Archive for December 26th, 2014

Syrian refugees cause businesses boom in Turkey

21 December 2014 Sunday

“We are struggling to put bread on the table. We put Turkish and Arabic signs in our workplace. I’m happy that I am able to continue my business here” says 32-year-old Mamun Fakri from Idlib, Syria.

For the past two years, Fakri has been running his business in Turkey’s southern city of Mersin nearly 300 kilometers from Syrian border. He is one of the more than 300 Syrians who own their businesses in the Mediterranean port city where the number of Syrian-owned business increased from 33 in 2011.

More than twenty-six percent of the new companies started up in Turkey by foreigners in the first 11 months of this year were set up by Syrians or partnered by Syrians, according to data from the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.

According to the data, of the more than 53,329 new companies or associations started up in Turkey within first eleven months of this year, 4,249 foreign-partnered.

– Some 1,122 — over 26 percent of total — of foreign-partnered companies were founded directly by Syrians or as partners with local businessmen.

Out of the total number of foreign-funded companies in November, 118 were funded from Syria, 36 were Iranian-funded, and 23 were financed from Iraq.

Germans followed their Syrian counterparts, investing in 281 newly-established companies in Turkey, while Iraq-based firms ranked third with 248 start-up investments.

Muhammed Shreem, from Aleppo, is only one of thousands of Syrians who have fled their war-torn country.

Shreem has been trying to adapt to business life in Turkey, which currently hosts around 1.6 million Syrians, according to UN figures.

“We had a family company on import and export in Aleppo. We have opened a new company in Mersin, where our family harbored. We export construction materials and stationery from Turkey to Alleppo, one of the largest city in Syria and Idlib province in northwestern Syria,” says 43-year-old Syrian Shreem who has been in business in Mersin for two years now.

However, local business owners complain about unfair competition.

“Syrians who escape from the civil war and took refuge in Turkey should obey the rules of law in the country,” Talat Dincer from Mersin Tradesmen’s and Artisans’ Association said.

“Our goal is not to oppress them. We have some rules in business world here and we want everyone to obey them. We do not want a confrontation. We just do not want to see unfair competition and conflicts here,” Dincer said.

“The situation has gotten so worse that local shopkeepers cannot endure it anymore.”

Serafettin Asut, the president of Mersin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Syrian firms are in every sector from logistics to real estate.

“Mersin’s exports to Syria increased by 331 percent in last year thanks to the contribution by Syrian funded companies, their owners know local factors in Syria.”

Turkey has adopted an open-door policy, welcoming Syrians since the beginning of the civil war in March 2011. As the number of Syrians in Turkey reaches 1.6 million, the government considers crucial long-term plans to ease the effects of hosting so many Syrians in the country.

Turkey has spent more than $5 billion for Syrian refugees thus far, according to the country’s Finance Ministry.

The Turkish Ministry of Labor and Social Security has recently confirmed that work permits would be granted to Syrians on Turkish soil.

Source: World Bulletin.


Father of pilot captured by IS pleads for release

December 26, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The father of a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State group in Syria pleaded for his son’s release on Thursday, asking the group to treat him well in captivity as a fellow Muslim.

So far, there has been silence from the extremists about the fate of their captive, 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, since gunmen from the group dragged him away following his crash Wednesday morning. Al-Kaseasbeh was carrying out air strikes against the militants when his warplane crashed near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital. The group has executed captured Iraqi and Syrian Muslim soldiers in the past — it follows an extremist version of Islam that considers rivals, even some Sunni Muslims, as apostates. Still, the group may want to negotiate a prisoner swap or other concessions from Jordan.

The pilot’s father, Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh, made his plea while speaking to journalists in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “I direct a message to our generous brothers of the Islamic State in Syria: to host my son, the pilot Mu’ath, with generous hospitality,” he said. “I ask God that their hearts are gathered together with love, and that he is returned to his family, wife and mother.”

“We are all Muslims,” he added. The pilot is the first known military member to be captured from the international coalition that has been waging a bombing campaign against the Islamic State group for months, trying to break its control over territory stretching across Syria and Iraq.

After the crash, al-Kaseasbeh was pulled by gunmen from a body of water and hustled away, according to photos published by the Raqqa Media Center, which operates in areas under IS control. He appeared to be able to walk and the only visible injury was what appeared to be a spot of blood at his mouth.

The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presents a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives and local rivals.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The U.S. military said Wednesday that evidence “clearly indicates” that the militants did not shoot down al-Kaseasbeh’s F-16. But the pilot’s uncle told journalists that the family had been told by the Jordanian government that his warplane was downed by a missile.

Speaking at a gathering of the al-Kaseasbeh family and extended tribe in the southern Jordanian town of Karak, Younes al-Kaseasbeh said that the family was told that his nephew was flying at a height of 400 feet on a bombing mission when the militants hit him with a heat-seeking missile and his plane went down in the Euphrates River.

He said three other warplanes in the same sortie had wanted to rescue him, but were wary of striking militants in the area for fear of killing al-Kaseasbeh and so were ordered to return home. The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria airstrikes, with logistical support from Qatar. Jordan in particular has come under heavy criticism from militants for its participation.

Also Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government airstrikes in another Syrian stronghold of the Islamic State group killed over 21 people — including children.

The Observatory said Syrian military aircraft struck two locations in the northern town of Qabassen, including a market, causing the casualties. The death toll was likely to rise because people were still digging through the rubble to find bodies. The strike was also reported by another Syrian monitoring group.

Hadid reported from Beirut.

Islamic State extremists capture Jordanian pilot

December 24, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Islamic State militants captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed in Syria while carrying out airstrikes Wednesday, making him the first foreign military member to fall into the extremists’ hands since an international coalition launched its bombing campaign against the group months ago.

Images of the pilot being pulled out of a lake and hustled away by masked jihadis underscored the risks for the U.S. and its Arab and European allies in the air campaign. The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presented a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the U.S. military insisted the plane was not shot down. “Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming,” Central Command said in a statement.

U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing all coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, condemned the pilot’s capture, saying in a statement: “We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery and will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

A coalition official, who was not authorized to discuss the episode publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pilot was in an F-16 fighter and was able to eject. Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani earlier told the AP that the plane was believed to have been shot down.

“It is our expectation that the plane went down because of fire from the ground, but it is difficult to confirm that, with the little information we have,” he said. The Islamic State group is known to have Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles. The shoulder-fired weapon has long been in the Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals; it was used during the 1991 Gulf War by Iraqi forces to bring down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters.

The warplane went down near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital. Images showed the pilot — in a white shirt, naked from the waist down and sopping wet — being pulled by gunmen out of what appeared to be a lake. Another picture showed him surrounded by more than a dozen fighters, some of them masked. The images were published by the Raqqa Media Center, a monitoring group that operates in areas under the extremists’ rule with the group’s consent.

The plane’s glass canopy was taken by militants and put on display in the main square of Raqqa, according to the media center. Jordan identified the pilot as 1st Lt. Mu’ath Safi al-Kaseasbeh. His cousin Marwan al-Kaseasbeh confirmed to the AP that the photos were of Mu’ath.

The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria airstrikes, with logistical support from Qatar. Jordan in particular has come under heavy criticism from militants for its participation.

IS has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons. In Iraq, it has shot down at least one Iraqi military helicopter, and the pilots died in the crash.

Moman, the information minister, vowed: “The war on terrorism will continue.” He praised the pilot as an “example of heroism.” Apparently seeking to blunt criticism of the country’s participation in the air campaign, Jordanian media published reports of al-Kaseasbeh’s family expressing support for Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Jordan’s military said that the pilot was taken hostage by IS and that the group and those who support it will be held responsible for his safety. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had confirmation from activists on the ground that the aircraft was shot down, either by a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile or by heavy machine-gun fire.

Activists say IS is widely known to have Igla missile systems, either captured or bought from rival Syrian rebels, who obtained them from international patrons or bought them on the international market. State arsenals in both Iraq and Syria have been looted, so that could also be a source of Iglas circulating among rebels.

IS is likely to try to target other planes, said military analyst Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese military. “Inevitably, they will take down more,” Jaber said. He said that the anti-aircraft weapons require little training or expertise to employ and that aircraft flown by Arab countries are easier targets since they have less technology to avoid guided missiles.

Also Wednesday, a suicide bomber infiltrated a group of pro-government Sunni militiamen at a military base south of Baghdad as they gathered to collect their paychecks. The bomber detonated his explosives, killing at least 24 militiamen and soldiers and wounding 55 others, police said.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Josh Lederman in Washington and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Hadid reported from Beirut.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox mull bigger role for women

December 26, 2014

JERUSALEM (AP) — A struggle for women’s rights is brewing within Israel’s deeply conservative ultra-Orthodox community, where women, largely shut out of politics, are beginning to demand greater representation in the country’s parliament.

More than 20 percent of Israeli lawmakers are female, but not one woman serves from the country’s two ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, parties. In haredi communities, women are expected to manage a home, raise children and provide an income for the family, often while the husband studies Torah.

Those beliefs remain firmly entrenched, but in the run-up to the March 17 elections, traditional views of the role of women in haredi politics are being challenged in mainstream and ultra-Orthodox media — a shift that activists say marks a major stride toward more equitable representation.

The two haredi parties in the Knesset, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have long been central players in Israeli coalition governments, often figuring as kingmakers. Each party represents observant Jews who tend to vote based on their rabbis’ instructions, and who largely oppose having women as lawmakers because it would be considered immodest.

Only a few haredi women have served in parliament, but never as members of ultra-Orthodox parties, and those who have served usually faced a backlash from their communities. Women do serve in the Jewish Home party, which mainly represents less conservative Modern Orthodox Jews.

Secular women, in contrast, serve at all levels of government and society. Israel is one of the few nations to have elected a female head of government. Golda Meir served as prime minister from 1969 to 1974.

Some haredi women are now demanding change. A group called “No Voice, No Vote” has pledged to boycott haredi parties that don’t include female lawmakers. “There is an absurd situation in Israel where women cannot run for two political parties,” said group leader Esty Shushan, a 37-year-old haredi woman who runs a communications business. “We are saying, ‘Don’t give your vote to a party that doesn’t think you’re qualified to run.'”

The group was established before the last elections in 2013, but Shushan said it has stepped up its efforts ahead of these polls. The group has spread its message through social media, and supporters of the cause have plastered religious neighborhoods with posters calling for women’s inclusion in politics. In response, haredi newspapers and radio stations are devoting column inches and airtime to debating the issue.

The group counts dozens of members, but it’s impossible to know how broad its support is because many in the community conceal such opinions for fear of being ostracized. It has nearly 5,000 likes on Facebook, but not all of those are necessarily from ultra-Orthodox users.

Shushan said reactions in the community are mixed, with some hostile and others more accepting. But she said what’s important is that a discussion has begun that could spur greater change. A central player is Adina Bar-Shalom, the high-profile daughter of Shas’ late spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef. Bar-Shalom is the founding chairwoman of a haredi college in Jerusalem and the recipient of the Israel Prize, the country’s top honor, for lifetime achievement. She made waves recently when she said she was considering offers to run for parliament for a party other than her father’s.

She dropped her bid, opting instead to create change “from the inside.” But the rebellion prompted Shas to create a women’s advisory council, appointing Bar-Shalom co-chair and granting her responsibilities “just like a member of parliament,” said Yakov Betzalel, the party’s spokesman.

He said the council’s creation was part of a process of change in the haredi community that could one day lead to women in the Knesset. Bar-Shalom and her co-chair will be the link between the party and its female constituents.

“I believe that a day will come, and it is not far away, that we will hold the same positions our leaders do,” Bar-Shalom recently told Israel Radio. But opposition to including women in politics is still vehement across much of the ultra-Orthodox population, including its spiritual leadership.

An influential rabbi recently rejected the inclusion of a female legislator in a proposed merger between defectors from both Shas and the Jewish Home party. Until the rabbis are swayed, female inclusion is likely to remain a distant dream.

“There is nothing in Jewish law that says you can’t have a woman as a Knesset member,” Eli Yishai, a former Shas leader who recently formed his own party, told Israel Radio. “But our rabbis decide what they decide on every subject and the same goes for this.”