Egypt and Greece discuss cooperation in eastern Mediterranean

Greek Hydra-class frigate Spetsai (F-453) of the Hellenic Navy (front) and another ship take part in a military exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, on August 25, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 05 March 2021

Egypt and Greece discuss cooperation in eastern Mediterranean

  • President El-Sisi keen to advance ties in economic, energy, security and military fields

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have discussed areas of cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.

This came hours after Turkey announced its willingness to negotiate with Egypt in order to reach an agreement to demarcate the maritime borders in the oil-rich region.

The Egyptian presidential spokesman, Bassam Radi, said that the call between the two officials discussed the close bilateral relations that bring the two countries together in various fields, especially cooperation in energy and the eastern Mediterranean.

During the call, the Egyptian president confirmed the strength of Egyptian-Greek relations.

El-Sisi expressed Egypt’s aspiration to advance various aspects of constructive cooperation, especially in economic and energy fields, and on areas of security.

The Greek prime minister affirmed his keenness to exchange views and consult with the president on regional issues of common interest.

He pointed out the importance of mutual coordination especially in the energy sector and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The phone call came hours after a statement made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who told a press conference that Turkey and Egypt may negotiate the demarcation of the eastern Mediterranean borders if their relations allow such a step.

Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, expressed his country’s desire to restore relations with Egypt back in October.

Turkey’s conflict has intensified with neighboring countries, especially Greece and Cyprus, since 2019 to control regional waters that are subject to international disagreement, with the aim of converting them into Turkish concession areas, which are likely to contain quantities of natural gas.

While Egypt has demarcated its borders with Greece, President El-Sisi last October ratified an agreement signed on Aug. 6, 2020 between the Egyptian and Greek governments regarding the designation of the exclusive economic zone.

In 2019, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories held the EastMed Gas Forum without Turkey.

Turkey’s gas exploration in maritime areas disputed with Greece and Cyprus has poisoned relations between these parties for months.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

Updated 08 May 2021

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

  • Last week Erdogan announced "full lockdown" until May 17 to curb a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths
  • In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000

ANKARA: Turkey’s daily COVID-19 cases fell below 20,000 for the first time since March 17 on Saturday, with 18,052 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.
Last week, President Tayyip Erdogan announced what he called a “full lockdown” until May 17 to curb a surge in infections and deaths after the country eased restrictions in early March.
The data showed another 281 deaths from the coronavirus on Saturday, raising the total toll to 42,746. Total cases exceeded 5 million, although there has been a fall in infections since the lockdown.
In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000.
However, Erdogan said earlier on Saturday that he hoped a “new normalization” period would begin after May 17, adding that reopening schools would be included in steps to be announced after the lockdown.
“There is a serious fall in death numbers now. This shows the measures we took are paying off,” Erdogan said.
Despite the recent fall in infections, Turkey on Friday was placed on the UK government’s travel red list, a move that threw the status of the Champions League final on May 29 and the Formula One Turkish Grand Prix on June 11-13 — both to be held in Istanbul — into doubt.
The pandemic has also hurt Turkey’s tourism revenues, which plunged by two-thirds to $12 billion last year.

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Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

CAIRO: Egypt will require all visitors arriving from “countries where variants of the virus have appeared” to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, its health ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement did not specify the countries from which passengers would take the 15-minute DNA test, called ID NOW.
Egypt’s new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising in recent weeks. On Saturday it reported 1,125 new cases and 65 deaths, although experts say that reflects only a fraction of total cases.
In a statement on Saturday, Egypt’s tourism ministry clarified that restaurants and coffee shops attached to hotels were exempt from a recent decree that such outlets as well as malls and stores would close at 9 p.m. local time (GMT +2) in order to not affect tourism.

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Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Updated 08 May 2021

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Updated 08 May 2021

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.
The pore-dawn attack damaged a hangar, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts US troops.
The attacks have been frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.