A Syrian military helicopter crashed during a training mission due to a technical failure northeast of the city of Hama, and its crew were killed, the Syrian state news agency (SANA) reported on Sunday, citing a military source.
Syrian military helicopter crashes in Hama, crew is killed — state media
Syrian military helicopter crashes in Hama, crew is killed — state media
Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not revive settlements evacuated in 2005
- Lawmakers earlier voted to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the occupied West Bank the government evacuated in 2005
JERUSALEM: Israel has “no intention” of reviving West Bank settlements evacuated nearly two decades ago, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, after a parliamentary vote sparked US ire.
Lawmakers voted Tuesday to annul part of a law banning Israelis from living in areas of the occupied West Bank the government evacuated in 2005.
That year Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and removed Jewish settlers from the coastal territory, as well as from four settlements in the northern West Bank.
Netanyahu’s office said the parliamentary vote scraps “a discriminatory and humiliating law, that prohibited Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria, which is part of our historic homeland,” using the biblical name for the northern West Bank.
“Having said that, the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas,” the statement added.
Netanyahu returned to power in December and vowed to expand settlements across the West Bank, which are deemed illegal under international law.
His assertion that the government will not formally allow settlers to return to the four sites evacuated in 2005 comes after Washington said it was “extremely troubled” by the parliamentary vote.
“The legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Tuesday.
Patel said the move was in “clear contradiction” of promises made by prime minister Ariel Sharon to US president George W. Bush, as well as assurances given just two days ago by the Netanyahu administration.
The decision by lawmakers was heralded by Israel’s settler movement which has made one of the sites — Homesh — a symbol of their cause.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself a far-right settler, tweeted that it marked a step toward regularizing the Israeli presence at Homesh.
A small group of activists returned to the site in 2009 and set up a Jewish seminary, which was cleared repeatedly by Israeli troops before the military eventually allowed them to stay.
Tear gas, clashes as Lebanon protesters try to storm government HQ
- The retired soldiers demanding better pay were clashing with riot police and troops
BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse hundreds of protesters, mainly retired soldiers, who tried to break through the fence leading to the government headquarters in downtown Beirut.
The violence came amid widespread anger over the harsh economic conditions in the country, where mismanagement by the ruling class has been rampant for years, preceding the economic meltdown that started in late 2019.
The retired soldiers demanding better pay were clashing with riot police and troops. Several people suffered breathing problems from the tear gas. The protesters hurled stones at the officers protecting the government headquarters and repeatedly tried to break through the fence.
The Lebanese pound hit a new low on Tuesday, selling for more than 143,000 pounds to the dollar before making some gains. The pound has lost more than 96 percent of its value over the past three years.
“My monthly salary is $40. How can I survive,” screamed a retired army officer.
Lebanon, a small Mediterranean nation of 6 million people, is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The political class has also resisted the implementation of reforms demanded by the international community. Since the economic meltdown began, three-quarters of the population, which includes 1 million Syrian refugees, now lives in poverty and inflation is soaring.
Lebanon has also stalled on reforms agreed to with the International Monetary Fund to enable access to $3 billion in a bailout package and unlock funds in development aid to make the economy viable again.
Building collapse in Qatar’s capital kills 1, search ongoing
DOHA: A building collapsed Wednesday in Qatar’s capital, killing at least one person as searchers clawed through the rubble to check for survivors, authorities said.
Qatar’s Interior Ministry described the building as a four-story structure in Doha’s Bin Durham neighborhood. It said rescuers found seven survivors, while the one person killed had been inside the building at the time of the collapse.
Authorities offered no immediate explanation for the building’s collapse. Online video showed car alarms sounding after the collapse, with one part of the building falling into another nearby.
Civil defense and police surrounded the site after the 8 a.m. collapse, with multiple ambulances and an excavator at the scene. Residents were asked to evacuate for their safety.
Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup last year.
Pro-Kurdish party gives tacit support to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rival in Turkey polls
- Peoples’ Democratic Party decision reduces the possibility of a damaging split of the anti-Erdogan vote
- Boosts the chances of the opposition alliance’s joint candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu
ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s main pro-Kurdish party said Wednesday it would not field a presidential candidate in May elections, giving tacit support to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rival in the crucial vote.
The decision by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) reduces the possibility of a damaging split of the anti-Erdogan vote, boosting the chances of the opposition alliance’s joint candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Winning more than 10 percent of the vote in the past three national elections, the HDP was widely seen as a kingmaker in the tightly contested race.
“We will not field a candidate in the presidential elections,” Pervin Buldan, the party co-chairwoman, told reporters.
“We will fulfil our historic responsibility to end one-man rule in the coming elections,” she said, condemning Erdogan’s consolidation of power over his two decades as prime minister and president.
The HDP’s decision strips Erdogan of a key voting bloc in what is widely seen as Turkiye’s most important election of its post-Ottoman history.
Erdogan enjoyed some support from Kurdish voters earlier in his rule.
His government once worked with HDP politicians in an effort to put an end to a decades-long fight by Kurdish insurgents for an independent state that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
But he now accuses the HDP — parliament’s third largest party — of being the political wing of the PKK militants.
The leftist party denies the charges and says it is being singled out for its fierce criticism of the government’s social and economic policies.
Erdogan and his far-right allies in parliament are now trying to dissolve the HDP over its alleged terror ties.
Turkiye’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected the HDP’s request to delay the outcome of the case until after the May 14 election.
The HDP was excluded from a six-party opposition alliance that has rallied around Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.
The anti-Erdogan alliance includes staunchly nationalist parties that refuse to work with the HDP.
Meeting with HDP leaders on Monday, Kilicdaroglu promised to remove restrictions on the Kurdish language and address other Kurdish concerns.
Kurds remain biggest winners from US-led invasion of Iraq
- Irbil, the seat of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, was once a backwater provincial capital
- That rapidly changed after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein
IRBIL, Iraq: Complexes of McMansions, fast food restaurants, real estate offices and half-constructed high-rises line wide highways in Irbil, the seat of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Many members of the political and business elite live in a suburban gated community dubbed the American Village, where homes sell for as much as $5 million, with lush gardens consuming more than a million liters of water a day in the summer.
The visible opulence is a far cry from 20 years ago. Back then, Irbil was a backwater provincial capital without even an airport.
That rapidly changed after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. Analysts say that Iraqi Kurds – and particularly the Kurdish political class – were the biggest beneficiaries in a conflict that had few winners.
That’s despite the fact that for ordinary Kurds, the benefits of the new order have been tempered by corruption and power struggles between the two major Kurdish parties and between Irbil and Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
In the wake of the invasion, much of Iraq fell into chaos, as occupying American forces fought an insurgency and as multiple political and sectarian communities vied to fill the power vacuum left in Baghdad. But the Kurds, seen as staunch allies of the Americans, strengthened their political position and courted foreign investments.
Irbil quickly grew into an oil-fueled boom town. Two years later, in 2005, the city opened a new commercial airport, constructed with Turkish funds, and followed a few years after that by an expanded international airport.
Traditionally, the “Kurdish narrative is one of victimhood and one of grievances,” said Bilal Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute think tank. But in Iraq since 2003, “that is not the Kurdish story. The story is one of power and empowerment.”
With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent homeland in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But the treaty was never ratified, and “Kurdistan” was carved up. Since then, there have been Kurdish rebellions in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, while in Syria, Kurds have clashed with Turkish-backed forces.
In Iraq, the Kurdish region won de facto self-rule in 1991, when the United States imposed a no-fly zone over it in response to Saddam’s brutal repression of Kurdish uprisings.
“We had built our own institutions, the parliament, the government,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a top official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party who served as foreign minister in Iraq’s first post-Saddam government. “Also, we had our own civil war. But we overcame that,” he said, referring to fighting between rival Kurdish factions in the mid-1990s.
Speaking in an interview at his palatial home in Masif, a former resort town in the mountains above Irbil that is now home to much of the KDP leadership, Zabari added, “The regime change in Baghdad has brought a lot of benefits to this region.”
Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, from the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also gave a glowing assessment of the post-2003 developments. The Kurds, he said, had aimed for “a democratic Iraq, and at the same time some sort of … self-determination for the Kurdish people.”
With the US overthrow of Saddam, he said, “We achieved that ... We became a strong group in Baghdad.”
The post-invasion constitution codified the Kurdish region’s semi-independent status, while an informal power-sharing arrangement now stipulates that Iraq’s president is always a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite and the parliament speaker a Sunni.
But even in the Kurdish region, the legacy of the invasion is complicated. The two major Kurdish parties have jockeyed for power, while Irbil and Baghdad have been at odds over territory and the sharing of oil revenues.
Meanwhile, Arabs in the Kurdish region and minorities, including the Turkmen and Yazidis, feel sidelined in the new order, as do Kurds without ties to one of the two key parties that serve as gatekeepers to opportunities in the Kurdish region.
As the economic boom has stagnated in recent years, due to both domestic issues and global economic trends, an increasing number of Kurdish youths are leaving the country in search of better opportunities. According to the International Labor Organization, 19.2 percent of men and 38 percent of women aged 15-24 were unemployed and out of school in Irbil province in 2021.
Wahab said Irbil’s post-2003 economic success has also been qualified by widespread waste and patronage in the public sector.
“The corruption in the system is really undermining the potential,” he said.
In Kirkuk, an oil-rich city inhabited by a mixed population of Kurds, Turkmen and Sunni Arabs where Baghdad and Irbil have vied for control, Kahtan Vendavi, local head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front party, complained that the American forces’ “support was very clear for the Kurdish parties” after the 2003 invasion.
Turkmen are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, with an estimated 3 million people, but hold no high government positions and only a handful of parliamentary seats.
In Kirkuk, the Americans “appointed a governor of Kurdish nationality to manage the province. Important departments and security agencies were handed over to Kurdish parties,” Vendavi said.
Some Kurdish groups also lost out in the post-2003 order, which consolidated the power of the two major parties.
Ali Bapir, head of the Kurdistan Justice Group, a Kurdish Islamist party, said the two ruling parties “treat people who do not belong to (them) as third- and fourth-class citizens.”
Bapir has other reasons to resent the US incursion. Although he had fought against the rule of Saddam’s Baath Party, the US forces who arrived in 2003 accused him and his party of ties to extremist groups. Soon after the invasion, the US bombed his party’s compound and then arrested Bapir and imprisoned him for two years.
Kurds not involved in the political sphere have other, mainly economic, concerns.
Picnicking with her mother and sister and a pair of friends at the sprawling Sami Abdul Rahman Park, built on what was once a military base under Saddam, 40-year-old Tara Chalabi acknowledged that the “security and safety situation is excellent here.”
But she ticked off a list of other grievances, including high unemployment, the end of subsidies from the regional government for heating fuel and frequent delays and cuts in the salaries of public employees like her.
“Now there is uncertainty if they will pay this month,” she said.
Nearby, a group of university students said they are hoping to emigrate.
“Working hard, before, was enough for you to succeed in life,” said a 22-year-old who gave only her first name, Gala. “If you studied well and you got good grades … you would have a good opportunity, a good job. But now it’s very different. You must have connections.”
In 2021, hundreds of Iraqi Kurds rushed to Belarus in hopes of crossing into Poland or other neighboring EU countries. Belarus at the time was readily handing out tourist visas in an apparent attempt to pressure the European Union by creating a wave of migrants.
Those who went, Wahab said, were from the middle class, able to afford plane tickets and smuggler fees.
“To me, it’s a sign that it’s not about poverty,” he said. “It’s basically about the younger generation of Kurds who don’t really see a future for themselves in this region anymore.”