Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon near the border with Israel on Jun. 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

  • “Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said
  • He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken“

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Thursday rejected as “groundless” allegations by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that airports on the east Mediterranean island might be used by Israeli warplanes if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address on Wednesday threatened Cyprus in the event that total war erupts in the region.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
The government in Nicosia swiftly denied any Cyprus military involvement in Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas.
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state radio on Thursday.
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken.”
The island is home to two British military bases, but these are on sovereign UK territory and not controlled by the Cyprus government.
The British Akrotiri air base on the south coast has been used by the Royal Air Force which has joined the US Air Force in targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen who have attacked shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis say they are doing so in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Over the past decade, Cyprus has built stronger ties with Israel, particularly in the search for new energy sources and in tourism.
Cyprus is the European Union’s easternmost member, and is less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon.
President Nikos Christodoulides has denied there has been any Cypriot involvement in the Israel-Hamas war except as “part of the solution” as a staging post for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via a maritime corridor.
“Cyprus is not part of the problem. As it is widely acknowledged, its diplomatic footprint is part of the solution,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis added in a separate written statement on Thursday.
“Any public allegations that refer to an involvement of Cyprus through its infrastructure or its territory in the event of a confrontation that relates to Lebanon are totally groundless,” the statement said.
“Cyprus has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”
On the street, reactions to the Hezbollah leader’s remarks were mixed.
“It’s a very tense moment all over the world,” Brazilian tourist Glaussia, 54, told AFP, not giving her last name.
She added that it was important that “everybody make an effort for peace.”
Nicosia resident Costas stressed that his country’s only involvement in the current conflict was to provide “humanitarian help to the people over there.”
He said the government would not become involved in the war in any military capacity.
“Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region,” government spokesman Letymbiotis said in his statement.


Turkiye to send navy to Somalia after agreeing oil and gas search

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia September 7, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 July 2024
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Turkiye to send navy to Somalia after agreeing oil and gas search

  • Turkiye has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years. Ankara has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkiye

ANKARA: Turkiye is set to send navy support to Somali waters after the two countries agreed Ankara will send an exploration vessel off the coast of Somalia to prospect for oil and gas.
President Tayyip Erdogan submitted a motion to the Turkish parliament late on Friday, seeking authorization for the deployment of Turkish military to Somalia including the country’s territorial waters, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
The move came a day after the Turkish energy ministry announced that Turkiye will send an exploration vessel off the coast of Somalia later this year to search for oil and gas as part of a hydrocarbon cooperation deal between two countries.
Earlier this year, Turkiye and Somalia signed a defense and economic cooperation agreement during Somali defense minister’s visit to Ankara.
Turkiye has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years. Ankara has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkiye.
In 2017, Turkiye opened its biggest overseas military base in Mogadishu. Turkiye also provides training to Somali military and police.

 


Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

Updated 20 July 2024
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Algeria places pro-democracy activists in pre-trial detention: lawyer

  • UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges”

ALGIERS: Eight Algerian activists from pro-democracy protests that toppled the country’s last president have been placed in pre-trial detention while six others were released under judicial supervision, one of their lawyers said Friday.
The activists were arrested between July 8 and 15 in Bejaia, some 220 kilometers (136 miles) east of the capital Algiers.
Mira Mokhnache, a university professor and human rights defender, along with seven other activists were placed in pre-trial detention on Thursday by an investigating judge at the Sidi M’Hamed court in downtown Algiers, according to lawyer Fetta Sadat.
The protest movement, known as Hirak, broke out in February 2019 and forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down two months later.
The movement continued to press for deep reforms, but it waned during the Covid pandemic.
The National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) said that among the eight convicted was a man who was released from prison last month after three years of imprisonment over ties to the pro-democracy protests.
A 16-year-old whistleblower who documented Algerian political prisons on his Facebook page was among those released under judicial supervision, according to Sadat.
Local media said the group was being prosecuted under a 2021 law amendment relating to “terrorism.”
Last year, a United Nations expert called for the repeal of the article that “broadened the definition of terrorism,” and urged Algerian authorities to pardon people convicted or detained over their involvement in the pro-democracy protests.
UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule called on Algeria to “address the climate of fear caused by a string of criminal charges.”
Dozens of people are still detained in Algeria over links to Hirak or human rights activism, according to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees.
In February, rights watchdog Amnesty International said that five years after the protests erupted, Algerian authorities had “escalated their repression of peaceful dissent.”
“It is a tragedy that five years after brave Algerians took to the streets in their masses to demand political change and reforms, the authorities have continued to wage a chilling campaign of repression,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Heba Morayef.
The North African country is readying for presidential elections set to take place on September 7 as the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune remains its frontrunner.
 

 


Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

Updated 20 July 2024
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Blast hits Iraq former paramilitaries depot: officials

  • A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi”

BAGHDAD: An explosion ripped through “logistics” warehouses belonging to former pro-Iran paramilitaries south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday, officials said.
“At 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT)... an explosion occurred in logistics warehouses belonging to the 42 Brigade... in the Yusufiyah area, south of Baghdad,” said the Hashed Al-Shaabi — an alliance of pro-Iranian former paramilitary groups now integrated into the regular army.
The cause of the blast was not immediately known, and the Hashed said it assigned a committee to investigate.
Firefighters were battling the blaze, it added in a statement.
A security source confirmed the blast, adding that it “occurred in a warehouse storing equipment that belongs to Hashed Al-Shaabi.”
A Hashed official said he did not rule out the possibility of an “air strike.”
In April, one person was killed and eight wounded in a blast at a military base housing Hashed groups in Babylon province, south of Baghdad.
An investigation found the blast was caused by munitions stored on-site, not by an air strike.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi is an integral part of the Iraqi security apparatus under the authority of the prime minister.
It includes some pro-Iran groups which have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The latest blast comes after two drones were launched on Tuesday against an Iraqi base used by US-led troops without causing any damage.
 

 


Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

Updated 20 July 2024
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Israel threatens reprisals for deadly Yemen rebel drone strike

  • Israel has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday

TEL AVIV: Israel threatened reprisals Friday after a drone claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels penetrated its vaunted air defenses and killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building near a US embassy annexe.
The attack drew condemnation from UN chief Antonio Guterres and an appeal for “maximum restraint” to avoid “further escalation in the region.”
The pre-dawn strike came hours before Israel suffered another blow, a ruling by the UN’s top court that its occupation of the Palestinian territories was “illegal” and needed to end as soon as possible.
The advisory opinion of The Hague-based International Court of Justice is not binding, but it comes amid mounting international condemnation of Israel’s handling of its war on Hamas in Gaza.
The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas hailed the court’s decision as “a victory for justice.” Hamas said it puts “the international system before the imperative of immediate action to end the occupation.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has overseen a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, insisted: “The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land.”
The Houthis are one of a number of Iran-backed armed groups around the Middle East that have claimed drone and missile attacks on Israel in retaliation for the Gaza war.
The group, which controls swathes of Yemen, including much of its Red Sea coast, has previously claimed attacks on Israeli cities including Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat, but Friday’s strike appears to be the first to breach Israel’s sophisticated air defenses.
The Houthis fired at Tel Aviv a “new drone called ‘Yafa’, which is capable of bypassing the enemy’s interception systems,” their spokesman Yahya Saree said.
An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a “very big drone that can travel long distances” was used in the 3:12 am (0012 GMT) attack.
He said the drone was detected but due to “human error” the alarm was not raised in time, and it slammed into an apartment building.
Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel believed the drone used was Iranian-made and upgraded so it could reach Tel Aviv from Yemen — at least 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) away.
Medical services said one civilian was killed and four people suffered “relatively minor” injuries.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed revenge.
“The security system will settle the score with all who try to harm the state of Israel, or sends terrorism against it, in a decisive and surprising manner,” he said in comments posted on social media platform X.

In grainy security camera footage, the buzz of what appeared to be the drone was followed by an explosion that shook the building and set off car alarms.
The blast occurred about 100 meters (yards) from a US embassy annexe, said an AFP journalist who saw broken windows along the street lined with apartment blocks.
“It woke me up because the vibration of the sound was like a 747 (jet) coming in,” said Kenneth Davis, an Israeli who was staying in a hotel opposite the building which was hit.
“And then the explosion... everything blew out in the room,” he told AFPTV.
Since November, the Houthis have also carried out dozens of drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they claim is Israeli-linked.
The United States and Britain launched a campaign of air strikes in January to deter the attacks on shipping.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,848 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory, where fighting raged on Friday.

Residents said clashes were heard between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army, with explosions and shelling in the Tal Al-Hawa district of Gaza City.
The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s housing and other infrastructure, leaving virtually the entire population displaced and short of food and drinking water.
Many are living in unsanitary conditions. Health authorities in Gaza and Israel said on Thursday that poliovirus had been detected in Gaza sewage samples.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that no cases of the highly infectious disease had been discovered in Gaza so far.
 

 


Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

Updated 20 July 2024
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Houthis damage cargo ship in Gulf of Aden as it steps up attacks

  • Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflicting damage on their targets

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthi militants hit and damaged a Singapore-flagged container ship with two missiles on Friday as they escalate attacks on global shipping over Israel’s war in Gaza.
The overnight assault on the Lobivia cargo ship came as the Iran-aligned Houthis also claimed responsibility for a fiery, long-range aerial drone strike in the center of Tel Aviv that killed one man and wounded four others.
The Houthis in recent weeks have become more adept at inflictingdamage on their targets. In June, the militants struck the Greek-owned Tutor coal carrier with missiles and an explosive-laden remote-controlled boat, causing it to sink.
Tutor was the second ship sunk in the Houthi campaign against commercial shipping, which since November has killed at least three sailors and upended global trade by forcing ship owners to avoid the Suez Canal trade shortcut.
“Their capacity, their access to more sophisticated weapons, has only increased over the course of this conflict,” said Gerald Feierstein, director of the Arabian Peninsula Affairs Program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree in a television speech on Friday said the group launched the Lobivia strikes, adding that the assault also included drones. The manager of Lobivia did not immediately comment.
Lobivia was in the Gulf of Aden when the missiles struck two areas on its port side, the Joint Maritime Information Center (JMIC) said in an incident report.
The ship was located 83 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s port city of Aden during the attack. All crew are reported safe and the ship was returning to its last port of call, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said.
“The ship was transiting northeast along the Gulf of Aden when a merchant vessel in the vicinity observed ‘light and blast’ where the ship was located,” British security firm Ambrey said.
The ship appeared to perform evasive maneuvers immediately and switch off her automatic identification system approximately an hour later, Ambrey said.
On Tuesday, the Houthis hit the Liberia-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion with a drone boat, causing damage to the port side that left an oily trail that experts said appeared to be fuel.
Britain and the US have conducted retaliatory strikes since February, shooting down drones and bombing attack sites in Yemen.
That has come at a significant cost, said Feierstein, who was the US Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen from 2010 to 2013 under President Barack Obama.
“We’re basically spending a million dollars every time we shoot down a Radio Shack drone. That’s wearing on the Navy and wearing on our supplies,” he said.