Archive for November, 2014

Turkey’s Erdogan attacks US ‘impertinence’ on Syria

2014-11-26

(AFP)- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday slammed US “impertinence” on the Syrian conflict, exposing the extent of strains between Washington and Ankara days after his key meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden.

Ties between the the US and Turkey have soured in recent months over the reluctance of Turkish leaders to intervene militarily in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State jihadists, who have taken control of swathes of Iraq and Syria.

In an indication of the tensions that remain between the two NATO allies, Erdogan accused the US of being “impertinent” for pressuring it to help save the besieged Syrian town of Kobane, which is within sight of the Turkish border.

“Why is somebody coming to this region from 12,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) away?” Erdogan said during an address to a group of businessmen in Ankara, in a clear reference to the US.

“I want you to know that we are against impertinence, recklessness and endless demands,” he said.

Biden had personally stung Erdogan last month by suggesting his policies in supporting Islamist rebel forces in Syria had helped encourage the rise of the IS militant group, a slight that prompted Erdogan to warn his relationship with the US number two could be “history”.

Washington is pressing Ankara for the use of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey by US jets launching assaults on IS.

But Turkey has refused to bow to the pressure, setting several conditions for playing a greater role in the coalition.

“They looked on as the tyrant (President Bashar) al-Assad massacred 300,000 people. They remained silent in the face of Assad’s barbarism and now they are now staging a ‘conscience show’ through Kobane,” Erdogan said.

“We will resolve our problems not with the help of a ‘superior mind’ but with the help of our people,” he said.

Biden wrapped up a three-day visit to Turkey on Sunday without a breakthrough on military cooperation in the Syrian crisis.

But Erdogan’s comments contrasted with the relatively upbeat assessment of US officials that the meeting with Biden had brought closer the two sides’ positions.

On Monday, Erdogan accused the West of coming to the region for “oil”.

“I’m always meeting with them but it does not go any further than what I say. They don’t have any sensitivities. They have only one sensitivity: oil, oil, oil…” he said.

So far, Turkey’s sole contribution to the coalition has been allowing a contingent of Iraqi peshmerga Kurdish fighters to transit Turkish soil to fight IS militants for Kobane.

Source: Zaman alwasl.

Link: https://www.zamanalwsl.net/en/news/7704.html.

Aleppo rebels seek one military command: meetings

2014-11-27

ALEPPO (Zaman Al Wasl)- Key rebel groups of Aleppo province are massing efforts to unite in one military command as fall of the city seems imminent by Syrian regime forces, field source said.

A rebel commander told Zaman al-Wasl that a unified command is the only solution to surpass all challenges whether on the battle ground or in managing people issues in rebel-held areas. For that, rebel senior commanders have held series of meetings, the source said.

“Conflict of interest considers rebels’ weakness point where rebel areas turned to be cantons affiliate to this leader or that,” source said.

Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad’s forces are pressing very hard to invade Aleppo’s rebel-held suburbs.

Moderate rebels and many Islamist groups have recognized the surrounding danger where only two options available, fight or being ‘up for grabs’ for Assad or Islamic State (IS).

In that grim scene, people’s suffering continues in regard to their ordinary life, food, fuel and small business to keep surviving. “They went to streets weeks ago, demanding rebel commanders to unite but no concrete response yet,” activists said.

More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolution began in March 2011.

Source: Zaman alwasl.

Link: https://www.zamanalwsl.net/en/news/7707.html.

Families of kidnapped Lebanese soldiers protest

November 28, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Police used water cannons to break up a protest Friday by relatives of several kidnapped Lebanese soldiers after the protesters blocked a main highway in the capital.

Security forces beat several protesters and some journalists as they broke up the demonstration. The Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria seized some 20 Lebanese soldiers and police officers in August during a cross-border raid. They have already killed three of the captives, beheading two of them.

Friday’s protest came a day after Nusra Front threatened to kill one of the soldiers. The families are demanding that the government negotiate seriously with the militants — who are demanding the release of Islamist prisoners from Lebanese jails.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk said blocking roads “is not the answer.”

Jordan halts free treatment for Syrian refugees

2014-11-26

Reporting by Faris Al Rifai; Writing by Yusra Ahmed

(Zaman Al Wasl)- Another shock to Syrian refugees in Jordan after ceasing the food vouchers few weeks ago. The Jordanian Government cancelled all decisions in regard to free treatment in the Ministry of Health’s hospitals and clinics. Syrians used to be treated via the health Insurance system; all they needed to do was showing the documents of the United Nations Higher Council for refugees (UNHCR).

The Jordanian Minister of Health said that decision was issued by the cabinet and had been implemented, as Syrians would be charged directly without any mediators.

The Minister confirmed that Ministry of Health still had JOD.34 Million unpaid charges for treating Syrians, from donors and international organization.

UNHCR has not commented on the decision yet, despite it put huge financial pressure of Syrian refugees, who cannot even afford for their food, and raise worries about the fate of children who make more than half of patients visiting health facilities of the Ministry of Health.

Donors who lag in paying charges for Syrians hold the majority of responsibility for the situation they put fragile Syrian refugees in.

Source: Zaman alwasl.

Link: https://www.zamanalwsl.net/en/news/7697.html.

French Parliament debates recognizing Palestine

November 28, 2014

PARIS (AP) — France’s government is pushing to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, amid growing pressure across Europe for recognition of a Palestinian state after decades of Mideast stalemate.

France’s lower house of Parliament on Friday debated a measure urging the government to recognize an independent Palestine. The Socialist government supports the idea of two states, but argues that it’s too early for outright recognition.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France is working at the United Nations for a resolution to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — and to set a two-year deadline for success. “France will recognize a Palestinian state,” Fabius told the lawmakers, but the question is “when, and how.”

France — which has western Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations, and has seen tensions erupt between them — has sought to keep good ties with Israeli and Palestinian authorities in recent years. “Our only enemies in this region are the extremists,” Fabius said.

In the Parliament debate, lawmakers argued over whether recognizing a Palestinian state would help or hurt chances for peace. They will vote Tuesday on the measure proposed Friday, which urges the government “to recognize the state of Palestine in view of reaching a definitive settlement to the conflict.”

Many in Europe are frustrated with the deadlock in peace talks, and with the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza and in supporting the growth of Jewish settlements. On Oct. 30, Sweden’s government became the first Western European nation in the EU to recognize Palestinian statehood. Since then, lawmakers in Britain, Spain and Ireland have approved non-binding motions urging recognition, and the European Parliament debated the issue this week.

Tensions rise between Israel and Jordan over Jerusalem situation

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Washington Post recently highlighted the growing tensions between Israel and Jordan and commented on King Abdullah II and the Jordanian people’s anger over Israel’s actions in occupied Jerusalem. The current situation in the Holy City poses a threat to the peace agreement currently in effect between the two countries.

The American newspaper also noted in on its website on Monday, that a feud between Jordan and Israel could undermine the efforts of the US-led fight against Islamic extremists and it also threatens the natural gas deal worth billions of dollars for both countries.

It was also noted that Jordan had made an unusual decision by choosing to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv as a form of protest to Israel’s actions in the Holy City and the escalation of conflict due to Israel’s mistreatment of Muslim worshipers at the Aqsa Mosque. The Jordanian ambassador has yet to return to his post.

Jordanian officials emphasized that King Abdullah’s inability to protect the Aqsa mosque is something that could undermine his credibility in his own country as his legitimacy or claim to the throne stems from the idea that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad and a member of the Hashemite tribes. Jordan’s inability to act in defense of al Aqsa would also undermine its image within the Muslim community as well as hinder any progress in the fight against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/15464-tensions-rise-between-israel-and-jordan-over-jerusalem-situation.

Syrians on hunger strike outside Greek parliament

November 24, 2014

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — More than 200 Syrian civil war refugees started a hunger strike Monday in front of Greece’s Parliament, urging the government to grant them temporary working and residence rights.

The protesters began gathering last week at Athens’ main square, complaining that refugees are being forced to pay exorbitant black-market rates to live in squalid apartments in Athens. “People are living in bad conditions. We get (temporary) travel documents, but we can’t go anywhere. We can’t work, or go to hospital, or rent a place to live,” said Khaldoon Fadel, a 31-year-old former resident of Damascus, who joined the hunger strike.

The hunger strikers said they were only eating sugar. Several dozen of them sat on the marble-paved sidewalk with strips of box tape covering their mouths, and packages of flatbread placed in front of them.

“For an (apartment) that would cost 250 euros ($310) to rent per month, we have to pay 1,000 euros ($1,245),” Fadel said. Fadel, who had worked as a chain store manager and fashion designer for women’s clothing before fleeing Syria, made the hazardous journey across Turkey and by boat illegally to the Greek island of Kos.

Greece is a busy entry point for immigrants and refugees seeking entry to the European Union. The financial crisis-hit country has seen a spike in the number of Syrians crossing by boat illegally from nearby Turkey.

Authorities expect a three-fold increase in illegal immigration this year, compared with 2013, with nearly two-thirds of the illegal traffic now coming from Syria. On Sunday, the regional governor of greater Athens, Rena Dourou, visited the protesters and said she had contacted the Greek Orthodox Church and the government to try and make arrangements to provide temporary shelter for Syrian refugees.

Israel leader vows to pass nationality law

November 24, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister vowed Monday to pass a contentious nationality law that has threatened the stability of his fragile coalition government, but he left the door open for negotiations to soften it.

The bill formally would identify Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. But language favored by hard-liners has drawn racism accusations, been questioned by Israel’s attorney general and prompted the justice minister to warn that the coalition could fall apart.

Addressing his Likud Party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to pass it. The bill is “expressing the fact that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and only theirs, alongside preserving the rights of every single citizen of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 defined the country as both Jewish and democratic. The new legislation seeks to enshrine these principles as a Basic Law, Israel’s de facto constitution. But elements of the proposal have raised concerns. Among the proposals are making Jewish law a source of legislative inspiration and delisting Arabic as an official language.

“That will endanger really the very sensitive relationship between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority inside Israel,” said Ibrahim Sarsour, an Arab lawmaker. A parliamentary vote scheduled for Wednesday was postponed for a week to allow time for a compromise proposal.

The centrist members of Netanyahu’s coalition, Hatnuah and Yesh Atid, have vowed to oppose the measure in its current form. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnuah, warned that the bill’s passage could topple Netanyahu’s coalition and force early elections.

Debate over the nationality law comes amid soaring tensions between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population of 8 million. Over the past month, Palestinian attacks have killed 11 Israelis. The latest attack took place Monday, as an Arab assailant stabbed a Jewish man outside the old city of Jerusalem, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Rosenfeld described the assault as a terror attack and said the victim was taken to a hospital.

Israeli Cabinet moves to define Israel as Jewish

November 23, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — In a move likely to further inflame tensions with Israel’s Arab citizens, the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved a bill to legally define the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The decision, which set off a stormy debate that could bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brittle coalition government, followed weeks of deadly Arab-Jewish violence and was denounced by critics as damaging to the country’s democratic character and poorly timed at such a combustible moment.

It now heads toward a full parliamentary vote on Wednesday. Israel has always defined itself as the “Jewish state” — a term that was contained in the country’s declaration of independence in 1948. The new law seeks to codify that status as a “Basic Law,” Israel’s de facto constitution.

While many critics derided the measure as unnecessary, Netanyahu told his Cabinet the bill is a response to Israel’s Arab critics both inside and outside Israel who question the country’s right to exist.

Netanyahu has long demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland as a condition of any peace deal. Both the Palestinians and their Arab Israeli brethren say such acceptance would harm the rights of Israel’s more than 1.5 million Arab citizens.

The bill calls not only for recognizing Israel’s Jewish character but for institutionalizing Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and dropping Arabic as an official language. Netanyahu insisted that Israel would be both Jewish and democratic.

“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic,” he said. “And in the principles of the law that I will submit today both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree.”

Israel is in the midst of its worst sustained bout of violence in nearly a decade. Eleven Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks over the past month, including five people who were killed with guns and meat cleavers in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue last week.

Jewish nationalists in Netanyahu’s coalition had pushed hard for the bill. The two centrist parties in the Cabinet, Yesh Atid and Hatnua, provided the only opposition in the 14-6 vote. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, called it a “terrible” piece of legislation meant to appease hard-liners ahead of primaries in Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud Party.

Health Minister Yael German, another Yesh Atid member, said the party would support a law only if it emphasized Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature equally. “This bill does not preserve that value. It will be a mark of shame for the parliament to pass such a law,” she said.

A vote against the bill in parliament by the party could break up the coalition and even trigger new elections. Yesh Atid is the second-largest faction in parliament and could rob Netanyahu of his majority.

In a statement, Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, said he had serious doubts about the legality of the bill’s language because it impinges on Israel’s democratic character. The measure could still be delayed or watered down before it is put to a vote in parliament.

Ahmad Tibi, a leading Arab lawmaker, denounced the bill as an attack on Arab natives of the country and called on the world to offer them protection. Dov Khenin, leader of the mixed Jewish-Arab Hadash party, accused Netanyahu of “pouring fuel into the bonfire of hate.”

Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination and second-class status. Last week, the mayor of the southern city of Ashkelon sparked an uproar by banning Arab construction laborers from working in Israeli preschools on security grounds. The mayor, Itamar Shimoni, reversed his decision on Sunday but said the children would be moved to other locations while construction proceeded.

Though citizens of Israel, the country’s Arabs often identify with Palestinians in the West Bank, and their loyalty to the state if often questioned by Jews. On Sunday, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it arrested a 22-year-old Israeli Arab who had returned from Syria after trying to join the Islamic State extremist group. Israel believes that several dozen Arabs have left the country to join IS in Syria.

The deadly unrest in recent weeks has centered on Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, a hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims. Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the site, which Israel says are a necessary security measure, have heightened tensions.

The spate of attacks has left many people on both sides on edge. Early Sunday, a Palestinian family in the West Bank said its home had been torched in an attack blamed on Jewish settlers. The fire damaged one room, and Hebrew slogans were scrawled on the house.

In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army shot and killed a 32-year-old man who approached the border with Israel. Palestinians said the man had been hunting birds, a hobby common among Palestinians.

Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers OK fighters for Syria

October 22, 2014

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Lawmakers in Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region Wednesday authorized peshmerga forces to go to neighboring Syria and help fellow Kurds combat Islamic State militants in the key border town of Kobani, providing much-needed boots on the ground.

The unprecedented deployment will almost certainly depend on the support of Turkey, whose president criticized a U.S. airdrop of arms to Kurdish fighters after some of the weapons wound up in the hands of the extremists.

Turkey, which has riled Kurdish leaders and frustrated Washington by refusing to allow fighters or weapons into Kobani, said this week it would help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to help their brethren against the militants, who also are being attacked by a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes.

But it is not clear how many fighters will be allowed in or whether they will be allowed to carry enough weapons to make an impact. The Kurds of Syria and Iraq have become a major focal point in the war against the Islamic State group, with Kurdish populations in both countries coming under significant threat by the militants’ lightning advance.

Lt. Gen. Frederick Hodges, the outgoing commander of NATO’s Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, said the Turks have agreed to open up “a land bridge of sorts” so that the peshmerga can get into Kobani to help with the fighting there.

“It seems to me that between the United States, Turkey and other countries, they are figuring out what is permissible to make sure that ISIL is not successful and that it is something that Turkey can live with,” he added, using an acronym for the group.

Anwar Muslim, a Kobani-based senior Kurdish official, praised the parliament’s decision, saying “all help is welcome.” He said there seemed to be a solidifying international push to help Kobani combat the militants.

“The next days will show the seriousness” of the Turks, he said. In August, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds took part in cross-border operations to help rescue tens of thousands of displaced people from the Yazidi minority group under threat by the IS militants in Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains.

The fight in Kobani has also grabbed the world’s attention and raised sympathy for the outgunned Kurds. The overwhelming vote in the Kurdish parliament to send fighters to Kobani underscored growing cooperation between Kurds in these countries and marked a first mission for the peshmerga outside Iraq.

Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish politician and Iraq’s long-serving foreign minister, told Al-Arabiya TV the decision was “part of an understanding” reached between Kurdish, Turkish and U.S. officials to provide military aid to Kobani.

“This is a big turning point in Kurdish history,” said Youssef Mohammed, the speaker of parliament. “Troops used to be sent to occupy Kurdish lands, but now we are sending soldiers to protect our Kurdish brothers abroad,” he said.

There were few details about the fighting force, however, and Kurdish officials said they would be worked out later. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United States made a mistake in airdropping weapons to Kurdish fighters in Kobani earlier this week because some of the weapons ended up in IS hands.

“It turns out that what was done was wrong,” he said, according to Turkey’s private Dogan news agency. The Turkish government is reluctant to aid the Syrian Kurdish forces — the People’s Protection Units, or YPG — because it views them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

The Pentagon confirmed that IS militants were able to seize one of the 28 bundles of weapons and medical supplies intended for Kurdish fighters. Col. Steve Warren said it appears the wind caused the parachute to go off-course, and that the weapons in the bundle were not enough to give the enemy any type of advantage.

A video uploaded by a media group loyal to the IS group showed the weapons seized included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The caches were dropped early Monday to Kurds in embattled Kobani. Differences about how to defend Kobani have sparked tensions between Turkey and its NATO partners.

Turkey’s decision to give Kurds passage to fight in Syria marked a shift in position, even though Ankara in recent years has built friendly ties with the leadership of the largely autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region.

Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hekmat in Irbil said there is still a lot of uncertainty on the details of the deployment, including how many forces will be sent and when. “We’re sending the peshmerga, not to become YPG but to fight alongside the YPG,” Hekmat said. “We will send the peshmerga to do their job for as long as they’re needed and to come back after that.”

Hekmat said Iraqi forces will also provide weapons, but he did not say what kind. Turkey is under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants — not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and Turkey who accuse Ankara of inaction while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, widespread protests threatened to derail talks to end the PKK insurgency.

Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across Iraq and Syria, have been attacking Kobani for a month. The U.S. and its allies are assisting the Kurds with airstrikes targeting IS infrastructure in and around the town.

Meanwhile, Kurdish officials and doctors said they believed Islamic State militants had released some kind of toxic gas in a district in eastern Kobani. Aysa Abdullah, a senior Kurdish official based in the town, said the attack took place late Tuesday, and that a number of people suffered symptoms that included dizziness and watery eyes. She and other officials said doctors lacked the equipment to determine what kinds of chemicals were used.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Kurdish officials have made similar allegations before. Also Wednesday, Syria’s information minister said the country’s air force destroyed two of three fighter jets seized and reportedly test-flown over Aleppo by the Islamic State group last week.

Omran al-Zoubi told Syrian TV late Tuesday that Syrian aircraft bombed the jets on the runway as they landed at Jarrah air base. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that IS militants flew three MiG fighter jets with the help of former Iraqi air force pilots who were now members of the militant group. The report could not be independently confirmed, and U.S. officials said they had no reports of the militants flying jets.

The group is known to have seized warplanes from at least one air base captured from the Syrian army in Raqqa province earlier this year. Militant websites had posted photos of IS fighters with the warplanes, but it was unclear if they were operational.

Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Istanbul, Turkey, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Elena Becatoros in Suruc, Turkey, contributed reporting.