Russia takes aim at US over series of Syria drone attacks

An undated handout picture obtained on January 8, 2018 on the Russian Defence Ministry's Facebook page, purportedly shows what the ministry said was a strike drone used during recent drone attacks on Russia' bases in Syria. (AFP/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY)
Updated 09 January 2018
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Russia takes aim at US over series of Syria drone attacks

MOSCOW: Russia said Tuesday that a recent series of drone attacks on its military bases in Syria would have required assistance from a country possessing satellite navigation technology — a statement that appeared to be aimed at the United States.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces repelled a series of drone attacks Saturday on the Hemeimeem air base and a naval facility in Tartus, adding that out of the 13 drones involved, seven were shot down and six were forced to land without inflicting any damage.
Without blaming any specific country, the ministry said data for the attacks could only have been obtained “from one of the countries that possesses know-how in satellite navigation.”
In Tuesday’s statement, it noted a “strange coincidence” of a US military intelligence plane flying over the Mediterranean near the two Russian bases at the moment of the attack.
The US and Russia support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria last month and ordered a partial troops pullout, and the Kremlin said late Monday that the number of Russian troops left in Syria is sufficient for fending off any attacks by militants.
Asked Tuesday whether the withdrawal could have been premature in view of the drone attack, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces in Syria have “all the necessary means” to counter any challenge.
Syria’s president Bashar Assad has recovered major territory in the country in the past two years, largely because of Russia’s military support. His forces are currently battling on two fronts, in the northwestern Idlib province and in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Opposition activists have reported airstrikes and shelling of rebel-held Damascus suburbs that killed and wounded dozens. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said warplanes attacked several suburbs of Damascus, including Saqba, where a man and a child were killed and 13 others were wounded.
AFP reported Tuesday evening that 24 are dead in raids on the Gouta district, just outside of Damascus, including 10 children.
The Observatory and the Syrian Civil Defense, first responders known as the White Helmets, reported airstrikes on other suburbs, including Harasta and Douma.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said shelling of the capital Tuesday killed five people and wounded 30. SANA said 15 shells struck the central, predominantly Christian neighborhood of Bab Touma. The capital has been shelled on a near-daily basis in recent weeks.
Turkey’s foreign minister accused Syrian government forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists.
Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments came a day after Syrian government forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on Idlib, the largest rebel-held enclave in the country’s north, amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach a rebel-held air base and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.
The government offensive around Idlib has forced thousands of civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey.
Cavusoglu said Syrian government attacks on moderate opposition forces would “axe” peace efforts.
Turkey, which backs the opposition, and Russia and Iran, whose wide-ranging support for Assad has turned the war in his favor, have taken the lead in Syria peace efforts over the past year.
The UN humanitarian chief arrived in Damascus Tuesday to assess the humanitarian situation and discuss with government officials ways of improving access and aid delivery.
Mark Lowcock’s visit is the first by the head of the UN’s humanitarian agency since December 2015. The UN estimates that more than 13 million people need basic aid and protection across Syria. Lowcock is expected to meet government officials and visit the central city of Homs during his three-day visit.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.