Archive for October 12th, 2012

States ready to recognize Syrian opposition council, it says

Oct 2, 2011

Cairo – Representatives of Syria’s main opposition grouping said there were several Arab and foreign countries ready to recognize their Syrian National Council, the founding statement of which they officially released on Sunday.

The council ‘is a frame for the opposition and the peaceful revolution and represents the revolution inside and outside,’ Burhan Ghalioun, the chairman of the 140-member council, told reporters in Istanbul.

Ghalioun said he had no worries about gaining the support of the international community and that the council expected to have a busy schedule of meetings with friendly countries.

The Syrian National Council was first founded in the Turkish city in late August.

Source: Monsters and Critics.


Hezbollah says it sent drone over Israel

October 11, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Hezbollah claimed responsibility Thursday for launching an Iranian-made drone aircraft into Israeli airspace earlier this week, adding more tension to an already explosive Mideast atmosphere.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned that it would not be the last such operation by his Lebanese militant group. Israeli warplanes shot down the unmanned plane, but the infiltration marked a rare breach of Israel’s tightly guarded airspace. Hezbollah had been the leading suspect because of its arsenal of sophisticated Iranian weapons and a history of trying to deploy similar aircraft.

With a formidable arsenal that rivals that of the Lebanese army, Hezbollah is already under pressure in Lebanon from rivals who accuse it of putting Lebanon at risk of getting sucked into regional turmoil. Confirmation that Hezbollah was behind the drone could put the group under further strain internally as it pursues its longstanding conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite group committed to Israel’s destruction, has long served as an Iranian proxy along Israel’s northern border. It is also seen as a close ally of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israel accuses the Assad government of allowing Iran to ferry weapons to Hezbollah through its territory.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal monthlong war in mid-2006. Hundreds of people were killed, and Hezbollah fired several thousand rockets and missiles into Israel before the conflict ended in a stalemate.

Israel routinely sends F-16 fighter planes over Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war. The Israeli planes have often broken the sound barrier over Beirut and other places as a show of strength, most recently after the drone incident.

“This statement today is a claim of responsibility by the Islamic resistance for this qualitative operation” of dispatching the drone, Nasrallah said in a televised address late Thursday. “Today we are uncovering a small part of our capabilities, and we shall keep many more hidden,” he said. “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine … This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want” in Israel, he said.

He said the aircraft was launched from Lebanese territory and flew “tens of kilometers” over sensitive Israeli installations before it was discovered and shot down by the Israeli air force near the Dimona nuclear reactor in Israel’s southern desert.

He dismissed an Israeli military statement that it began tracking the aircraft over the Mediterranean but waited until it was over an empty desert area to bring it down in order to avert casualties on the ground.

Nasrallah claimed the group had more surprises and would not hesitate to use them in any future war with Israel. Launching the drone was a rare and provocative move by the Lebanese militants at a time of soaring regional tensions, with both Syria and Iran under intense international pressure.

Nasrallah said the aircraft was made in Iran and assembled by Hezbollah, adding that it was much more sophisticated than drones it sent before. Hezbollah has attempted to send unmanned aircraft over Israel on several occasions, dating back to 2004. Nasrallah has claimed that the group’s drones were capable of carrying explosives and striking deep into Israel.

Israel has said the latest drone was not carrying explosives and appeared to be on a reconnaissance mission. The last known attempt by Hezbollah to use a drone took place during the 2006 war, when Israel shot down an Iranian-made pilotless aircraft that entered its airspace.

Touring southern Israel on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised efforts to prevent land infiltrations from Egypt. He mentioned that Israel has been equally successful “in the air, just like we thwarted the Hezbollah attempt last weekend,” his first public statement blaming Hezbollah.

Hezbollah was formed to oppose Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon in the 1980s, and the two sides have a bitter history. Hezbollah has accused Israel of assassinating a top Hezbollah operative in 2008 in Syria. The group and Lebanese officials say they have broken up several Israeli spy rings inside Lebanon over the past few years.

Israel charges that Hezbollah, with Iranian backing, was behind a string of attempted attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets in India, Thailand and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, plus a deadly bombing this year that killed five Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort.

Last week, Israel announced the arrest of an Arab citizen it accused of spying for Hezbollah, the latest in a string of such cases. Nasrallah also denied reports that Hezbollah members were fighting alongside Assad’s forces against rebels in Syria.

The reports gained new urgency in the past weeks after Hezbollah buried several of its members, saying they died while performing their “jihadi duty.” Lebanese officials said they died in Syria. He said those killed were among 30,000 Lebanese who live in Syrian territory along the border with Lebanon and were defending themselves against repeated attacks by gunmen in Syria.

“Until this moment we did not enter the fight alongside the (Syrian) regime,” Nasrallah said, but did not preclude the possibility that the group might do so in the future.

AP writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Turkey: Syrian plane was carrying ammunition

October 11, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Escalating tensions with Russia, Turkey defended its forced landing of a Syrian passenger jet en route from Moscow to Damascus, saying Thursday it was carrying Russian ammunition and military equipment destined for the Syrian Defense Ministry.

Syria branded the incident piracy and Russia called the search illegal, saying it endangered the lives of Russian citizens aboard the plane. The accusation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan contradicted denials by both Russia and Syria that anything illegal had been aboard the Airbus A320 that was intercepted over Turkish airspace late Wednesday.

“Equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency … to the Syrian Defense Ministry,” were confiscated from the jetliner, Erdogan told reporters in Ankara. “Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow.”

He did not provide details, but Turkish media said the seized cargo included missile parts as well as radio receivers, antennas and other military communications equipment. “As you know, defense industry equipment or weapons, ammunitions … cannot be carried on passenger planes,” Erdogan said. “It is against international rules for such things to pass through our air space.”

Erdogan refused to say how — or from whom — Turkey had learned that the twice-weekly scheduled flight would be used to transport military gear to Syria. “As you will appreciate, those who gave the tip, which establishments, these things cannot be disclosed,” he said.

The United States said it backed Turkey’s decision to intercept the plane. “Any transfer of any military equipment to the Syrian regime at this time is very concerning, and we look forward to hearing more from the Turkish side when they get to the bottom of what they found,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

She declined to comment on Turkish reports that the intelligence on the plane’s contents had come from the United States. The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.

Turkish-Syrian relations have plummeted over the conflict in Syria, which has expanded into a civil war that threatens the stability of the Middle East. Syrian opposition activists estimate more than 32,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began.

Turkey has called for Assad to step down, while Damascus accuses Turkey of supporting the rebels. The two neighbors have traded artillery fire over Syria’s northern border throughout the past week. Hours before Erdogan’s statement, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Ivanovsky held talks with Turkish officials at the Foreign Ministry.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the Kremlin was concerned that the lives and safety of the 35 passengers, including 17 Russian citizens, had been endangered. “The Russian side continues to insist on an explanation for the Turkish authorities’ actions toward Russian citizens and on the adoption of measures to avoid such incidents in the future,” Lukashevich said in a statement.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the pilot of the Syrian Air jetliner had been warned of Turkey’s intention to ground it as he approached from the Black Sea and he was given the opportunity to turn back, but declined.

Rejecting claims that passengers were ill-treated, the ministry said those on board were allowed to leave the plane if they wanted and that there was a medical crew and ambulances on standby. It also said the pilot did not provide a passenger list and therefore Turkish officials did not know there were Russians on board until after the plane landed.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry said it had submitted a formal protest note to Syria for the violation of civil aviation rules and declared Syrian air space unsafe for Turkish planes. In Damascus, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi rejected the Turkish accusations as “absolutely untrue,” saying the plane was not carrying ammunition or any illegal cargo. Turkey’s decision to force the plane to land amounted to piracy, said Transportation Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Said.

The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency also blasted Turkey’s forced landing of the plane, calling it “contrary to regulations and aviation norms.” The plane’s pilots were not asked to land but were surprised by the Turkish F-16 fighter jets that intercepted the flight, the official, Ghaidaa Abdul-Latif, told reporters in Damascus.

A Syrian Air engineer who was aboard, Haithan Kasser, said armed Turkish officials entered the plane and handcuffed the crew before inspecting packages that he said contained electrical equipment. The Moscow airport that cleared the Syrian plane for takeoff denied it carried any forbidden cargo.

“No objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board,” said Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova, ITAR-Tass reported. She said all documentation was in order, though she would not say who sent the cargo.

Meanwhile, family and supporters of two journalists believed to be detained in Syria appealed in Istanbul for their release. Arzu Kadoumi said her husband Bashar Fahmi, a reporter for Al-Hurra network, and his Turkish cameraman, Cuneyt Unal, had been missing for 53 days.

Inside Syria, battles continued in the southern Idlib province that abuts the Turkish border as rebels sought to consolidate control of a strategic town on the country’s main north-south highway. Rebels said they captured Maaret al-Numan on Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes continued Thursday after rebels attacked a military convoy and nearby army checkpoints. The fighting killed more than a dozen people, the Observatory said.

The Observatory also said eight people were killed and another eight wounded when unknown gunmen fired on their bus near the coastal city of Tartous. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the men were Syrian workers returning from Lebanon.

In the southern province of Daraa, gunmen shot dead the brother of a member of Syria’s parliament while raiding his home, the Observatory and SANA said. The parliament member, Khalid al-Abboud, regularly defends the Syrian regime on TV.

The Observatory said gunmen also killed the son of another legislator, Mohammed Kheir al-Mashi, at his home in Idlib province. The activist claims could not be independently verified because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.

Meanwhile, state-run Syrian TV reported an explosion in the capital Thursday night near the Ministry of Education and the Military Court. A Syrian official said the blast wounded two people.

Jordans reported from Istanbul. Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee in Washington, Albert Aji in Damascus, and Nataliya Vasilyeva and Max Seddon in Moscow contributed to this report.

Jordan and Canada Launch Free Trade Agreement

by Adam Nicky

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jordanian Businesses Divided over Potential Impact

AMMAN – Mohammed Abu Hassan owns a small shoe factory in the Sahab Industrial Zone on the eastern edge of Jordan’s capital, Amman. He is struggling to keep his factory open and he is worried that the new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) could put him out of business.

“We are already losing our traditional local market and we worry that this agreement will be the beginning of the end, unless the government takes measures to protect local industries,” he told The Media Line.

While the FTA allows Jordan to export goods tax-free to Canada, it also allows Canadian firms to export to Jordan, increasing competition. The economy of Canada, with more than 34 million people, dwarfs that of Jordan’s population of six million.

Jordan imports more than it exports. In 2010, according to government statistics, it imported almost $15 billion worth of goods, and exported just $5.8 billion worldwide. When it comes to Canada, in 2012, Jordan exported $10 million dollars worth of good and imported $54 million.

Jordanian officials say the FTA offers new opportunities for Jordanian businesses seeking to explore North American markets or to partner with Canadian companies who want to enter the oil-rich Gulf States.

“The agreement gives Jordanian industries an opportunity to expand, but they must step up their level and find a place in the cutthroat market,” Hatem Halawani, the head of Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce, told The Media Line.

He said that textiles, chemicals, jewelry and limestone are poised to compete in the Canadian market. He dismissed concerns that the agreement could negatively affect local businesses like Abu Hassan’s shoe factory, with the country being swamped with cheaper or better products from larger industrialized nations.

But businessmen in Jordan are concerned that small firms could even go out of business.

“Local products face a daunting task to compete with products from industrialist nations” said Mohammad Abu Fares, owner of a Jordanian petrochemical factory. “We had hailed a similar agreement with the European Union a few years ago, but we ended up importing European products and we were not able to export to the EU because of their strict rules,” he told The Media Line.

Jordan enjoys a similar FTA with the US, Turkey and Pakistan. Textile and pharmaceutical companies say they have already benefited.

Jordan’s Minister of Trade Shabeeb Amari hailed the agreement as a landmark, saying it would inject life into the country’s anemic economy. Tourism, which had previously been an important component, is struggling because of the Arab Spring. Although Jordan has been relatively quiet, many tourists are staying away from the Middle East entirely.

“The [Canadian] agreement will herald a new era of cooperation and allow more investment between the two countries,” he told The Media Line. “It will provide protection to products from both sides and increase investment in various fields.”

The head of the Jordanian-Canadian Businessman’s Association, Nabeel Khouri, who is also the head of the Arab Petrochemical Company, said the agreement will open up new markets for Jordanian products. He said the total trade volume of $89 million annually will improve and predicted that the FTA will mean more cash pouring into the Jordanian economy as Arab investors seek to reach the Canadian market via Amman.

Canadian officials said the agreement will provide Canada with a gateway to the Middle East.

“Jordan is the best opportunity for Canada to establish a hub or a gateway into the Middle East,” Canadian Minister of International Trade Ed Fast said during a news conference in Amman to mark the launch of the FTA. “What set Jordan apart from other countries is that it is moderate and stable. Canada appreciates that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jordanian officials said they are working to upgrade the competitiveness of Jordanian manufacturers.

“The FTA will be the catalyst for our project to improve the level of Jordanian products through providing companies with the needed expertise to upgrade their quality in line with international standards,” Nayef Esteiteh, head of the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation, told The Media Line. “We brought in a Canadian expert who is working with three factories in the food processing sector to help them set up strategies to conquer the Canadian market and link up with Canadian partners.”

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