Kurds welcome offer of talks with Baghdad

Federal Iraqi security forces gather outside the Kurdish hold City of Alton Kupri, outskirts of Irbil, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Kurds welcome offer of talks with Baghdad

BAGHDAD: The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Thursday welcomed a call by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to talk “under the umbrella of the constitution,” hours after a federal court issued an arrest warrant for the KRG’s vice president, sources on both sides told Arab News.

The KRG’s agreement to start constitution-based talks with Baghdad implies a willingness to cancel the results of last month’s independence referendum.

The KRG said it “welcomed” Al-Abadi’s initiative to start negotiations in order to solve issues “according to the constitution and the principles of partnership and accordance.”

It “stressed its readiness to talk with the central government, and called on the international community to sponsor dialogue between the two sides.”

The statement came hours after a federal court issued an arrest warrant for KRG Vice President Kussrat Rasool in response to his “inciting statements” against federal security forces.

“The court considered the statements of Rasool an insulting and inciting action against the armed forces,” said Abdulsattar Al-Bairqdar, spokesman for the Judiciary Council.

Federal security forces backed by Shiite-dominated paramilitaries on Tuesday pushed to regain control of the last 10 percent of the disputed areas adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan, said federal security sources.

Baghdad launched a huge military campaign on Monday to “impose the authority of the federal government” over disputed areas in northern Iraq and regain control of the region’s oilfields.

The campaign’s key targets were the northern city of Kirkuk, its lucrative oilfields, Mosul Dam and a direct route to the Habur border crossing with Turkey, said senior federal security officials.

“All that we’re looking for is imposing federal authority in all the disputed areas, reaching the Kurdish border and recapturing the border crossings,” a senior federal security officer involved in the operations told Arab News. “We’ll stop when we achieve our planned goals.”

The military operation was the latest in a series of punitive measures undertaken by Baghdad, which banned international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan, stopped financial transactions with the region, rehabilitated the oil pipeline network linking Kirkuk to Ceyhan in Turkey in order to bypass Kurdistan and resume oil exports, and filed a formal request to Turkey and Iran to shut down their border crossings with the region.

Iran shut down its three official crossings with Kurdistan on Sunday. Meanwhile, Iraq and Turkey have begun work to open a new port called Avacoy, 7 km west of Habur, which will bypass Kurdistan, security sources said.

The location is on the edge of the Kurdistan border. In order to reach it, roads have to be extended through the Yazidi-dominated area of Sinjar near the Iraqi-Turkish border, and the Sunni Arab-dominated area of Rabiea near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Both areas are disputed between Baghdad and Irbil. They were seized by Daesh in August 2014, then by the KRG in 2015 after they were liberated by Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

The new crossing will tighten the grip on Kurdistan and strengthen Baghdad’s control of the Iraqi-Turkish border. Ankara on Monday said it had started procedures to hand control of Habur to Baghdad.

Two federal officials involved in the plan said the project will need at least two months to be realized.

“The major step was gaining control of Sinjar, Rabiea and nearby areas on the Nineveh Plain. Our troops have retaken most of these areas in the last few days, and the remainder will be easy,” a senior federal security official told Arab News.

“What we need now is to start the second part of the plan, which includes constructing the required facilities and paving the road connecting the new crossing to the main Sinjar-Rabiea road.”

Kurds in Syria and Iraq have expressed concern about the enthusiasm of Baghdad and Ankara for this project.

“If the Turks deployed their forces along the border on the pretext of securing it, communications between Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds would be completely cut,” a federal Kurdish lawmaker told Arab News.


Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

Updated 20 June 2018
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Israeli planes hit 25 targets in response to Gaza rocket fire

JERUSALEM: Israeli jets struck 25 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Wednesday after militants launched rockets and mortar shells at Israeli territory, the military said.
Two Hamas security men were lightly hurt in one air strike in the southern Gaza Strip, residents said. No casualties were reported in Israel after one of the most intense recent barrages of militant rocket launches and Israeli air strikes.
Air raid sirens and Israeli phone warning applications sounded throughout the pre-dawn hours.
The military counted 30 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli territory and said its Iron Dome anti-missile shield intercepted seven rockets.
Since its last war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas in 2014, Israel has stepped up efforts to prevent cross-border attacks, improving rocket interceptors and investing in technologies for detecting and destroying guerrilla tunnels.
In recent weeks, Palestinians have sent kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to arid farmland and forests, others have carried small explosive devices in a new tactic that has caused extensive damage.
At least 127 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.
Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the weekly Friday protests have drawn international condemnation.
Palestinians say the protests are an outpouring of rage by people demanding the right to return to homes their families fled or were driven from following the founding of Israel 70 years ago.
Israel says the demonstrations are organized by the Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip and denies Israel’s right to exist. Israel says Hamas has intentionally provoked the violence, a charge Hamas denies.
Around two million people live in Gaza, most of them the stateless descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. The territory has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which it has fought three wars against Israel.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the strip, citing security reasons, which has caused an economic crisis and collapse in living standards there over the past decade.