Palestinians vote in local elections amid rising anger with Abbas

Police officers stand guard as Palestinians begin registering party lists for May parliamentary election, at the Central Elections Commission's office in Gaza City March 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 December 2021

Palestinians vote in local elections amid rising anger with Abbas

RAMALLAH: Palestinians held municipal elections in the occupied West Bank on Saturday in a rare democratic exercise and amid rising anger with President Mahmoud Abbas after he canceled planned legislative and presidential votes earlier this year.
More than 400,000 Palestinians were eligible to cast ballots for representatives in 154 village councils in the West Bank, where Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule. Municipal votes are typically held every four or five years.
But the elections are not being held in Gaza, whose Islamist rulers Hamas are boycotting the vote amid a rift with Abbas’ Fatah party. And the 86-year-old leader postponed votes in the West Bank’s major cities, like Ramallah, where Fatah’s performance would be seen as a referendum on his rule.
“These elections cannot be an alternative to legislative elections,” said Ahmad Issa, 23, outside a polling station in the village of Bir Nabala. “We need (legislative) elections, to give a horizon to youth, and to make reforms, laws and change.”
Abbas, already sagging in opinion polls, drew widespread anger in April when he canceled legislative and presidential elections scheduled for the summer, citing Israeli curbs on Palestinian voting in East Jerusalem.
Abbas’ rivals, including Hamas, accused him of using the Jerusalem voting dispute as an excuse to cancel elections that polls showed he and his party would lose to the Islamist group. Abbas, who has ruled by decree for over a decade, denies this.
A spokesman for Hamas, which boycotted previous municipal elections in 2012 and 2017, said in a statement the group “refuses to participate in partial elections that are tailored to Fatah, and conducted by the PA,” calling on Abbas to reschedule the canceled summer votes.
Hamas has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since fighting an 11-day war with Israel in May. The group won student council elections this year at several top West Bank universities, an important barometer of support.
The Palestinians seek statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally, and peace talks between the two sides broke down in 2014.
Hamas won the Palestinians’ last legislative election, in 2006. That laid the ground for a political rupture: Hamas seized Gaza after fighting a short civil war with Fatah in 2007, and has ruled the coastal enclave ever since.


Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

Updated 6 sec ago

Syrian Kurds stop operations against Daesh

  • Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
BEIRUT: The commander of the main US-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria said Saturday they have halted operations against the Daesh group due to Turkish attacks on northern Syria over the past week.
Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters that after nearly a week of Turkish airstrikes on northern Syria, Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive. He said Turkey-backed opposition fighters are getting ready to take part in the operations.
Abdi added that Turkish strikes over the past week have caused severe damage to the region’s infrastructure.
Abdi said Turkey is taking advantage of the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. Kurdish organizations have denied any involvement in the Istanbul attack that killed six and wounded dozens.
Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the Istanbul attack.
“The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against IS are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped,” Abdi said, using an Arabic acronym of the Daesh group. “Anti-Daesh operations have stopped.”
His comments came hours after the US military said two rockets targeted US-led coalition forces at bases in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh resulting in no “injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”
The US military statement said SDF fighters visited the site of the rocket's origin and found a third unfired rocket.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, blamed Daesh sleeper cells for the Friday night attack on the US base.
“Attacks of this kind place coalition forces and the civilian populace at risk and undermine the hard-earned stability and security of Syria and the region,” said Col. Joe Buccino, CENTCOM spokesman.
The SDF said in a statement before midnight Friday that as Turkish drones flew over the al-Hol camp that is home to tens of thousands of mostly wives, widows and children of IS fighters, some IS family members attacked security forces and managed to escape from the sprawling facility. The SDF did not say how many escaped but that they were later detained.
Kurdish authorities operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria holding about 10,000 Daesh fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

Updated 26 November 2022

Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”


Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

Updated 26 November 2022

Iran’s Khamenei praises Basij forces for confronting ‘riots’ — TV

DUBAI: Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in “riots” sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September.
The Basij force, affiliated with the country’s Revolutionary Guards, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. “They have sacrificed their lives to protect people from rioters,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.


Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

Updated 26 November 2022

Rockets target US Syria base in latest strike: Centcom

  • Rockets aimed at ‘coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria’

BEIRUT: Two rockets targeted a US patrol base in northeastern Syria late Friday, the third such attack in nine days, US Central Command said.

Centcom did not indicate who fired the rockets but said, in a statement, that they aimed at “coalition forces at the US patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria.”

The strike at about 10:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) caused no injuries or damage to the base or coalition property, said Centcom, which covers the Middle East region.

The US troops support Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are the Kurds’ de facto army in the area and led the battle that dislodged the Daesh group from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.

Hundreds of American troops are still in Syria as part of the fight against Daesh remnants.

“Syrian Democratic Forces visited the rocket origin site and found a third unfired rocket,” Centcom added in its latest statement.

On November 17 rockets targeted the coalition’s Green Village base which is in Syria’s largest oil field, Al-Omar, near the Iraqi border, Centcom said at the time. There were no injuries.

A war monitor, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which has a wide network of sources in Syria, said that strike came from “a base of pro-Iranian militias.”

Such groups have significant influence in the Syria-Iraq border region.

In another attack, a Turkish drone strike on Tuesday killed two SDF fighters and posed “a risk to US troops,” Centcom said earlier.

That strike hit a base north of Hassakeh city, also in Syria’s northeast but farther north.

On November 20 Turkiye announced it had carried out a series of air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, a week after a bomb attack in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded 81.

Turkiye says it is targeting rear bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF.

Both Kurdish groups denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.


US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

Updated 25 November 2022

US official urges ‘de-escalation’ as Turkiye strikes Syria

  • Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq
  • The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger

BEIRUT: A US official in Syria on Friday called for an “immediate de-escalation” following days of deadly airstrikes and shelling along the Syria-Turkiye border, saying the actions destabilize the region and undermine the fight against the Daesh group.
Turkiye this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on the Kurdish groups.
The groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say the Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the anti-Daesh fight.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that 67 civilians, gunmen and soldiers, have been killed in Turkish attacks in northern Syria since the airstrikes began.
Nikolas Granger, the US senior representative to northeastern Syria, said Washington “strongly opposes military action that further destabilizes the lives of communities and families in Syria and we want immediate de-escalation.”
The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger, who is currently in Syria, and added that the strikes also endanger US military personnel there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups. On Friday, he said Turkiye would continue its “struggle against all kinds of terror inside and outside our borders.”
Turkiye and the United States both consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terror group for the decadeslong insurgency and attacks the group has staged within Turkiye’s borders.
But they disagree on the status of the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Syrian Kurdish group has been a key US ally in the fight against Daesh.
Turkiye has carried out three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and its forces still control part of the country.
Kurdish officials in Syria have been warning that any new Turkish incursion would disrupt the fight against Daesh, which still has sleeper cells and has carried out deadly attacks in recent months against the Syrian Kurdish-led opposition forces as well as Syrian government forces.
“We take these threats seriously and prepare to confront any ground attacks,” Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told The Associated Press.