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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kurdish militant group TAK claims Turkey car bomb attack

November 06, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Kurdish militant group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in Turkey's southeast, following a claim by the Islamic State group for the same attack. TAK, also known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, stated on its website Sunday that it conducted the suicide attack in the majority Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in response to Turkey's "relentless oppression and attacks."

TAK is an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. The Friday morning explosion near a riot police building killed at least 11 people, including two police officers.

The Diyarbakir governor's office says PKK militants were behind the attack, based on radio intelligence and has dismissed the claim of responsibility by IS militants.

Turkey fires over 1,000 soldiers, detains university staff

November 03, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey's Interior Ministry has dismissed 1,218 military personnel from the gendarmerie as part of the investigation into the movement allegedly behind the failed coup in July. In a statement released Thursday, the ministry says 419 officers, 604 non-commissioned officers and 195 other personnel were dismissed Thursday.

The government says the movement of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was responsible for the coup, which killed over 270 people. The cleric denies any involvement. Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people and dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 personnel from government jobs in a purge to eradicate the network.

Meanwhile, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported that an unspecified number of Marmara University personnel were detained by police Thursday for using an encryption app allegedly favored by the Gulen movement.

Turkey sends tanks to Iraqi border as minister warns of Mosul 'action'

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Turkey on Tuesday started moving tanks and other heavy-duty hardware from central Anatolian cities to the Iraqi border, a move seen as potential preparation for an incursion into Mosul to prevent what it sees as possible sectarian cleansing.

Reports and images from local media showed tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers being transported out of Ankara, Cankiri and Aksaray and believed to be headed for the border town of Silopi.

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik issued a short statement after the deployment began, saying "Turkey should be prepared for all eventualities".

"There are important developments in our region. On the one hand there is a serious fight against terror within Turkey’s borders, and on the other there are important developments just across our border," said Isık.

"This action is to prepare in the face of all these developments. Turkey has to be prepared beforehand for all eventualities and this is part of those preparations," he added.

Turkish officials have responded harshly to Iraqi and US warnings that it not become militarily involved in Iraq without the express approval of the central government in Baghdad.  

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been adamant that one of Turkey’s red lines is the participation of Iraq’s Shia militias in the military operation underway to take back the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

He has also used recent speeches to assert Turkey’s historical claim to Mosul.

Shia militias advance on Mosul

The move appears to be a response to reports which indicate that Shia militia-dominated Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are increasingly involved in the advance on Mosul and are also moving on the town of Tal Afar.

Ankara and Baghdad have been at odds over the presence of a Turkish military outpost in Bashiqa near Mosul. Turkish authorities insisted that they would maintain their military presence in Iraq despite Baghdad calling it an occupation and calling for them to leave.

Erdogan has voiced concern over potential sectarian violence if the PMUs enter the majority Sunni-populated city.

Turkey pushed for a more active role in the Mosul offensive ever since it started but its participation has been rebuffed. Even Ankara’s allies the US and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq have not responded to Turkish pressure, saying it should agree with the Baghdad government, which decides on the participants and their roles in the offensive.

Despite being rebuffed Turkey has said it will not hesitate to take unilateral action if it senses that Sunnis in Mosul are faced with a threat.

Reports have also been coming in that the PMUs have been making advances towards Mosul.

Iran, a strong ally of the Baghdad government, has also offered to "fairly" mediate between Ankara and Baghdad, according to reports in local media.

The images of these deployments emerged as Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim arrived for an unscheduled meeting with Erdogan at the presidential palace in Ankara.

Turkish general in Moscow talks

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkey’s chief of military staff, Hulusi Akar, flew to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart to discuss military cooperation between the two countries and discuss regional events.

Erdogan has stated in recent days that Turkey will adopt a pre-emptive defense doctrine from now on and conduct cross-border strikes against groups it considers as terrorist and posing a threat to its security.

The ongoing military operation called Euphrates Shield, which Turkey launched on 24 August in northern Syria, is also believed to be part of this new pre-emptive doctrine.

The Turkish maneuvers come as Iraqi forces continued to advance within the city of Mosul.

Soldiers from Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service (CST) entered the state television station in Mosul on Tuesday, the first capture of an important building in the Islamic State-held city since the start of the offensive about two weeks ago, the force commander, Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati, said.

"This is a good sign for the people of Mosul because the battle to liberate Mosul has effectively begun," Shaghati said.

Iraqi troops, security forces, PMUs and Kurdish peshmerga have been advancing on several fronts towards Mosul, backed by US-led troops and air forces. Special forces units sweeping in from the east have made fastest progress.

"We are currently fighting battles on the eastern outskirts of Mosul," CTS Lieutenant-General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi said. "The pressure is on all sides of the city to facilitate entry to the city center."

He said CTS forces had cleared Islamic State fighters from most of the eastern district of Kokjali, close to al-Quds, on Tuesday, "so now we are inside the district of Mosul".

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-begins-tank-deploying-iraqi-border-possible-preparation-enter-mosul-263573352.

Turkey detains opposition newspaper editor, writers

October 31, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least eight senior staff of Turkey's opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper on Monday in a continuing crackdown on dissenting voices. Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, the paper's lawyer and several columnists were taken into custody following raids at their homes, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Police were searching the homes of other senior staff, including the paper's cartoonist. In all, police had warrants for the detentions of 16 staff members, the paper said.

The detentions at the left-leaning and pro-secular Cumhuriyet — one of Turkey's oldest newspapers — come amid accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that Turkey is using the state of emergency imposed following a failed military coup in July to clamp down not only on the alleged coup plotters but on all government critics.

A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor's office said those detained were suspected of "committing crimes" on behalf of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt — as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The statement said that while those detained are not accused of membership of the Gulen movement or the PKK, there are "claims" and "proof" that shortly before the July 15 coup attempt, the suspects published content that attempted to legitimize the coup. Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people as part of an investigation into the coup and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen's network of followers. The government over the weekend issued two new decrees that dismissed some 10,000 additional civil servants and shut down 15 mostly pro-Kurdish media outlets.

Sibel Gunes, general secretary of the Turkish Journalists' Association, told The Associated Press that some 170 media outlets have been shut down since the attempted coup and 105 journalists have been arrested. In addition, authorities revoked the press accreditation of more than 600 journalists while thousands of journalists have been left unemployed, Gunes said.

Opposition legislators, including Mahmut Tanal of the Republican People's Party, rushed to Cumhuriyet's headquarters in a show of solidarity and condemned the "unlawful and completely political" raid.

"This is an operation against the mentality that defends the secular rule of law. It is an operation against citizens' right to information, right to learn. We will not remain silent," Tanal said. Cumhuriyet columnist Ayse Yildirim said the detentions could be a prelude toward a government takeover of the newspaper.

"We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet, we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee. We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear," she said outside of the paper's Istanbul headquarters.

Cartoonist Musa Kart, who was also wanted for questioning, told reporters outside the building as he left to turn himself into police: "How will they explain this to the world? I am being taken into custody for drawing cartoons." Kart has been prosecuted in the past for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon.

Anadolu Agency said authorities had also issued a warrant for the arrest of the paper's former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who was sentenced to five years in prison in May for reports in Cumhuriyet on alleged arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. The verdict is being appealed. Dundar left Turkey after the coup attempt citing a lack of judicial independence and saying he would not receive a fair trial under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, two prominent Kurdish politicians, Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Turkey's largest Kurdish-populated city of Diyarbakir, and co-mayor Firat Anli, were formally put under arrest on Sunday, days after they were taken into custody for questioning on terrorism-related charges. The two are accused of "speaking positively about the terror organization," referring to the PKK, and allowing the use of municipal vehicles for Kurdish militants' funerals, according to the prosecutor's office.

Access to the internet in the region has been periodically blocked since Wednesday — a move which rights activists say is aimed at restricting calls for demonstrations to denounce the mayors' detentions through social media.

Associated Press writers Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

Heavy rains swell rivers in parts of Balkans

November 08, 2016

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Heavy rain in the Balkans caused swollen rivers to overflow Tuesday, flooding some homes and cutting electricity to remote areas. Authorities in Albania reported two deaths. Serbia's state TV said surging waters cut a regional road in the southwest of the country and forced a dozen people to leave their homes.

A second day of rain caused floods in northern Montenegro, near the border with Serbia. Authorities in the town of Berane warned residents not to drink tap water. Albanian authorities said a body was found in a river in Tirana, the capital, while another man died while trying to cross a stream with his car, and there were unconfirmed reports of other deaths as the country struggled to cope with up to 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain in some areas.

About 3,500 soldiers and emergency personnel have spread across the country to evacuate residents, more than 100 families, mainly ones living near rivers. The Defense Ministry said more than 200 troops and many specialized vehicles have been sent mainly to the northern Lezha district.

Speaking at an emergency meeting, Prime Minister Edi Rama said he expected rain to continue and that "the situation will be extremely grave." Some 200,000 people were reported to be without power, and the Education Ministry called on all schools to suspend classes. Schools will be closed on Wednesday too.

Pakistan deports National Geographic's iconic 'Afghan Girl'

November 09, 2016

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Wednesday deported National Geographic's famed green-eyed "Afghan Girl" to her native Afghanistan after a regional court had convicted her on charges of carrying a forged Pakistani ID card and staying in the country illegally.

The case of Sharbat Gulla has drawn international attention and criticism of Pakistani authorities over their perceived harsh treatment of the iconic refugee. Gulla and her four children were handed over to Afghan authorities at the Torkham border crossing, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, before dawn Wednesday.

Earlier, a visibly unhappy Gulla, clad in a blue, all-encompassing traditional women's burqa, and her children were taken from Peshawar to the border in a convoy, which included several Afghan officials, said a local government administrator Fayaz Khan.

At the crossing, Gulla turned once to look back at Pakistani territory and softly murmured good wishes for the people of Pakistan — her home of many years, according to two customs officials at the scene. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Gulla was arrested in late October on charges of carrying fake Pakistani ID papers and staying in Pakistan illegally. A Peshawar court later ordered her deported. She gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry's photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on National Geographic's cover.

McCurry found her again in 2002. In 2014, she went into hiding after authorities accused her of buying fake Pakistani documents. Khan, the local official, said Gulla was to be flown to the Afghan capital of Kabul later in the day, where she was to attend a function in her honor hosted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani's office did not immediately confirm that event was planned. Peshawar provincial authorities had reportedly tried to find a legal way for Gulla to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds, but she declined the offer, according to Khan.

After the Peshawar court sentenced her to 15 days in jail and a fine of $1,000, she fell ill and was admitted to at Peshawar's Lady Reading hospital. On Wednesday, the hospital staff presented Gulla a bouquet of red roses before bidding her farewell, said Dr Mukhtiar Zaman. He described Gulla as still being weak from her illness.

Associated Press Writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

US-backed forces push closer to IS 'capital' Raqa

By Delil Souleiman with Ahmad Mousa in Hamam al-Alil, Iraq
Ain Issa, Syria (AFP)
Nov 8, 2016

A US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance pushed closer to Raqa in Syria while Iraqi forces seized a key town near Mosul as offensives progressed against the two Islamic State group strongholds.

After announcing the launch of the long-awaited assault on Raqa on Sunday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance said it had moved south towards the city despite fierce jihadist resistance.

South of Mosul, Iraqi forces retook Hamam al-Alil from IS, a key objective in their three-week advance on the city.

Iraqi forces said Monday they found a mass grave in the area containing around 100 decapitated bodies.

Raqa and Mosul are the last major cities in Syria and Iraq under the jihadists' control.

Their capture would deal a huge blow to the self-styled "caliphate" IS declared in mid-2014.

The US-led coalition that launched operations against IS two years ago is providing crucial backing to the offensives, with air strikes and special forces advisers on the ground.

SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told AFP that the alliance's forces had advanced on two fronts towards Raqa amid heavy fighting.

SDF fighters had pushed at least 10 kilometers (six miles) south towards the city from the towns of Ain Issa and Suluk, she said.

In both cases the SDF was still some distance from Raqa -- on the Ain Issa front at least 30 kilometers (20 miles) away.

"The offensive is going according to plan," said Ahmed, adding that the SDF had captured at least 10 villages.

- 'Fight will not be easy' -

An SDF commander said IS was fighting back with its favorite tactic of sending suicide bombers in explosives-packed vehicles against advancing forces.

"IS is sending car bombers but coalition planes and our anti-tank weapons are limiting their effectiveness," the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After taking Abu Ilaj north of Raqa, SDF fighters dug trenches and piled sandbags at the entrance to the village.

"In every area that we advance we are digging trenches with tractors and bulldozers to protect the front line, to prevent the jihadists from getting in and to stop car bombs," one fighter said.

The SDF says some 30,000 of its fighters are taking part in operation "Wrath of the Euphrates", which aims to surround and isolate IS inside Raqa before making an assault on the city itself.

Officials have warned that the battle is likely to be long and difficult.

"As in Mosul, the fight will not be easy and there is hard work ahead," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.

Driving IS from both cities has been the endgame since the US-led coalition launched air strikes against it in 2014, shortly after the jihadists seized swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Some 50 US military advisers are involved in the Raqa operation, particularly to guide air strikes, according to an SDF source.

Near Mosul, forces established full control over Hamam al-Alil, the last town of note on the way to the city from the south, AFP reporters said.

It lies on the west bank of the Tigris river, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of the edge of Mosul.

Life quickly resumed in Hamam al-Alil, with some residents reopening shops and others bathing in the town's sulfur springs.

- Mass grave found -

However, police said they found a mass grave Monday at an agricultural collage west of Hamam al-Alil.

The Joint Operations Command said "Iraqi forces found... 100 bodies of citizens with their heads cut off".

The US is using Apache helicopters in the battle to retake the city, the Pentagon said late Monday, directing attacks at explosive-packed vehicles.

Fighting also continued east of Mosul, with Kurdish forces advancing into the town of Bashiqa and the elite Counter Terrorism Service battling IS in the city's suburbs.

"Up to seven neighborhoods are under the control of counter-terrorism forces, and they are now completely securing them and clearing them of pockets of terrorists," CTS spokesman Sabah al-Noman told AFP.

A peshmerga statement said its forces were in Bashiqa and had "begun house-to-house clearances".

The Mosul offensive has advanced faster than expected, but the battle for Raqa is more complicated.

Unlike in Iraq where the coalition has a state-controlled ally in federal forces, in Syria its ground partner is comprised of local militias, including some rebel groups that have battled President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Aid groups have voiced concerns for civilians trapped in both Mosul and Raqa, warning they may be used as human shields.

More than 34,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation began on October 17, the International Organization for Migration said.

More than a million people are believed to be in Mosul.

Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of Syria.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US-backed_forces_push_closer_to_IS_capital_Raqa_999.html.

Syrian militants mass in distant province after truce deals

November 07, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — The men receive a hero's welcome as they step off the green buses in Syria's Idlib province with guns slung over their shoulders, having been forced to leave besieged and bombarded towns and cities as part of local truce deals with the government in Damascus.

For more than two years now as President Bashar Assad pursued a policy of local truces, thousands of rebels and opposition supporters have been deported to the northwestern province bordering Turkey — a forced exile that many see as a calculated attempt to gather the fighters far from the capital, at a location where they can later be eliminated.

Already a stronghold of Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, the province is now home to thousands of Islamic militants — with varying degrees of extremist ideology — who have converged along with their families from the central city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus, after capitulating to government forces.

"The government wants to prepare people, psychologically, for the idea that Idlib is the Kandahar of Syria," said Ibrahim Hamidi, a journalist who covers Syrian affairs for the Saudi-owned newspaper Al Hayat.

He was referring to Kandahar province in Afghanistan, the base of the militant Taliban's 1996-2001 government. He said the presence of so many Islamic militants would make it easier for the government and its allies to later justify a massive assault on the province.

Idlib is one of the few regions in Syria where the Islamic State group and the government have no presence, save for two small government-controlled Shiite-majority villages. The province borders Turkey, a key sponsor of Syrian rebels, and the coastal province of Latakia, a government stronghold. Assad's loss of Idlib city in the summer of 2015 was what prompted Russia to intervene to shore up his forces.

Members of the opposition fear that government and Russian warplanes will eventually carpet bomb Idlib under the pretext that it is a stronghold of al-Qaida's Fatah al-Sham Front, whose leadership is based there, and other extremist groups.

Since July 2015, U.S. aircraft have killed some of al-Qaida's most senior figures in strikes on Idlib, including Kuwait-born Mohsen al-Fadli, Sanafi al-Nasr of Saudi Arabia and Ahmed Salama Mabrouk of Egypt, who was killed in early October. They belonged to what U.S. officials call the Khorasan group, which Washington describes as a branch of al-Qaida that plans attacks against Western interests.

The province is also an important stronghold for Syrian rebels battling to unseat Assad. Malek al-Rifai, an opposition activist who recently moved to Idlib from Daraya, said he now has a "five star" life compared to his conditions in the besieged Damascus suburb, where people could barely feed themselves. Access to the Turkish border means virtually everything is available in Idlib — not only food, but also weapons and other supplies.

Al-Rifai said he shares an apartment with friends and has been surviving on some savings. Other people live in tents, some of which have evolved into concrete dwellings complete with secondhand furniture. He said people mostly make a living by working for aid organizations, as taxi or minibus drivers, joining rebel groups that pay salaries or running small businesses.

Although their primary target has recently been the divided northern city of Aleppo, hardly a day goes by without government or Russian warplanes bombing parts of Idlib. "The regime wants Idlib to become another Raqqa," said Hassan al-Dughaim, a Turkey-based Syrian preacher and researcher from Idlib, who lived there for most of his life until last year. The Syrian city of Raqqa is the de facto capital of the IS group's self-styled caliphate. Idlib city serves a similar function for al-Qaida.

Al-Dughaim said the Syrian government hopes that the presence of so many militants from different groups will lead to infighting. But despite the steady flow of fighters such confrontations have been rare.

Idlib is also home to thousands of displaced civilians from across the country, who were brought there on the green buses along with armed fighters as part of the truce deals. "The regime wants the people to be as far as possible from the areas they were displaced from," said Osama Abu Zeid, a lawyer who advises moderate rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army, who also have a presence in Idlib. He said that because of al-Qaida's presence, the government will present any future attack as part of a war on terrorism.

Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, agrees. "By lumping the displaced hostile populations in with the extremists, you've basically confined the problem to one place," he said. "Once that is done, the regime will go after it hard and no one will be able to make much of a fuss internationally."

Syrian Kurds announce campaign to retake Raqqa from IS

November 06, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led Syrian forces backed by the U.S. said they have begun a military campaign to liberate the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa, urging civilians to avoid "enemy gatherings" in the Syrian city and warning Turkey not to interfere in the operation.

The announcement by a coalition of Kurds and Arabs known as the Syria Democratic Forces came at a news conference in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa, and was attended by senior commanders and representatives of the group. But it lacked specific details on how they plan to oust the militants from the city, which is home to nearly 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs and an estimated 5,000 militants.

Islamic State forces already are under attack by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on the eastern edges of the city of Mosul, which the militant group seized in 2014 when it captured territory across Iraq and Syria for its self-proclaimed caliphate. The Iraqi forces, who began their operation Oct. 17, are trying to push deeper into the city, which is the militants' last urban bastion in Iraq.

Kurdish officials said the two anti-IS campaigns are not coordinated but simply a matter of "good timing." "We call on our heroic steadfast people in Raqqa and surrounding areas to stay away from enemy gatherings which will be a target for the liberating forces and the coalition forces, and to head to areas that will be liberated," said Cihan Ehmed, an SDF fighter reading the statement.

She said 30,000 fighters will take part in the operation, dubbed "Euphrates Rage," and that a joint operations command had been set up to coordinate various factions on all fronts. The SDF is dominated by the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG. The United States considers the group to be the most effective force against the IS, but Turkey views it as a terrorist organization and claims it's linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdish group. Turkish officials including President Recep Tayip Erdogan have said they will not accept a role for the Kurds in the liberation of Raqqa.

Turkey's defense minister last week suggested that instead of the Kurds, Turkish-backed forces can present an "alternative." But Kurdish officials have rejected any role in the Raqqa campaign for Turkey or the opposition forces it backs inside Syria, and U.S. officials have also acknowledged that the YPG will be a major part of any Raqqa offensive.

"Our hope is that the Turkish state will not interfere in the internal affairs of Syria," Ahmad said at the news conference, suggesting SDF forces would defend themselves if it did. "Raqqa will be free by its own sons."

There was no immediate comment from Turkey, the U.S. or the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad on the Kurdish announcement. SDF spokesman Talal Sillo told The Associated Press that the Raqqa campaign will occur on several fronts.

"We want to liberate the surrounding countryside, then encircle the city, then we will assault and liberate it," he said. Asked whether he had assurances from the U.S. that Turkey or other forces will not interfere, he replied: "Of course, to begin the operation, we have made sure there will be no other forces but the SDF in the operation."

Another SDF official, Rezan Hiddo, said Turkey has been an "obstacle" to the Raqqa campaign all along. He said the SDF has informed the international coalition that Turkey could spoil the campaign if it decides to strike at Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. This would force the Kurds to stop their campaign toward Raqqa to protect their areas, he said.

"We cannot extinguish the fire in our neighbor's house if our home is burning," he added. U.S. officials have acknowledged that ousting IS from Raqqa poses tougher political challenges than the Mosul offensive, and have suggested the initial stage would involve isolating the city before any forces try to move in.

The commander of anti-IS coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said last week that U.S. intelligence has detected signs that Islamic State attacks against Western targets are being plotted from Raqqa, adding urgency to coalition plans to encircle and eventually assault the city.

"We know this plot-and-planning is emanating from Raqqa. We think we've got to get to Raqqa pretty soon." But coalition leaders have been struggling with the timing for the Raqqa campaign, not only because of the demands of the large Iraqi-led Mosul operation but also because the political and military landscape in Syria is more complicated amid a civil war that has lasted more than five years and has devastated much of the country.

Townsend said more Syrian opposition fighters need to be recruited, trained and equipped for the Raqqa battle, but he and other officials have said in recent days that the Mosul and Raqqa operations will overlap.

Unlike in Iraq, where the coalition has a coherent government to work with, the U.S. and its coalition partners in Syria are relying on a hodgepodge of local Arab and Kurdish opposition groups, some of which are fierce rivals. The tensions are exacerbated by the presence of Russian and Syrian forces on one side and Turkish forces on another.

Townsend said, however, that the YPG will necessarily be part of the offensive. "The facts are these: The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion," he said.

U.S.-Backed SDF Rejects Turkish Participation in Raqqa Operation

November 03 2016 Thursday

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups said on Thursday it would not accept a Turkish role in the operation to clear ISIS from its Syrian capital Raqqa.

U.S. officials have said they hope to start an offensive against ISIS in Raqqa within weeks, and have said that the SDF will play a big role, but Washington’s ally Turkey has also insisted that it take part in the operation.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the plan to isolate Raqqa “would take place soon” with the forces available.

“We intend to go there soon with the force that is capable of doing that and enveloping the city of Raqqa … the final seizure of Raqqa, we continue to talk to Turkey about that and a possible role for Turkey in that further down the road,” Carter told a press conference on Wednesday.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters it rejects any Turkish involvement in the operation.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces are the only force that will take part in the operation to liberate Raqqa and we informed the (international U.S.-led) coalition forces that we reject any Turkish role in the Raqqa liberation operation,” he said.

Turkey’s military and allied Syrian rebel groups last week fought against Kurdish forces allied to the SDF in northwest Syria, where both sides are seeking to seize territory from their mutual enemy ISIS.

Ankara is dismayed at the prominent role in the SDF played by the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party that has waged a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkey has stressed that the looming battle for Raqqa should be carried out by local forces and the Kurdish YPG militia should not be included.

Since it was formed in early 2015, the SDF has taken over large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from ISIS and pushed the jihadist group back to within 30km (18 miles) of Raqqa.

An offensive by the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces, backed by the U.S., started last month to reclaim Mosul, the largest city under the control of the jihadist group, and one whose capture would leave Raqqa as ISIS’ most important possession.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat English.
Link: http://english.aawsat.com/2016/11/article55361404/u-s-backed-sdf-rejects-turkish-participation-raqqa-operation.

Turkish army says Syrian rebels' advance hampered by jihadists' resistance


The advance of Ankara-backed Syrian rebels was hampered due to resistance by jihadists in northern Syria, the Turkish army said in a statement on Nov. 1.

“In the Marea and al-Rai regions, no advances were made in the offensive launched by [the Syrian rebels] in the Shudud, Abla, Esh Shuayb and Shadir residential areas due to Deash’s strong resistance,” said the Turkish General Staff in a statement released on the 70th day of the Euphrates Shield Operation, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Turkey and the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels have been aiming to clear ISIL from the region, along with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighters, which Turkey also regards as a terror organization with links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

A total of 12 FSA fighters have been injured in the clashes to take back the four residential areas from ISIL, the statement added.

The Euphrates Shield Operation was launched by Turkey in late August to clear Syria’s northern border area of “terrorists,” namely ISIL and the PYD. Turkey regards both the PKK and the PYD as terrorist groups, while the U.S. and the EU only view the PKK as a terrorist organization.

FSA fighters and Turkish tanks, artillery and aircraft have been targeting the two groups’ positions in northern Syria.

The statement said 120 ISIL and two PYD targets were hit on the 70th day of the operations.

Jets belonging to the Turkish Air Force did not conduct any air operations on the 70th day, while an aircraft was stationed on the ground to respond if an urgent target appeared, the statement said.

U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition aircrafts also did not conduct any air sorties, it said.

The army added that since the beginning of the operation in late August, 33 mines and 1,379 handmade explosives had been destroyed.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News.
Link: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=105607.

Why Palestinians want to sue Britain

November 1, 2016

Last July, the Palestinian Authority took the unexpected, although belated step of seeking Arab backing in suing Britain over the Balfour Declaration. That “declaration” was the first ever explicit commitment made by Britain, and the West in general, to establish a Jewish homeland atop an existing Palestinian homeland.

It is too early to tell whether the Arab League will heed the Palestinian call, or if the PA will even follow through, especially considering the latter has the habit of making too many proclamations backed by little or no action.

However, it seems that the next year will witness a significant tug of war regarding the Balfour Declaration, the 100th anniversary of which will be commemorated on 2 November 2017.

But who is Balfour, what is the Balfour Declaration and why does all of this matter today?

Britain’s Foreign Secretary from late 1916, Arthur James Balfour, pledged Palestine to another people. That promise was made on 2 November 1917 on behalf of the British government in the form of a letter sent to the leader of the Jewish community in Britain, Walter Rothschild.

At the time, Britain was not even in control of Palestine, which was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Either way, Palestine was never Balfour’s to so casually transfer to anyone else. His letter read:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

He concluded: “I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”

Balfour was hardly acting on his own. True, the declaration bears his name, yet, in reality, he was a loyal agent of an Empire with massive geopolitical designs, not only concerning Palestine alone, but with Palestine as part of a larger Arab landscape.

Only a year earlier, another sinister document was introduced, albeit secretly. It was endorsed by another top British diplomat, Mark Sykes and, on behalf of France, by François Georges-Picot. The Russians were informed of the agreement, as they too had received a piece of the Ottoman cake.

The document indicated that, once the Ottomans were soundly defeated, their territories, including Palestine, would be split among the prospective victorious parties.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, also known as the “Asia Minor Agreement”, was signed in secret 100 ago, two years into World War I. It signified the brutal nature of colonial powers that rarely associated land and resources with people who lived upon or owned them.

The centerpiece of the agreement was a map that was marked with straight lines by a China graph pencil. The map largely determined the fate of the Arabs, dividing them in accordance with various haphazard assumptions of tribal and sectarian lines.

The improvised map consisted not only of lines but also colours, along with language that attested to the fact that the two countries viewed the Arab region purely on materialistic terms, without paying the slightest attention to the possible repercussions of slicing up entire civilisations with a multifarious history of co-operation and conflict.

The Sykes-Picot negotiations were completed in March 1916 and, although official, were secretly signed on 19 May 1916.

WWI concluded on 11 November 1918, after which the division of the Ottoman Empire began in earnest.

British and French mandates were extended over divided Arab entities, while Palestine was granted to the Zionist movement a year later, when Balfour conveyed the British government’s promise, sealing the fate of Palestinians to a life of perpetual war and turmoil.

Rarely was British-Western hypocrisy and complete disregard for the national aspiration of any other nation on full display as in the case of Palestine. Beginning with the first wave of Zionist Jewish migration to Palestine in 1882, European countries helped facilitate the movement of illegal settlers and resources, where the establishment of many colonies, large and small, was afoot.

So when Balfour sent his letter to Rothschild, the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was very much plausible.

Still, many supercilious promises were being made to the Arabs during the Great War years, as the Arab leadership sided with the British in their war against the Ottoman Empire. Arabs were promised instant independence, including that of the Palestinians.

When the intentions of the British and their rapport with the Zionists became too apparent, Palestinians rebelled, marking a rebellion that has never ceased 99 years later, and highlighting the horrific consequences of British colonialism and the eventual complete Zionist takeover of Palestine which is still felt after all of these years.

Paltry attempts to pacify Palestinian anger were to no avail, especially after the League of Nations Council in July 1922 approved the terms of the British Mandate over Palestine – which was originally granted to Britain in April 1920 – without consulting the Palestinians at all. In fact, Palestinians would disappear from the British and international radar, only to reappear as negligible rioters, troublemakers and obstacles to the joint British-Zionist colonial concoctions.

Despite occasional assurances to the contrary, the British intention of ensuring the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine was becoming clearer with time. The Balfour Declaration was not merely an aberration, but had, indeed, set the stage for the full-scale ethnic cleansing that followed, three decades later.

In fact, that history remains in constant replay: the Zionists claimed Palestine and renamed it “Israel”; the British continue to support them, although never ceasing to pay lip-service to the Arabs; and the Palestinian people remain a nation that is geographically fragmented between refugee camps, the diaspora, militarily occupied, or treated as second class citizens in a country upon which their ancestors dwelt since time immemorial.

While Balfour cannot be blamed for all the misfortunates that have befallen Palestinians since he communicated his brief, but infamous letter, the notion that his “promise” embodied – that of complete disregard of the aspirations and rights of the Palestinian Arab people – that very letter is handed from one generation of British diplomats to the next, in the same way that Palestinian resistance to colonialism has and continues to spread across generations.

That injustice continues, thus the perpetuation of the conflict. What the British, the early Zionists, the Americans and subsequent Israeli governments failed to understand, and continue to ignore at their own peril, is that there can be no peace without justice and equality in Palestine; and that Palestinians will continue to resist, as long as the reasons that inspired their rebellion nearly a century ago, remain in place.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161101-why-palestinians-want-to-sue-britain/.

New UN secretary-general considers special mission to Palestine

October 30, 2016

The nomination of Antonio Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal, as the next secretary-general of the United Nations did not come as a surprise for those acquainted with his international activity. Guterres, a great believer in multilateralism, served for a decade as the high commissioner for refugees of the UN (2005-2015) in charge of the most burning issue on the international agenda. His efforts to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi and Syrian refugees were possibly without precedent worldwide.

Guterres is very much a champion of collective diplomacy to bring peace to the Middle East. He is well-known to some Israeli Labor Party leaders, as he served as the secretary-general of Socialist International from 1999 to 2005, and he was a close friend of late President Shimon Peres.

Guterres will undoubtedly bring to the office of the UN secretary-general some innovative approaches, both on the international refugee crisis and in the field of conflict resolution, especially regarding Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Indeed, he has strong views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a friend of Israel, historically inspired by Israel’s dramatic nation-building since its establishment. He is fully opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and to Israeli settlement policies. He believes Israel’s security can only be assured by a fair two-state solution guaranteed by the international community.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the president of the International Peace Institute, was one of the initiators of the Oslo peace talks in the early 1990s while serving as a Norwegian diplomat and was later appointed UN undersecretary-general on the situations in Lebanon and Palestine. He told Al-Monitor that Guterres will bring to the table “out of the box” thinking on conflict resolution and will most probably be a very proactive secretary-general, not giving in to the traditional US pressure on the UN to stay out of international conflict resolution.

His nomination still fresh, Guterres has already started consulting international think tanks on different conflict-resolution perspectives. A diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that such an initiative was recently proposed to Guterres by UN policy planners and New York-based international think tanks. The idea is to enhance the role of the UN in an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution process, expanding the UN role on the issue beyond serving as a platform for international resolutions at the General Assembly and Security Council.

This proposal, which is currently being studied by Guterres’ aides, seeks to advance Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution by proposing to create a UN support mission on Palestine to foster the establishment of a Palestinian state, structured somewhat like the UN special mission on Libya, which deals with institution building, human rights and the rule of law, the security sector and international aid. Its purpose would be to work with the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the establishment of a state, leaving the negotiation on permanent status to the parties and the Quartet (of which the UN is a member).

According to a UN policy planner who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, such a plan can be conducive to a two-state solution with the international community working with the Palestinian leadership and officials on different aspects of statehood, without changing the existing status quo on the ground. The mission would be conducted by experts in governance, economics and security from various UN member states to be decided by the Quartet.

According to the plan explored by these UN policy planners and international New York-based brain trusts, the special mission for Palestine would deal with four issues.

The first would be democratic transition to statehood — the development of modern democratic Palestinian state institutions based on the existing governmental, parliamentary and judicial structures of the PA. The second would be rule of law and human rights, according to the UN charter. This would include formulating a Palestinian Constitution in complete respect of the Palestinian sovereign right to make its own decisions. Another issue would be that of security. The UN — under US leadership — would train PA security personnel in anti-terror policies. The fourth issue handled by the mission would be international assistance for Palestinian state building, coordinated by the European Union. The EU partners would reach out to the international donor community to financially assist the state institution-building process.

The UN policy planners told Al-Monitor that such a plan would demand extensive deliberations and could be decided upon by the UN General Assembly. The next US administration would have to give its greenlight. Such a mission, monitored by the Quartet, could only take place in parallel to permanent status negotiations between the parties.

Asked about these propositions, a Palestinian senior official told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian leadership would accept such a proposal only if coupled with clear terms of reference and a timeline for permanent status.

On the Israeli side, the reaction is negative and condescending. A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told Al-Monitor that the UN could have no role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution because of the UN anti-Israel bias.

In any case, there is little doubt that the next UN secretary-general will be a diplomatic activist when it comes to the Middle East, and he will make a genuine effort to convince the international community to engage in a multilateral two-state solution process.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/10/israel-uns-guterres-considers-special-mission-to-palestine.html.

Hezbollah ally elected as Lebanon's new head of state

November 01, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as president on Monday, filling a post that had been vacant for more than two years and injecting hope that the country's long-running political paralysis would come to an end.

But the 81-year-old retired general who presided over the final bloody chapters of the Lebanese civil war and is a strong Hezbollah ally has an unenviable task ahead — forming a government out of the country's unruly political factions and dealing with an array of problems that includes what to do with more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have fled the war in neighboring Syria.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, enjoys a wide base of support among Lebanon's educated Christians, but is a deeply divisive figure for his role in the 1975-90 civil war and for his shifting alliances, especially with Hezbollah, the country's most powerful military and political force. His election was seen by many as a clear victory for the pro-Iranian axis in the Middle East, giving a boost to Hezbollah and the Shiite Lebanese group's ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Aoun secured a simple majority of votes in parliament after a tension-filled, chaotic session that saw several rounds of voting because extra ballots appeared in the ballot box each time. In the end, the transparent box was placed in the middle of Parliament, where lawmakers cast their votes in front of two witnesses who watched to make sure no extra ballots were put in.

"We haven't voted in a long time. We're learning again," Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri joked of the nearly two-hour process. In the end, Aoun garnered 83 votes out of 127 lawmakers present at the session. He had been widely expected to achieve a two-thirds majority in the first round, but failed by two votes.

Members of parliament broke out in applause after Aoun was finally declared president. His supporters across the country erupted in cheers as they watched the proceedings on screens set up in the streets. Celebratory gunfire could also be heard in the capital.

"I'm with Hezbollah, and my hand is with Hezbollah, and we are with Aoun," said Khalil Shukr, a 21-year-old supporter who wore a yellow T-shirt, the color of the Hezbollah flag. "We've got a president today who will take care of all the Lebanese, all of Lebanon, not just one faction," added Shukr, standing among a crowd gathered at the Mar Yousef church in Aoun's childhood hometown of Haret Hreik, now a crowded Beirut suburb dominated by Hezbollah.

"There are going to be obstacles, but he is a strong man and is impartial, and we are hopeful things will change, that he will fight back corruption," said Aida Ghanimeh, a 46-year-old supporter, as she watched the vote on a giant screen in the capital, Beirut.

The election comes at a time of great regional upheaval, especially in neighboring Syria, where the civil war has repeatedly spilled over into Lebanon. In a televised speech to lawmakers shortly before he was sworn in, a somber-looking Aoun acknowledged the challenges ahead.

"Lebanon is passing through minefields and has been safe from the raging regional fires, and we will prevent any spark from reaching it," he said. Among the first congratulatory phone calls Aoun received was from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. "We are certain that with your election, the resistance movement will be strengthened," the Iranian leader told him, according to Rouhani's website. Assad and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also congratulated Aoun in phone calls.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby described Aoun's election as a "moment of opportunity" to restore government institutions as Lebanon emerges from years of political impasse. However, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has topped recent Israeli polls, said Israel should worry when Lebanon elects a president who has the backing of Hezbollah, adding that the militant movement is bound to turn its aggression toward Israel once the war in Syria comes to an end.

Lebanon has been without a head of state for 29 months after President Michel Suleiman stepped down at the end of his term in May 2014. According to Lebanon's sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, its parliamentary speaker a Shiite Muslim and its prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Parliament failed 45 times to elect a new president due to political infighting that led to a lack of a quorum as Aoun's bloc and allied Hezbollah lawmakers boycotted the sessions because his election was not guaranteed.

In the end, it took an about-face by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon's Saudi-backed Sunni leader, who formally endorsed Aoun for president last week — reportedly in exchange for Aoun promising him the position of prime minister.

That endorsement was the final piece of an unlikely coalition that left parliamentary speaker Berri, a Shiite strongman who is accustomed to playing kingmaker in Lebanese politics, on the sidelines of the show.

Aoun will now have to bring Berri, a longtime rival, back into the fold. "I think everyone's interests are aligned with getting through this with minimum damage," said Ayham Kamel, an analyst at the London-based think tank Eurasia Group, who predicted Hariri would again be called upon to form a Cabinet.

Aoun "cannot make miracles, but he can be an arbiter," said Hanna Anbar, executive editor of The Daily Star, who covered the last days of the civil war holed up in the presidential palace with Aoun. "If he can clear certain hurdles that will be enough to run a smooth presidency and a smooth government."

There is, however, one party that comes out of the maneuvering on top. With its reliable ally Aoun as president and its Shiite political partner, Berri, running parliament, Hezbollah is in the powerful position of mediating between the two main branches of government.

"There will be active mediation by Hezbollah to try to narrow the differences between Berri and the other parties, and I think there's going to be a grand bargain," Kamel said. Following Monday's parliamentary vote, Aoun drove to the presidential palace in the southeastern Beirut suburb of Baabda, returning exactly 26 years after he was forced out of it as army commander and interim premier by Syrian forces and Lebanese troops loyal to a rival commander.

On Wednesday, he is expected to begin consultations with lawmakers over their choice for prime minister.

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

'It could happen to any of us': Why the revolution in Morocco has started

Monday 31 October 2016

Our story starts with a 31-year-old Riffian man named Mohsin Fikri who lives in the city of Hoceima in northern Morocco.

Like the majority of Moroccans, Mohsin was extremely poor. He was Riffian, meaning that he was both an Amazigh and also from the Rif, a mountainous region in the north where many Amazigh live – and one of many non-Arabised zones in Morocco that the government has completely marginalized to the point that some cities still don't have electricity, water or hospitals.

On Friday, Mohsin, who was a fisherman, was caught by the makhzen (the Moroccan police) trying to sell swordfish that he obtained illegally. They confiscated the fish.

Like the government, and every other institution in Morocco, the police is a corrupt organisation. Motivated by the low salaries they get from the government or just simply by the greed in their hearts, they usually make citizens pay an amount of extra money in order for them to act like they didn't see anything out of place.

As we said, Mohsin was a humble man who barely had any money for himself or the rest of his family. His job as a fisherman was his only source of money to stay alive and survive in a country where it is almost impossible to find a job.

When police asked for money in exchange for letting him sell the fish, obviously, he couldn't afford to pay.

The police then proceeded to throw all the fish he was going to sell into a nearby garbage truck. Mohsin, who along with four friends watched all of his work tossed into the trash, attempted to jump into the truck and save some of the fish so he could sell it and at least get some money for him and his family members who all depended on him.

The police, surprised by his actions, reacted in a really cruel way: they went to the back of the garbage truck, and saw the four men in there, looking for the fish.

They all jumped out in time - except for Mohsin, who was still there when, as a video released shows, the police told the garbage truck driver to press the buttons and crush the trash while saying t'han mo (‘crush him’ in Darija, a language derived from Moroccan Arabic).

It was too late to stop the machine. Even as they screamed for it to stop, Mohsin Fikri was already dead.

'It could happen to any of us'

Events like this happen all the time in Morocco, but they don’t get recorded like this one.

And even if they do get recorded, the manipulated media in Morocco won't show them, and that's one of the reasons why so many Moroccans are clueless about some topics in our country: the government won't show anything that goes against them or King Mohamed Vl.

This Amazigh man’s death has opened the eyes of an entire nation and has made them say “enough”.

On Sunday, thousands of people in Hoceima left their houses and marched in the streets together to protest the incident.

“If it happened to him, it could happen to any of us, this must stop, this is not fair,” one of the protesters could be heard saying in the live streaming video of the march.

They marched from their city to a village called Imzouren which was 22km away, to attend Fikri’s funeral, and to show his family support. Every store in Hoceima closed. Taxis offered to carry people to the funeral for free in solidarity.

The Amazigh struggle in Morocco is alive, the government’s pan-Arabist ways have affected all the Amazigh population in Morocco, treating the people, the language, and the culture as “savage traditions”.

The incident in the Rif region – the killing of Mohsin - was just the last straw, the thing that made people fed up with the situation here in Morocco.

Even though it tends to happen more in marginalized regions, police brutality can happen everywhere in Morocco. No one is safe, and that’s one of the reasons why every city in Morocco is now protesting in front of government buildings, demanding and asking for change.

Very important cities have shown solidarity with Mohsin Fikri and the Rif, and they have asked the government to care for the people.

Fearless and ready to fight

Meanwhile, the king, Mohamed Vl, is enjoying a tour of Africa. People have seen him in jewelry shops, obviously spending the Moroccan people’s money, while some can't even afford to pay for medicine to stay healthy or send their kids to school.

And, of course, he has not said a word about this whole situation.

People have been waiting for a revolution in Morocco to start, but the oppression and the fear has always been an obstacle on their way to freedom. But this time is different. This has never happened in Morocco before.

People are fearless and ready to fight for what they want: a democratic Muslim republic, not a corrupt monarchy like the one we have right now. Not a Moroccan monarchy formed by the dynasty of Alaouites, who were the symbol of traitors during the colonization, who sold our country to the colonizers and, to this day, keep doing it for their own benefit. Not a dynasty that always took the West’s side.

With all this said, we hope that Mohsin’s death brings the change to the beautiful country that Morocco is.

Source: Middle East Eye.
Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/last-straw-why-revolution-morocco-has-started-1900174284.

France accused of hiding its archive smuggled during colonial era

November 1, 2016

The Director General of Algeria’s National Archives accused the French authorities on Monday of hiding its archive which was smuggled to Paris during the colonial era, Anadolu has reported.

Abdul Majid Sheikhi told his country’s official news agency that France smuggled the Algerian archive between 1961 and 1962. It was kept it in Paris and Aix-en Province near Marseille until five years ago, after which it was distributed to many different places, most of which are unknown to the Algerians.

In 2009, Algeria signed a deal with France which included a temporary solution to hand over a copy of the archive. However, said Sheikhi, France has not fulfilled its part of the agreement. Instead, he claimed, it has told Algeria to take copies only of what is currently needed, not copies of the whole archive.

The government in Paris is also asking Algeria to have a “crippling” number of technicians and experts to deal with the archive. Sheikhi accused the French of “misleading” the Algerians about its whereabouts.

He also noted that the Algerian archive smuggled out of the country by France includes about 60 tons of documents. It not only covers the colonial era, when France occupied Algeria between 1830 and 1962, but also the archive of three centuries of Ottoman rule. The Algerian official rejected the French claim that the Ottoman documents had been returned. He pointed out that only a list of deals had been handed over.

The archive has long been a source of tension between the two countries. Algerian officials have apparently been discussing the issue with their French counterparts ever since independence.

According to Algeria’s Minister of Veterans, Al-Tayyip Zaytouni, his country has received just two per cent of the archive. He stressed that Algeria would return the whole archive, including those documents marked “top secret”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161101-france-accused-of-hiding-its-archive-smuggled-during-colonial-era/.

Dubai studies super-speedy transport system

By Lynne al-Nahhas
Dubai (AFP)
Nov 8, 2016

Dubai agreed a deal Tuesday with a US startup to "evaluate" the construction of a near-supersonic transport link that could slash travel times to Emirati capital Abu Dhabi to minutes.

The cash-flush city state, which has recently hosted other hi-tech transport pilots, said it would conduct a "feasibility study" with Hyperloop One to sound out the scheme.

The California-based firm hailed Tuesday's "historic" agreement.

"We begin to evaluate the delivery of the world's first hyperloop system across the country," CEO Rob Lloyd told reporters.

"We will initially focus on the value that Hyperloop One will deliver in Dubai and across the (United Arab) Emirates."

The deal will see both parties explore a route for a vacuum-sealed pod transportation system, which could potentially slash travel times between Dubai and Abu Dhabi -- 150 kilometers (90 miles) apart -- to around 12 minutes.

The system could later be expanded to link the UAE with neighboring Gulf countries so that a trip between Dubai and Saudi capital Riyadh -- currently two hours by plane -- could be completed in under 50 minutes.

Lloyd said his company has also been in talks with transport authorities in Abu Dhabi to discuss the proposal.

While no costs or time-scales were revealed, Lloyd said in a statement that "from a technological point of view, we could have a Hyperloop One system built in the UAE in the next five years."

Mattar al-Tayer, Dubai Road Transport Authority's director general, told reporters that the cost of building the system will be "an important factor when making such a strategic decision on whether or not we can have hyperloop" in addition to questions over safety and demand.

- 1,200-kph journey -

Hyperloop is a futuristic passenger and freight transport system that promoters say offers the promise of near-supersonic speeds.

Earlier this year, Hyperloop One held a first public test in the desert outside Las Vegas, trying out engine components designed to rocket pods through reduced-pressure tubes at speeds of 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) per hour.

The company says the system offers better safety than passenger jets, lower build and maintenance costs than high-speed trains, and energy usage, per person, that is similar to a bicycle.

Last month, port colossus DP World Group of Dubai announced it was investing in the concept, joining backers including French national rail company SNCF, US industrial conglomerate General Electric and Russian state fund RDIF.

Home to Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower where Tuesday's conference took place, Dubai is a leading tourist destination in the Gulf, attracting 14.2 million visitors in 2015.

In September, it unveiled its first driverless bus service, launching a month-long trial period for the electric vehicle with a view to expanding it across the city state.

Hyperloop One, which has so far raised more than $160 million (145 million euros), was set on an idea laid out three years ago by billionaire Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car company Tesla and private space exploration endeavor SpaceX.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Dubai_studies_super-speedy_transport_system_999.html.

Bahrain opposition leader fears 'whitewash' of crackdown

November 11, 2016

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla began wrapping up their trip to Bahrain on Friday, as a leader in the island's secular opposition warned their visit could "whitewash" an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

Ebrahim Sharif of the Waad Party, who himself has been detained by the island's Sunni rulers, said he hoped the Prince of Wales brought up human rights issues behind closed doors with leaders here. "The government may listen," he told The Associated Press. "They need friends."

Bahrain, a small island off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, put down Arab Spring protests in 2011 with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The protests were backed by the Shiite majority and others, and were aimed at demanding more political freedoms from the ruling Al Khalifa family.

While low-level unrest persisted for years, things remained largely peaceful until April, when Bahrain's military announced it was "ready to deal firmly and with determination with these sedition groups and their heads" after a gasoline bomb killed a police officer.

Since then, authorities suspended the country's largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. Famed activist Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned and now awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading "false news." Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who himself is serving a life sentence over his role in the 2011 protests, was forced into exile.

Meanwhile, the country's security forces have besieged a small town home to a Shiite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government earlier this year. On their visit, Prince Charles and Camilla have been kept far away from the island's trouble areas. However, they visited the British Embassy on Thursday night, where black Shiite flags were visible as those inside enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

Sharif said Bahrain's opposition was both "flexible and realistic," wanting only power-sharing with the country's monarchy. However, he said those demands had been greeted with travel bans and other harassment.

He warned Bahrain's financial crisis, worsening as the price of oil remains low, could push things further into danger here. "Without reform, we are in a very bad situation," he said.

Pro-Russian candidate faces anti-graft rival in Moldova vote

November 11, 2016

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldovans directly elect their president on Sunday for the first time in 20 years. Both candidates in the presidential runoff are economists in their 40s, but the similarities end there. Here's a look at them and the issues:


Moldova is a landlocked, agricultural nation of 3.5 million, bordering Ukraine and European Union member Romania. In politics, there's widespread public anger over high-level official corruption in one of Europe's poorest states — particularly about $1 billion that was looted from Moldovan banks just before the 2014 election. More than 30 mainly junior officials are being investigated over the heist but many say the probe is too slow and hasn't targeted senior figures.


Igor Dodon, the favorite in the presidential race, wants the ex-Soviet republic to return to the Russian orbit, while rival Maia Sandu believes the country would secure a more prosperous, predictable future in Europe.


Dodon is trying to channel Donald Trump's U.S. victory into Moldova's runoff. The 41-year-old who paints himself as a traditional family man is harnessing anger with the pro-European government that has been in office since 2009. Socialist Dodon plans to cozy up to Russia, which has punished Moldova with a trade ban on Moldovan wine, fruit and vegetables for signing an association agreement with the EU.

Dodon says Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, is Russian territory, a comment that didn't go down well in Ukraine. But he's hedged his bets recently, saying he also seeks good relations with the EU and Ukraine.

Dodon is backed by the pro-Moscow branch of the Moldovan Orthodox Church. Despite Trump's three marriages and two divorces, Dodon calls Trump "a supporter of Christian values."


Ex-World Bank economist Sandu is running on an anti-corruption ticket, which resonates with many after $1 billion bank heist. Supported by young voters and Moldovans working in Western Europe, Sandu, 44, has been criticized by an Orthodox cleric for being unmarried and childless.

Sandu is known for her uncompromising approach to corruption, which cost her the nomination to be prime minister in July 2015. She was education minister from 2012 to 2015, winning praise for reforms, such as updating textbooks and introducing cameras into exam rooms to stamp out rampant cheating.

Sandu says a crackdown on graft will lead to improved living standards, decent wages and pensions above subsistence level.


Sandu's best chance of a victory is a high voter turnout. Some 800,000 Moldovans work abroad and send remittances back home. They can vote if they go to their local embassies or other special voting stations.


The Moldovan president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. The change in the way the president is being elected, however, is expected to bring the post more authority.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

Cyprus peace talks break, to reconvene in Geneva Nov. 20

November 12, 2016

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Intensive talks at a Swiss resort on how much land Greek and Turkish Cypriots will administratively control under a deal reunifying ethnically divided Cyprus have broken off and will reconvene in Geneva on Nov. 20, officials said Friday.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said important progress has been made narrowing differences on how much territory will make up Greek and Turkish Cypriot zones in an envisioned federation.

Still, important details remain unresolved and the United Nations-backed negotiations will continue in Geneva for three or four days. "There has been significant progress which allows us to be optimistic," Christodoulides told reporters. He said the goal for a deal to be reached by the end of the year remains.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, the leader of the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, have spent the last five days at the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin trying to trash out an agreement on territory. The talks were designed as a precursor to a final summit that will also include Greece, Turkey and the island's former colonial ruler Britain, to sort out the pivotal issue of security.

A Turkish invasion in 1974 following a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece split the island into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.

Christodoulides said both leaders agreed on the nine-day pause after Anastasiades requested it. Territory is crucial to any Cyprus accord for both sides. The majority Greek Cypriots have said territorial adjustments must provide for at least 100,000 people to reclaim lost homes and property, boosting support for and reducing the cost of an accord.

Turkish Cypriots want the least amount of people being displaced from homes they now live in under any arrangement. Greek Cypriot negotiators in Mont Pelerin sought to outline on maps how much territory would comprise each federal zone before agreeing to a final summit on security. Turkish Cypriots wanted a security summit date before agreeing on maps.

A final summit would focus on who would provide security for a federal Cyprus, and how. Turkish Cypriots insist on Turkey being able to militarily intervene on their behalf — something Greek Cypriots reject.

Christodoulides said heading into a security summit without agreement on territory could jeopardize the entire peace process.

Bulgarian presidential runoff a test of center-right govt

November 11, 2016

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) —  Bulgarians vote Sunday to choose their new president in a contested runoff that has become a referendum on the fate of the country's center-right government. Here is a look at the vote and the issues:


Bulgaria is a nation of 7.2 million in southeastern Europe, bordered by Romania, Turkey, Serbia, Greece and Macedonia. It's one of the poorest members of the 28-nation European Union and joined NATO in 2004. Still many in this Black Sea nation still share deep historical and cultural ties with Moscow and the energy-strapped country is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies.


In a surprise in the first round of voting, Gen. Rumen Radev, 53, a former non-partisan chief of Bulgarian Air Force came in first with 25 percent of the vote. He was followed by the speaker of Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, a 58-year-old lawyer and member of Prime Minister Borisov's center-right party with 22 percent. For the first time, voting is compulsory for Bulgaria's 6.8 million voters.


Borisov, whose party has trumped in all national elections in the last decade, says he will resign if Tsacheva loses the runoff, opening the way to an early parliamentary election. The coalition government's popularity has faded due to the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and overhaul the judicial system


Radev, a former NATO fighter pilot who is a rookie in politics, has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with politicians they see as corrupt and distanced from the people. He has pledged to comply with Bulgaria's European obligations, if he is elected. But he also says "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian" and insists that sanctions on Moscow need to be lifted.


If she becomes Bulgaria's first female president, Tsacheva is expected to continue her party's pro-Europe foreign policy. But unlike her party leader, Tsacheva is not very charismatic. She has tried to rally other right-wing parties behind her, urging them not to allow "Bulgaria to return to the dark past" of being under Russia's thumb.


The new Bulgarian president will face a possible rise in migrant inflows from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West, but the post carried little real authority. A Radev victory, however, could trigger political instability and produce an early parliamentary election — the country's third in five years.