France FM in Egypt affirms ‘deep respect for Islam’

France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R), mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, give a joint press conference after their meeting at Tahrir Palace in the center of the capital Cairo on Nov. 8, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2020

France FM in Egypt affirms ‘deep respect for Islam’

  • Le Drian would also meet the grand imam of Al-Azhar
  • He ‘will pursue the appeasement process’ started by Macron

CAIRO: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Egypt Sunday hoping to ease tensions following the publishing of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked ire in the Arab world.
Le Drian met with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and will also meet Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Muslim authority.
Le Drian’s highly anticipated meeting with Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar — considered the foremost religious institution for Sunni Muslims — will tackle French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s decision in September to reprint the cartoons.
Last month Tayeb denounced remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron of “Islamist separatism” as “racist” and spreading “hate speech.”
“I have emphasised, and emphasize here the deep respect we have for Islam,” said the French minister during a press conference with Shoukry.
“What we are fighting is terrorism, it is the hijacking of religion, it is extremism,” he added, noting he came “to explain, if need be, this fight, and at the same time the fight for respect for the freedom of belief.”
Demonstrations erupted in several Muslim-majority countries after Macron defended the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, seen by many as insulting and an attack on Islam.
Macron’s remarks came after a suspected extremist decapitated a schoolteacher in a Paris suburb in October after he showed the cartoons to pupils during a lesson on freedom of expression.
El-Sisi himself had weighed in on the controversy last month, saying that “to insult the prophets amounts to underestimating the religious beliefs of many people.”
Drian’s visit also included discussion on Egypt’s conflict-hit western neighbor Libya.
“The developments in recent weeks are going in the right direction,” he said, referring to a cease-fire agreement and negotiations between opposing sides, including the latest round of peace talks between rival administrations held in Morocco.
He said both France and Egypt were on the same page in demanding the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya and respecting a United Nations arms embargo.
Drian will travel to Morocco for meetings with officials in the kingdom on Monday.
Asked about political prisoners held in Egyptian jails, Shoukry said, “there is no arbitrary detention, there is only detention according to the law.”


Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Updated 58 min 44 sec ago

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

  • The visit comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis
  • Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat

BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travels to Rabat on Wednesday along with 12 ministers before a meeting with Moroccan government officials. This visit comes as part of the European country’s strategy to improve historically complex relations with its neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis that had erupted in 2021 regarding Morocco's disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase of bilateral relations” with Morocco, an important partner with the European Union in fighting extremism and aiding the bloc's irregular migration policies.
Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat. On Thursday, he will sit down with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire businessman who won a 2021 election and is considered close to Mohammed VI.
Sánchez’s agenda doesn't include another meeting with the Moroccan king, with whom he shared the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last April in the highlight of their reconciliation.
Sánchez’s office said that the prime minister instead had a phone conversation with the monarch in which they agreed that the meeting would “contribute to consolidating this new era in the relations between Morocco and Spain.” It added that Sánchez accepted the invitation by the king to make another official visit to Rabat at an unspecified date.
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community with 800,000 residents in Spain, and important economic ties unite the neighbors which are separated by just 13 kilometers (8 miles) of water at the nearest point.
But relations between Spain and Morocco were severely damaged in May 2021 after Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which has waged a low-intensity armed rebellion seeking the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 in Spain.
Morocco responded by relaxing its border controls around Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta and thousands of people crossed over into the city. Tensions remained high until Sánchez did an about-face on Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara by backing Rabat’s proposal to give it more autonomy as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan control. Madrid maintains that the people of Western Sahara must decide their future via a referendum.
Sánchez paid a high price for moving closer to Morocco.
His shift on Western Sahara angered Algeria, a backer of the Polisario Front and major natural gas supplier to Spain. It was also widely criticized in Spain, which held Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, and caused friction inside Spain’s governing left-wing coalition between Sánchez’s Socialists and its junior partner. Politicians from across Spain's spectrum considered Sánchez to have betrayed the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara for very little tangible gains in return.
Now, Sánchez is aiming to reap some benefits after last year’s return to diplomatic normalcy.
This will be first meeting since 2015 with such a large delegation of ministries represented. Sánchez is taking along his ministers in charge of the economy, energy, foreign affairs, security and policing, agriculture, commerce, transport and migration, among others.
Thursday's meeting between the governments is expected to produce several agreements between ministries and to favor business growth, including the opening of customs offices at the border crossings for Ceuta and its sister exclave, Melilla, which Morocco has never officially recognized as Spanish territories. Melilla’s customs office was closed by Morocco in 2018, while Ceuta has never had one.
Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco, accounting for a significant chunk of all foreign investments, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government. Morocco is Spain’s third most important non-EU commercial partner after the United States and Britain.
Morocco, in similar fashion to Turkey and other countries in north Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That, however, has not stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans looking for a better future in Europe, from attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, or a perilous Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands.
The frontier policing methods of both Spain and Morocco have fallen under intense scrutiny following the death of at least 23 African men, many reportedly refugees from Sudan, when they stormed a border fence at Melilla in June.
Rights group Amnesty International held a protest outside the seat of Spain’s government in Madrid on Wednesday, with cutout silhouettes of the victims of the Melilla tragedy. The rights group raises the number of deaths to 37 and says that 77 more people are still missing from the incident.
“A summit today between Morocco and Spain pretends to ignore what happened just seven months ago,” Esteban Beltrán, head of Amnesty International in Spain, said. “We want to remember that (the victims) are with us, and we want to remember the suffering of their families who have no information or a real investigation of what happened.”


Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Updated 01 February 2023

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

  • Canal sources say that shipping traffic is unaffected

CAIRO: Suez Canal tugboats are working to move a broken down LNG tanker called Grace Emilia on Wednesday, two canal sources told Reuters, adding that shipping traffic is unaffected.
The incident happened in a southern section of the canal where a second channel allows for ships to bypass the blockage caused by an engine malfunction, one of the sources said.


Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Updated 01 February 2023

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

  • Iranian authorities earlier reported “unsuccessful” drone attack

TEHRAN: Iran has accused Iraq-based Kurdish groups of being “involved” in a drone attack last week against a defense ministry site in the central province of Isfahan, Iranian media reported Wednesday.
“Parts of the drones that attacked the workshop complex of the defense ministry in Isfahan, along with explosive materials, were transferred to Iran with the participation and guidance of the Kurdish anti-revolutionary groups based in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Nour news agency said.
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Nour charged that Kurdish groups brought the drone parts and explosive materials into Iran from “one of the hardly accessible routes in the northwest” upon “the order of a foreign security service.”
The news agency, considered close to the Islamic republic’s Supreme National Security Council, did not specify which country’s security service it accused of being behind the attack. It said the drone parts were delivered to the “service’s liaison in a border city.”
“The parts and materials have been assembled and used for sabotage in an advanced workshop by trained forces,” Nour said.
Some Western media have blamed the attack on Iran’s arch foe Israel.
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hosts camps and rear-bases operated by several Iranian Kurdish rebel groups, which Iran has accused of serving Western or Israeli interests in the past.
In November, Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes against several of the groups in Iraq, accusing them of stoking the nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.


Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Updated 01 February 2023

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

  • Iraqi contractor in the base was wounded
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said.
A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail.
An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq.
Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.


Iraqi PM says banking reforms reveal fraudulent dollar transactions

Updated 01 February 2023

Iraqi PM says banking reforms reveal fraudulent dollar transactions

  • Iraq has in recent months been making efforts to ensure its banking system is compliant with the international electronic transfer system known as SWIFT

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s premier said Tuesday that new banking regulations had revealed fraudulent dollar transactions made from his country, as the fresh controls coincide with a drop in the local currency’s value.
Iraq has in recent months been making efforts to ensure its banking system is compliant with the international electronic transfer system known as SWIFT.
Referring to the new controls, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani hailed “a real reform of the banking system,” but denounced “falsified invoices, money going out fraudulently,” in particular as foreign currency payments for imports.
“That is a reality,” he said in an interview on state television.
The adoption of the SWIFT system was supposed to allow for greater transparency, tackle money laundering and help to enforce international sanctions, such as those against Iran and Russia.
An adviser to Sudani had said that since mid-November, Iraqi banks wanting to access dollar reserves stored in the United States must make transfers using the electronic system.
The US Federal Reserve will then examine the requests and block them if it finds them suspicious.
According to the adviser, the Fed had so far rejected 80 percent of the transfer requests over concerns of the funds’ final recipients.
Before the introduction of the new regulations, “we were selling $200 million or $300 million a day,” Sudani said.
“Now, the central bank provides $30 million, $40 million, $50 million,” he said, questioning: “What were we importing in a single day for $300 million?“
“There are products that were entering (Iraq) for prices that make no sense. Clearly, the objective was to take foreign currency out of Iraq,” he said. “This must stop.”
Money may have been transported to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan province “and from there to neighboring countries,” Sudani said, without specifying whether he was referring to Turkiye, Iran or war-torn Syria.
He said the new controls had been planned for two years, in accordance with an agreement between Iraq’s central bank and US financial authorities, and deplored previous failures to put them in place.
Iraq, which is trying to move past four decades of war and unrest, is plagued by endemic corruption.
The official exchange rate is fixed by the government at 1,470 dinars to the dollar, but the currency was trading at around 1,680 on Tuesday on unofficial markets amid dollar scarcity.
The drop has sparked sporadic protests by Iraqis worried about their purchasing power.
Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the new central bank chief will be among a delegation traveling to Washington on February 7 to discuss the new mechanism and the fluctuating exchange rate, Sudani said.