Turkey facing delayed China vaccine amid controversial extradition deal

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A woman walks with her dog along a deserted street during a curfew on Sunday in Ankara. Turkey has increased precautions to contain COVID-19. (AP)
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In this Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 file photo, under the watchful eye of Prof. Dr. Iftahar Koksal, left, nurse Arzu Yildirim, center, administers a dose of the CoronaVac vaccine, made by Sinovac, currently on phase III clinical trials at Acibadem Hospital in Istanbul. (AP)
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Updated 29 December 2020

Turkey facing delayed China vaccine amid controversial extradition deal

  • AKP risks coalition breakdown over anti-Uighur agreement with Beijing

JEDDAH: China’s parliament ratified on Sunday an extradition agreement with Turkey to boost its alleged counterterrorism efforts abroad.

However, critics warn that the agreement will be used in tandem with economic and diplomatic pressure on foreign governments to deport Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority.

The deal was signed in 2017 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Beijing, but it has yet to be ratified by Turkey’s parliament.

Media have speculated that the extradition deal might be used by Beijing as a bargaining chip to boost its investments in Turkey and increase sales of its coronavirus vaccine in the country.

China has already delayed delivery of the first shipment of the Sinovac vaccine to Turkey for several days after a “customs-related problem” arose.

Beijing is also expected to adjust its trade and business ties with Turkey, which is in dire need of foreign capital, depending on the willingness of Ankara to ratify the extradition deal in the near future.

China is still among Turkey’s largest import partners.

The first train carrying goods from Turkey to China reached its destination on Saturday, having covered a distance of 8,693 km

However, despite the battered Turkish economy facing a depletion of foreign exchange reserves, an expert said Turkey “would not ratify the agreement anytime soon.”

Turkey’s domestic situation means the ruling party risks losing its nationalistic coalition partner over accusations that the agreement will harm Uighur minorities, the expert said.

“The government is likely to receive a huge blow from the opposition parties and its coalition partner if it proceeds with ratifying the bill in parliament amid the fragile political circumstances,” the expert told Arab News.

If the agreement is passed by the Turkish parliament, Uighur refugees in Turkey will face extradition to China if they are accused of committing terror or political crimes.

However, if Uighurs are granted Turkish citizenship, extradition requests could be denied by Turkish authorities.

Turkey’s government already faced heavy criticism earlier this year following reports that some exiled Uighurs were deported to China through third countries, mostly Tajikistan.

Critics have said that the long-term residency applications of some Uighurs were also rejected by Turkey, but Ankara has denied the claims.

A motion brought forward by Turkey’s main opposition party to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate China’s treatment of Uighurs was vetoed by the ruling party earlier this year.

Last month, Yusufujrang Aimaitijiang, an Uighur man who claimed to have been forced by Chinese authorities to provide information about fellow Uighurs in Turkey, was shot twice in Istanbul.

There are also mounting allegations about Uighur refugees being interrogated by Turkish police over terror-related claims.

About 50,000 Uighur refugees are believed to live in Turkey. Many have fled the crackdown in northwest China, and see Turkey as a safe haven.

Several districts on the European side of Istanbul have already become popular among Uighurs, and they are welcomed with solidarity by Turkish locals.

China has faced widespread criticism regarding its policies targeting Uighurs and its use of forced labor in mass internment camps.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently held a phone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

During the call on Dec. 14, Wang said that “both sides should stand against terrorism,” while Cavusoglu said Turkey “will not allow China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to be undermined,” according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.

Turkey was absent from a group of 22 countries that urged the UN Human Rights Council in July to investigate systemic human rights abuse in China.


Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

Updated 04 March 2021

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

  • The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a preeminent Shiite figure, are to meet on Saturday for at most 40 minutes, part of the time alone except for interpreters, in the cleric’s modest home in Najaf. 

Al-Sistani is notoriously reclusive and has not left his Najaf home in years. He does not make public appearances and his sermons are delivered by representatives. He rarely receives foreign dignitaries.

The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.

The signature was among many elements the two sides negotiated over extensively. In the end, Shiite religious officials in Najaf told the AP a signing was not on the agenda, and Al-Sistani will issue a verbal statement instead.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy will pull up along Najaf’s busy column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites.


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To the side is an alleyway too narrow for cars. Here, Francis will walk the 30 meters to Al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. Waiting to greet him at the entrance will be Al-Sistani’s influential son, Mohammed Ridha.

Inside, and some steps to the right, the pontiff will come face to face with the ayatollah.

Each will make a simple gesture of mutual respect.

Francis will remove his shoes before entering Al-Sistani’s room.

Al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, will stand to greet Francis at the door and walk him to an L-shaped blue sofa, inviting him to take a seat.

The pope will be offered tea. Gifts will be exchanged.

Francis will almost certainly present Al-Sistani with bound copies of his most important writings, top among them his latest encyclical “Brothers All.”

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Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Updated 03 March 2021

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

  • Nasser Al-Qudwa launched the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with 230 prominent Palestinians attending
  • Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation
AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however. Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance. The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations. Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said. Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians. In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll. In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30. Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.” Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.” In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.


Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Updated 03 March 2021

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.


Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Updated 03 March 2021

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Updated 04 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

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