Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

Peshmerga fighters, in northern Iraq above, have been relentlessly targeted by Daesh militants. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

  • Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD: Four Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed in an attack blamed on the Daesh group, a security official said Monday, the third such assault in less than two weeks.
Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq that targeted an outpost north of Kirkuk, the source said.
Kurdish army forces confirmed the deadly attack but did not say how Peshmerga fighters were killed in wounded, in a statement accusing Daesh of responsibility.
It was the third attack blamed on Daesh militants in less than two weeks against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.
On Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for an assault south of the Kurdish capital of Irbil that killed at least nine Peshmerga fighters and three civilians.
At the end of November, five Peshmergas were killed in a roadside bombing also claimed by the militant group.
Daesh seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.
The Iraqi government declared the extremists defeated in late 2017, although the Daesh retains sleeper cells which still strike security forces with hit-and-run attacks.

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

Updated 21 January 2022

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

  • The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki says

NEW YORK: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki criticized US President Joe Biden on Thursday for moving too slowly to reverse all of former President Donald Trump administration’s adverse policies against the Palestinians and not using Washington’s special relationship to pressure Israel to abandon “its rejection of a two-state solution and peace negotiations.”

Malki told the UN Security Council there were hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “would be enough to pave the way for renewed momentum for peace.”

But while the Biden administration reversed several “unlawful and ill-advised” Trump policies, he said it has been slow to act, especially on the US commitment to reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem which would restore Washington’s main diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in the contested city.

After Biden took office a year ago, the Palestinians thought the US “could try to move the Israeli position toward us,” Malki told reporters later.

“But we have seen that the Israeli position has been able to move the American position a little bit toward them — and this is really what troubles us very much.”

The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki said.

“This is an unacceptable stance that should neither be tolerated nor excused and must be reversed.”

Malki said he had “a very open, frank discussion” earlier on Wednesday with US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, including on US-Palestinian relations, the peace process, Palestinian expectations from the US and “what they are trying to do in the near future in order to see things moving forward in the right direction.”

He said the Palestinians are engaging with the US administration about possible ways to eliminate restrictions imposed by Congress on reopening the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

Tor Wennesland, the UN Mideast envoy, told the council that six Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security forces, another died in unclear circumstances, and 249 Palestinians were injured, including 46 children, in the West Bank in he past month.

He said 15 Israelis were injured in attacks by Palestinians.

Malki called on the Security Council to take urgent action to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and save the two-state solution, pointing to Israel’s accelerated settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, confiscation of Palestinian land “and even annexing Palestinian land.”

“Absent this sense of urgency, prepare yourself then to attend the funeral of this solution, with all the consequences of such a death for the lives of millions of people, Palestinians and others,” Malki warned.

“The Palestinian people will survive, but the two-state solution may not,” he said.

“What happens then? Will you convert to advocates of the one-state solution of freedom and equal rights for all between the river and the sea? These would be the only options available then.”

Malki urged support for an international peace conference and echoed Russia’s call for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, EU and Russia — “as soon as possible to mobilize efforts to get out from the current impasse.”

He said the UN, EU and Russia have agreed to a ministerial meeting but “we’re still waiting for the approval of the American side.”

He said the three other Quartet members should convince the US about the importance of a ministerial meeting to move the Middle East peace process forward.

Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, made no mention of the meeting with Malki or the Quartet in her briefing to the council, but she reaffirmed the Biden administration’s “strong support for a two-state solution” and said “this year offers an opportunity to recommit to reaching a political solution to the conflict.”

The US envoy, who visited Israel and the West Bank in November, reiterated that Israel and the Palestinians “are locked in a spiral of distrust.”

“Israelis don’t believe they have a partner for peace, while Palestinians are trapped in despair born of the complete absence of a political horizon,” she said.

To make progress, Thomas-Greenfield said both sides must refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and undercut efforts toward a two-state solution.

That means Israel should refrain from annexing territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions “like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah,” the Jerusalem neighborhood where Israel on Wednesday evicted Palestinian residents from a disputed property and demolished it, and Palestinians should stop inciting violence and compensating individuals imprisoned “for acts of terrorism,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

Updated 21 January 2022

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

  • Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance

JERUSALEM: Five members of a Palestinian family arrested after Israeli police demolished their house in East Jerusalem have been released, their lawyer said on Thursday.

The arrest of several members of the Salhiya family came as they were evicted from their house in the sensitive neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli authorities before dawn on Wednesday. Walid Abu Tayeh, the family’s lawyer, confirmed “the release of the five people detained since Wednesday, including Mahmoud Salhiya and his sons.”

Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance.

Abu Tayeh said the release of the five on Thursday was conditional on payment of a 1,000 Israeli shekel ($320) fine, and that the group was forbidden from entering Sheikh Jarrah for one month.

The looming eviction of other Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year partly fueled an 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.

In those cases, Palestinians risked having to surrender plots of land to Jewish settlers who had mounted legal claims to the land.

But Jerusalem authorities have stressed the Salhiya family eviction is a different case and that the city intends to build a special needs school on the land, benefitting Arab residents of east Jerusalem.

The city has said it purchased the land from previous Arab owners and that the Salhiya’s had lived there illegally for years, but failed to agree to a compromise on an eviction order first issued in 2017. The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem.

In a statement, the European countries said that the hundreds of new buildings would “constitute an additional obstacle to the two-state solution,” referring to international peace efforts to create a state for Palestinians.

Israeli authorities recently approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, nearly half of which are to be built in the controversial areas of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa.

The foreign ministries said that building in this area would further disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem and that these settlements are a violation of international law.

The four countries also expressed concern about the evictions and demolitions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel captured East Jerusalem including the Old City in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which abuts the city, and the Gaza Strip. Israel views the entire city as its indivisible capital.

Most world powers deem the Israeli settlements illegal for taking in territory where Palestinians seek statehood.

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Updated 20 January 2022

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

  • On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched it’s push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement

BEIRUT: Shelling on the Turkish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed six civilians on Thursday, the latest in a spate of attacks, a war monitor said.

It was not immediately clear who fired the artillery shells but the attack came from a region where Kurdish fighters and Syrian regime forces are present, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Six people, including two children, where killed,” said the Britain-based monitor which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports.

Nearly 30 others were wounded, it added.

The shelling came a week after a suicide bomber launched an attack near a military base run by Turkey-backed fighters in Afrin, according to the Observatory.

Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over several military operations launched since 2016 against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia.

In March 2018, they seized Afrin after pushing the Syrian Kurdish forces out.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched its push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement.

“Recovering Afrin and (securing) the safe return of it’s inhabitants ... is our main priority,” Mazlum Abdi, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted.

The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, since it broke out in 2011.

Meanwhile, five Roman artifacts from the ancient city of Palmyra, a site damaged during the conflict, were returned to Damascus on Thursday by a private Lebanese museum where they had been on display since 2018.

The limestone statues and carved funerary stones dating from the Roman second and third centuries AD were returned at the initiative of a private Lebanese collector, Syrian antiquities chief Mohamed Nazir Awad said at a handover ceremony hosted by Lebanon’s National Museum in Beirut.

The collector, Jawad Adra, acquired them from European auction houses before Syria’s war began in 2011, Awad said, describing his actions as “a generous initiative.”

The pieces, which had been on display at the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, were returning to “their original homeland,” the Syrian regime official added.

During the Syrian conflict, the site of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world, fell under the control of Daesh, which blew up some of its major monuments, including the Arch of Triumph.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said talks were underway to arrange the return of other artifacts from the National Museum in Beirut to Syria.

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

Updated 20 January 2022

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

  • A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh militants attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility
  • Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces blamed the attack on ‘Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces’

BEIRUT: Daesh attacked a Kurdish-run jail in northeast Syria on Thursday, freeing fellow militants, a war monitor reported without specifying how many escaped.

A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh extremists attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“A number of prisoners managed to escape,” said the Observatory which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. It did not specify how they managed to break out.

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in northeast Syria, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed the rare attack in a statement but did not mention any prisoners fleeing.

“A new insurgence and attempted escape by Daesh terrorists detained in Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasaka in conjunction with an explosion of a car bomb,” it said.

It blamed the attack on “Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces.”

The Observatory said the SDF has dispatched reinforcements to the prison and cordoned off the area.

Aircraft belonging to the US-led international coalition battling Daesh hovered over the facility and dropped flares in its vicinity, the monitor added.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment.

Daesh’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.

A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the extremist proto-state in March 2019.

The remnants of Daesh mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to harass Syrian government and allied forces.

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

Updated 20 January 2022

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

  • Lebanese president confirms parliamentary elections will go ahead on time
  • Disgruntled customer surrenders after ‘stealing’ $50,000 from bank in armed raid

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday reiterated his determination to work in cooperation with parliament and the government as the country prepares to begin its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Speaking during the traditional annual meeting with members of the diplomatic corps, the president also confirmed that the parliamentary elections would take place on time.

Aoun expressed his support for the criminal audit of the central bank and other departments, institutions and councils. He also highlighted his keenness to achieve reforms and approve a financial and economic recovery plan in the coming weeks in preparation for the discussions with the IMF.

His remarks came as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Beirut from the UAE after a long absence. It was reported Hariri plans to reorganize the Future Movement party and resolve the issue of its participation in the upcoming elections.

Hariri also visited Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, and the tomb of his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his unwillingness to run again for the parliamentary seat.

He said he wanted to “make way for a serious change, by making way for new blood, young and clean thought, aspiring for pure national goals, respecting the demands of the rebellious people and seeking change.”

Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, confirmed that his party “will run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in all regions.”

He also commented on his electoral alliance with Hezbollah in an interview with the Anadolu Agency.

“The feud is obvious and major with the party when it comes to internal matters, and if these issues are resolved, the question of electoral alliances will be determined on their basis,” Bassil said.

But he showed for the first time his backing for Hezbollah’s position on the role of the judicial investigator in the 2020 Beirut port explosion case.

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work was “discretionary,” he said, and rejected claims that the matter had been “politicized.”

Hezbollah has led the campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of bias after he pursued some of its political allies.

Hezbollah and Amal said this month they would end a boycott of Cabinet sessions, opening the way for ministers to meet after a three-month break.

In preparation for a Cabinet session on Monday, Finance Minister Youssef Khalil is expected to hand over the 2022 draft budget to the prime minister on Friday.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has begun an investigation after a Lebanese man was arrested for staging an armed robbery at a bank in his hometown of Jeb Jenin in the western Bekaa on Thursday.

Abdullah Al-Saii is reported to have held employees at gunpoint and thrown gasoline at them while threatening to burn the bank down unless he was given access to his savings that had been frozen.

A security source told Arab News that Al-Saii “emptied (cash) drawers at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries branch and forced employees to open the main safe.”

He managed to withdraw $50,000 and was on his way home to give it to his wife when he surrendered to the security services. He gave himself up in the belief he would later be released as “he had regained his right and was not stealing.”

The Lebanese judiciary issued an arrest warrant for Al-Saii’s wife, who said she would go on hunger strike until her husband was released.

The security source said: “If Al-Saii is not held accountable for his actions, others will do what he did, and then chaos and the law of the jungle will prevail.”

The incident has led to a division between those who sympathize with Al-Saii and activists who demand accountability for the banking policies that led to the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

Some people expressed support for Al-Saii on social media, saying that “what was taken by force can only be recovered by force.”

Others described his actions as “heroic.”

One person wrote that “the state has turned its citizens into criminals and terrorists with its plan to seize depositors’ money.”

But the judiciary, banking and security authorities condemned Al-Saii’s act.

The Executive Council of the Federation of Banks’ Employees Syndicates asked: “Are we in a state of law or on a farm run by the powerful, authoritarians and outlaws?”

The incident would have led to a massacre if the BBAC management had not responded to the depositor’s request, it added.

Authorities imposed restrictions on bank transactions in 2019 and set a ceiling on withdrawals and transfers to accounts abroad.

Over the past two years, angry depositors have carried out dozens of protests in front of the central bank and private lenders in a bid to recover their money. The protests have led to ATMs and banks being vandalized — a closed branch in Beirut was burnt down — and staff being threatened. But Al-Saii is the first to make such a direct threat.

About $3.8 billion was withdrawn from banks between October and November 2019 following the protest movement that swept the country. By the end of that year, banks had frozen all withdrawals.