Erdogan calls Israel ‘terrorist state’

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech on Sunday at his ruling political party's conference in Sivas, central Turkey. (AP)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Erdogan calls Israel ‘terrorist state’

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday described Israel as a “terrorist state” and vowed to use “all means to fight” against the US recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
“Palestine is an innocent victim... As for Israel, it is a terrorist state, yes, terrorist!” Erdogan said in a speech in the central city of Sivas.
“We will not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of a state that kills children.”
His speech came days after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, angering Palestinians and sparking protests in Muslim and Arab countries.
Four Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in violence following the US announcement.
Rockets were fired from Gaza and Israeli warplanes carried out raids on the territory.
Erdogan earlier described the status of Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Palestinians see as the capital of their future state, as a “red line” for Muslims.
He called Trump’s declaration “null and void.”
The Turkish president has used his position as the current chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to call a summit of the pan-Islamic group on Wednesday.
“We will show that applying the measure will not be as easy as that,” he added on Sunday.
During his speech, Erdogan held a picture of what he said was a 14-year-old Palestinian boy from Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, being dragged away by Israeli soldiers.
Trump’s administration insisted on Sunday that its recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital will help the cause of peace, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley saying it will “move the ball forward.”
The new US stance, fiercely criticized by Palestinians, Arab leaders and others as gravely damaging any prospects for Middle East peace, has given rise to swelling protests across the region in recent days.
But Haley suggested that the fears are overblown.
She told CNN that Trump was the first US president to have the “courage” to make a move that she said many Americans and others around the world supported.
“When it comes to those people (who are) upset, we knew that was going to happen. But courage causes that... I strongly believe this is going to move the ball forward for the peace process.”
When a CNN interviewer asked repeatedly how the change would help the cause of peace, Haley suggested that it would simplify negotiations.
“Now they get to come together to decide what the borders look like, they get to decide the boundaries and they get to talk about how they want to see Jerusalem, going forward.
“All we did was say, ‘this is not something we’re going to allow to happen in the middle of your negotiations.’“
Critics of the US shift say it will have the opposite effect: It has long been US policy that the critically sensitive status of Jerusalem — claimed as capital by both Israelis and Palestinians — must be saved for the end of peace negotiations, not taken off the table at the start.


Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

Updated 27 min 42 sec ago
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Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

  • Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus
  • After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March

HARASTA, Syria: Khaled’s delicate hands were accustomed to cutting and styling hair in his Syrian hometown Harasta. Now, they’re hauling concrete and sweeping floors to repair homes ravaged by years of fighting.
Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus held for nearly five years by armed rebels.
After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March, and displaced families have been trickling back to check if their homes survived.
Khaled, 35, watches them cross a security checkpoint and approaches to pitch his services: knocking down walls, clearing rubble, and sweeping up debris.
“I used to be a barber, but now I’m a laborer. I wait for families to enter and offer them my services in cleaning and restoration,” he says.
Khaled fled Harasta in 2012 to the nearby town of Al-Tal, where he still lives with his family. Every day, the father of three commutes to Harasta to find work.
His own house still stands, but he cannot return yet: temporary security measures dictate that people who live outside the town cannot stay past nightfall.
“I work with three other people. We use hammers, brooms, and buckets of water. Work is on and off,” he says.
“Clients pay us whatever they can afford.”
Harasta lies in Eastern Ghouta, recaptured this spring by Syrian troops with a deal that saw thousands of rebels and civilians bussed to opposition territory elsewhere.
Others, like 45-year-old Hassan, chose not to leave.
The former petrol station worker remained in Harasta throughout the rebel reign and decided to stay in its aftermath, too.
Hassan now works with Khaled, transporting rocks and other materials in his pick-up truck to construction sites.
“This is the only work in Harasta that pays right now,” says Hassan, wearing a dirty wool sweater despite the heat.
Harasta was once home to 250,000 people, most of them Syrians from elsewhere in the country who worked in the capital but sought cheap rent.
Now, just 15,000 people remain, town officials estimate, unable to leave until security forces clear their names.
With the use of personal cars banned, boys get around on bicycles while women and toddlers shuffle along on foot.
Many of Harasta’s large residential blocks or industrial complexes have been pulverized by strikes, artillery, and mortars.
They stand like massive grey honeycombs overlooking dusty streets still stripped of signs of life, months after fighting has stopped.
Mohammad Naaman, 50, was terrified his home would be among those gutted by fighting — and can hardly contain himself when he finds it still standing.
“I was shocked to see most buildings collapsed. It’s true my house is devastated compared to before, but I’m happy it’s still there at all,” says Naaman.
He, too, fled to Al-Tal in 2012 and still lives there.
The doors and windows of his Harasta home have been blown out and cracks run up the walls, threatening collapse.
But in the living room, a layer of dust blankets plastic flowers still standing in their vases.
“Whatever happens, it’s still my house, and my house is so dear to me,” Naaman says.
Like his neighbors, Naaman’s first step was removing the rubble and debris from his home, dumping them into the main street nearby according to instructions by local authorities.
Vehicles provided by the public works ministry transport the rubble to a local dump, separating metal out so that concrete can be turned back to cement and reused.
“We removed 110,000 cubic meters of rubble from the streets, but there’s still more than 600,000 to go,” says Adnan Wezze, who heads the town council running Harasta since the regime’s recapture.
As he speaks, a demolition digger works on a two-story building. Its metal arm reaches up to the roof and picks off slabs of concrete precariously perched there.
Authorities are working fast to demolish buildings “at risk of collapse, because they present a public safety threat,” says Wezze.
Many urban hubs across Syria, particularly around Damascus, have been hard-hit by hostilities, and President Bashar Assad said this month rebuilding would be his “top priority.”
But Law 10, a recent decree which allows for the expropriation of property to redevelop an area, sparked fears that millions of displaced Syrians would not get the opportunity to make a claim to their land.
Wezze insists that Harasta’s modest efforts were fair.
“We only demolish after getting permission from the owners,” he says.
If they are not present, Wezze adds, “their rights are still protected. We’ve requested proof of property even before areas are designated as development projects.”
“No resident of Harasta will lose his rights — whether they’re here or in exile.”