Posts Tagged ‘ Injustice of Europe ’

Israeli PM wants Baltics to help change view of Israel

August 24, 2018

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting Friday with three Baltic prime ministers in his quest to counterbalance European criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories and to increase pressure on Iran.

Netanyahu will hold talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia. He started the day by meeting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. A day earlier, he said that Israel was “often mistreated by the EU,” adding there were “many distortions.” Netanyahu, however, welcomed the decision by major international airlines to end their direct flights to Iran’s capital, Tehran, in September after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran and began restoring U.S. sanctions.

Skvernelis said in an interview with the Baltic News Service that after a meeting Thursday with Netanyahu, “I believe Lithuania really has a better understanding of Israel and that understanding could be spread among other EU countries. ”

“We need to better listen, hear them out and understand their position. We definitely lack a direct dialogue,” he said. “But we have to admit that today Israel is not only waging war and defending its independence, the lives of its people, but is also fighting in a wider context, if we speak about terrorism and potential expansion of IS fighters to Europe,” Skvernelis said.

Netanyahu arrived Thursday in Vilnius is on a four-day visit, the first to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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Le Pen refuses headscarf, nixes talks with Lebanon cleric

February 21, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused to don a headscarf for a meeting with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim cleric on Tuesday and walked away from the scheduled appointment after a brief squabble at the entrance.

Le Pen, who is on a three-day visit to Lebanon this week and has met senior officials, was to meet with the country’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian. Shortly after she arrived at his office, one of his aides handed her a white headscarf to put on. Following a discussion with his aides that lasted few minutes, she refused and returned to her car.

Le Pen has tried to raise her international profile and press her pro-Christian stance with her visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate. On Monday, she met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. She said Syrian President Bashar Assad was “the most reassuring solution for France,” adding that the best way to protect minority Christians is to “eradicate” the Islamic State group preying on them — not turn them into refugees.

Some Lebanese officials including, including Hariri, a Sunni, have taken umbrage at what is widely seen as her stigmatization of Muslims, who her followers claim are changing the Christian face of France. There was also apparent displeasure at her comments on Assad.

Christian right-wing leader Samir Geagea said after meeting with Le Pen on Tuesday that “terrorism has no religion.” He described Assad as “the biggest terrorist in Syria and the region.” Walid Jumblatt, a leftist politician in Lebanon, tweeted on Tuesday that Le Pen’s statements in Lebanon “were an insult toward the Lebanese people and Syrian people.”

After walking away from the meeting with the grand mufti, Le Pen said she had previously told the cleric’s office that she would not wear a headscarf. “They didn’t cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept the fact that I wouldn’t wear one,” she said. “They tried to impose it upon me.”

The office of Lebanon’s mufti issued a statement saying that Le Pen was told in advance through one of her aides that she would have to put on a headscarf during the meeting with the mufti. “This is the protocol” at the mufti’s office, the statement said. It said the mufti’s aides tried to give her the headscarf and that Le Pen refused to take it.

“The mufti’s office regrets this inappropriate behavior in such meetings,” the statement said. Le Pen said she had met in the past with Egypt’s Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the head of the Sunni world’s most prestigious learning institute, without wearing a headscarf. Photos of Le Pen with Ahmed al-Tayeb in 2015 in Cairo show her with the cleric with her hair uncovered.

Le Pen’s refusal on Tuesday to don a headscarf would be in line with her strong support for French secularism, and a proposal in her presidential platform. French law bans headscarves in the public service and for high school pupils.

Le Pen’s proposal aims to extend a 2004 law banning headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols in classrooms to all public spaces. While the 2004 law covers all religions, it is aimed at Muslims.

Later Tuesday, a group of Lebanese held a small protest in Beirut against Le Pen’s visit. One protester raised a drawing of Le Pen between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, with “Neo-fascists” emblazoned underneath.

Associated Press writers Andrea Rosa in Beirut and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

Hope lost in Greece, some Syrians pay smugglers to get home

June 11, 2016

DIDIMOTICHO, Greece (AP) — Europe seemed like the promised land, worth risking their lives to reach. But in a muddy field on the northern edge of Greece, their dreams died. Now, dozens of Syrian refugees are risking their lives again but in the opposite direction — paying smugglers to take them back to Turkey, and heading home.

Rather than brave the often treacherous waves of the Aegean again, they face the dangerous currents of the Evros River, which runs along the Greek-Turkish border. Each night, groups of migrants and refugees huddle at the railway station of the small border town of Didimoticho, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the frontier, setting up small tents and waiting for their chance to cross.

Among them is Atia Al Jassem, a 27-year-old Syrian barber from Damascus who is heading east with his wife and 1-year-old daughter after spending months stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border, watching his hopes of reaching Europe ebb away.

“I am going to Turkey, I do not want Europe any more. Finished,” he said, sitting in a small park near the railway station in Thessaloniki, Greece’s main northern city, where he, his 20-year-old wife Yasmine Ramadan and their daughter Legine, who they call Loulou, spent what they hoped would be their last night in the country.

“We are really tired. We’re destroyed and I have a baby. I ask God to help me get back to Turkey,” he said. “In Syria under the bombs we would be better off than here.” The family arrived in Greece on Feb. 24, crossing the Aegean and then making their way north. But their journey to Germany was cut short at the Greek-Macedonian border.

The European Union and Turkey since agreed on a deal which returns migrants who arrived on the Greek islands after March 20 to Turkey — but it doesn’t affect earlier arrivals trapped on the Greek mainland.

Balkan and European countries increasingly tightened entry restrictions at the start of the year, before shutting their land borders to refugees completely in March. That trapped about 57,000 people in Greece, a country enduring a six-year financial crisis and with unemployment running at around 24 percent. Few refugees want to settle here.

Al Jassem and his family stayed for months in Idomeni, a sprawling impromptu refugee camp that sprang up on the Greek-Macedonian border. Authorities evacuated the camp last month, and the family were moved to an official camp with thousands of others.

But months of living rough had sapped their morale and their resolve. They gave up the dream of a life in Germany. “We did not expect we were going to be treated as such in Europe,” said Al Jassem. “We thought they will be humane, looking after us and after our children, protect our children. We though we will be helped, but we found the opposite. Europe has no feeling for us at all.”

They decided to head to Turkey, where Al Jassem’s brother lives. But like many others, they found there was no easy way back. Syrians cannot be officially returned to their war-ravaged country, and the legal path to Turkey would be lengthy and bureaucratic. So many opt for smugglers, who migrants say now charge cut-price rates of just a few hundred euros instead of thousands to be taken in the opposite direction.

“Recently we have observed a reverse flow of migrants and refugees coming from Idomeni toward our northern borders,” said Ilias Akidis, head of the police union of Didimoticho. “From what they tell us, they are trying to cross to Turkey … because they have relatives there or because they want to head back to their country.”

Didimoticho deputy mayor Ioannis Topaloudis said authorities have been seeing around 20-40 people heading toward the Turkish border each day. With a fence sealing the small section of land border, the ONLY OPTION to those without the correct documentation is to take their chances across the river. Over the years, the Evros’ current has claimed many migrant lives.

Authorities stop those they find. Police say they have detained about 150 migrants trying to cross illegally into Turkey over the past two months. In mid-May, police caught five Syrians aged between 23 and 52 trying to row across the river in a dinghy.

“This season the Evros (river) is very dangerous. Because of the rains, the water level is very high,” said Akidis. “They are always trying to go back. It is very dangerous. They don’t succeed because we also are preventing them from crossing, but for their own reasons they keep trying.”

Among those giving up on hopes of a life in Europe was Majd Hamed, a 21-year-old fine arts student also from Damascus. After three months in Idomeni, he decided in mid-May to head home. “I want to go to Syria and continue my studies in the Fine Arts School. Even if the (European) borders open, I’m going back. I’m very angry with the Europeans for this situation we’ve been living here,” he said, sitting outside the train carriages where he had been sleeping in Idomeni before the camp was evacuated.

Hamed says he sought help from U.N. agencies to return home, but was told it wasn’t possible. “They told me that it’s not safe for me to go back to Syria,” he said. So he sought out the alternative. Armed with a map with Didimoticho marked out, he was heading to Thessaloniki to catch a train to the border. “From there I’m going to cross the river, as others from Syria have told me,” he said. He aimed to fly from Turkey to Lebanon and make his way home to Damascus.

“I never tried to cross the border with Macedonia illegally,” he says. “I wanted to get to Germany legally, but now I’m forced to try to return to my country in this way.” Some lucky few do manage to take a legal route. Alia Mohamad, a 21-year-old from Aleppo, was heading with her husband and barely 2-month-old son Uday to Thessaloniki to catch a flight to Turkey with tickets sent by her sister, who was getting married in Turkey and had officially invited them over.

The young family had spent three months in Idomeni. “It is not possible to continue like this and I see it is impossible to get to Europe,” Mohamad said. After the wedding, they aim to return to Syria.

“We have no more money, and the situation here is bad also for the baby,” said her 23-year-old husband Mahmud Kusa Ali. “We have decided to return to our country.” They will settle down about 70 kilometers from their hometown of Aleppo. “It is safer there,” he said.

German-made submarine heads to Israel for delivery

Washington (UPI)

Dec 18, 2015

The latest German-built Dolphin-class submarine INS Rahav is en route to Haifa to be delivered to the Israeli Navy.

INS Rahav, given the Hebrew name for Greek god of the seas Poseidon, is one of the Israeli Defense Force’s most expensive weapons. The vessel’s voyage to Haifa comes roughly a decade after the Israeli government placed the order to German defense contractor Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft.

The company unveiled the submarine in April 2013, however more work was needed to ensure the vessel was fully operational. Rahav is the fifth submarine of its class to be delivered to the Israeli Navy, The Times of Israel reports.

Rahav is the second new-generation, air-independent propulsion submarine built after Israel’s INS Tanin, which entered service in 2014. The submarines are capable of staying submerged for longer periods of time, according to IHS Janes. Rahav cost an estimated $2 billion to build.

“Submarines are a strategic tool in the IDF’s defense arsenal. Israel is prepared to act at any time in any place to ensure the safety of Israel’s citizens,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said when Rahav was unveiled in 2013.

Rahav is expected to reach its home port in Haifa in mid-January. After its arrival, the vessel will undergo a series of system installation programs before officially entering service later in 2016.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/German-made_submarine_heads_to_Israel_for_delivery_999.html.

German Cabinet OKs military mission against IS in Syria

December 01, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — The German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to support the international coalition fighting against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The mandate, which requires parliamentary approval, was endorsed by ministers Tuesday, news agency dpa reported. It isn’t yet clear when lawmakers will consider it, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition has a large majority and approval looks assured.

Following the Paris attacks, Merkel agreed to honor a request from France to provide support for its operations against IS in Syria. Germany plans to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to the region in support roles, but won’t actively engage in combat.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the daily Bild that he doesn’t expect Germany to have 1,200 soldiers participating at any one time.

Britain launches airstrikes on IS in Syria

December 03, 2015

AKROTIRI, Cyprus (AP) — British warplanes carried out airstrikes in Syria early Thursday, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against Islamic State group targets there.

Four Royal Air Force Tornados took off from a British air base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, shortly after the 397-223 vote by lawmakers in the House of Commons. A Ministry of Defense spokesman told the AP the planes had conducted strikes in Syria, and details about their targets would be provided later Thursday.

He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with British policy for government spokespeople. The RAF has been launching strikes against IS targets in Iraq since 2014. The decision to expand the campaign to Syria came after an emotional 10 1/2-hour debate in which Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must strike the militants in their heartland and not “sit back and wait for them to attack us.”

Opponents argued that Britain’s entry into Syria’s crowded airspace would make little difference, and said Cameron’s military plan was based on wishful thinking that overlooked the messy reality of the Syrian civil war.

Cameron has long wanted to target IS in Syria, but had been unsure of getting majority support in the House of Commons until now. He suffered an embarrassing defeat in 2013 when lawmakers rejected a motion backing attacks on the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The mood has changed following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, claimed by IS, that killed 130 people. Both France and the U.S. have urged Britain to join their air campaign in Syria, and Cameron said Britain should not let its allies down.

He said Britain was already a top target for IS attacks, and airstrikes would reduce the group’s ability to plan more Paris-style carnage. “Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people?” he said. “Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”

He said that attacking IS was not anti-Muslim but “a defense of Islam” against “women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters.” Cameron was backed by most members of his governing Conservative Party — which holds 330 of the 650 Commons seats — as well as members of the smaller Liberal Democrat party and others.

Labor, the main opposition, was divided. Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn — who represents the left wing of the party — spoke against what he called a “reckless and half-baked intervention.” But more than 60 Labor lawmakers, including senior party figures, voted in support of airstrikes, a move likely to make fissures between the right and the left of the party even worse.

Labor foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn said Britain could not “walk by on the other side of the road” when international allies were asking for help against IS “fascists.” Britain already conducts airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, and in August launched a drone strike that killed two British IS militants in Syria.

British officials say Royal Air Force Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, armed with Brimstone missiles capable of hitting moving targets, would bring the campaign highly accurate firepower and help minimize civilian casualties.

President Barack Obama welcomed the British vote to join the air campaign in Syria, saying the Islamic State group “is a global threat that must be defeated by a global response.” Critics claim British airstrikes will make little practical difference, and that ground forces will be needed to root out IS. Britain has ruled out sending troops, and critics of the government have responded with skepticism to Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels on the ground.

Cameron stood by that claim Wednesday, though he conceded, “I’m not saying that the 70,000 are our ideal partners.” Karin von Hippel, who was chief of staff to U.S. Gen. John Allen when he was the United States’ anti-ISIS envoy, said force alone would not defeat the militants — but neither would diplomacy by itself.

“The Brits have expertise and capabilities,” she said. Their involvement “brings moral authority and legitimacy to the fight.” The British vote came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said NATO members were ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State group — and held out hope of improved cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria’s four-year civil war.

A day after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States would deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against the militants, Kerry said other countries could provide assistance that did not involve combat. He said the effort to expand operations would require more medical facilities, intelligence-gathering, military support structure, refueling operations, aerial defenses and other action.

The German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to support the anti-IS coalition in Syria, though not in a combat role. Despite talk of increased international cooperation, tension has soared between Russia and Turkey after the shooting down of a Russian military jet by Turkish forces last week.

On Wednesday, Russia’s deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family of benefiting from illegal oil trade with Islamic State militants. Erdogan called the claim “slander” and said Turkey would not “buy oil from a terror organization.”

Russia and the United States also disagree about tactics in Syria, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington saying he must go. But Kerry, speaking after NATO meetings in Brussels, said that if Russia’s focus on fighting IS was “genuine,” it could have a constructive role in bringing peace. He didn’t say whether the U.S. might be willing to bring Russia into its military effort against the group, as some members such as France have proposed.

The top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, said the bulk of Russia’s air operations in Syria are still directed against moderate anti-Assad opposition forces, not Islamic State positions.

U.S. officials had hoped Russia would change its bombing focus after the Oct. 31 attack on a Russian airliner over Egypt, which killed 224 people. Asserting that the “vast majority” of Russian sorties targeted moderate groups, Breedlove said coalition forces were “not working with or cooperating with Russia in Syria” but had devised safety routines to make it easier for both groups.

The British debate was sometimes bad-tempered as opposition lawmakers demanded Cameron apologize for remarks, reportedly made at a closed-door meeting, in which he branded opponents a “bunch of terrorist sympathizers.”

Cameron did not retract the comments but said “there’s honor in voting for, there’s honor in voting against” the motion to back airstrikes. From the passionate speeches in the House to the anti-war protesters outside Parliament, the debate recalled Britain’s divisive 2003 decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Many lawmakers came to regret supporting the war and ensuing chaos, and blamed then-Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair for lacking a plan for post-war reconstruction.

Labor leader Corbyn said that “to oppose another reckless and half-baked intervention isn’t pacifism. It’s hard-headed common sense.” Labor’s Shabana Mahmood — one of the few Muslim lawmakers in Parliament — called IS “Nazi-esque totalitarians who are outlaws from Islam,” but said she opposed the strikes because “we cannot simply bomb the ground, we have to have a strategy to hold it as well.”

But Cameron said doing nothing was a worse option. “The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of what I propose,” he said.

Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz in London, Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Deb Riechmann in Washington, Jamey Keaten in Brussels and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

British leader sets Syria airstrikes debate for Wednesday

November 30, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron called for a debate and vote in Parliament on Wednesday on whether Britain should launch airstrikes against militants in Syria, arguing that the nation must stand with its allies in confronting extremism.

Cameron’s statement Monday comes only hours after opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn decided that Labor Party lawmakers would be allowed to vote their conscience on the matter — rather than to keep party discipline and have a unified stance.

The move by the Labor leader gave Cameron confidence he had the votes to clinch an expansion of the mandate of British forces to hit Islamic State group militants — also known as ISIL — not just in Iraq, but Syria as well.

“I can announce that I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow that we hold a debate and a vote in the House of Commons to extend the airstrikes that we have carried out against ISIL in Iraq to Syria, that we answer the call from our allies and work with them because ISIL is a threat to our country and this is the right thing to do,” he said.

Cameron has repeatedly said he wouldn’t take the matter to Parliament unless he could be certain of victory, worried that Britain’s prestige would be at risk. If the measure is approved in Parliament, British military operations are expected to start shortly afterward.

Britain’s Royal Air Force is already part of a U.S.-led campaign against the militants in Iraq, and the question before lawmakers would be whether the mandate for the strikes should be expanded to Syria. Cameron has said, “we have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands,” and argued that it made no sense to stop at borders that were ignored by the militants.

The government has been trying to build support among lawmakers for military action before calling the vote in Parliament. “It is in the national interest, it is the right thing to do, we will be acting with our allies, we will be careful and responsible as we do so, but in my view it’s the right thing to do this to keep our country safe,” he said after returning to his Downing Street office after attending the opening of climate talks in Paris.

The U.N. Security Council called last week for nations to unite against the extremists after the attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian civilian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Desert. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for those and other recent attacks.

The recently elected Corbyn, who is extremely skeptical about military interventions, faced a possible rebellion and mass resignations from legislators who back military action if he had used his position as party leader to force members to vote against the airstrikes.

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