip the network of its press freedom and urged rights groups to denounce the call. Qatar denies supporting extremism and considers the demands an attempt to undermine its sovereignty.
June 25, 2017
ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president on Sunday rejected a demand by major Arab states to remove Turkish troops from Qatar, saying their sweeping list of ultimatums has threatened the small Gulf country’s sovereignty.
Speaking after Eid prayers in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the demand “disrespectful” and said Turkey would not seek permission from others when making its defense cooperation agreements.
“Demanding that Turkey pull its soldiers is unfortunately also disrespectful toward Turkey,” he said. He said Turkey would continue to support Qatar against the many sanctions it has faced since several Arab countries moved earlier this month to isolate the country for its alleged support of terrorism.
In a sign of support, the Turkish parliament swiftly ratified a 2014 agreement with Qatar earlier this month, allowing the deployment of troops to its base there. The military said a contingent of 23 soldiers reached Doha on Thursday.
Erdogan said he made a similar offer to Saudi Arabia to set up a base there in the past but did not hear back from the king. Doha received a 13-point list from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain that included demands to shut down the media network Al-Jazeera and cut ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. The energy-rich country said it was reviewing the ultimatum but added it would not negotiate under siege.
Turkey’s president said his country “admires and embraces” Qatar’s attitude, while slamming the demands by arguing they contradict international law. “Here we see an attack against a state’s sovereignty rights,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan called the demand that Qatar shut down Al-Jazeera an attempt to take away the network’s press freedom and urged rights groups to speak out against that.
July 31, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A car bombing targeted the Iraqi Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, followed by gunfire, Afghan police officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The attack was still underway as witnesses reported hearing gunshots and several subsequent explosions in the area of the embassy. Details were sketchy as police cordoned off the area of the firefight.
Two police officials told The Associated Press that the car bomb exploded outside the embassy, followed by an attempt by gunmen to enter the building, which is located in the center of the Afghan capital. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Interior Minister spokesman Najib Danish told the AP that the Iraqi diplomats were safe and had been rescued. He said it’s believed three gunmen were involved in the attack. A police officer in the area, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said the gunfire was initially intense but was now sporadic. The area was surrounded by armored vehicles and a large contingent of police and Afghan soldiers.
More than an hour later, witnesses reported hearing another powerful explosion and saw black smoke billowing skyward. It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the last explosion. At least one eyewitness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizullah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two policemen on the ground before armored personnel carriers and police arrived to cordon off the area.
“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana. The Iraq Embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.
By comparison, the Iraqi Embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though both the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate have previously carried out such attacks in Kabul.
After Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group earlier in July, the Iraq Embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local IS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the militant group’s losses in Iraq.
July 11, 2017
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Qatar will continue to support development projects in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a Qatari envoy said Tuesday, defying a boycott by powerful Arab neighbors imposed in part over its support for the Islamic militant group.
Mohammed al-Amadi, the head of Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee, made his promise as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the region pressing for an end to the Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar last month, accusing the energy-rich sheikhdom of supporting Islamic extremists, including Hamas, across the region. Qatar denies the charges.
“My current visit is to emphasize to the Palestinian people that we are still here to continue projects and launch new ones,” al-Amadi said at a ceremony to sign a contract for building eight residential buildings. He stressed that the timing of the visit was “calculated.”
One of the main goals of the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar is to convince it to cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the historical parent of the militant Hamas group. Qatar has been the largest single donor to Gaza over the past five years, disbursing about $500 million for housing, reconstruction, infrastructure development, and health projects.
Al-Amadi stressed that his country doesn’t support Hamas, but the massive projects are widely seen as indirectly aiding the group. Qatar also hosts exiled Hamas leaders. Qatar notes that its aid to Gaza is coordinated with Israel, which controls most land crossings into the blockaded territory, and the rival government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who still claims authority over Gaza after losing control of the territory a decade ago.
Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. envoy who attended the ceremony, thanked Qatar for its role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis. His office released a report predicting a bleak future for Gaza, 10 years after the Hamas takeover and a subsequent blockade by Israel and Egypt. The countries say the restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza are needed to prevent Hamas from arming.
The U.N. had warned five years ago that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020 due to the deterioration of the economy and natural resources. Tuesday’s report says things have only gotten worse. “Today’s update shows that unfortunately things have speeded up and have deteriorated more quickly than expected,” Mladenov said.
August 2, 2017
Kuwait has started extensive contacts with the World Bank to prepare for hosting a donor conference for the reconstruction of the Iraqi areas that have been liberated from Daesh control, Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah announced yesterday.
Speaking in an event that was held at the Iraqi embassy to celebrate the liberation of Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, Al-Jarallah said that “there was no date set for the conference,” adding that “it is likely to be in the first quarter of next year .”
“Kuwait has always stood by Iraq via the international coalition (fighting Daesh) and bilaterally,” the Kuwaiti minister noted.
Al-Jarallah pointed out that “there is coordination and harmony between Kuwait and Iraq to overcome any problems that may occur.” He also congratulated the Iraqi people on the recapture of Mosul from Daesh.
On 11 July, Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, told the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, in a phone call that his country was ready to host an international conference on rebuilding the liberated areas in Iraq.
The World Bank had also welcomed the initiative, stressing that it would support the long-term reconstruction of the liberated areas in Iraq.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
August 04, 2017
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Firefighters brought under control a blaze that broke out early Friday in one of the world’s tallest residential towers in Dubai, engulfing part of the skyscraper and sending chunks of debris plummeting below, the city authorities announced.
More than 40 floors of the 86-story Torch Tower were burning on one side of the building, an Associated Press journalist near the scene of the blaze said. Building residents could be seen on the street outside crying with several saying the fire broke out just after 1 a.m.
Dubai’s Civil Defense announced at about 3:30 a.m. that firefighters had brought the blaze under control and that no injuries had been reported. “Cooling operations are underway,” Dubai’s official media office said on Twitter.
It was the second time in 2 ½ years that the more than 1,100-foot-tall (335 meters) tower has been ravaged by fire. The tower, located in the popular waterfront Marina district, caught fire in February 2015, but there were no major casualties reported in that blaze.
Early Friday, authorities shared a photo of the charred and blackened tower but it was no longer visibly in flames. Officials said they were now working on providing shelter for those affected. Dubai police cordoned off several blocks around the building, keeping people away from the fire’s falling debris.
Several skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates have caught fire in recent years, including a towering inferno that engulfed a 63-story luxury hotel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve in 2016. In that blaze, as in others in Dubai in recent years, residents escaped without major injury.
Earlier this year, Dubai passed new fire safety rules requiring buildings with quick-burning side paneling to replace it with more fire-resistant siding. Authorities have previously acknowledged that at least 30,000 buildings across the UAE have cladding or paneling that safety experts have said accelerates the rapid spread of fires.
A devastating tower fire in London in June killed at least 80 people and prompted Britain to order more thorough testing on the cladding systems of its towers.
Monday 3 July 2017
Many Ahwazis – Arab inhabitants who mostly live in southern Iran’s Khuzestan Province – believe that, over the course of nearly a century, the state intentionally neglected their lands, turning them into a desert and resulting in giant sand storms that have covered their skies and killed 2,000 locals from related illnesses in recent years.
It was in 1908 that oil was discovered in the area. In 1925, Reza Khan, the Shah of Iran, invaded what was then called the emirate of Al-Ahwaz, overthrowing the Arab ruler of the region and annexed the 330,000 square-kilometer area in 1934. The lands were confiscated by the state from their original Arab owners and then transferred to the government.
Since then, the state has systematically abandoned the land and people of the area, leading the fertile land to become a small desert and a source of pollution in the region.
These days, the drinking water delivered to homes in Al-Ahwaz city is so dirty and brown in color and the cost of repairing dated water infrastructure beyond the financial capabilities of the province, residents joke that they don’t drink water. They drink chocolate milkshake.
For Ahwazis, this is just one aspect of what they feel is widespread racism. Despite the fact that they make up the majority of those living in the province, they are often unable to get jobs because employers discriminate against Ahwazi candidates.
While the state builds first-class living facilities in the province for Persian newcomers, the poverty levels in Khuzestan remain among the highest in any province in Iran, despite the existence of oil, gas and other lucrative national resources.
So in the eyes of the Ahwazis, the discovery of oil and these other resources has been no less than a scourge and an affliction that has resulted in the occupation and environmental degradation of the lands they inherited from their ancestors.
Dusty, smoky skies
Today, the Al-Ahwaz city is ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world.
According to government reports, around 40 percent of gas which is extracted alongside oil in the province and could be used as an energy resource is actually burned off. This causes the emission of millions of tons of carbon dioxide gas in the air each year, further contributing to the air and environmental pollution already in Ahwaz as a result of the sand and dust in the air from desertification.
The Iranian regime appears to be concentrating solely on the process of extracting oil for income. Despite repeated appeals from the region’s parliamentary delegates, the Iranian regime has not even considered allocating a small percentage of the oil income made in the area to remedy the environment or build hospitals and other health institutions for the region.
In a remarkable speech last year, Ahwaz’s interim Friday prayers leader, Ayatollah Ali Heydari, warned international oil companies of excessive oil exploration in the province pointing out that they could endanger the Hor-El-Howayzeh wetlands.
He also said that excessive activity could create unprecedented security challenges in the area by triggering Ahwazi anger and confrontations with the state. It could even attract the involvement of neighboring countries who want to interfere to defend the Ahwazi.
Toxins dumped, fields burned
Oil extraction is not the only source of environmental damage in Ahwaz. The production of sugar cane in the region – which requires massive amounts of water and produces hazardous toxins when it is refined – has also harmed Alahwaz’s environment.
Not only are massive amounts of water from the Karoun River, the main source of drinking and irrigation water in the region, used in the process, but also the substances created in the refinery process are poured into the river. And the sugar cane companies set fire to the fields during harvest season, further threatening air quality and the ecosystem.
This industry, according to experts, is not economically viable for the government or the people of the region, but is purely designed to change the demographic balance of the region’s population, allowing the state to steal more Arab land.
By law, the state is allowed to take ownership of the land if resources are discovered. Owners are given two weeks notice to go to the state registry office and hand over their deeds. The state claims it will buy lands according to market value, but that rarely happens. Anyone who stands against this process is considered to be standing against the government and is heavily penalized.
The idea behind this policy goes back to the period of Mohammad Reza Shah, but it couldn’t be fully implemented at that time because of the internal instability and the eruption of the revolution. But eventually, it was implemented in 1988 by top-ranking politicians of the regime like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president.
“The sugar cane project has had devastating effects on air pollution in the towns of Ahwaz and Al-Falahiya (Shadegan in Farsi) and their surrounding villages,” said Jawad Kazem Nasab, an Ahwaz city delegate in the Iranian parliament.
He added that, “the previous Iranian government had promised people of the region that it will take all measures and international standards to address these environmental risks and the collateral damage caused to the livelihood of the inhabitants of these areas”.
“However, as the delegate later confirmed, the sugar cane industry burnt its plants for economic purposes, which eventually caused even more air pollution in the region and left the lives of residents of the villages adjacent to these plantations under serious threat.”
Even the head of the environmental protection department in the province, Sayed Amid Hajti, reportedly said recently that “the oil and petrochemicals, sugar cane and other major industries in the region did not positively contribute to the lives of the people of the region, but instead increased the proportion of pollution in the air and environment”.
Dried up marshes
As a result of both the oil and sugar cane production in the region, the marshes of Hawr al-Howeyzeh and Hor al-Falahiya – which were used for fishing, wildlife conservation and helped reduce dust pollution – dried out over the past decade.
Once the marshes dried out, large sandstorms regularly occurred, disrupting the lives of people at their homes and at work and, according to some experts, causing a major increase in cases of lung infections and cancer.
Even Ahmed Reza Lahijganzadeh, the region’s environment department chief, revealed that the proportion of air pollutants is 66 times above the hazardous threshold.
“Until 12 years ago, the phenomenon of sandstorm did not exist and it came after the drying of the marshes for the purpose of oil,” said Kordawani, professor and director of the UN’s Anti-Desertification Organization.
In an interview with Tasnim New Agency, Qasim Saadi, another Ahwazi Arab MP representing Al-Khafajiyeh (Susangerd in Persian) in the Iranian parliament, criticized government policies toward the Alahwaz region by saying they are deliberate and aimed against Ahwazi Arabs. He accused the energy and agricultural ministers of staying silent about the impact of the policies.
Letting the world know
In the absence of powerful laws to protect civilians in Iran and under an autocratic system, most ethnic groups in the country are exposed to systematic discrimination and persecution. The Iranian regime should respect its own people, take its international obligations seriously and avoid violating the rights of its own people.
Although the regime repressed the media and limited correspondents only to the capital or one or two Persian cities, social media and technology has allowed us to share what is happening and let the world know.
Ahwazi Arabs would like to know that the international community will take a stance and stop the Iranian regime from committing human rights abuses against them. Ignoring or neglecting people’s demands will only fuel their confrontation with the state and lead to dangerous escalation.
Source: Middle East Eye.
July 22, 2017
BERLIN (AP) — A German girl who ran away from home after converting to Islam has been found as Iraqi forces liberated the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State extremists, German and Iraqi officials said Saturday. She is reported to be in good health and will be interrogated next week by Iraqi officials.
The 16-year-old teenager, only identified as Linda W. in line with German privacy laws, is getting consular assistance from the German Embassy in Iraq, prosecutor Lorenz Haase said from the eastern German city of Dresden.
Three Iraqi intelligence and investigative sources confirmed to The Associated Press that the German teenager, who was apprehended in the basement of a home in Mosul’s Old City earlier this month, was Linda W.
The girl is in good health, the Iraqi officials said, adding that on the day of her arrest she was “too stunned” to speak but now she is doing better. They said she had been working with the IS police department.
Linda W. could theoretically face the death sentence, according to Iraqi’s counter-terrorism law. However, even if she is sentenced to death in Iraq, she would not be executed before the age of 22. Photos of a disheveled young woman in the presence of Iraqi soldiers went viral online last week, but there were contradicting reports about the girl’s identity.
The German teenager had married a Muslim Arab she met online after arriving in the group’s territory, the Iraqi officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was not public. They said Linda W. was one of 26 foreigners arrested in Mosul since the retreat of the extremists there.
So far, the young German has not made any statement. The officials said she is currently being held together with other foreign women at a prison near Baghdad’s airport. Starting next week, she’ll be investigated by the Iraqis, who will bring in German interpreters for the interrogation since she does not speak much Arabic.
Haase, the German prosecutor, told the AP that the girl ran away from her family home in Pulsnitz in eastern Germany last summer. It’s not clear yet whether she will return to Germany, he said. “We, as the public prosecutor’s office Dresden, have not applied for an arrest warrant and will therefore not be able to request extradition,” Haase said. “There is the possibility that Linda might be put on trial in Iraq. She might be expelled for being a foreigner or, because she is a minor reported missing in Germany, she could be handed over to Germany.”
The 26 foreigners found in Mosul included two men, eight children and 16 women, the Iraqi officials said. Some of those arrested were from Chechnya, and the women were from Russia, Iran, Syria, France, Belgium and Germany.
In addition to Linda W., the Iraqis found three other women from Germany, with roots in Morocco, Algeria and Chechnya. The Iraqi officials said the German-Moroccan woman has a child and both were arrested in Mosul about ten days ago.
They said the women allegedly worked with IS in the police department. Their husbands were IS fighters but their fates were not clear. French and German Embassy personnel have already visited the arrested women, they said. The children will be handed over to the countries they belong to, while the women will be tried on terrorism charges in Iraq, according to the officials.
More than 930 people, among them several girls and young women, have left Germany to join IS in Syria and Iraq in recent years, the German news agency dpa reported. While some have been killed in battle and suicide bombings and others have returned to Germany, there’s also a large number that are unaccounted for, German security officials say. Many of them were radicalized via social media.
Local newspapers reported last year that Linda W. was in touch with IS members online before she ran away from home. She started wearing long gowns before she disappeared from her family’s home last summer. Her mother later found a copy of the girl’s plane ticket to Turkey under a bed, German media reported.
The mayor of Pulsnitz, Barbara Kueke, told dpa on Saturday that she was relieved the girl had been found. She described the teenager’s family as very reclusive. Lueke said the school had been aware of the girl’s conversion to Islam and the principal had talked to the parents about it, adding that “it was very surprising, though, that the girl has been radicalized in such a way.”
In a different case, a French woman captured earlier this month in Mosul with her four children is facing possible prosecution in Iraq for allegedly collaborating with IS. The woman, believed to be in her 30s, was arrested July 9 along with her two sons and two daughters in a basement in Mosul’s Old City, according to Iraqi intelligence officials.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP on Wednesday that the woman is being investigated in Baghdad and could face terrorism charges for illegally entering Iraq and joining IS, and that the French government wants the children handed over to France.
Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad, Iraq.