Archive for March, 2018

Turkey formally requests Syrian Kurdish leader’s extradition

February 26, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has submitted documents to the Czech authorities formally requesting the extradition of the former leader of a Syrian Kurdish party, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Monday.

Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was detained in the Czech capital of Prague on Saturday under an Interpol red notice based on a Turkish request for his arrest. Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders.

Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward. On Monday, Turkish prosecutors issued a new warrant for his detention, accusing Muslim and about 30 other people of being behind a bomb attack on a tax office in Ankara earlier this month.

Nine people — suspected Kurdish militants — were detained in connection with the attack, which caused damage to the tax office but no casualties. Bozdag said during a live television interview Monday that Turkey’s Justice Ministry had sent a “file” formally requesting his extradition.

Muslim was expected to appear before a Prague court on Tuesday, which would then decide if he will remain in detention, Turkish Ambassador in Prague Ahmet Necati Bigali told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

The PYD is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential in the party, even after stepping down as co-chair last year. On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, from the enclave of Afrin. The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD.

Turkish foundation aids 200 Palestinian families in Jerusalem

February 25, 2018

A Turkish foundation provided aid to 200 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on Saturday.

Enes Erbas, board member of Sadakatasi, said the aid included electric blankets and winter clothing.

The distribution was organized by the Jerusalem Zakat Committee.

“We have been working in Palestine for the last eight years and strive to heal the wounds of our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” he said.

Hamza Kasisi, an official from Jerusalem Zakat Committee, thanked the Turkish people and the foundation for its support.

The foundation has previously helped several families living under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180225-turkish-foundation-aids-200-palestinian-families-in-jerusalem/.

Jordan and Turkey get cozy

Osama Al Sharif

February 27, 2018

Jordan and Turkey are bolstering ties in a bid to unify positions toward regional challenges where the two countries share mutual interests, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis. King Abdullah II hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Gen. Hulusi Akar, the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces, on separate visits to Amman over the course of two days, Feb. 19 and 20, respectively.

Cavusoglu met with the Jordanian monarch to review bilateral relations and the latest regional developments, according to a Royal Court statement. The king stressed his “keenness to continue coordination on issues of concern to the Islamic nation and enhance security and stability of the region.” Moreover, the two sides discussed economic cooperation and bilateral trade. Cavusoglu announced that his government “would revise the Jordanian-Turkish free trade agreement to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports to Turkey.” He also said Turkey was looking into using the “Aqaba port as a regional hub for Turkish exports to various markets, including Africa,” the Jordan Times reported. A day later, Abdullah and Akar discussed bilateral military cooperation and the fight against terrorism, according to the Royal Court.

During a meeting with Turkish nationals in Amman on Feb. 18, Cavusoglu said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to visit Jordan in the near future. Erdogan last visited the kingdom in August 2017, and Abdullah had traveled to Ankara on Dec. 6, the day US President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Erdogan shares Abdullah’s opposition to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. On Dec. 13 in Istanbul, the king attended a special session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where they rejected Trump’s proclamation.

The promotion of Jordanian-Turkish bilateral ties comes at a time when Amman and Ankara are recalibrating their positions in the wake of recent regional developments and in anticipation of the possible fallout of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The two countries are yet to react to the news that the US State Department had sped up moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, now scheduled for May 2018.

Abdullah is a strong supporter of the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he is committed to his role as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem. Both issues could be affected by Trump’s peace plan and Israel’s far right coalition government.

Abdullah’s pivot toward Turkey comes at a time when Jordan is worried that some key Arab states might be ready to embrace Trump’s plan even if it rejects the two-state option. There is a belief in Jordan, supported by anti-Iran statements from the Saudis, that Riyadh considers the issue of Iran as a regional threat to be more important and pressing than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt’s position is unclear but will be crucial in determining the fate of the US peace plan.

It is no secret that relations between Amman and Riyadh have further cooled since Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. According to local analysts, the Saudis resisted calls by Amman to hold an emergency Arab summit on Jerusalem after the US announcement. In addition, Saudi Arabia was not satisfied with Jordan’s reaction to its moves beginning last June to pressure and isolate Qatar.

Amman did not cut ties with Doha, choosing instead to only downgrade diplomatic relations and close Al Jazeera offices. Other reasons for the cooling in bilateral relations concerns Amman’s position on the war in Yemen — Jordan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition was symbolic and short-lived — and courting of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has representation in the Jordanian parliament.

Jordan is keen to avoid being seen as joining regional blocs or coalitions. Despite Amman’s historically close relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has always followed an independent policy that shuns polarization. This is demonstrated in Amman maintaining low-key diplomatic relations with Tehran, despite its rejection of Iran’s controversial role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Abdullah was the first Arab leader to warn of a Shiite crescent, going back to 2004.

Given Abdullah’s approach to foreign policy, Jordan’s growing closeness to Turkey, which has sided with Qatar in the Gulf dispute, will be carefully managed. The two sides have shared interests in the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and they both back Palestinian rights and the two-state solution. Turkey’s strong support for the Hashemite’s role in East Jerusalem is of important moral value.

Yet according to Jordanian political analyst Amer al-Sabaileh, both Jordan and Turkey are affected by “the damaging US regional policies.” In this regard, he told Al-Monitor, “[For] Jordan, it is the peace process and Trump’s derailing of the two-state solution, and for Turkey, it is the US backing of Syria’s Kurds and the uncertainty over the latest Turkish incursion into northern Syria.”

In addition to deeper political coordination, Jordan, which has suffered economically as a result of the crises in Syria and Iraq in the past few years, stands to benefit from better commercial ties with Turkey. Former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani told Al-Monitor that the Turkish economy is around the 15th largest, and Turkey’s political and economic standing in the region is beyond dispute.

“The boosting of ties comes at a crucial time for Jordan, since Turkey represents a huge market for Jordanian goods, as well as a source of incoming tourists,” Anani said. “After Cavusoglu’s visit, Turkey exempted over 500 Jordanian goods from customs duties, which is a major opportunity for local industries.” He added that Turkish products and TV dramas are popular in Jordan, and Turkey is the No. 1 tourist destination for Jordanians.

Erdogan, however, remains a contentious figure among Jordanians. Many admire him for standing up to Israel and the United States, and for dialing back Turkey’s secular culture, but others view him as a demagogue and a political opportunist. Ironically, Abdullah’s view of Erdogan has not always been positive. In April 2003, The Atlantic reported the king as perceiving the then-Turkish prime minister as “merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism” and saying that Erdogan had told him that democracy is like “a bus ride” — “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” Since that time, the two leaders appear to have realized that they are better off working together to offset common challenges in their troubled region.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/02/jordan-turkey-boost-relations-face-regional-challanges.html.

Turkey ‘concerned’ over Haniyeh terror listing

February 2, 2018

Turkey on Friday expressed concerns over the US decision to add Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s name to its terrorist blacklist.

In a written statement, Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Hami Aksoy said Turkey is “concerned that this decision of the US Administration, which disregards the realities on the ground, could undermine the Middle East Peace Process, including the efforts for intra-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.”

“We also hope that the decision will not have a negative impact on our country’s humanitarian assistance and economic development activities towards Gaza,” Aksoy said.

“It is obvious that this decision, which overlooks the fact that Hamas is an important reality of Palestinian political life, cannot make any contribution to the just, comprehensive and lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

On Wednesday, the US government dubbed Haniyeh a “specially designated global terrorist” and imposed a raft of sanctions against him.

On its website, the US State Department said Haniyeh had “close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians.”

The US Treasury Department, meanwhile, also added Haniyeh to its sanctions list, essentially freezing any US-based assets he might have.

The designation also bans individuals and companies from engaging in financial transactions with the Hamas leader.

Haniyeh has been a vocal critic of US President Donald Trump’s decision late last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a move that drew widespread condemnation and protests from across the Arab and Muslim world.

Washington’s recent policy decisions, Haniyeh said after the US move, had served to confirm that “the US Administration can no longer be considered an honest broker… in the so-called peace process.”

On Wednesday evening, Hamas slammed the US decision to add Haniyeh’s name to the terror blacklist, saying the move had revealed the “depth” of Washington’s longstanding bias towards Israel.

“This decision reveals the depth of US bias towards Israel, which has reached the level of a partnership in the aggression against our people,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Anadolu Agency by phone.

The move, he added, “specifically targets the Palestinian resistance.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180202-turkey-concerned-over-haniyeh-terror-listing/.

UNICEF: 85% of Syrian children in Jordan live in poverty

February 26, 2018

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that 85 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan live below the poverty line.

In a statement released yesterday, the UN body said Syrian families are struggling to meet their basic needs, including feeding, educating and protecting their children.

According to the study, 94 per cent of Syrian children are under five years old and suffer from “multidimensional poverty”, meaning that they are deprived of a minimum of two out of the following five basic needs: education, health, water and sanitation, child protection and child safety.

Four out of ten Syrian families in host communities in Jordan are food insecure while 26 per cent are vulnerable to food insecurity.

“Forty-five per cent of children aged 0-5 years old do not have adequate health services, including vaccination,” it said.

UNICEF’s study revealed that 38 per cent of Syrian children are not enrolled in formal education or have dropped out of school because of distance, cost, lack of space or being bullied.

Moreover, 16 per cent of children aged 0-5 years old do not have birth certificates, which will present them with additional challenges and risks in the future.

It is estimated that Jordan hosts 1.3 million Syrians, only half of whom are registered refugees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180226-unicef-85-of-syrian-children-in-jordan-live-in-poverty/.

Syria militias dissolving due to lack of funds

February 26, 2018

Syrian paramilitary groups fighting alongside the regime are being dissolved due to lack of funds, according to Syrian news agencies.

The Syrian Observer reported that thousands of Syrians fighting alongside militias loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad left their groups and joined regime forces because they were not getting paid. It’s believed that members of the militia groups have not received their salaries for six months.

A separate Syrian news agency reported over the weekend that as many as 10,000 fighters have not been paid for six months, and that about half of them have joined the regime’s army in the last few weeks.

Reports mentioned that the National Defense militia operating in eastern Homs countryside had been dissolved, leaving a very small number stationed at the checkpoints surrounding Al-Houla area and the northern Homs countryside.

A Syrian source commenting on the development learned that large numbers of these fighters who had joined the Syrian army were affiliated with the militia groups belonging to businessman Rami Makhlouf.

One disgruntled fighter who was a former member of the National Defense militia said: “I lost vision and half my hearing in the battles, my right arm was amputated, my body was splintered, I fought on most fronts until I was paralyzed, but I did not receive my salary for six months, and there is no income for me and my children except for the salary.”

A report by Syrian news agency Zaman Al Wasl claims that the problem around payment of militia groups was due to a combination of sharp differences between the leader and their founder in Homs and the expected end to the conflict which has seen fighting against opposition forces reduced with missions drying up for militia groups.

Regime loyalists are said to be demanding accountability of the leaders of the militias who stole millions of Syrian pounds while others paid with their lives to defend them and the Assad regime.

Some 5,400 troops are said to have joined the army over the past two months, mostly from the paramilitary forces in the eastern Homs countryside. The Syrian government opened offices in two centers is Homs to attract former militias.

Citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the report claimed that since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 119,000 pro-regime forces have been killed, including 62,000 troops, tens of thousands of loyalist militiamen, and 1,556 fighters from Hezbollah.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180226-syria-militias-dissolving-due-to-lack-of-funds/.

Gaza’s first ‘child friendly school’ opens to students

March 1, 2018

Gaza got its first ever “child friendly school” yesterday on the ruins of Jamal Abdul Nasser School which was completely destroyed during Israel’s 2014 bombardment of the besieged enclave.

Serving 800 pupils, the new school was built by a Qatari education foundation and UN bodies with design input from children and the local community.

The school was opened by Al Fakhoora, a program of the Qatari funded initiative, Education Above All (EAA) Foundation. It was completed in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Donors of the project are confident that Jamal Abdul Nasser School can now also serve as an emergency shelter for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) during times of conflict. In its press release, the EAA said that the new building is designed to be “environmentally friendly, child-centered and fully accessible for all students. Renewable energy is provided by solar panels, the design incorporates a double wall system, double-glazed, shatter-proof windows, and thermal insulation in the ceiling and floor.”

There are a number of distinctive additions to the school’s multi-purpose halls. “Features of the multipurpose buildings include: flexible learning spaces, an extensive library, IT facilities, breakout spaces, a multi-purpose sports facility and an on-site health facility, providing crucial psychosocial support and child protection services,” said EAA. “The halls are also specially designed to serve as emergency shelters for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) during times of conflict, with gender-sensitive accommodations, emergency power and water networks, and improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities”.

Representatives from UNDP, UNICEF and EAA Foundation were all present at the school opening, as well as returning students from Al Fakhoora’s “Dynamic Future’s scholarship program”. EAA applauded the returning students who have previously completed their education as a result of Al Fakhoora funding.

“We are extremely proud to be part of building this innovative school in Gaza for a community who deserves the highest quality of education facilities. Education is a fundamental human right, one that is crucial to the future of the Palestinian state. By investing in their future, we enable these young people to play a key role in rebuilding their communities, unlocking their full potential,” Farooq Burney, executive director of EAA Foundation’s Al Fakhoora program, said.

The UN was equally effusive in its remarks. Roberto Valent, UNDP Special Representative of the Administrator, said: “UNDP welcomes the opening of the first child-friendly school in Gaza. We are confident that the school, with the support from Qatar Fund for Development, through Al Fakhoora, and in partnership with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, will become a positive example of ensuring appropriate conditions for education. Most importantly, this model will ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all children and adolescents, with a focus on those left behind.”

UNICEF Special Representative Genevieve Boutin added: “The completion of work at the Jamal Abdul Nasser School is an opportunity to reflect on how this project has helped not only rebuild schools, but also catalyze additional investments in children and young people across Gaza, thanks to generous support from Al Fakhoora, a program of the Education Above All Foundation, and the Qatar Fund for Development.”

Boutin applauded the contributions of children in Gaza in the “design of a safer and more child-friendly school” adding: “We also supported the training of 400 school counselors and 10,000 teachers to provide students with crucial psychosocial support and child protection services, and help them develop life skills and peaceful conflict resolution techniques. All these efforts have contributed to a more positive learning environment, giving us all hope in a better future.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180301-gazas-first-child-friendly-school-opens-to-students/.

US plans May opening for embassy in Jerusalem

February 24, 2018

The US plans to open its embassy in Jerusalem in May, the State Department said on Friday. This will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) and the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine.

“We are excited about taking this historic step, and look forward with anticipation to the May opening,” said State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “The embassy will be gradually expanded in existing consular facilities in the Arnona neighborhood, while the search for a permanent site has already begun for a longer-term undertaking.”

Nauert added that the interim embassy will have office space for the ambassador and a small staff. An annex on the Arnona compound will be opened by the end of next year.

Trump administration officials said that Congress has been notified of the impending move. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the security plan for the new embassy on Thursday.

According to Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, though, the US move shows a “determination to violate international law, destroy the two-state solution and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe.”

Izzat Al-Reshiq of the Hamas Political Bureau said that this move “needs an urgent and strong Palestinian, Arab and Islamic response.” He called upon the PLO and Arab and Islamic states which recognize Israel “to withdraw their recognition immediately.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180224-us-plans-may-opening-for-embassy-in-jerusalem/.

Israel is now arming seven rebel groups in Syria

February 28, 2018

The illegal Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has now been in place for more than 50 years. This substantial territory, part of southern Syria, was conquered by Israeli occupation forces in the 1967 war.

The majority of the Syrian population in the territory was then either expelled, or fled towards safety. Israel demolished their homes, buildings and entire villages in the Golan in order to build Jewish settlements where they once stood.

In 1981, in defiance of the United Nations and international law, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. This move – unrecognized even by Israel’s allies – was intended to solidify Israel’s de facto control of the occupied Syrian territory, giving it a gloss of legalistic self-recognition. What’s more, over the past few years Israel has used the cover of the long-running and bloody war in Syria to expand its control of the Golan, far into the rest of the south of its neighbor’s sovereign territory; it wants as much control as possible.

As I wrote here last summer, Israel is now establishing a buffer zone in the south of Syria, extending from the Golan. Working with local proxies in the south, Israel is establishing what its front organisations claim is a “safe zone”.

That summer we learned that Israel was supporting a “border force” rebel group between the Golan and the rest of Syria to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. In the years prior to that, Israel had worked to support Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the south of Syria. This support took the form of treating wounded fighters in Israeli hospitals across the border, before sending them back to Syria to fight the regime.

The latest news is that Israel’s arming of proxy forces in Syria seems to be escalating. A report in Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz last week stated that Israel is now arming “at least” seven rebel groups in the Golan, which are “getting arms and ammunition from Israel, along with money to buy additional armaments.”

The groups in question all report a recent increase in Israeli aid. This comes in the wake of various states, including Jordan and the US, scaling down their armament operations in Syria. As Haaretz reported, “In January, the Trump administration closed the operations center the CIA ran in Amman, the Jordanian capital, which coordinated aid to rebel organisations in southern Syria. As a result, tens of thousands of rebels who received regular economic support from the US have been bereft of this support.”

The Israeli aim here seems to be twofold. First of all, it is to keep the armed forces of Iran and Hezbollah – the Syrian regime’s allies – away from the boundary line of the Golan. The quickest way to do this is to make sure that there is a feasible armed opposition in that area.

Secondly, Israel’s arms proliferation program is intended to promote its official strategic objective in the region; to “let both sides bleed” in order to prolong the war for as long as possible. Weakening Syria and its allies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran, is an important goal for Israel and its superpower backer, the United States. Even more important is the goal of making sure that the war carries on.

All of this is in addition to the general Israeli goal of controlling the maximum amount of land that it can grab and keep. The buffer zone that Israel is stealthily attempting to extend as much as 40 kilometers further into Syria is being achieved through front groups posing as supposedly “non-governmental” aid organisations, as well as covering the salaries of rebel fighters and sending funding to buy arms.

These bogus “civil society aid” groups backed by Israel in the south of Syria – extending its Golan occupation – are a front. In reality, they are a way to extend Israeli proxy control throughout the region.

All of this is very much out of the Israeli play book in Lebanon. Between 1982 and 2000, Israel illegally occupied the south of Lebanon. After the 1982 invasion — which reached as far as Beirut — Israel withdrew to a “buffer” zone in southern Lebanon. Instead of occupying the zone with Israeli soldiers, much of the work was handled by Lebanese proxy forces. These puppet armed groups oppressed the population on behalf of Israel. This soon led to armed resistance to the Israeli occupation, and it was in this environment that Hezbollah was born.

Israel illegally occupied the south of Lebanon until 2000, when the resistance led by Hezbollah drove out the main Israeli proxy, the so-called South Lebanon Army. Today, Israel is attempting to establish what is, in all but name, a “South Syria Army”. Whether it succeeds is questionable but, as the history of Lebanon shows, even if it does, Israel is unlikely to maintain control in the long run.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180228-israel-is-now-arming-seven-rebel-groups-in-syria/.