Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

An armored police vehicle is parked outside the German consulate which was closed due to security concerns in central Istanbul on Feb. 2, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 February 2023

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Daesh group kills 15 truffle hunters in Syria: monitor

Updated 24 March 2023

Daesh group kills 15 truffle hunters in Syria: monitor

  • Syria’s desert truffles fetch high prices in a country battered by 12 years of war

BEIRUT: The Daesh group killed 15 people foraging for desert truffles in conflict-ravaged central Syria by cutting their throats, while 40 others are missing, a war monitor said Friday.
Syria’s desert truffles fetch high prices in a country battered by 12 years of war and a crushing economic crisis.
Since February, at least 150 people — most of them civilians — have been killed by IS attacks targeting truffle hunters or by land mines left by the extremists, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“At least 15 people, including seven civilians and eight local pro-regime fighters, were killed by Daesh fighters who slit their throats while they were collecting truffles on Thursday,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Forty others are missing following the attack in Hama province, he added.
Syrian state media did not immediately report the incident.
Between February and April each year, hundreds of impoverished Syrians search for truffles in the vast Syrian Desert, or Badia — a known hideout for jihadists that is also littered with land mines.
Foragers risk their lives to collect the delicacies, despite repeated warnings about land mines and Daesh fighters.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters killed three truffle hunters and kidnapped at least 26 others in northern Syria, according to the monitor, which relies on a vast network of sources inside Syria.
That attack happened near positions held by pro-Iran forces, said the Britain-based Observatory.

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Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal

Updated 24 March 2023

Israel’s attorney general: Netanyahu involvement in judicial overhaul is illegal

  • ‘The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s violated the law by saying he would get personally involved in a judicial overhaul plan, the attorney-general said on Friday.
In the face of intensifying protests against the proposed changes, Netanyahu said on Thursday that he was putting aside all other considerations and would do “anything it takes” to reach a solution.
Netanyahu added that his hands had been tied, but a new law limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed gave him more space for maneuver.
However, Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, in a letter addressed to Netanyahu, disagreed.
“The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary, including the makeup of the committee for the appointment of judges, as such activity is a conflict of interest.”
“Your statement last night and any action you take in violation of this matter is illegal and tainted by a conflict of interest,” Baharav-Miara added.

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14 dead in US strikes on Syria after drone kills American contractor

Updated 24 March 2023

14 dead in US strikes on Syria after drone kills American contractor

  • US troops are in Syria as part of a coalition fighting against remnants of the Daesh group
  • US personnel have frequently been targeted in attacks by militia groups

BEIRUT: Fourteen pro-Iran fighters were killed in US air strikes on Syria carried out in retaliation for a drone attack that killed an American and wounded six others, a war monitor said Friday.
A US contractor was killed, and another contractor and five US service personnel wounded, when a kamikaze drone "of Iranian origin" struck a maintenance facility on a base of the US-led coalition near Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, the Pentagon said.
In response, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that, at President Joe Biden's direction, he had ordered "precision air strikes tonight in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps".
"The air strikes were conducted in response to today's attack as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC," Austin said.
Iran-backed militias have a heavy presence across Syria, especially around the border with Iraq and south and west of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province, where the latest US strikes took place.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with a wide network of sources on the ground, said 14 people had been killed by US strikes, including nine Syrians.
"US strikes targeted a weapons depot inside Deir Ezzor city, killing six pro-Iran fighters, and two other fighters were killed by strikes targeting the desert of Al-Mayadeen, and six others near Albu Kamal," said the Observatory's head Rami Abdel Rahman.
On Friday morning, Iran-backed groups stationed near the city of Al-Mayadeen fired three missiles near a US base, said Abdel Rahman.
Two missiles struck in Syria's largest oil field, Al-Omar, which houses the US base, without causing damage, while the third landed on a civilian house nearby, he added.
The United States deploys about 900 troops in bases and posts across northeastern Syria as part of the international coalition fighting remnants of Daesh.
American troops also support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurds' de facto army in the area, which led the battle that dislodged Daesh from their last scraps of Syrian territory in 2019.
The US personnel have frequently been targeted in attacks by militia groups.
Two of the US service members wounded on Thursday were treated on site, while the three other troops and one US contractor were medically evacuated to Iraq, the Pentagon said.
"We will always take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing," said General Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command.
When the strikes were announced, Biden had already travelled to Canada, where he is set to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In January, the US military said "three one-way attack drones" were launched against the coalition garrison at Al-Tanf in Syria, with one breaching its air defences and wounding two allied Syrian fighters.
The Observatory said it was likely Iran-backed militants had carried out that attack.
Last August, Biden ordered similar retaliatory strikes in Deir Ezzor province after several drones targeted a coalition outpost, without causing any casualties.
That attack came the same day that Iranian state media announced a Revolutionary Guard general had been killed days earlier while "on a mission in Syria as a military adviser".
Iran, a key ally of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says it has deployed its forces in Syria at the invitation of Damascus and only as advisers.

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Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Updated 24 March 2023

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

  • Conflict divided country between Houthis in north and UN-recognized government in south

DUBAI: Female aid workers in north Yemen cannot do their jobs tackling one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as tightening male guardianship rules by Houthi authorities restrict their movement, nine female humanitarians have revealed.

When women refuse to take a guardian, they cannot travel to oversee aid projects, collect data and deliver health and other services. When women do take one, gender-sensitive work is difficult and aid budgets must bear extra costs.

One health project manager normally conducts 15-20 visits a year to projects around the country but said she has not made any since the rules requiring Yemeni female aid workers be accompanied by a close male relative — a “mahram” in Arabic — came out a year ago.

“I don’t have a lot of men in my family,” she said, adding that some women struggle to find willing guardians because relatives are against her working. “Sometimes a woman works without informing someone in her family.” She improvises with video calls, but knows other women have lost jobs because they cannot work effectively.

Yemen’s conflict has divided the country between the Houthis in north Yemen and an internationally recognized government in the south.

The conflict has wrecked the economy and destroyed the health system, leaving two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million population in need of humanitarian assistance. Aid groups say female-headed households are more vulnerable to food insecurity and difficulties accessing aid.

Without female staff in the field, aid groups say they have trouble doing things as simple as identification checks on women, who may need to lift their face veils, to distribute food aid.

“Mahram requirements are making it even more challenging for humanitarian interventions to reach the most marginalized female program participants,” said one representative of an NGO that works on nutrition and sanitation.

For the past year female Yemeni aid workers have had to take a mahram when crossing provincial borders controlled by the Houthi group, a religious, political and military movement that controls north Yemen. In four provinces, they even need a guardian to move within the province.

“Female (Yemeni) staff have not been able to work outside our offices for almost two years which is catastrophic for their development, morale, motivation and also most obviously for us reaching women and girls in the field in a culturally sensitive way,” said an employee of another NGO, describing the situation in some areas.

Project quality in the NGO’s work on food and health provision has been “very damaged,” she said.

The women all requested anonymity due to safety fears.

A spokesman for the Houthis’ aid coordination body SCMCHA said they supported aid delivery, but organizations should respect traditions.

“Mahram is a religious Islamic obligation and a belief culture ... Why do organizations put up obstacles to Islamic teachings and Yemeni culture?” he said.

The Houthis have increasingly promoted conservative social values since ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Movement restrictions increased ad hoc before becoming more systematic and targeting aid workers with mahram requirements.

The UN and governments including the US say the restrictions impact women’s ability to participate in public and political life and must stop.

In protest, most international NGOs have refused to include guardians when applying for aid work travel permits — resulting in those permits being declined. NGOs have also suspended travel on UN flights from Sanaa in protest.

“This smothering rule gives men power over women’s lives and is an unacceptable form of gender-based discrimination,” Amnesty International said.

Yemeni law does not impose male guardianship rules, and authorities in the south do not impose them.

“We want to achieve more, to be stronger, more independent. But they restrict that,” said one city-based aid worker who cannot monitor distant projects due to a lack of male relatives.

While humanitarians are the main target of mahram rules, directives requesting car hire and transport companies ensure mahram compliance extended it to all women – although these are less strictly applied.

“If women have to travel without a mahram, they are detained at checkpoints and kept until a male guardian arrives,” another aid worker said.

The women described taking boy relatives out of school, driving sick relatives around to ensure a man in the car, and last minute meeting cancellations.

“You have the burden to pay for your relative. To pay for accommodation, transportation, food ... It is not cost effective for us or for donors,” said a health worker.


IMF says preparing for first review of Egypt program, dates to be confirmed

Updated 23 March 2023

IMF says preparing for first review of Egypt program, dates to be confirmed

  • Disbursements under the 46-month program are subject to eight reviews

CAIRO: Preparations for the first review of Egypt’s economic reform program with the International Monetary Fund have begun and dates for the review mission will be announced when agreed with the authorities, an IMF spokesperson said on Thursday.
The IMF approved in December a $3 billion Extended Fund Facility loan for Egypt, which has been under acute financial pressure since long-standing problems were exposed by the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.
Disbursements under the 46-month program are subject to eight reviews, the first of which was dated March 15, 2023 in an IMF staff report published in December.
Among the key commitments that Egypt made to secure the loan were a permanent shift to a flexible exchange rate regime and wide-ranging structural reforms to reduce the state’s footprint in the economy.
Egypt’s currency has lost nearly 50 percent of its value over the past year following three sharp devaluations. In the past two weeks it has traded in a narrow band between 30.75 and 30.95 pounds to the dollar, according to Eikon data, although the pound’s value on the black market has slipped.
Analysts say the pound has come under renewed pressure partly due to delays in expected sales of state assets.

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