US and Turkey agree to mend ties; Turks propose joint deployment in Syria

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu shakes hands with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 16, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 16 February 2018

US and Turkey agree to mend ties; Turks propose joint deployment in Syria

ANKARA: The United States and Turkey agreed on Friday to try to rescue a strategic relationship that Washington acknowledged had reached a crisis point, with Turkey proposing a joint deployment in Syria if a US-backed Kurdish militia leaves a border area.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met President Tayyip Erdogan during a two-day visit that followed weeks of escalating anti-American rhetoric from the Turkish government.
While relations between Washington and its main Muslim ally in NATO have been strained by a number of issues, Turkey has been particularly infuriated by US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists.
Turkey launched an air and ground assault last month in Syria’s northwest Afrin region to sweep the YPG away from its southern border. The United States has armed, trained and aided YPG fighters with air support and special forces, as the main ground force in its campaign against Islamic State.
“We find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship,” Tillerson told a news conference after meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday morning. He had met with Erdogan for a more than three-hour discussion on Thursday night.
“We’ve decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward. The relationship is too important.”
The United States has no troops on the ground in Afrin, where the Turkish offensive has so far taken place. But Turkey has proposed extending its campaign further east to the town of Manbij, where US troops are based, potentially leading to direct confrontation with US-backed units.
In a proposal that could signal an important breakthrough in efforts to overcome the allies’ stark differences over Syria, a Turkish official told Reuters that Turkey had proposed that Turkish and US forces could deploy jointly in Manbij.
Such a joint deployment could take place if YPG fighters first withdrew to positions east of the Euphrates river, long a Turkish demand.
MANBIJ
Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said Turkey would be able to take joint steps with the United States in Syria once the YPG left the vicinity of Manbij.
“What is important is who will govern and provide security to these areas,” he said. “We will coordinate to restore stability in Manbij and other cities. We will start with Manbij. After YPG leaves there, we can take steps with the US based on trust.”
He also said the two countries had created a “mechanism” for further talks and would meet again by mid-March to further hash out their differences.
Tillerson said issues around Manbij would receive priority in the talks.
Tillerson said he recognized Turkey’s legitimate right to defend its borders, but called on Ankara to show restraint in the Afrin operation and avoid actions that would escalate tensions in the area.
He also said the United States had serious concerns about local employees at its missions in Turkey and called on Ankara to release a US pastor and other Americans detained in Turkey.


Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

Updated 27 sec ago

Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

  • Group ‘showed self-restraint in recent Gaza clashes, avoided prolonged war’

AMMAN: Long after the dust of the latest attack on Gaza has settled, the Hamas movement — the predominant power in the Gaza Strip — has yet to overcome the political fallout of its refusal to join fellow Islamic Jihad in retaliation against Israel.

Leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told Arab News that Hamas failed to consider the arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin Bassam Saadi a national threat requiring a military response from the Gaza Strip.

“But it seems Hamas did see the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer Al-Jabari as a threat requiring a military response, but only a limited one. Yet even in response to the latter, Hamas held its guns while allowing Islamic Jihad to defend itself and bear the brunt of the Israeli war machine.”

Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “wise, but it might cost it some popular support.”

Comments by Palestinian political activists and social media were not as kind to the Hamas movement, which has often attacked other figures and groups for their silence.

They compared the passive Hamas position to how the Ramallah leadership has behaved in order to protect some of the benefits of governing.

Jamal Dajani, former communications director of the Palestinian Prime Ministry, told Arab News that Hamas understood that the new Israeli leadership initiated the attack on Gaza for political gain.

“Hamas did not bite the bait and showed self-restraint avoiding a prolonged war causing more death and destruction,” he said.

Shikaki believes that both Egypt and Israel will value Hamas’ behavior and will reward the movement by providing greater economic facilities, allowing it to consolidate control over the Gaza Strip.

“Israel will hope that this will provide Hamas with the means to exert greater leverage over Islamic Jihad and ensure a long-term quietness,” said Shikaki.

BACKGROUND

Khalil Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, said that Hamas’ decision was wise, but it might cost it some popular support.

“Ultimately, those in Israel who call for direct Israel-Hamas dialogue, particularly with the Israeli security sector, will gain more points and use this episode to prove that Hamas is not bound by ideology alone and that it is a pragmatic organization with whom Israel can make long-term deals.

“Internally, however, Islamic Jihad-Hamas relations might become tense. Hamas-Palestinian Authority relations might also worsen, as greater Hamas control over Gaza might create conditions in which the Ramallah leadership loses any prospects for a return to control the strip any time soon,” said Shikaki.

Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow with the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that Hamas was always interested in showing itself to be the “real” resistance to Israeli occupation when the Fatah-led Palestinian government was standing by in escalations of violence, such as during May 2021.

“The latest bombardment by Israel in Gaza forced Hamas to stay on the sidelines not wanting to cause economic fallout that would invariably result in access restrictions.

“But if Hamas’ popularity has been based on it being the real resistance, particularly when Al-Aqsa is involved, keeping quiet during the march of hundreds of Israeli right-wing activists on the Haram Al-Sharif for the ‘temple’ destruction commemoration was not a good look for the organization.”

But Samar Muhareb, an Amman-based civil society activist and a close watcher of the Palestinian issue, took a different view.

Muhareb, executive director of the Amman-based Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, said that what was important was to look at the gains of the resistance by Islamic Jihad.

She told Arab News that the cycle of violence in Gaza had been frustrating.

“Despite all the disappointments and losses, the resistance in Gaza came out with tangible accomplishments on the ground that will lead to change if Israel continues in its madness within the fragile ceasefire.”

By looking at the economic benefits, Ofer Salzberg, Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “more economic than ideological.”

He added: “Hamas choosing to stay out of the fighting provided a tailwind to the dominant recommendation of Israel’s defense officialdom: To strengthen the Gazan economy despite Hamas’ rule in order to defer wars.”


US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

Updated 52 min 47 sec ago

US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

  • Tim Lenderking’s regional tour is part of the intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster the peace process
  • He is also expected to rally support and funding for UN efforts to tackle the threat posed by the derelict Safer oil tanker, amid fears of an ecological disaster in the Red Sea

LONDON: The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began a tour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman on Aug. 11, and members of his team have traveled to Jordan, as part of intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster peace efforts.

“The special envoy and his team will focus on helping to meaningfully expand benefits of the truce to all Yemenis and pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and an inclusive, durable Yemeni-led resolution to the conflict,” the State Department said.

Lenderking will also discuss recent instability in Shabwa and the need for a return to calm after fighting intensified in the oil-rich, eastern province, and highlight the need for additional financial assistance for the Yemeni people.

“The United States has already provided over $1 billion in humanitarian aid this year alone, bringing our total contribution to the humanitarian response in Yemen to nearly $5 billion since the crisis began eight years ago,” the State Department said.

“We urge donors both to give generously and to make previous pledges immediately available for the sake of the people of Yemen.”

The head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, on Wednesday announced moves designed to quickly end sedition in Shabwa and hold to account those responsible.

He added that “the strife that occurred in Shabwa confirms the importance of rallying around the state,” according to a report by the official Yemeni news agency, Saba.

Lenderking is also expected to continue to rally support for UN efforts to raise awareness of the threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, and funding to address it. The vessel, which is moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, holds more than 1.1 million barrels of oil and has had little or no maintenance carried out since the civil war began in late 2014. As a result, its condition has deteriorated to the point where there are fears of a major ecological disaster.

“With about $14 million unfunded and a UN-Houthi agreement to offload the oil to a temporary vessel, we are the closest we have ever been to addressing the threat posed by this derelict tanker,” Lenderking said.

“An oil spill would exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, cause severe environmental damage, and impact global shipping and other economic activity.”

Meanwhile, the EU said it is very concerned about the recent violence in Shabwa and the reported loss of lives.

“The EU welcomes the efforts of President Rashad Al-Alimi and the PLC to deescalate the situation (in) Yemen,” it said.


UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

Updated 12 August 2022

UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

  • High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said a ‘climate of impunity’ is driving endless cycles of violence
  • So far this year 37 Palestinian children have been killed, including 19 during the intense fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad last weekend

NEW YORK: The UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, on Thursday expressed alarm at the “unconscionable” number of Palestinian children who have been killed or injured this year, and called for all incidents to be thoroughly investigated.

The figures soared last weekend during intense fighting between Israeli authorities and the Islamic Jihad group, and subsequent Israeli enforcement operations in the West Bank.

In the past week alone, 19 Palestinian children were killed in the Occupied Territories, raising the death toll since the start of the year to 37.

“Inflicting hurt on any child during the course of conflict is deeply disturbing, and the killing and maiming of so many children this year is unconscionable,” said Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.

A number of Israeli military strikes hit “prima facie civilian objects,” she added, resulting in deaths and damage to infrastructure.

“International humanitarian law is clear,” she said. “Launching an attack which may be expected to incidentally kill or injure civilians, or damage civilian objects, in disproportionate manner to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited. Such attacks must stop.”

Bachelet also highlighted the violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups who “launched hundreds of rockets and mortars in indiscriminate attacks, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects in Israel as well as in Gaza.”

According to Israeli authorities, 70 Israelis were injured during the fighting.

While the ceasefire that halted the latest violent escalation in Gaza is holding, tensions remain extremely high in the West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed and 90 injured on Aug. 9 by shots fired by Israeli forces.

Among the fatalities was a 16-year-old boy shot by Israeli soldiers during an arrest raid in Nablus, which also left 76 people injured. Another 16-year-old boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron after some Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks at them.

“The widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli forces in law enforcement operations across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2022 has led to an alarming increase in Palestinian fatalities,” Bachelet said.

So far this year, 74 Palestinians have been killed, many as a result of the use of lethal force by Israeli authorities in a manner described by the UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Territories as a violation of international human rights law.

Bachelet called for “prompt, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations” into all incidents in which any person is killed or injured.

“An almost total lack of accountability persists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, whether for violations of international humanitarian law by all parties in hostilities in Gaza, or for recurring Israeli violations of international human rights law and the law of occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including incidents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force,” she said.

“This climate of impunity, along with the long-standing violations, drives the cycle of violence and the recurrence of violations.

“The situation in Palestine is extremely fragile. The utmost restraint is necessary to prevent further bloodshed, including by ensuring that firearms are used strictly in compliance with international standards.”


Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Updated 1 min 25 sec ago

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

  • Civilians gather outside bank in support of gunman
  • Bank's lawyer claims efforts under way to reach a negotiated conclusion

Bystanders praised an armed customer who held bank staff hostage for hours on Thursday in Beirut because he could not access funds frozen after the country’s economic collapse.

The hostage situation in a bank in Lebanon’s capital ended after authorities agreed to grant the gunman partial access to his frozen funds in exchange for releasing all the hostages.

The suspect — 42-year-old Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein — turned himself in when the bank agreed to give him $30,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

 

 

 

Al-Sheikh Hussein earlier took more than eight employees as hostages at Federal Bank in Hamra, Beirut.

He poured gasoline on the floor and pointed a shotgun at the employees, demanding to withdraw $2,000 from his frozen deposits, in accordance with the central bank circulars to all banks in 2019.

Army soldiers and officers from the Internal Security Forces surrounded the bank, which is situated on one of the busiest streets leading to the American University of Beirut and its medical center.

Negotiations began between the gunman and the bank’s management, first led by Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association.

They were later joined by the ISF’s information branch in the negotiations.

Caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi’s media office announced that he was following up the negotiations between the information branch and the Federal Bank from the ISF’s operations rooms.

Footage of Al-Sheikh Hussein first appeared on social media platforms, with the gunman shouting and demanding his cash deposit.

 

 

He told the bank employees that he wanted money to pay for medical bills for his father, who was receiving treatment in a hospital.

One of the bank employees filmed the scene, where the gunman was seen carrying a shotgun.

The depositor entered the bank around 11 a.m. and asked the bank’s clients to leave while keeping the employees and the bank’s branch manager Hassan Halawi inside the building.

Two clients remained inside by accident, and another employee was not detained as he was on duty outside the bank. The employee told Arab News that he was surprised to see the army and ISF surrounding the bank upon his return.

 

One of the detained clients was brought outside, where the Red Cross waited for him for medical aid if needed, while the other insisted on staying inside “in solidarity with the armed man.”

Mughnieh, who led the negotiations with the armed depositor, told Arab News that he was negotiating with him from behind the metal bars of the bank’s closed gate.

The armed man was very comfortable and was assured by the security agencies that he would not be harmed, said Mughnieh.

“He is sitting in a chair, and I do not know how he dares to smoke a cigarette near the gasoline.”

Mughnieh added that the depositor initially demanded to withdraw $2,000 to pay for his hospitalized father’s medical bills at the Al-Zahraa hospital.

Mughnieh said he had been following up with the bank’s manager who had reached out to the management, and offered him (the depositor) $10,000. However, the armed depositor rejected the offer and demanded to withdraw his entire $210,000 cash deposit.

 

“I do not know the armed man in person. However, while negotiating with him, his threats seemed serious as he told me that he will throw the bank manager out of the window. He did not harm the detainees,” Mughnieh added.

Curious onlookers first gathered near the bank, then were joined by the concerned families of the bank employees.

They were later joined by Al-Sheikh Hussein’s family in Beirut, who began negotiating for a settlement for him.

Mughnieh said: “The family wants a written undertaking that the ISF would not assault their son, and that they are ready to lower the demand and deduce a decent amount from the deposit.”

He said that the bank first suggested $10,000, and when the armed man insisted on withdrawing his entire deposit, there was no more contact between the bank manager and the central management.

 

 

Other depositors, citizens and lawyers gathered outside the bank, chanting in support of the armed depositor: “Down with the rule of the banks,” one of the slogans of 2019’s mass protests.

Activist lawyer Haytham Azzo told Arab News: “We are following up on the events and we had warned that this would be one of the unjust banking procedures’ implications. As lawyers, we are ready to defend Al-Sheikh Hassan for free.”

Azzo said the banks had compromised national security, which was proven by “what we are seeing today.”

He added: “We called upon withdrawing from deposits when necessary, and they refused.”

The head of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees in Lebanon, George Al-Hajj, earlier said they wanted the incident to end peacefully.

“We will not resort to a strike because it would be useless.”

A statement from the Depositors Association held the bank owners, government, parliament and the central bank responsible for Thursday’s developments.

The association said that “the extortion of depositors and theft of their life savings will lead to further unpredictable responses.”

The association held the judicial authorities responsible for any violence on the streets or in the face of banks, due to its determination to protect the “unjust and aggressor against the oppressed depositor.”

The tense situation in Beirut occurred after Lebanese banks resumed work on Wednesday, following a strike last Monday, in protest against the judiciary’s treatment of banks, in light of the depositors’ proceedings against them.

In a general assembly on Wednesday, the Association of Banks in Lebanon called upon the establishment of a banking court, similar to the financial markets tribunal.

The association also demanded the acceleration of adopting legislation related to a recovery plan, noting demands from the International Monetary Fund.


Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

Updated 11 August 2022

Iran says ‘fiction’ US’s claim of plot to kill former White House official John Bolton

  • ‘The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction’
  • US Justice Department: Plan likely in retaliation for the killing of Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020

TEHRAN: Iran dismissed as “fiction” Thursday US allegations it had plotted to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for the assassination of one of its top commanders.
The US claim comes at a crunch moment in talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that Washington had abandoned in 2018 but has said it wants to rejoin, with Iran now considering what European Union mediators have called a “final” text.
“The US Justice Department has made allegations without providing valid evidence, creating a new work of fiction,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
“This time they have come up with a plot involving individuals like Bolton whose political career has failed,” Kanani scoffed.
“The Islamic republic warns against any action that targets Iranian citizens by resorting to ridiculous accusations.”
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill Bolton.
The plan was likely set in retaliation for the US killing of top Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, the department said.
Guards member Shahram Poursafi is also alleged to have dangled the possibility of a second target he said would earn the ostensible assassin $1 million.
The court papers did not identify that alleged target, but according to US media outlet Axios, it was former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo.
The person Poursafi was dealing with was actually an informant for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the court filings.
Poursafi was charged with the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, which carries up to 10 years in prison; and with providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot, which carries a 15-year sentence.
The Justice Department said Poursafi remains at large and is believed to be in Iran.
“Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” current White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned after the charges were announced.
Soleimani, a revered figure in Iran, was killed in a US drone strike just after he landed at Baghdad’s airport on January 7, 2020.
Since his death, Tehran has vowed to take revenge, and the United States has ramped up security for prominent current and former officials, including Pompeo, who was leading the State Department when Soleimani was killed.
Bolton, like Pompeo a strong critic of Iran, was national security adviser in the White House of former president Donald Trump from April 2018 to September 2019.
He was strongly opposed to the 2015 deal putting limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and supported the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the pact in May 2018.
Bolton blasted Iran’s government as “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States” in a statement on Wednesday.
Kanani said the US Justice Department’s “baseless claims” were a smokescreen to “avoid being held to account for the numerous crimes in which the US government has been directly implicated, like the cowardly assassination” of Soleimani.

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