Daesh group kills 15 truffle hunters in Syria: monitor

Daesh group killed 15 people foraging for desert truffles in central Syria by slitting their throats, while 40 others are missing. (File/AFP)
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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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Three Israeli soldiers, Egyptian guard killed in border gunbattle

Updated 03 June 2023

Three Israeli soldiers, Egyptian guard killed in border gunbattle

  • Exchange of fire reportedly took place around Nitzana border crossing between Israel and Egypt
  • Egypt and Israel coordinating on border incident; fighting along their shared border is rare

RAMALLAH: A gunbattle along Israel’s southern border with Egypt left three Israeli soldiers and an Egyptian officer dead on Saturday, officials said.

An Egyptian border guard crossed into Israel and killed the three soldiers before he was fatally shot by troops.

The Egyptian military said in a statement that he had been chasing drug smugglers when he entered Israel.

While the soldier was in pursuit of the smugglers, he breached the security checkpoint and opened fire, which led to the killing of three Israeli security personnel and the injury of two other persons, it added.

An investigation into the incident was underway, the statement said.

The Egyptian army offered its condolences to the families of the deceased and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

An Israeli source said a male and a female soldier were found dead at 8 a.m. outside their watchtower after contact was lost with them at 6 a.m.

The Israeli army said the Egyptian border guard was killed in a second exchange of fire in which the third Israeli soldier was killed.

Immediately after the incident, the Israeli army mobilized its forces and evacuated the injured to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, southern Israel.

They also conducted a combing operation in the area in anticipation of the presence of other gunmen.

Political analyst Yoni Ben Menachem told Arab News that the Israeli-Egyptian investigation is currently focused on determining whether the Egyptian soldier was affiliated with any organization.

He said after this incident, the Israeli army would boost its military presence in the border area.

“This is an exceptional incident, but it is important to examine its motives (and) learn lessons … for the future,” Ben Menachem said.

Israel and Egypt have been at peace for over 40 years and have strong security cooperation. Fighting between the sides is extremely rare.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesperson, said the fighting began overnight when soldiers thwarted a drug-smuggling attempt across the border.

Hecht said that an investigation was being conducted in full cooperation with the Egyptian army and that troops were searching for other possible assailants.

This was the first deadly exchange of fire along the Israel-Egypt border in over a decade.

It reportedly took place around the Nitzana border crossing, located about 40 km southeast of the point where Israel’s borders with Egypt and the Gaza Strip converge. It is used to import goods from Egypt destined for Israel or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel built a fence along the porous border a decade ago to halt the entry of African migrants and militants who are active in Egypt’s Sinai desert.


Iran contemplates naval alliance with Gulf states, Pakistan and India to ensure regional stability

Updated 03 June 2023

Iran contemplates naval alliance with Gulf states, Pakistan and India to ensure regional stability

  • Iranian official says regional states have realized only cooperation with each other will bring security to the area
  • Iran is yet to elaborate the shape of the alliance which may also include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI: Iran’s navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on Saturday.

“The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area,” Iran’s navy commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying.

He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon.

Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Gulf Arab states.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation.

Naval commander Irani said the states that will take part in the alliance also include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.

Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Iran has frustrated Israel’s efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically.

The UAE, which was the first Gulf Arab country to sign a normalization agreement with Israel in 2020, resumed formal relations with Iran last year.

Bahrain and Morocco later joined the UAE in establishing ties with Israel.


180 dead from Sudan fighting buried unidentified: Red Crescent

Updated 03 June 2023

180 dead from Sudan fighting buried unidentified: Red Crescent

  • Volunteers have buried 102 unidentified bodies in the capital’s Al-Shegilab cemetery and 78 more in cemeteries in Darfur

KHARTOUM: Persistent fighting in Sudan’s twin flashpoints of Khartoum and Darfur has forced volunteers to bury 180 bodies recovered from combat zones without identification, the Sudanese Red Crescent said.
Since fighting between Sudan’s warring generals erupted on April 15, volunteers have buried 102 unidentified bodies in the capital’s Al-Shegilab cemetery and 78 more in cemeteries in Darfur, the Red Crescent said in a statement Friday.
Both regular army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-rival, paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, have issued repeated pledges to protect civilians and secure humanitarian corridors.
But Red Crescent volunteers — supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross — have found it difficult to move through the streets to pick up the dead, “due to security constraints,” the Red Crescent said.
In cease-fire talks in Saudi Arabia last month, the warring parties had agreed to “enable responsible humanitarian actors, such as the Sudanese Red Crescent and/or the International Committee of the Red Cross to collect, register and bury the deceased in coordination with competent authorities.”
But amid repeated and flagrant violations by both sides, the US- and Saudi-brokered truce agreement collapsed.
Entire districts of the capital no longer have running water, electricity is only available for a few hours a week and three quarters of hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.
The situation is particularly dire in the western region of Darfur, which is home to around a quarter of Sudan’s population and has never recovered from a devastating two-decade war that left hundreds of thousands dead and more than two million displaced.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed, villages and markets torched and aid facilities looted, prompting tens of thousands to seek refuge in neighboring Chad.
More than 1,800 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Medics and aid agencies have said repeatedly that the real death toll is likely to be much higher, because of the number of bodies abandoned in areas that are unreachable.


UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just a third of $300m needed to help millions

Updated 03 June 2023

UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just a third of $300m needed to help millions

  • UNRWA chief grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December

UNITED NATIONS: Despite a dire warning from the UN chief that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “is on the verge of financial collapse,” donors at a pledging conference on Friday provided just $107 million in new funds — significantly less than the $300 million it needs to keep helping millions of people.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December.
“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries — the refugees’ top supporters — to raise the funds needed,” he said in a statement.
At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion for its programs, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. That includes nearly $850 million for its core budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.
According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced $812.3 million in pledges, but just $107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds were not announced.
Lazzarini told a press conference Thursday that UNRWA needs $150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and an additional $50 million to start 2024 without liabilities. In addition, he said, the agency needs $75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating and about $30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.
UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and in some cases jobs. Today, their numbers — with descendants — have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.
UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is “massive,” calling it “our main existential threat.”
“It is deepening, and our ability to muddle through is slowly but surely coming to an end,” he said. “The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that the will substantially decrease their contribution to the agency.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the pledging conference that “when UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services.”
Those services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, job opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians also receive humanitarian assistance.

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Turkiye’s Erdogan sworn in for third term as Turkish president

Updated 03 June 2023

Turkiye’s Erdogan sworn in for third term as Turkish president

  • Erdogan’s inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in Ankara

ANKARA: urkiye’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on Saturday sworn in for a third term as president, promising to serve “impartially” after winning a historic runoff election to extend his two-decade rule.
The inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in the capital Ankara attended by dozens of world leaders.
Turkiye’s transformative but divisive leader won the May 28 runoff against a powerful opposition coalition, despite an economic crisis and anger over a February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
Erdogan won 52.18 percent of the vote while his secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu scored 47.82 percent, official results show.
“As president, I swear upon my honor and integrity, before the great Turkish nation ... to work with all my power to protect the existence and independence of the state ... and to fulfil my duty impartially,” Erdogan said in parliament after a ceremony outside the building where he saluted soldiers under pouring rain.
Supporters in parliament gave Erdogan a minute-long standing ovation after his swearing in, while some opposition lawmakers refused to stand up.
In his oath, Erdogan also promised not to deviate from the rule of law and the secular principles of the republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 100 years ago.
Turkiye’s longest-serving leader now faces significant immediate challenges in his third term, including the slowing economy and tensions with the West.
“From a geopolitical point of view, the election will reinforce Turkiye’s recent pursuit of an independent foreign policy,” said Matt Gertken, chief geopolitical strategist at BCA Research.
“This policy aims to extract maximum economic and strategic benefits from eastern and autocratic states while still preventing a permanent rupture in relations with western democracies,” he said.
“Tensions with the West will likely increase again,” Gertken added.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Iran’s vice president Mohammad Mokhber, Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, are among the foreign guests expected at the ceremony later Saturday.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will also be present, his office said, the latest sign of a thaw between the two arch foes.
Addressing the country’s economic troubles will be Erdogan’s first priority, with inflation running at 43.70 percent, partly due to his unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to stimulate growth.
The president is due to unveil his new cabinet on Saturday, with media speculating that former finance minister Mehmet Simsek, a reassuring figure with international stature, could return.
A former Merrill Lynch economist, Simsek is known to oppose Erdogan’s unconventional policies.
He served as finance minister between 2009 and 2015 and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy until 2018, before stepping down ahead of a series of lira crashes that year.
“Erdogan’s government looks like it will pursue an orthodox stabilization program,” said Alp Erinc Yeldan, professor of economics at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“What we see now is that the news about Mehmet Simsek and his team is greeted with enthusiasm by the markets,” he told AFP.
Turkiye’s new members of parliament were sworn in on Friday in its first session after the May 14 election, with Erdogan’s alliance holding a majority in the 600-seat house.
Kilicdaroglu’s future as leader of the CHP party remains in doubt following his defeat to Erdogan.
NATO allies are anxiously waiting for Ankara to green-light Sweden’s drive to join the US-led defense alliance, before a summit in July.
Erdogan has delayed approving the application, accusing Stockholm of sheltering “terrorists” from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg will attend Erdogan’s inauguration and hold talks with him, the alliance said Friday.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, said on Twitter that “a clear message” had emerged at a NATO meeting in Oslo for Turkiye and Hungary to start the ratification process.
His Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu responded on Twitter: “A crystal clear message to our Swedish friends! Fulfil your commitments (and) take concrete steps in the fight against terrorism.
“The rest will follow.”