Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syrian City Of Afrin



Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syria’s Afrin

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 – 10:30
Civilians drive through Ain Dara as they flee Afrin on Monday. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish forces have begun the siege of the Syrian city of Afrin, nearly two months after launching an offensive in the region against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), announced the military on Tuesday.

The military said in a brief statement that the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave, had begun Monday.

The forces also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, it added.

Thousands of people had started to flee Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby Syrian regime-controlled areas.

Afrin city is home to around 350,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out YPG forces that it considers to be “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Ankara has threatened to push further east to Manbij, where YPG troops are stationed.

The Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement on a plan to jointly station Turkish and US forces in Manbij.

Washington has not confirmed any such plan — and a small contingent of US forces is already in Manbij.

Hurriyet newspaper quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling Turkish reporters during a visit to Moscow that the “YPG will leave Manbij, US and Turkish soldiers will joint ensure its security.”

Cavusoglu revealed that he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would discuss the issue further when they meet in Washington on March 19.

Hamas Fails In An Attempt To Assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister



Palestinian Authority Blames Hamas for Failed Assassination Attempt against PM

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 – 10:00
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Gaza City. (Reuters file photo)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The Palestinian Authority (PA) blamed on Tuesday Hamas for a failed assassination attempt in Gaza against Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

The official, on a rare visit to Gaza, survived a bombing that targeted his convoy.

Three of the vehicles in Hamdallah’s convoy were damaged, their windows blown out. One had signs of blood on the door.

He survived unharmed and delivered a speech at the inauguration of a waste treatment plant in the Gaza Strip, live TV footage showed. He confirmed in the address that three cars were damaged.

He declared that the attack will “not deter us from seeking to end the bitter split. We will still come to Gaza.”

The PA said it held the Gaza’s dominant Hamas group responsible for the attack, stopping short of directly accusing it of carrying out the assault, but suggesting it had failed to provide adequate security.

“The Palestinian Presidency holds Hamas responsible for the cowardly targeting of the Prime Minister’s convoy in Gaza,” the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Hamas has since condemned the attack.

Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said the explosion hit as the prime minister’s convoy passed near the northern town of Beit Hanoun. No one was injured and security services had begun an investigation, ministry spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.

The prime minister is based in the occupied West Bank and traveled overland, via Israel, to the Gaza Strip. Police said the explosion came shortly after Hamdallah’s convoy passed by, and one witness said it appeared two cars at the end of motorcade sustained damage.

Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s PA are still divided over how to implement an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal, signed in late 2017.

“The attack against the government of consensus is an attack against the unity of the Palestinian people,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas.

The rival Palestinian factions have been trying to reconcile since 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces and have suffered several setbacks in their efforts since. The takeover left the Palestinians with two rival governments, Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed PA governing autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In November, Hamas handed over control of Gaza’s border crossings to the PA. It was the first tangible concession in years of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks. But negotiations have bogged down since then.

Hamdallah’s visit comes amid a time of crisis in Gaza. On Tuesday, the White House is hosting a special meeting to discuss Gaza’s devastated economy.

No Palestinian State Can Be Established Without Gaza, Jerusalem As Capital



Abbas’ Adviser Says No Palestinian State Can Be Established Without Gaza, Jerusalem As Capital

Wednesday, 28 February, 2018 – 12:30
Nabil Shaath. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN – REUTERS)
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor for International Affairs Nabil Shaath said that the Palestinian Authority has fully engaged in a confrontation with the United States, in the wake of its decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Speaking during a gathering at the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo, Shaath said: “President Mahmoud Abbas is in a position of full confrontation with the United States and Israel in the wake of the Israeli government’s intransigence and the recent US Administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and transfer its embassy to it.”

“We will not establish our state but on our national soil. No state in Gaza, no state without Gaza, no state without Jerusalem as the capital, not a capital in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is the capital,” Shaath stressed.

He criticized the absence of a unified Arab position to protect the Palestinian project, but said the world would change.

The Palestinian president’s advisor went on to say that within three years, “the world ruled by the United States will end and a multilateral leadership will be established.”

“We will be part of this new world,” he said.

Shaath’s remarks came in response to the United States, which announced earlier this month that it was about to offer the “deal of the century”, disregarding a plan by Abbas to hold an international peace conference to set up a multilateral mechanism for the peace process.

The Palestinians refuse to deal with the United States as the sole sponsor of the negotiations, saying they are ready to accept the US as part of a multilateral mechanism within an international quartet that would also include European and Arab states.

The relationship between the PA and Washington severely deteriorated after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and decided to move the US embassy to it.

Arab Parliaments Call for Boycotting Any State that Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital



Arab Parliaments Call for Boycotting Any State that Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

Sunday, 11 February, 2018 – 12:45
The heads of Arab Parliaments during their meeting in Cairo on Saturday (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Cairo – Asharq Al-Awsat

The heads of Arab parliaments called for severing relations with any state that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or transfers its embassy to it.

They also urged the Arab League to take decisive action against countries that did not abide by the international legitimacy’s resolutions by abstaining to vote in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution on Jerusalem on December 21.

In a statement issued at the end of the third conference of the Arab Parliaments and Arab Parliamentary Speakers in Cairo on Saturday, participants pledged to provide Palestine with the needed Arab support at all financial and political levels.

Voicing their rejection of US President Donald Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, which they described as a flagrant violation of international law, the Arab speakers warned that the US administration became an “untrustworthy peace sponsor and a distrusted broker in the Middle East peace process.”

In this context, they called on the United Nations to lead the Peace Process and preserve the sovereignty of Palestine and the legal status of Jerusalem in line with the UN resolutions and the 2002 Arab initiative.

The heads of parliaments decided to prepare an Arab parliamentary action plan in cooperation with the Arab Parliamentary Union and the Union of Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to expose the gravity of the racist laws approved by the Israeli Knesset and all the laws pertaining to the city of Jerusalem.

The current president of the Arab Parliament, Speaker Meshal bin Fahmi al Salami, said that the conference condemned Iranian interference in Arab affairs, as well as the Turkish intervention in Egypt and Libya.

He added that the participants issued a comprehensive document to combat terrorism, covering all the challenges posed by this phenomenon at the political, security, economic, cultural and media levels.

Egypt Takes New Step to Become a Regional Energy Hub



Egypt Takes New Step to Become a Regional Energy Hub

Thursday, 28 December, 2017 – 12:00
FILE PHOTO: A plant’s gas tanks are seen at the desert road of Suez city north of Cairo, Egypt August 14, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Asharq Al-Awsat

In the coming days Egypt will inaugurate a new wharf for natural gas and petroleum product tankers on the Gulf of Suez.

SUMED, which has operated two pipelines from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, will build the new wharf.

The 2.5 km wharf will have three berths to receive natural gas and petroleum products carriers.

“The country has been building fuelling depots for ships along the Suez Canal and expanding its refining capacity, and has an extensive pipeline network and two idle gas liquefaction plants ready to export new gas as it arrives,” Reuters stated.

SUMED is owned %50 by the Egyptian government, while the rest by Arab oil exporters in the Gulf.

The pipeline is spending $415 million to develop its facilities, including building nine 300,000 cubic meter petroleum storage tanks and loading and offloading facilities.

The tanks are due to be completed by the end of 2018, said SUMED chairman Mohamed Abdel-Hafez.

NBK-Egypt provided $300 million in financing for the project, according to a statement by the bank in May.

Yazidis Accused of Executing Civilians in Nineveh



Yazidis Accused of Executing Civilians in Nineveh

Thursday, 28 December, 2017 – 12:30
Baghdad – Asharq Al-Awsat

The US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has accused Yazidi fighters in Iraq of forcibly kidnapping and killing 52 civilians from the Imteywit tribe earlier in June.

It said in a report on Wednesday that it has information from relatives of the victims that on June 4 Yazidi forces detained and then executed men, women and children from eight families from the Imteywit tribe.

The families were fleeing fighting between ISIS and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) west of Mosul.

Deputy Governor of Nineveh province Abdulrahman al-Luizi stressed that the massacre had taken place and called for holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes. However, a Yazidi official from the PMF claimed that the dead were ISIS members.

Yazidi forces were also implicated in two other incidents of enforced disappearances of members of the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes in late 2017, HRW said.

“Past atrocities against the Yazidis don’t give its armed forces a free pass to commit abuses against other groups, whatever their past,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

In early 2017, Yazidi fighters formed the Lalish Brigades and the Ezidkhan Brigades, units under the PMF, a force of the Iraqi prime minister, and therefore part of the state’s armed forces.

Two Yazidi community leaders told Human Rights Watch that the Ezidkhan Brigades were responsible for the abduction and killing of the 52 Imteywit tribe members.

Senior Yazidis have alleged that the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes participated with ISIS in the executions and abuse of Yazidi men and women in August 2014.

Members of the two tribes denied these allegations, claiming the Yazidis were scapegoating them for ISIS atrocities.

“Few months before launching the operation to liberate Sinjar, a Yazidi militia linked to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) northern Sinjar region committed a crime,” Luizi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“After the liberation battles, which were overseen by the PMF in Sinjar and Tal Afar areas, a Yazidi faction, under the umbrella of the PMF, killed 52 people, including 27 women, 10 children and 15 men. They also kidnapped eight farmers from the Arab tribes in another incident and their fate is still unknown,” he further explained.

Citizen’s Account: 700,000 Saudi Families Receive More than USD266



Citizen’s Account: 700,000 Saudi Families Receive More than USD266

Wednesday, 27 December, 2017 – 12:00
The Citizen’s Account.
Riyadh – Asharq Al-Awsat

A total of 700,000 families received over SAR1,000 (USD266) per family as financial aid through the Citizen’s Account Program, knowing that the second installment will be paid on January 10, 2018.

According to a statement issued by the program, beneficiaries would be those whose applications were completed by December 16. Other installments will be transferred on the 10th of each month unless it falls on a weekend.

The program is still receiving objection applications for ineligible beneficiaries through the e-portal

Any person registered in the program can submit an objection over the ineligibility decision through the program e-portal within three months after the result issuance. They can also follow-up on the objection through the portal, text messages and email.

In case the objection was accepted, allowances are paid retroactively from the day of the eligibility result announcement to the objection acceptance day.

In case the applicant did not file an objection at the first place within three months, then he should submit a new registration application through the e-portal.

Eligible beneficiaries should hold the Saudi nationality, except for the daughter/son of the non-Saudi wife/spouse.

Beneficiaries should be permanent residents inside the kingdom and they should not have resided outside of it for more than 90 days in the past 12 months.

Exceptions are made for those who prove that their presence outside the kingdom was for a justified reason. Also, eligible beneficiaries should not be staying at any government shelter or held in any prison.

The Citizen Account is a national program aimed at raising the efficiency of government support for eligible citizens, so that Saudi families are not forced to shoulder the burden of future economic reforms.

Russia Sets up Permanent Military Presence in Syria



Russia Sets up Permanent Military Presence in Syria

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 – 11:45
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as they attend the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 30, 2017. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Russia’s Defense Minister announced on Tuesday that Moscow has started forming a permanent force at naval and air bases in Syria, reported the RIA news agency.

The bases are located in Tartus naval facility and Hmeimim air base.

RIA news agency quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying: “Last week the Commander-in-Chief (President Vladimir Putin) approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim (air base). We have begun forming a permanent presence there.”

The Tartus naval facility, in use since the says of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.

According to the RIA report, the agreement will allow Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels. The agreement will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered on December 11 the withdrawal of his country’s forces from Syria.

Japan Approves Expansion of Missile Defense System to Confront North Korea Threat



Japan Approves Expansion of Missile Defense System to Confront North Korea Threat

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017 – 09:15
The Japanese government approved on Tuesday a decision to expand its ballistic missile defense system to counter North Korea’s missile threat. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

The Japanese government approved on Tuesday a decision to expand its ballistic missile defense system to counter North Korea’s missile threat.

The system will be backed with US-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and interceptors. A proposal to build two Aegis Ashore batteries was approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.

The sites without the missiles will likely cost at least $2 billion and are not likely to be operational until 2023 at the earliest, sources familiar with the plan told Reuters earlier.

The decision to acquire the ground version of the Aegis missile-defense system, which is already deployed on Japanese warships, was widely expected.

“North Korea’s nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and as we have done in the past we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defense,” Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

North Korea on November 29 tested a new, more powerful ballistic missile that it says can hit major US cities including Washington, and fly over Japan’s current defense shield.

That rocket reached an altitude of more than 4,000 km (2,485 miles), well above the range of interceptor missiles on Japanese ships operating in the Sea of Japan.

North Korea says its weapons programs are necessary to counter US aggression.

The new Aegis stations may not, however, come with a powerful radar, dubbed Spy-6, which is being developed by the United States.

Without it, Japan will not be able to fully utilize the extended range of a new interceptor missile, the SM-3 Block IIA, which cost about $30 million each.

A later upgrade, once the US military has deployed Spy-6 on its ships around 2022, could prove a costly proposition for Japan as outlays on new equipment squeeze its military budget.

Initial funding will be ring-fenced in the next defense budget beginning in April, but no decision has been made on the radar, or the overall cost, or schedule, of the deployment, a Ministry of Defense official said at a press briefing.

Japan’s military planners also evaluated the US-built THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system before deciding on Aegis Ashore.

Separately, Japan’s defense minister said this month Japan would acquire medium-range cruise missiles it can launch from its F-15 and F-35 fighters at sites in North Korea, in a bid to deter any attack.

The purchase of what will become the longest-range munitions in Japan’s military arsenal is controversial because it renounced the right to wage war against other nations in its post-World War Two constitution.

Earlier, Japan and South Korea urged China to do more to “pressure” North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Tuesday.

North Korea has boasted of developing a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the mainland United States in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and international condemnation, including from its lone major ally, China.

“China is currently implementing the United Nations Security Council resolutions (on North Korea), but China can probably do more,” Kono said after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

“We agreed on the need to put pressure firmly on North Korea.”

The US Navy’s top officer said on Tuesday said that vessels from eastern Pacific could be brought forward to reinforce US naval power in Asia as Washington contends with increased threats in the region.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks, with Trump threatening to destroy North Korea if provoked, while US diplomats have stressed the importance of diplomacy.

Trump on Monday unveiled a new national security strategy, again saying Washington had to deal with the challenge posed by North Korea’s weapons programs.

Dozens Killed in Philippine Tropical Storm



Dozens Killed in Philippine Tropical Storm

Sunday, 17 December, 2017 – 11:30
Some 26 people were killed and 23 missing in the Philippines due to landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Tropical Storm Kai-Tak. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

At least 26 people were killed in the Philippines in landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Kai-Tak, authorities said on Sunday.

Some 23 were missing in the eastern Philippines a day after the storm pounded the archipelago nation.

Kai-Tak tore across the major islands of Samar and Leyte on Saturday, toppling power lines in 39 towns or cities and damaging roads and bridges, the national disaster agency said.

“There is a total of 26 people dead from landslides in four towns of Biliran. We have recovered the bodies,” Sofronio Dacillo, provincial disaster risk reduction and management officer, told AFP.

Gerardo Espina, governor of the island province just east of Leyte, gave the same figure for deaths in an interview on ABS-CBN television. He said 23 people were missing.

The national disaster risk reduction agency could not immediately confirm if the 26 deaths in Biliran included the initial three fatalities it reported on Saturday.

Kai-Tak weakened on Sunday afternoon, with gusts of up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) an hour, and was reclassified as a tropical depression, state weather forecasters said.

But disaster officials warned that more floods and landslides were possible and said 15,500 passengers were stranded because ferry services remained suspended in parts of the region.

“I’ve been stranded for three days, sleeping in the bus, and I just want to get home to my family for Christmas,” Eliaquin Pilapil, a 55-year-old farmer, told AFP from a port in the town of Matnog in the eastern province of Sorsogon.

The Christmas holidays are a busy travel season in the mainly Catholic Philippines, with people heading home to the provinces.

The nation is battered by about 20 major storms each year.

Samar and Leyte bore the brunt in 2013 of Super Typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing.

In the Leyte city of Tacloban, Saturday’s storm brought flash floods of up to 1.5 meters (five feet) and strong winds that left the city without power and water, according to its disaster office chief.

“The storm moved so slowly that it brought so much rain to our city. The floods resulted from four days of rain,” Ildebrando Bernadas, head of Tacloban’s disaster risk reduction office, told AFP.

Bernadas said 82 percent of Tacloban’s districts were flooded.

Heavy rains and large waves have stranded at least 11,000 people in various ports in the region, according to the Philippine Coast Guard. More than 10,000 people have fled to evacuation centers, local media reported.

Several provinces were placed under storm warning signals, where heavy rains may persist, the weather bureau said.