Archive for July, 2018

South Africa rejects Saudi, UAE pressure to boycott Qatar

July 21, 2018

South Africa has rejected Saudi and UAE pressure to severe relations with Qatar, Al-Khaleej Online reported Pretoria’s envoy to Doha saying.

During a celebration to remember South African freedom icon Nelson Mandela in Doha on Wednesday, Faizel Moosa said that his country rejected such pressure “because it was against the values that Mandela fought for – not to interfere in the others’ internal affairs.”

“Qatari-South African relations are developing continuously,” Moosa said at the event. Commercial exchange between the two countries rose to 70 per cent after the siege imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in June last year, and there would be more mutual investments, he added.

A new station is being built in South Africa to allow for the delivery of Qatar gas, and businessmen from the small Gulf state are investing in South Africa.

He went on to hail Qatar’s role in Africa which has increased following the Emir of Qatar’s recent tour of the region.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180721-south-africa-rejects-saudi-uae-pressure-to-boycott-qatar/.

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Iran lifts ban on non-Muslim city council member after outcry

July 22, 2018

A top Iranian body on Saturday lifted a ban imposed by a hardline-led council on a politician from the minority Zoroastrian religion who had been elected to a city council in the central city of Yazd, the state news agency IRNA reported.

The rare reversal came after a widespread public outcry, lobbying by reformists and criticism by President Hassan Rouhani over of the ban by the Guardian Council, which vets laws and elections for compliance with Iran’s Islamic constitution.

The Expediency Council, tasked with resolving conflicts between parliament and the Guardian Council, backed parliamentary amendments allowing members of recognized religious minorities to run for city councils, IRNA reported.

The ruling allows Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian elected to Yazd’s city council, to join the assembly after being suspended by the Guardian Council in 2017, which said only Muslims were allowed to run in the election.

Rouhani, a pragmatic Muslim cleric, had contacted the parliament speaker over Niknam’s case and last month called his suspension “saddening”, according to the presidential website.

Iran’s constitution mandates a total of five reserved seats in the 290-seat parliament for recognized religious minorities – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Zoroastrianism is Iran’s pre-Islamic religion. The Baha’i faith, which also has followers in Iran, is not a recognized religion in Iran, where the Shia religious establishment considers it a heretical offshoot of Islam.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180722-iran-lifts-ban-on-non-muslim-city-council-member-after-outcry/.

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Erdogan Vows to Extend Offensive to East Syria, North Iraq

March 19, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by his army’s capture of a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, threatened to extend the offensive against separatist Kurdish militants to eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Turkey’s military will shift their campaign to several towns under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, including Manbij, Kobani, Tal Abyad, Rasulayn and Qamishli, “until this terror corridor is fully eliminated,” Erdogan said Monday. Turkey’s threat to attack Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, has put Ankara at loggerheads with Washington, and talks between the NATO allies have so far yielded no agreement. The U.S. also has a diplomatic presence in Kobani.

Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in the cross-border operation he launched in January to expel the YPG from Afrin, a town along the Turkish border. While the loss of Afrin delivered a major blow to the YPG’s hopes to establish a contiguous autonomous region, Turkey has resolved to clear the separatist fighters from other areas near its frontier.

Turkish authorities see the YPG as an extension of PKK militants who have used bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in a decades-long war for autonomy.

Erdogan Threat

Turkey has served notice to the Iraqi government in Baghdad that its forces would attack the major PKK camp on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border unless Iraq takes action.

“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you can’t handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkish and Iraqi armies would carry out a joint offensive against the PKK bases in northern Iraq, probably after Iraqi elections set for May 12.

Turkey has had hundreds of troops deployed at the Bashiqa training based near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the end of 2014. It has also had a tank battalion stationed near the Iraqi frontier town of Bamerni for about two decades, and has frequently sent planes and troops across the border to target the PKK.

The U.S., meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that many residents had fled Kurdish-majority Afrin under threat of attack from the Turkish army and allied rebel forces.

“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin.”

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-19/erdogan-vows-to-extend-offensive-to-east-syria-northern-iraq.

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Kuwait sentences lawmakers to prison over 2011 protest

July 08, 2018

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait’s highest court on Sunday ordered an opposition leader and two lawmakers imprisoned for 3 ½ years over the 2011 storming of parliament amid that year’s Arab Spring protests, in a case involving nearly 70 politicians, activists and others.

Over a dozen people received prison time in the ruling by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation, while the others were released on bail or found not guilty. Tiny, oil-rich Kuwait, which has a history of representational government and toleration for protests, has been caught up in a wider crackdown on dissent across the Gulf Arab states, whose monarchical rulers were alarmed by the pro-democracy protests that swept the region seven years ago.

Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the ruling emir of the U.S.-allied nation, has said Kuwait must “protect our national unity and ward off the risks of sedition.” The defendants were initially acquitted in the yearslong case, but a shock court decision in November resurrected the charges against them. That decision accused the defendants of using violence against police officers, destroying government property and inciting violence, charges they long have denied.

Among those sentenced Sunday to 3½ years was Musallam al-Barrack, an opposition leader who left prison in April 2017 after serving a two-year sentence on separate charges. Al-Barrack had left Kuwait before the sentencing. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Two serving lawmakers, Waleed Tabtabai and Jamaan Herbish, both Islamists, received the same 3½-year sentence, along with six former legislators and five activists. Three others received two years in prison.

In a bid to insulate Kuwait from the unrest elsewhere in the region in 2011, the emir ordered 1,000 dinar ($3,559) grants and free food coupons for every Kuwaiti. That came on top of Kuwait’s cradle-to-grave entitlements for it citizens, which the OPEC member is able to afford because it holds the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves — despite being smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey.

Allegations swirled at the time that some lawmakers had been bribed $350 million by the government to sway their votes, along with rumors that they were involved in embezzling state funds. Kuwait’s then-Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Sabah, Sheikh Sabah’s nephew, who also faced allegations, survived a no-confidence vote.

Amid strikes and confrontations with police, protesters briefly entered parliament on Nov. 16, 2011, waving flags and singing the country’s national anthem. The activists were initially charged after the storming of the parliament but a lower court in 2013 ruled they had no criminal intent during the incident. However, a surprise appeals court ruling last November sentenced dozens of defendants to prison terms of as much as nine years.

Since then, family members of those charged have held regular nightly protests in front of parliament. While anti-government protests are illegal across other Gulf Arab states, Kuwait has stood out among its neighbors for its representational politics dating back to the 1930s, making the court case that much more surprising.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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Iran has no intention to leave Syria, top official says

July 13, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Iran has no intention of leaving Syria regardless of U.S. and Israeli pressure, a senior envoy to Iran’s leader said Friday, reaffirming a tough stance on the issue expected to top the agenda of the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit.

The statement from Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came in the wake of his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin that Israel wants Iran to leave Syria.

The high-level talks precede Monday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, who are set to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria. Both the U.S. and Israel want Iran to pull out of Syria, while Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.

A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Velayati reaffirmed Iran’s firm intention to maintain its presence in Syria, but skirted a question about a possible pullback from the border, saying only that Tehran won’t bow to U.S. and Israeli coercion.

“We coordinate the Iranian presence in Syria with Russia and Syria,” Velayati said during a meeting at Moscow’s Valdai Club discussion platform. “We will be present there the way we consider necessary. Sometimes we will play our role in Syria open-handed, sometimes we will do it with our hands hidden.”

While Velayati maintained a combative tone, his careful response reflected the intense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the Helsinki summit. He expressed skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, repeating tough criticism of the U.S. and saying he didn’t expect Trump to make any positive contribution to stabilizing the Middle East.

Velayati argued that Iran along with Russia helped stem fighting in Syria and prevented the country from falling to the Islamic State group and other militants, scoffing at the U.S. demands to leave. “We have come there without the Americans’ permission and we won’t heed their demands to leave,” he said.

Velayati also strongly warned Russia against listening to the U.S. arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria. “I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria,” he said. “They are trying to split our alliance.”

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Qatar, Iraq sign security cooperation agreement

March 15, 2018

Qatar signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iraq to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) has reported.

The agreement aims to enhance security cooperation and exchanging information and experiences between Qatar and Iraq.

“The MoU between the Qatar and Iraq aims at further joint security cooperation and regulates the coordination process between the two countries, as well as the exchange of information and experience, as Iraq accumulates experience in the security field,” QNA quoted the country’s head of public security, Major General Saad Bin Jassim Al Khulaifi, as saying.

He further explained that it will cover all security-related areas, including training and exchange of information in the field of combating terrorism, money laundry, combating counterfeiting, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking as well as all security of ports and airports.

Praising the “close cooperation between the two countries in all fields,” Al Khulaifi noted that the two parties intend to form a joint committee of specialists to follow up and monitor the implementation of the MoU’s provisions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-qatar-iraq-sign-security-cooperation-agreement/.

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Iran president arrives in Switzerland, nuclear deal in mind

July 02, 2018

ZURICH (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Switzerland for talks expected to focus on salvaging progress from the Iran nuclear deal after the Trump administration’s walkout. Rouhani on Monday began a two-day visit to the neutral Alpine nation, starting in Zurich before heading to Bern, the capital, for deal-signings, talks and a news conference on Tuesday.

Since 1980, shortly after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Switzerland has held the “protecting power mandate” on behalf of the United States in Iran. It recently became an intermediary between Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani is leaving Iran just as protests have erupted in the country’s south, and Trump said he got Saudi Arabia to agree to increasing oil production — which could lower the price of oil, possibly impacting Iran’s economy.

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