Archive for November, 2015

London protesters oppose UK airstrikes on IS in Syria

November 28, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators in London are urging British lawmakers not to back airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Syria.

Protesters chanting “Don’t bomb Syria” gathered outside Prime Minister David Cameron’s 10 Downing St. office. Protests were also being held Saturday in other British cities. Britain’s Royal Air Force is already part of a U.S.-led campaign against the militants in Iraq, and on Thursday Cameron argued that the strikes should be expanded to Syria. He said, “we have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands.”

The government is trying to build support among lawmakers for military action before calling a vote in Parliament, which could come next week. The main opposition Labor Party is deeply divided. Leader Jeremy Corbyn says he will oppose airstrikes, but many Labor legislators back them.

Carson visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan

November 28, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is in the Middle East this weekend to meet with Syrian refugees.

The retired neurosurgeon has been facing questions about his command of foreign policy. Carson planned to tour one of Jordan’s major refugee camps Friday and Saturday, campaign manager Barry Bennett said. Bennett declined to release more details about the two-day mission because of security concerns.

Like other Republicans, Carson has sometimes taken a harsh tone when discussing the issue. Last week, he likened blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees to handling a rabid dog. “We have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly,” he said. “Who are the people who want to come in here and hurt us and want to destroy us?”

Debate over Syrians fleeing their war-torn country has erupted following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that raised security concerns across the West. Carson and his GOP rivals have criticized President Barack Obama’s plan to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees this budget year, expressing concern that terrorists may sneak into the country among them. Many Republicans have linked the Paris attackers to Syrian refugees, although European authorities have yet to confirm such connections.

Carson has repeatedly struggled to discuss international affairs as they become a greater focus in the 2016 presidential contest. Those close to him concede his foreign policy fluency isn’t yet where it needs to be. They hope missions like this will help change that.

“I’d say he’s 75 percent of the way there,” Armstrong Williams, Carson’s longtime business manager and closest confidant, said last week of the candidate’s grasp of foreign policy. “The world is a complex place, and he wants to get it right.”

Carson is scheduled to return to the United States late Saturday, Bennett said.

Canadian PM Trudeau: Syrian refugees not security risk

November 25, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has slowed down plans to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees within weeks in order to allay citizens’ security concerns after the Paris attacks.

Trudeau had wanted to resettle 25,000 refugees in Canada by Dec. 31. On Tuesday, his Liberal government said Canada would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of February. Health and security screening will take place overseas, rather than once the newcomers arrive in Canada.

In London on Wednesday, Trudeau said last week’s deadly gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group, had changed “the perception that Canadians had.” He said people who were previously supportive of the refugee plan “had a few more questions. And we realized that the most important thing is to be able to reassure Canadians that absolutely everything is being done to keep Canadians safe.”

He said he did not want the refugees to be “a cause for anxiety or division.” Trudeau, on his first visit to Britain since being elected last month, met Wednesday with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and held talks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, at 10 Downing St.

Trudeau told an audience at the Canadian embassy, Canada House, that his country drew strength from its diversity, and refugees brought economic benefits. “We’re not just welcoming 25,000 refugees,” he said. “We’re welcoming 25,000 new Canadians.”

Putin sends air-defense missiles to Syria to deter Turkey

November 26, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — In a move raising the potential threat of a Russia-NATO conflict, Russia said Wednesday it will deploy long-range air defense missiles to its base in Syria and destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes following the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkey.

The incident was the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane. If Russia responds by downing a Turkish plane, NATO member Turkey could proclaim itself under attack and ask the alliance for military assistance.

Most observers believe that a direct military confrontation is unlikely, but that the shooting down of the plane will further fuel the Syrian conflict and complicate international peace efforts. The situation is also alarming because the Russian and Turkish presidents both pose as strong leaders and would be reluctant to back down and seek a compromise.

The S-400 missiles, which Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the border with Turkey, are capable of striking targets within a 400-kilometer (250-mile) range with deadly precision. The military also moved the navy missile cruiser Moskva closer to the shore to help protect Russian warplanes with its long-range Fort air defense system.

“It will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger to our aircraft,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with military officials. He also announced the severance of all military ties with Turkey and said that from now on, Russian bombers will always be escorted by fighters on combat missions over Syria.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, said it is possible Russia could down a Turkish plane. “Turkish planes violate the Syrian border daily, either for reconnaissance flights or for anti-IS operations,” he said. “In the same way that Turkey argues it has rules of engagement, Russia could also declare its own rules of engagement, saying it has the right to protect the skies of its ally.”

The Russian plane’s downing marked a dramatic turnaround in relations between Russia and Turkey, who have proclaimed themselves to be “strategic partners” in the past and developed booming economic ties despite differences over Syria.

Putin described the Turkish action as a “crime” and a “stab in the back,” and called Turkey an “accomplice of terrorists.” In a sign of the escalating tensions, protesters in Moscow hurled eggs and stones at the Turkish Embassy, breaking windows in the compound. Police cleared the area and made some arrests shortly after the protest began.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has often been compared to Putin for his authoritarian ways, said Wednesday that his country doesn’t wish to escalate tensions with Russia. Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation economy meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey favors “peace, dialogue and diplomacy.” He defended his country’s move to shoot down the plane saying: “No one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations or the violation of its rights.”

Putin has dismissed Turkey’s claim that the Russian warplane intruded its airspace, voicing particular annoyance about Ankara turning to NATO instead of speaking to Russia, “as if it were us who shot down a Turkish plane.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in turn said that the downing of the plane “highlights the need to strengthen mechanisms to avoid such incidents in the future.” “We should not sleepwalk into unintended escalation,” he wrote in an op-ed that is to be published Thursday and was made available to The Associated Press.

Iran meanwhile lashed out at Turkey, with the official IRNA news agency quoting Presidednt Hassan Rouhani as saying Ankara is responsible for the heightened tensions in the region. One of the Russian pilots was killed by militants in Syria after bailing out, while his crewmate was rescued by Syrian army commandos and delivered in good condition to the Russian base early Wednesday. A Russian marine was also killed by the militants during the rescue mission.

Speaking in televised comments from the Russian base in Syria, the surviving navigator of the downed plane, Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, denied that his jet veered into Turkey’s airspace “even for a single second.” He also rejected Turkey’s claim that it had issued repeated warnings to the Russian crew before shooting down the plane.

Putin said the Foreign Ministry’s warning for Russians not to visit Turkey was needed “because we can’t exclude some other incidents following what happened yesterday and our citizens in Turkey could be in significant danger.”

Leading Russian tourist agencies have already suspended the sales of tour packages to Turkey, a significant blow to the country, which saw nearly 4.5 million Russian visitors last year, second only to German tourists.

Osman Ayik, the head of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation, told Taraf newpaper Wednesday that a decline in Russian tourists visiting Turkey would be a “disaster” for the tourism sector. If Russia-Turkey tensions escalate further, both countries potentially could inflict significant pain on each other in many areas.

Russia was the biggest source of Turkish imports last year, worth $25 billion, which mostly accounted for Russian gas supplies. Most Turkish exports to Russia are textiles and food, and Turkish construction companies have won a sizable niche of the Russian market.

Unluhisarcikli said that along with economic moves, Russia may also increase its support to Syrian Kurdish groups, which have been fighting against IS but not against the Syrian regime. So far, Russia has refrained from doing so as not to anger Turkey, but now it could go ahead with plans to open an office in the Syrian Kurdish regions and supply arms to the fighters, Unluhisarcikli said.

Analysts said Turkey doesn’t have the option of closing the Turkish Straits to Russia, which has used the route that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean to supply its forces in Syria. According to the Montreux Convention, which sets out international rules for using the straits, Turkey can only make the move if the two countries are formally at war.

Even if Russia downs a Turkish plane, Ankara can’t close the straits unless it formally declares war on Moscow, according to Giray Sadik of Ankara’s Yildirim Beyazit University. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sought to ease tensions Wednesday, calling Russia Turkey’s “friend and neighbor” and insisting relations cannot be “sacrificed to accidents of communication.” He told his party’s lawmakers that Turkey didn’t know the plane was brought down Tuesday was Russian until Moscow announced it.

Turkey has informed the United Nations that two Russian planes disregarded warnings and violated Turkish airspace “to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles in length for 17 seconds.” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shrugged off the Turkish argument that its rules of engagement required it to shoot down the plane, pointing at the 2012 downing of a Turkish warplane by Syria in its airspace. He said Ankara argued in that case that a brief incursion wasn’t reason to shoot down its jet. He also pointed at routine violations of Greece’s airspace by Turkish combat planes.

He said the Turkish action was a “planned provocation” and rejected his Turkish counterpart’s proposal to meet at the sidelines of some international forum in the coming days to try to ease tensions. Before Tuesday’s incident, Russia and the West appeared to be inching toward joining efforts to fight the Islamic State group following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai desert. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The downing of the warplane came as French President Francois Hollande was visiting Washington prior to a trip to Moscow set for Thursday in a bid to narrow the rift between the West and Russia and agree on a joint action against the IS.

“On NATO’s side, I think there is a strong desire not to jeopardize the diplomatic mission of President Hollande,” said Bruno Lete, a senior analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels. Lavrov said that Russia remains committed to efforts to try to negotiate a Syria peace deal, but emphasized the need to take action against the Islamic State group’s sponsors. He accused Turkey of helping IS by buying oil from the group, and said that “terrorists” used Turkish territory to prepare terror attacks against other countries, which he didn’t name.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

Netanyahu still faces arrest in Spain

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Spanish judge is standing firm on his decision to reopen a legal case against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others linked to the 2010 Mavi Marmara raid if any of them ever step foot in Spain. Anadolu Agency has gained access to a decree from Judge Jose de la Mata, which, despite a request from the district attorney’s office to cancel the order, maintains the position that could lead to the arrest of Netanyahu or other Israeli officials if they enter Spanish territory.

De la Mata has ordered the addition of seven names to the police database and for police or national security to notify him if any of the people named are in, or are trying to enter, Spain. Once notified, the judge could reopen the case into the Freedom Flotilla which would allow the Spanish National High Court to notify, charge and even arrest the accused.

Six civilian ships in the Freedom Flotilla were raided in international waters by Israeli forces on 31 May, 2010, as the vessels tried to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed and 30 other people were wounded, including one who died nearly four years after being critically injured. Three Spanish citizens were also on board at the time.

The names in De La Mata’s order are of those who made up the so-called “Forum of Seven”, a committee of Israeli ministers who made key decisions about security issues when the flotilla was attacked. They include Netanyahu, ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, ex-defense minister Ehud Barak, ex-deputy prime ministers Moshe Ya’alon (who is current defense minister) and Eli Yishai, former state minister Benny Begin and former Israeli naval commander Eliezer Marom.

“It is confirmed that the requirements exist to activate Spanish jurisdiction in this crime, for example the presence of the accused in Spanish territory,” the document, issued on 17 November, says. The appeal by the district attorney’s office was filed on 13 November.

The Israeli government is, predictably, outraged by the decision, said the Jerusalem Post. “We consider it to be a provocation,” explained Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon on 14 November. “We are working with the Spanish authorities to get it cancelled. We hope it will be over soon.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22405-netanyahu-still-faces-arrest-in-spain.

Palestinian Authority to move institutions to Jerusalem

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that measures to move sovereign institutions to Jerusalem are underway, Anadolu has reported.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the PA foreign ministry in Ramallah, Abbas said that this would be achieved soon, but through “political and diplomatic” efforts. The foreign ministry building was funded by China and a Chinese delegation headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yan attended the ceremony.

“Today in Ramallah, but soon in our capital Jerusalem, where we will move all our sovereign institutions,” Abbas said. “This is what we are working on and this will be through political and diplomatic efforts, which the foreign ministry and our embassies abroad are taking part in.”

Hailing PA-Chinese friendship, Abbas added that China has been and is still one of the largest supporters of the Palestinians’ hope for freedom and independence. “We are looking forward to receiving you in our eternal capital, East Jerusalem,” he told the Chinese delegation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22277-palestinian-authority-to-move-institutions-to-jerusalem.

Hamas renews call for national uprising leadership

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The head of the Hamas Political Bureau renewed his movement’s call on Friday for a national leadership for the ongoing Palestinian uprising, Al-Resalah has reported.

“We have to work together based on one strategy to achieve active national goals,” Khaled Meshaal told Al-Quds TV channel. “We [Hamas leaders] are working to achieve an agreement on the tactics and tools of Al-Quds Intifada as well as an agreement to achieve strategic goals together.”

Meshaal stressed the importance of forming a united field leadership for the intifada, which was ignited at the beginning of October as a response to the continuous Israeli violations against the Palestinian people and Jerusalem, mainly in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22282-hamas-renews-call-for-national-uprising-leadership.