Posts Tagged ‘ Levant News ’

Spain confiscates property of Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle

March 15, 2018

The French customs service, in cooperation with its Spanish counterpart, confiscated the property of the current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle, which amounted to 600 million Euros. Quoting the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Russian news agency Tass reported that around 503 facilities worth 600 million Euros, owned by Rifaat Al-Assad and his relatives in the Spanish city of Marbella, were confiscated.

The agency pointed out that there is also talk about hotels, restaurants and luxury acquisitions.

In April 2017, the Spanish National Judicial Council opened an investigation into the case of money laundering by Rifaat Al-Assad. The Spanish authorities froze the bank accounts of 16 people and 76 institutions associated with the name of Al-Assad’s uncle. It also opened an investigation into his property in Marbella and Puerto Banus towns.

Syrian city at the heart of Spain

Rifaat al-Assad, 80, planned to build a huge housing complex to house Syrians belonging to his sect. He has chosen lands where Spanish spruce and cork trees flourish. These lands occupy one third of Benahavis municipality, located in Malaga province in the southern Andalusia region of Spain. According to the statements of the judge of the Spanish National Court, Rifaat owns some of the most expensive lands in the city that is located on the coasts of Costa del Sol and adjacent to the luxury town of Marbella, which has become a model of extreme luxury, and aspires to build a “Syrian city” with the utmost caution and secrecy.

A decision was made by the Spanish court to seize the properties of Al-Assad, including 16 properties in Marbella and Puerto Banus. In this regard, a Spanish judge revealed that Rifaat Al-Assad had committed himself to continuing the “legal struggle” in this case as he is accused of turning his “real estate machine,” which consists of 3,300 hectares worth 60 million Euros, into a private urban area. The areas controlled by Rifaat Al-Assad have already been registered as areas of public interest, according to the European classification. In addition, the Andalusian government has incorporated these properties within the areas of special protection.

The source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s funds

On the other hand, the Spanish judge confirmed that the main source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s wealth is the money looted from the coffers of the Syrian state provided by his brother Hafez Al-Assad before sending him into exile, and which is estimated at 300 million Euros.

In a similar vein, many people in the Spanish society and those who dealt with him in the business field reported that he was not proficient in negotiating in this area and had his own strategy of non-discipline. In this regard, one of the parties which had negotiated with him in business explained that “it is possible to agree on the first day about a certain price, and he comes the next day to ask you double the amount agreed upon.” These parties also revealed that he followed a relatively austere pattern of consumption in his daily life in Marbella.

In general, a businessman who was surprised by the size of the properties of Rifaat Al-Assad, which includes at least 503 facilities located in Marbella and Puerto Banos, stated that “Rifaat Al-Assad and the businessmen Adnan Khashogg are incomparable, as Rifaat has no friends and I always see him having dinner alone in Puerto Banus, accompanied only by his bodyguard and his driver. The same source added that “the authorities must deal with all the hotel apartments he possesses as individual property.”

In addition to the “amazing real estate machine,” Rifaat Al-Assad owns the Panapola Hotel in Puerto Banus, a 4-Star hotel consisting of 101 apartments and 247 parking spaces. Besides, Al-Assad owns a residential building under the name of Gerry de Albion, in the same sports port in Marbella where he lives.

Moreover, Rifaat Al-Assad owns the parking spaces in Marbella Harbor. Recently, he has sold some of the land for construction in the Milla de Oro area of Marbella, near the Marbella Club Hotel. According to sources familiar with the deal, the sale was made at a price much lower than the prices offered in the market in this area. In addition, Rifaat Al-Assad managed to administer the Beach Club Bar at the Penapola Hotel, the Hollywood Café and other hotel companies based in Puerto Banus, but some of them are now closed due to losses.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-spain-confiscates-property-of-bashar-al-assads-uncle/.

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Bolivia UN envoy says to Israel: ‘You kill children and women’

May 17, 2018

The Bolivian representative to the United Nations Security Council, Sacha Llorenti, said to Israel “you kill children and women” after reading out the names of the 61 Palestinian victims who were killed by the Israeli soldiers in Gaza earlier this week.

The representative said during an emergency meeting on Tuesday that Gaza has turned into a large prison adding that transferring the US Embassy to Jerusalem has inflamed emotions.

“As a member of the Security Council and in the presence of my dear brother, the ambassador to Palestine; I wish to ask for his forgiveness, and say how sorry I am to the 6 million Palestinian refugees who have lost their homes and today live in camps” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180517-bolivia-un-envoy-says-to-israel-you-kill-children-and-women/.

Greece says Syrian property law will impede refugees’ return

May 04, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greece’s foreign minister has voiced concerns about at a new Syrian real estate law that would force refugees to return home if they want to keep their property in Syria. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias says the law does not secure the properties of millions of Syrians who are now displaced outside the country. He says it will make their eventual return to Syria much more difficult.

The decree, made public last month, gives property owners in some parts of Syria one month to provide ownership deeds or face confiscation of their property. Thousands of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Greece.

Kotzias spoke during a southern Balkans ministerial meeting Friday in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Israel defense chief plans 2,500 new West Bank settler homes

May 24, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister said Thursday he will seek approval next week to fast-track construction of 2,500 new West Bank settlement homes in 2018, an announcement likely to further ratchet up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Avigdor Lieberman’s office said in a statement that he aimed to fulfill a commitment to expand construction in the West Bank settlements, including some remote outposts and the Jewish settler enclave in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Besides the 2,500, Lieberman said he will advance another 1,400 units that are in preliminary planning stages. “In the coming months, we will bring for approval thousands more housing units,” Lieberman said, according to the statement.

The announcement came two days after Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to open an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including settlement construction, accusing Israel of systematic crimes, including apartheid in the occupied territories. The request includes the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border.

Violence between the sides continued Thursday. The Israeli military said an Israeli soldier was “severely injured” when a “heavy object” was thrown at his head during an operation in the West Bank. Israel has called the Palestinian move at the ICC “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the court and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and has since built dozens of settlements there. Over 600,000 Israelis now live in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements, areas Palestinians seek for their future state.

Much of the international community views the settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel says the fate of settlements must be resolved through negotiations. The referral to the ICC would seem to further diminish prospects of success for an expected U.S. peace plan. U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump is to unveil the plan in the coming months.

The last round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down four years ago without any visible process, and mistrust between the two sides is running high. Israeli watchdog group Peace Now reported earlier this year that settlement construction has surged under the Trump administration, which has taken a softer stance than his predecessors. Trump has asked Israel to show restraint, but has avoided strong condemnations of Israeli settlement construction. His Mideast peace team is dominated by people with ties to the settlement movement.

Peace Now responded to Lieberman’s announcement, calling it a “scandal” and saying on Twitter that the “messianic right-wing government has distorted priorities, and this morning is proud to approve thousands of new housing units over the Green Line, and gives an incentive to continued creeping annexation.”

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi condemned Lieberman’s announcement as “Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness” and called on the ICC to launch an investigation. “We appeal to the entire international community to undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel accountable with punitive measures and sanctions before it is too late,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Abramovich is latest Russian oligarch to move to Israel

May 29, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — The sudden immigration to Israel of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich makes him the latest in a string of Jewish Russian oligarchs who have made a home in the country in recent years.

Abramovich received his Israeli citizenship Monday upon arriving in Israel on his private jet, immediately becoming the country’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of more than $11 billion. Israel grants automatic citizenship to anyone of Jewish descent.

The Chelsea football club owner made the move after his British visa was not renewed, apparently as part of British authorities’ efforts to crack down on associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Britain has pledged to review the long-term visas of rich Russians in the aftermath of the March poisonings of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Britain blames Russia for the pair’s exposure to a nerve agent, an allegation Moscow denies.

The poisonings sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides. Britain’s then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in March that the British government was reviewing Tier 1 investor visas granted to about 700 wealthy Russians.

The British government said it would not comment on individual cases, including Abramovich’s. Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said visa applications from Russia are dealt with “rigorously and properly.”

It’s not clear yet how much time Abramovich will spend in Israel. He owns an upscale home in the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv that he bought several years ago from Yaron Versano, the husband of Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot. His representative would not respond to questions about his plans, calling it “a private matter.”

Abramovich is perhaps the most high-profile Russian oligarch to relocate to Israel, but hardly the first. Alex Kogan, a journalist who has covered the Russian oligarch phenomenon in Israel for the local Russian-language press, said that some 30 to 40 tycoons have taken Israeli citizenship or residency, with most staying only part-time or temporarily because of scrutiny over their affairs.

He said the oligarchs — businessmen who accumulated massive wealth in the privatization process that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union — were motivated by various interests. Some fled Russia because of financial irregularities or dramatic fallouts with Putin that could put them at risk of incarceration.

Others were closer to the government and sought the advantages of an Israeli passport, such as visa-free entry to the European Union. Some were drawn by tax breaks for new immigrants to Israel. They are also more protected in Israel against the threat of extradition, for real or trumped-up charges. Israel was created in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust as a haven for Jews escaping persecution.

“Everyone has different reasons,” said Kogan. “There are plenty more out there that could come in a short time.” Some billionaires, like Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, have taken up Israeli citizenship while still maintaining their primary residences in London and Moscow. They maintain a strong presence in Israel owing to their charitable work, such as setting up the private foundation that funds the annual Genesis Prize, known as “the Jewish Nobel Prize.”

Here’s a look at some of the others who have made the move and immigrated to Israel, at least temporarily:

LEONID NEVZLIN:

Nevzlin is the most high-profile of the oil executive associates of Mikhail Khodorkovsky who fled Russian arrest warrants in 2003. Khodorkovsky, the onetime head of the Yukos oil giant, was jailed for several years after clashing with Putin. Nevzlin and his associates, Mikhail Brudno and Vladimir Dubov, lobbied for Khodorkovsky’s release from Israel.

In the years since, Nevzlin has established himself as an influential businessman and philanthropist. He was president of the Russian Jewish Congress, became chairman of the board of trustees at Beit Hatfutsot — the Museum of the Jewish People — and is a member of several bodies of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.

He has also invested in local real estate.

His daughter Irina is married to Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Israeli parliament and himself a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union.

ARKADY GAYDAMAK:

For a while, Gaydamak was one of Israel’s most beloved local celebrities. He owned the popular Beitar Jerusalem football club, bought a hospital and a radio station, and gave millions to local charities. During the 2006 Lebanon war with Hezbollah, he erected a beach compound for those fleeing rockets in northern Israel, shelling out some $200,000 for tents, food and entertainment for 5,000 people. Politicians lined up for the lavish parties he threw and he was a fixture in the local tabloids.

However, his stay was clouded by controversy over an international arrest warrant involving the alleged smuggling of weapons to Angola.

After a failed attempt to run for Jerusalem mayor, Gaydamak left the country in 2008 amid financial scandals in Israel and Europe.

SHALVA CHIGRINSKY:

A former business partner of Abramovich, Chigrinsky initially headed to Israel to hide from Russian prosecutors investigating his business interests, including the construction of huge Moscow malls and plans to erect the largest building in Europe. He fled Russia in 2009 after a power struggle with rival businessmen and the mayor of Moscow.

VALERY KOGAN:

Kogan, who is believed to be a Putin ally, owns Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport — the largest in Eastern Europe. Israeli media reported that he invested at least $100 million to build the most luxurious mansion in Israel in 2013, designed in a style resembling the White House, before selling the plot. He then reportedly set an Israeli real estate record when he bought a 1,000-square-meter (nearly 11,000 square foot) apartment in Tel Aviv for a reported $31 million. Just last year, he was reported to have paid millions for Mariah Carey and Elton John to sing at his granddaughter’s wedding.

Israel hits dozens of Iranian targets in Syria after barrage

May 10, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — The Israeli military on Thursday said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military installations in neighboring Syria in response to an Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date.

Israel said the targets of the strikes, its largest in Syria since the 1973 war, included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed several Syrian air-defense systems after coming under heavy fire and that none of its warplanes were hit.

Iranian media described the attacks as “unprecedented,” but there was no official Iranian comment on Israel’s claims. Israel has acknowledged carrying out over 100 airstrikes in neighboring Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, most believed to be aimed at suspected Iranian weapons shipments bound for the Hezbollah militant group.

But in the past few weeks, Israel has shifted to a more direct and public confrontation with Iran, striking at Iranian bases, weapons depots and rocket launchers across Syria, and killing Iranian troops. Israel accuses Tehran of seeking to establish a foothold on its doorstep. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

Reflecting the scope of the overnight attacks, Russia’s military said 28 Israeli jets were involved, striking at several Iranian and government sites in Syria with 70 missiles. It said half of the missiles were shot down.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual security gathering north of Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would response fiercely to any further Iranian actions. “We will not let Iran turn Syria into a forward base against Israel,” he said. “We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs. If we get rain, they’ll get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war through sources inside Syria, said the overnight Israeli attacks struck several military posts for Syrian troops and Iranian-backed militias near the capital, Damascus, in central Syria and in southern Syria. The Observatory said the attacks killed 23 fighters, including five Syrian soldiers. It said it was not immediately clear if Iranians were among those killed.

The Syrian military said the Israeli strikes killed three people and wounded two, without saying if any Iranians or Iran-backed militiamen were among them. It said the strikes destroyed a radar station and an ammunition warehouse, and damaged a number of air defense units. The military said air defense systems intercepted “the large part” of the incoming Israeli strikes.

An Iranian state television presenter announced the Israeli strikes, sourcing the information to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency. The broadcaster described the Israeli attack as “unprecedented” since the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 war, annexing it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally. In 1974, Israel and Syria reached a cease-fire and a disengagement deal that froze the conflict lines with the plateau in Israeli hands.

Damascus shook with sounds of explosions just before dawn, and firing by Syrian air defenses over the city was heard for more than five hours. Syria’s state news agency SANA said Israeli missiles hit air defense positions, radar stations and a weapons warehouse, but claimed most incoming rockets were intercepted.

Russia sent forces to Syria to back President Bashar Assad in 2015. But Israel and Russia have maintained close communications to prevent their air forces from coming into conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and discuss military coordination in Syria.

Israel said early Thursday that Iran’s Quds Force fired 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in the Golan Heights. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said four of the rockets were intercepted, while the others fell short of their targets. The incoming attack set off air raid sirens in the Golan.

Conricus said Israel was not looking to escalate the situation but that troops will continue to be on “very high alert.” “Should there be another Iranian attack, we will be prepared for it,” he said. It is believed to be the first time in decades that such firepower from Syria has been directed at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Iran’s ability to hit back further could be limited. Its resources in Syria pale in comparison to the high-tech Israeli military and it could also be wary of military entanglement at a time when it is trying to salvage the international nuclear deal.

Iran has sent thousands of troops to back Assad, and Israel fears that as the fighting nears an end, Iran and tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen will turn their focus to Israel. Earlier this week, Syrian state media said Israel struck a military outpost near Damascus. The Observatory said the missiles targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belonged to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, killing at least 15 people, eight of them Iranians.

Last month, an attack on Syria’s T4 air base in the central Homs province killed seven Iranian military personnel. On April 30, Israel was said to have struck government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.

Israel considers Iran to be its most bitter enemy, citing Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, with strong support from Israel, has further raised tensions.

Israel and Iran have appeared to be on a collision course for months. In February, Israel shot down what it said was an armed Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace. Israel responded by attacking anti-aircraft positions in Syria, and an Israeli warplane was shot down during the battle.

But Thursday was the first time Israel openly acknowledged targeting Iran.

Heller reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

EU urge Russia, Iran, Turkey to deliver on Syria promises

April 25, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to ensure a halt to fighting in Syria, as international donors gathered in Brussels to drum up aid for the conflict-ravaged country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the three have a “special responsibility” to establish a cease-fire and to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to return to the negotiating table. “We are seeing an escalation in military activities which is exactly the contrary” to what they promised, Mogherini said.

Around 80 countries, organizations and partners backing Syria are taking part in the donor conference. The EU hopes the meeting will give impetus to stalled peace moves under U.N. auspices, on top of gathering several billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Syria and for neighbors like Lebanon and Jordan, struggling to cope with millions of refugees. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country will provide 1 billion euros in new funding for 2018 and subsequent years.

The EU, along with many other partners, refuses to help with serious reconstruction in Syria until meaningful peace moves to end the conflict, now into its eighth year, resume in Geneva. Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said “it’s high time the international community …. takes bold decisions to help Syria and its people get their country back together.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces elections in two weeks, said the plight of Syrians is simply getting worse. “The bitter truth is that despite all our combined efforts conditions have deteriorated. Lebanon continues to be a big refugee camp,” he said.

Britain’s State Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, agreed that Syria’s needs are enormous. “This is the world’s greatest protection crisis. If you look at what’s happened and what’s been done to people — breaches of humanitarian laws, the weakening of multilateral norms that we have seen for a long time — it’s all focusing on Syria,” he said.

“We all know that what we do on a humanitarian basis is only the sticking plaster on the wound. You’ve got to address the wound itself. So we hope that the seriousness of the conflict and the damage that it’s done might be used to further encourage the various parties to get going again.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura has warned that the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib could become Syria’s newest humanitarian crisis area. De Mistura said Tuesday that “Idlib is the big new challenge — 2.5 million people.” He told reporters that “there are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there.”

De Mistura hopes the two-day donor conference “will be an occasion for also making sure that Idlib doesn’t become the new Aleppo, the new eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 177,000 people have fled combat in eastern Ghouta since February. The rest — including about 12,000 fighters — relocated to Idlib.

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