Archive for October, 2012

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.”

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

Turkey vows more force against Syrian shelling

October 10, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s military chief vowed Wednesday to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.

Gen. Necdet Ozel was inspecting troops who have been put on alert along the 910-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria after a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges escalated tensions between the neighbors, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict. Turkey has reinforced the border with artillery guns and also deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region since shelling from Syria killed five Turkish civilians last week.

“We responded and if (the shelling) continues, we will respond with more force,” the private Dogan news agency quoted Ozel as saying during a visit to the town of Akcakale, where he offered condolences to a man who lost his wife and three daughters to a Syrian shell.By

On Tuesday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance was ready to defend Turkey, its strongest show of support to its ally since the firing began. The solidarity, however, is largely symbolic. NATO member Turkey has sought backing in case it is attacked, but despite publicly supporting Syria’s rebels Ankara isn’t seeking direct intervention. And the alliance is thought to be reluctant to get involved militarily at a time when its main priority is the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday schools in Akcakale reopened despite the tense situation. They had been closed due to security concerns. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported fighting between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime around the Syrian town of Azmarin, in Idlib province, across from the Turkish border. It said Syrians were fleeing homes in Azmarin, some crossing into Turkey on rowing boats over the river Orontes, that runs along the border.

Private NTV television reported that explosions and automatic weapon fire could be heard in Turkey’s Hatay province, coming from the Azmarin region. It said rebels were clashing with some 500 Syrian government soldiers, and that at least 100 rebels had been injured, some of whom had been brought to Turkey for treatment.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been fiercely critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said Wednesday that Syria was “the bleeding heart of humanity and the whole Islamic world.”

Erdogan told a meeting of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul that Turkey had refrained from responding to half a dozen shells from Syria, but when five people were killed last week “we had to retaliate in the strongest way that we could.”

Frank Jordans in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Jordanians call for resignation of PM

Fri Sep 30, 2011

Thousands of Jordanians have taken to the streets in the capital, Amman, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and the dissolution of the lower house of parliament.

Accusing the government of Bakhit and lawmakers of “protecting corruption”, nearly 4,000 anti-government protesters marched from Al-Husseini mosque to nearby city hall following the Friday Prayers, to call for their removal from power.

“A government that is protecting corruption cannot be trusted, and a parliament of corruption does not represent the people,” chanted the protesters who held banners reading, “You will not be able to fool us”.

The protest rally came after the lower house approved a bill that would criminalize corruption allegations. According to the bill, those who publicly accuse officials of corruption without proof will be fined between 30,000 and 60,000 dinars (USD42,000-USD85,000).

The demonstrators also condemned the recent constitutional changes, which were approved by King Abdullah II on Friday.

They say the amendments are insufficient and do not meet their key demands for a new electoral law and an elected prime minister.

The constitutional reforms include the creation of an independent commission to oversee elections and the limitation of the jurisdiction of the military state security court.

Similar anti-government protests were also held in other major Jordanian cities.

Jordan has faced anti-government rallies demanding reforms and an end to corruption since January.

In June, in a bid to appease protesters, King Abdullah II announced some concessions, including the formation of future governments that were based on an elected parliamentary majority rather than one appointed by the monarch.

However, the monarch said it may take two to three years to put an elected government in place.

Source: PressTV.


Jordan’s Salafis Turn Guns on Assad Forces

by Adam Nicky
Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dozens Cross the Border to Fight for Syrian Rebels

As the war to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad grinds on, an increasing number of Islamist fighters are trickling across Jordan’s porous border into Syria to fight alongside rebel forces. Leaders from the Salafi movement, who adhere to strict Islamic teachings, say the fighting in Syria has become sectarian, and they must now get involved.

President Assad is a member of the Alawite movement, a branch of Shi’ite Islam, and he is being supported by Iran and Hizbullah, both Shi’ite-majority movements. The Salafis say they are helping the rebels, who represent the majority of Sunnis in Syria.

“The Shi’ite versus Sunni conflict raised the alarm among hardliners and young Salafis that the Shi’ite crescent is casting its shadow on Jordan,” Hassan Abdel Rahman, a Salafi cleric from the eastern city of Russeifa told The Media Line. “They fear the tsunami of the Iran-Syria-Iraq triangle is coming to the kingdom sooner rather than later. The war in Syria is no longer an issue of freedom; it’s an issue of existence between Sunnis and Shi’ites.”

Jordan, a monarchy, is overwhelmingly Sunni with government statistics showing a Shi’ite population of just two percent.

Several Salafi leaders have issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for jihad (holy war) in Syria and commanding followers to join ranks.

“Conditions of jihad have been fulfilled in Syria,” said Abu Sayaf, an influential Salafi from the southern Jordanian city of Ma’an said days after a celebration of the “martyrdom” of a Salafi fighter killed in Hama. “Those who die in Syria will be martyrs in the name of Allah.”

Abu Sayaf said he is urging his followers to cross the border into Syria and help the rebels.

“The conflict started in a peaceful manner and then became an armed conflict,” Abu Sayaf told The Media Line. Referring to reports that Iran’s proxy force, Lebanon-based Hizbullah, is now fighting alongside Al-Assad’s troops, he said that, “Now, with Iran and Hizbullah involvement, the Syrian rebels need the support of their Sunni brothers around the world.”

The Salafi said that more than 100 fighters had already traveled to fight in Syria. Jordan has stepped up security along its border with Syria and several fighters have been arrested trying to cross the border. Yet, Jordan does not seem concerned that these Salafis could pose a threat to the Jordanian government.

“We have seen fighters leaving to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, but they have never posed a threat to Jordan,” analyst Hassan Hanya told The Media Line. “I don’t see any difference in the Syria case.

A former Salafi fighter, Abu Omar, told The Media Line that Jordanian authorities would prefer that Salafi fighters leave Jordan to fight abroad rather than remain in Jordan where they could be a destabilizing force. Analyst Hanya explained that Jordan is more concerned that the Salafis try to become involved in the political process in Jordan, as they have done in several other countries. In Egypt, Salafis won 20 percent of the seats in parliament in the first democratic election.

“Salafis want to emulate the experience of their compatriots in Egypt and North Africa by entering the political fighting ring and this is more worrying to authorities than security issues,” he said.

Salafis also oppose the entry of any foreign troops into the region. That is a particular challenge to Jordan, a key US ally, which hosts large numbers of foreign forces. Jordan also receives nearly one-half billion US dollars in military aid from Washington and works closely with the American government and military. Jordanian officials worry that Salafis could try to pressure the government to force American troops out of Jordan.

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.