Syria’s Kurds delay controversial local elections

The elections commission said they delayed the vote “in response to requests from political parties and alliances” who complained the campaign period was too short. (AFP)
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Updated 06 June 2024
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Syria’s Kurds delay controversial local elections

  • The elections commission said they delayed the vote “in response to requests from political parties and alliances” who complained the campaign period was too short

QAMISHLI: Syria’s Kurdish authorities said Thursday they were delaying controversial municipal elections which prompted threats from arch-foe Turkiye and concerns from their main ally the United States.
The elections, originally scheduled for June 11 and now postponed “until at least August,” would be the first to extend to all seven regions under the semi-autonomous region’s control, home to both Arabs and Kurds, since Syria’s fragmentation during its civil war.
The elections commission said they delayed the vote “in response to requests from political parties and alliances” who complained the campaign period was too short.
Local officials and candidates insist the elections are crucial for local representation and will help improve public services in the region.
But their detractors have accused them of separatism and monopolizing power or voiced concerns that the conditions for fair and free elections are nonexistent in Syria’s Kurdish-held northeast.
Around 18 parties, including the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD), as well as independents are expected to run in the vote, PYD co-chair Saleh Muslim told AFP.
He said the elections had been delayed for “internal” reasons, but added “perhaps the elections commission also took the political circumstances into account.”
Syria’s Kurds, who have suffered decades of marginalization and oppression by Syria’s ruling Baath party, have come to rule about a quarter of Syria, including Arab majority areas, after government forces withdrew.
The armed wing of the PYD is the powerful People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces — the region’s de facto army.
The Kurdish-led forces spearheaded the fight to dislodge the Daesh group from its last Syrian territorial bastion in 2019 with American support.
But Turkiye views the PYD and YPG as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has outlawed as a “terrorist” group.
Ankara, which controls two border strips in Syria’s north, views the upcoming polls as evidence of separatism.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel Kurdish forces from border areas of northern Syria, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to launch a new operation to prevent the election from taking place.
He described the vote as an “aggressive action against the territorial integrity” of Ankara and Damascus “under the pretext of an election.”
On Thursday, Turkish state television TRT welcomed the decision to delay the vote, adding “Turkiye’s position has borne fruit.”
The Kurdish polls have also drawn the ire of their main backer Washington, which counts Turkiye as a key NATO ally.
“Any elections that occur in Syria should be free, fair, transparent, and inclusive,” said US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel in a statement last week.
“We don’t think that the conditions for such elections are in place in NE Syria,” he said, adding the US had urged local authorities “not to proceed with elections.”


Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

Updated 18 sec ago
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Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

AL-MUKALLA: Nine crewmen from an oil tanker that capsized off Oman have been rescued and a body recovered, the Omani maritime agency said on Thursday.  

In a post on X, the Omani Marine Security Center said the rescued sailors, eight Indians and one Sri Lankan, are in “good health” and receiving medical attention.

Six remaining crew from the Yemeni-bound and Comoros-flagged Prestige Falcon are still missing after the tanker capsized 25 nautical miles southeast of Ras Madrakah, near the Omani port town of Duqm, on Monday.

“Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing to locate the remaining missing crew members,” the Omani center said.

Omani vessels and personnel, as well as an Indian Navy warship, joined the search.

The Omani Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology said in a statement on Wednesday that the Prestige Falcon “almost completely” sank, and that the cause of the incident is being investigated.

The ministry said that it has prioritized rescuing the missing crewmen, followed by righting the ship and dealing with any environmental hazards. 

This comes as Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi repeated threats on Thursday to continue attacks in the busy shipping lanes despite a recent strike that resulted in an oil spill in the Red Sea.

Al-Houthi said that 25 ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats have been launched at ships in the past seven days alone.

He claimed that the militia attacks on 170 ships since November have left the Israeli port of Eilat facing bankruptcy, and forced the US aircraft carrier Eisenhower to “flee” the Red Sea.

“Operations at sea have a significant influence on American commercial activity, the economic position in America and Britain, and the Israeli enemy,” Al-Houthi said.

Environmentalists say that a leak from a tanker targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea has resulted in a 200 km slick moving south, threatening the area’s already fragile ecosystem.

Wim Zwijnenburg, of the Humanitarian Disarmament Project at Dutch peace organization PAX, told Arab News that diesel from the ship’s engine is spreading to a marine conservation area near Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Island and Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago.

“The Red Sea is home to various protected species, including turtles, sharks, and fish such as the coral grouper. But there are also indications that both pollution and climate change are affecting coastal fishing communities and coral reefs,” he said.

“This conflict-linked oil spill is just a sad continuation of further degradation of the unique ecosystems in the Red Sea.”

On Monday, a Houthi drone boat struck and damaged the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion northwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean, claiming to be acting in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease its war in Gaza.

In response, the US launched retaliatory strikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and branded the militia a terrorist group.

Houthi media said on Thursday that US and UK forces carried out three airstrikes on Hodeidah city airport in the western province of Hodeidah.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

  • Resolution is symbolic but lays down marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip
  • Palestinian state would cause existential danger to Israel and its citizens, says resolution

JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.


Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

Israeli soldiers take positions during military operations in the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2024
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Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

  • Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to troops in southern Gaza on Thursday, his office said, just days before his speech to the US Congress.
Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, a move that could disrupt the delicate Gaza ceasefire talks.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist settler leader, said he had gone up to the contested Jerusalem hilltop compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray for the return of the hostages “but without a reckless deal, without surrendering.”
The move threatens to disrupt sensitive talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in the 9-month-old Israel-Hamas war. Israeli negotiators landed in Cairo on Wednesday to continue talks.
The visit also came just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for a trip to the United States, where he will address Congress.
Ben-Gvir said while standing in front of the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque that he “is praying and working hard” to ensure that Netanyahu will not give in to international pressure and will continue with the military campaign in Gaza.
Ben-Gvir last visited the site in May to protest countries unilaterally recognizing Palestinian statehood.
He has been convicted eight times for offenses that include racism and supporting a terrorist organization. As a teen, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.
As security minister, Ben-Gvir oversees the country’s police force. As a key coalition partner, Ben-Gvir also has the power to rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority and try to force early elections.
Ben-Gvir has used his influence to push forward pet projects and encourage Netanyahu to press ahead with the war in Gaza in the face of widespread calls to reach a ceasefire deal that would bring home hostages.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit as a “provocative intrusion” that endangered the fragile status quo regarding the Jerusalem hilltop compound, which is considered holy for both Muslims and Jews.
The site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and by Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif, a holy site and important national symbol. Ben-Gvir has frequently visited the site during times of conflict, drawing condemnation. Tensions over the compound have fueled past rounds of violence.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses lawmakers in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem.
Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

  • “The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution
  • The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution

JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.


First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Updated 18 July 2024
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

  • Algerian president said he would seek a second term

ALGIERS: The leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party on Thursday kicked off the official candidate submissions for the upcoming presidential election in which the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 78, is the frontrunner.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent saw, hours before Tebboune was expected to do the same.
Tebboune, who was elected in 2019 following months of pro-democracy protests and the ousting of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said on July 11 he would seek a second term.
In March, he announced that the election would be held on September 7, three months ahead of schedule, but gave no reason for the decision.
Algeria, home to some 45 million people, is Africa’s largest country.
The hydrocarbon-rich nation is the continent’s main natural gas supplier, with neighboring Tunisia, Spain, and Italy heavily reliant on Algerian gas.
The final list of hopefuls for the election will be published on July 27.
To qualify to appear on the ballot, candidates are required to present a list of at least 50,000 individual signatures from registered voters or from 600 members from at least 29 of Algeria’s various provincial assemblies.
Ahmed Sadok, an MSP representative, told AFP that his party had already gathered “more than 90,000 petition signatures” in support of Hassani as well as the backing of “2,200 other elected representatives.”
With the Algerian Workers Party’s leader Louisa Hanoune dropping out of the race last week, only two female candidates — businesswoman Saida Nezgha and lawyer Zoubida Assoul — remain in contention.
But Tebboune is still the favorite, with endorsements from several political parties.
“Given the desire of many parties, political and non-political organizations and the youth, I announce my intention to run for a second term,” he said when announcing his candidacy.