Archive for August, 2018
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 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.
August 10, 2018
The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed, Wednesday, his country’s persistence in defending human rights, refusing to apologize to Saudi Arabia for Canada’s opposition to the detention of activists in Saudi prisons.
Trudeau said that although his country appreciates the “importance” of Saudi Arabia in the world, it would continue to speak “clearly and firmly about human rights issues in the country and abroad” whenever needed.
This came in a press statement by Trudeau during his participation in an event held in Montreal, the capital of the province of Quebec, east of the country.
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Canada last Monday, and declared the ambassador of Canada in Riyadh “persona non grata,” against the backdrop of what Riyadh called “explicit and blatant interference in the country’s internal affairs.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment dealings with Canada and retaining its right to take further action.”
This came following the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s call on Riyadh to release the so-called “civil society activists” who were arrested in the Kingdom.
At the same time, Trudeau explained that the diplomatic talks with Riyadh would continue, “but without taking a single step back from the criticism of the Foreign Minister regarding the arrest of Saudi activists.”
The Prime Minister said that Freeland held extensive talks with her Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, on Tuesday, without giving further details.
Trudeau stressed that they were keen to communicate directly with the Saudi government in order to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries, and pointed out that “the issue of Canada’s apology for the criticism of human rights violations were not addressed during the talks.”
He added: “Canadians have always expected our government to speak firmly, decisively and politely about the need to respect human rights around the world.”
He went on: “We will continue to defend Canadian values and human rights. This is something that I will always do.”
Source: Middle East Monitor.
August 3, 2018
Kuwait has become one of the first country in the Middle East to give full political rights to women. Gulf news agencies reported that the oil rich state has granted full suffrage after decades of campaigning by women’s rights campaigners.
Praising Kuwait’s progressive move, regional media commented on the leading role women have been playing in driving the country’s overall development across all sectors, including public works, social services, economy and politics.
Opportunities for women are now said to exist in all areas of society with many high profile jobs overlooking men in favor of women.
The journey for full political rights has been a long one but the course had been set during the 90’s when women are said to have played a major role in coordinating resistance against Saddam Hussain’s invasion of the Gulf state in August 1990.
Ever since, women have overcome one hurdle after another to obtain equality; a rarity in the region dominated by powerful men. Dr. Rasha Al Sabah was one of the pioneers. She held the position of the first under-secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education in 1993. Others like Nabila Al Mulla followed in her step. She was appointed as the first Kuwaiti ambassador to Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1993. Mulla was then appointed in 2003 as the permanent representative at the United Nations to become the first Arab Muslim ambassadress to the global organisation.
In Kuwait women have bucked the trend and taken senior roles in several municipal, national and international positions that are normally the preserve of men only. They have achieved successes in many fields, proving that they represent half of the community and cannot be marginalized.
The progress has continued and more recently women have been appointed as ministers in several areas including the Minister of State for Housing Affairs which went to Dr. Jenan Bushahri in 2017. A similar rise to the top saw Hind Barak Al Subaih being appointed as minister of social and labour affairs and minister of state for planning and development.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
August 06, 2018
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrest of women’s rights activists.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze “all new business” between the kingdom and Canada. Some 10 percent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Ambassador Dennis Horak was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well. Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada was “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s actions.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” she said in a statement. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”
The dispute appears centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” women’s rights activists recently detained by the kingdom. Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.
Freeland tweeted about the arrests on Thursday. “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” she wrote. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”
Saudi Arabia ended in June its long practice of not allowing women to drive automobiles in the Sunni kingdom. However, supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signaling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will decide the pace of change.
Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry. The diplomatic dispute with Canada may be part of that assertive foreign policy pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed under his father. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
It isn’t immediately clear what new business could be affected between the two countries. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached $3 billion in 2016, with tanks and fighting vehicles among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom, according to government statistics.
Saudi Arabia in recent years has expelled Iran’s ambassador over attacks on its diplomatic posts following its 2016 execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
July 18, 2018
Samir Murad, Jordan’s Labor Minister, and Qatar’s Minister of Management Development, Labor and Social Welfare, Issa al-Naimi announced an agreement, Tuesday, to create 1,000 work places for Jordanians by September, Jordanian news agency Petra reported.
This agreement is part of the Qatari initiative to afford 10,000 work places for the Jordanian youths, the Jordanian minister said.
During a press conference in Doha, Murad said that Qatari government will issue visas for Jordanian job seekers.
Murad went on to say that both the Jordanian and Qatari ministries agreed to form a joint committee to follow up the issue. They will prepare a database for the Jordanian job seekers and make it available to Qatari employers.
Murad said that the Qatari initiative would help decrease unemployment rate in the Kingdom, which has reached 18.5 per cent (280,000).
Murad also said that Jordan would support Qatari efforts in the run up to World Cup 2022.
Source: Middle East Monitor.