Report: Iran kicks off joint naval drills with Russia, China

The Iranian TV also said the drill shows that Iran is not isolated, despite the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and the Trump administration’s escalated sanctions on Iran. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 December 2019

Report: Iran kicks off joint naval drills with Russia, China

  • The exercise will go on for 4 days
  • Chinese navy’s guided missile destroyer “Xining” is taking part in the exercise

TEHRAN: Iran’s navy on Friday kicked off the first joint naval drill with Russia and China in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, Iranian state TV reported.

The four-day exercise, launched from the southeastern port city of Chahbahar in the Gulf of Oman and near the border with Pakistan, is aimed at boosting security of the region’s waterways, the report quoted Iran’s navy chief Adm. Hossein Khanzadi as saying.

On Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the drill would “deepen exchange and cooperation between the navies of the three countries.” He said Chinese navy’s guided missile destroyer “Xining” was taking part in the exercise.

Tehran has been seeking to step up military cooperation with Beijing and Moscow amid unprecedented economic sanctions from Washington. Visits to Iran by Russian and Chinese naval representatives have also increased in recent years.

The Iranian TV also said the drill shows that Iran is not isolated, despite the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and the Trump administration’s escalated sanctions on Iran.

The drill is also seen as a response to recent US maneuvers with its regional ally Saudi Arabia, in which China also participated.


Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Updated 25 May 2022

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

  • Yeni Safak newspaper: ‘Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij’
  • The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to carry out a new military incursion on Turkey’s southern borders has triggered speculation about potential targets, with the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat emerging as a primary goal of any operation.
Two days after Erdogan announced the plan, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said on Wednesday preparations had been made for a new operation to expand “safe zones” already set up in northern Syria, with several goals identified.
“Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij,” the paper said.
Turkish control of the towns, which lie on or close to a central stretch of the 911-km-long border with Syria, could extend and deepen its military presence from near the Mediterranean coast along nearly three-quarters of the frontier.
So far, there have been few signs of military movements that preceded Turkey’s last four incursions into northern Syria. Erdogan has said decisions on military operations would be made at a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. Turkey designates both as terrorist organizations.
The YPG has been the main target of several incursions which Turkey has carried out in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land and pushing some 30 km (20 miles) deep into the country.
YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud told Reuters the group took Erdogan’s threats very seriously: “The international coalition, America, and Russia should commit to the pledges that they made to this region. Their presence in our areas must be meaningful, in the sense that it stops the repeated attacks on our people.”
The Yeni Safak newspaper said the most critical target of the latest operation would be Tal Rifaat, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, which it said Kurdish fighters used as a base from which to launch attacks in the Afrin, Azaz and Jarablus areas controlled by Turkey and Ankara-backed Syrian fighters.
Tal Rifaat is located north of Aleppo city and just south of Azaz. An operation there alone would not represent a widening of Turkey’s “safe zones” along the border, but would push its forces deeper into Syria.
Dareen Khalifa, an analyst on Syria at the International Crisis Group, said it was unclear whether Erdogan was talking about an operation in Tal Rifaat or further east, but she highlighted the role of the town.
“Tal Rifaat, if anything, can get him what he wants and it would avoid triggering a huge headache. I don’t think the Americans care about Tal Rifaat,” she said.
Most US forces in northern Syria are based further east.
She said Russia, which has forces deployed in the region, had not been addressing his concerns on militant attacks on Turkish-controlled areas from Tal Rifaat, and that Erdogan has been saying for years that Tal Rifaat needs to be captured.
The predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani was touted as another potential target. The YPG’s defeat of Daesh militants there in 2015 helped turn the tide against the group.
“Kobani represents the value of a global victory in the war against terrorism,” YPG spokesman Mahmoud said. “There’s no doubt that our forces will do what is needed to defend” the area.
The YPG, or People’s Defense Units, are a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition which the United States largely relied on to fight Islamic State.
However, Khalifa played down the prospects of Turkey targeting Kobani.
“I don’t think there’s any interest in getting stuck in Kobani,” she said, pointing to the major demographic changes and reaction that would ensue if the Kurdish population fled.
She said that while United States forces were not in Manbij physically, it is a US zone of influence, so “I expect it to also trigger a US reaction.”
Any attack on Kobani would also risk triggering a strong reaction from Turkey’s Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the country’s population. The Islamic State attack on Kobani in 2014 led to protests in which dozens died in Turkey.
Mithat Sancar, joint head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned about the consequences of Erdogan’s plans for fresh military operations.
“We must all see that this will lead again to a bloody vortex in this region and country,” he told HDP lawmakers.
Erdogan’s talk of a military operation has also raised the stakes in Turkey’s row with NATO partners over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, with Turkey accusing both of harboring people linked to the PKK.
Analysts said the incursion plans reflected his belief that the West would not oppose such operations when it needs Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ bid to join NATO.
Erdogan’s announcement was also aimed at bolstering nationalist support as he gears up for difficult elections next year, analysts said. Cross-border military operations have boosted his poll ratings in the past.


UAE announces first case of monkeypox

Updated 25 May 2022

UAE announces first case of monkeypox

  • The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa
  • Health ministry assures public health authorities taking all necessary measures

DUBAI: The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the country’s first case of monkeypox on Tuesday.

The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa and is receiving the necessary medical care, Emirates News Agency reported.

The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures including investigation, the examination of contacts, and monitoring their health.

It added that it is cooperating with other health authorities in implementing an epidemiological surveillance system to ensure sustainable efficiency, protection from communicable diseases, and rapid detection of all diseases and viruses, including monkeypox, in the UAE.

The ministry called on members of the public to obtain information from official sources in the UAE, and to refrain from spreading rumours and false information, highlighting the importance of staying updated on developments and guidelines issued by UAE health authorities.


Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

Updated 25 May 2022

Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

  • Mevlut Cavusoglu: Two countries agreed to ‘re-energize’ relations in many areas

ISTANBUL: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel will have a “positive impact” for a “peaceful” resolution to the Palestinian conflict.
In a news conference after talks with his Israeli counterpart, Cavusoglu said the two countries agreed to “re-energise” relations in many areas, including resuming talks on civil aviation.


76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

Updated 25 May 2022

76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

TUNIS: Seventy six people were missing after a crowded boat of migrants sank off Tunisia on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration said, as the numbers risking the dangerous crossing to Europe increase.
The IOM said 24 people had been rescued from the boat, which had departed from the beaches of Zawara in Libya and sank off the coast of Sfax.
In recent months, dozens of people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings from Tunisia and Libya toward Italy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years.


Sweden, Finland delegations in Turkey for NATO talks

Updated 25 May 2022

Sweden, Finland delegations in Turkey for NATO talks

  • Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week
  • Turkey’s objections have dampened Stockholm’s and Helsinki’s hopes for their quick membership

ANKARA: Delegations from Sweden and Finland were scheduled on Wednesday to hold talks in Ankara with senior Turkish officials in an effort to overcome Turkey’s objections to their historic bids to join the NATO alliance.
Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week in a move that marks one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war in Ukraine — and which could rewrite Europe’s security map.
Turkey has said it opposes the two Nordic countries’ membership in the military alliance, citing grievances with Sweden’s — and a to a lesser extent Finland’s — perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other entities that Turkey views as a security threat. It also accuses the two of imposing arms exports restrictions on Turkey and refusing to extradite suspected “terrorists.”
Turkey’s objections have dampened Stockholm’s and Helsinki’s hopes for their quick membership in NATO amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and puts the trans-Atlantic alliance’s credibility at stake. All 30 NATO members must agree to admit new members.
The Swedish and Finnish delegations are poised to take up Turkey’s grievances with Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal. The Swedish delegation would be headed by state secretary Oscar Stenström while Jukka Salovaara, the foreign ministry undersecretary, would lead the Finnish delegation, Turkish officials have said.
The PKK, which is listed as a terror organization by several of Turkey’s allies, has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, a conflict that has cost the lives of tens of thousands people.
Turkey this week listed five “concrete assurances” it is demanding from Sweden, including what it said was “termination of political support for terrorism,” an “elimination of the source of terrorism financing,” and the “cessation of arms support” to the banned PKK and a Syrian Kurdish militia group affiliated with it. The demands also called for the lifting of arms sanctions against Turkey and global cooperation against terrorism.
Turkey said that it has been requesting the extradition of Kurdish militants and other suspects since 2017, but hasn’t received a positive response from Stockholm. Among other things, Ankara claimed that Sweden had decided to provide $376 million to support the Kurdish militants in 2023 and that it had provided military equipment to them, including anti-tank weapons and drones.
Sweden has denied that it was providing any “financial assistance or military support” to Kurdish groups or entities in Syria.
“Sweden is a major humanitarian donor to the Syria crisis through global allocations to humanitarian actors,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Aftonbladet newspaper.
“Cooperation in northeastern Syria is carried out primarily through the United Nations and international organizations,” she said. “Sweden doesn’t provide targeted support to Syrian Kurds or to the political or military structures in northeastern Syria, but the population in these areas is, of course, taking part in these aid projects.”

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