Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Egyptian Defence Ministry on February 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Egypt launches massive security operation against militants

EL-ARISH, Egypt: Egypt began a massive security operation Friday involving land, sea and air forces in areas including the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, the epicenter of an Islamic insurgency spearheaded by a local affiliate of Daesh.
The operation, announced in a televised statement by army spokesman Col. Tamer El-Rifaai, began early Friday and covers central Sinai and areas in Egypt’s Nile Delta and Western Desert. He said the operation is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations.” There was no indication how long the operation would last.
In a subsequent statement, El-Rifaai said the air force carried out airstrikes on militant hideouts in north and central Sinai. He added that naval forces were deployed to cut off their supply lines and that security has been boosted around the country’s border crossings, shipping routes and vital facilities.
Security officials said the forces killed at least 20 militants in the north Sinai town of Bir Al-Abd. They added that militants are also being targeted south and west of the town of Rafah, on the border with the Gaza strip. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The operation began amid local media reports of heightened alert levels in north Sinai hospitals and in other neighboring provinces in anticipation of casualties. Local gas stations and shops were also ordered shut.
The military campaign comes ahead of the presidential election in March in which President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is running for a second four-year term with no serious contenders. El-Sisi was elected in 2014 in a landslide with promises of restoring security.
Egypt has for years been struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in the turbulent Sinai region. It has carried out military operations there that, it says, have killed hundreds of militants and soldiers over the years. Egypt also built a buffer zone along the border with Gaza to curb the flow of militants and weapons through a vast tunnel network under the border. The insurgency, nevertheless, shows no signs of abating.
In November, militants killed 311 worshippers in a mosque attack in the region, the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history. Shortly afterward, El-Sisi gave security forces a three-month deadline to restore stability to northern Sinai and authorized his chief of staff to use “all brute force.”
Later, militants fired a projectile at El-Arish airport and struck an Apache helicopter that was part of the entourage of Egypt’s defense and interior ministers who were in the city on an unannounced visit on Dec. 19. Neither minister was in the aircraft when the attack took place but the missile killed an officer and wounded two others. Egypt is currently building a buffer zone around the airport.
Militant attacks have generally surged since the 2013 military ouster of elected President Muhammad Mursi following mass protests against his divisive one-year rule. The violence has been concentrated in northern Sinai Peninsula but has also spread to the mainland.
Egypt is also facing a growing number of attacks in its Western Desert along the porous border with Libya that has been the source of serious concern to authorities who contend Islamic militants and smugglers use it as their route into the country.
Egypt has been under a state of emergency after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday last year in an attack that was claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of Daesh.


Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

Updated 16 February 2019
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Syria stuck with Assad for now, says UK minister Jeremy Hunt

  • Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer”
  • Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria

LONDON: Syria has no future under Bashar Assad but is stuck with the president due to Russian support, Britain’s top diplomat has said.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK foreign secretary, said that Assad is likely to remain in his position “for the short-term and possibly longer,” and called on Moscow to come forward with a solution.
“Assad … is a truly horrific man who has shown that he won’t hesitate to butcher his own people in order to prolong his hold on power. And what future would a country like Syria have with a leader like that?,” Hunt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“But the reality is because of Russian support, he is there and he is likely to stay for the short-term and possibly longer. It is for the Russians now to come forward with their solution because they have chosen to intervene in the way they have.”
Hunt said it was “impossible” for Syria to have a bright future with Assad still in power.
“This is a man who mercilessly gassed his own people in the most brutally possible way against all international norms, and the Russians chose to prop him up. So it is for Russia now to show they are going to create peace and stability in Syria,” he said.
Hunt added that the UK has “no plans” to reopen diplomatic relations with Syria.
The British official said the US withdrawal from eastern Syria should not take place in a way that harms “our allies like the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria who fought very bravely along Western troops for many years.”
Asked about Britain’s role following the US pullout from Syria, Hunt said: “There is no prospect of British troops going in to replace the American troops leaving, but of course we had discussions with the United States on an ongoing basis and when I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago about how we stabilize the situation in Syria.”
Hunt also spoke about the territorial defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq — but cautioned that was not the same as crushing the mindset behind the terror group.
“We have not yet eliminated the cause of the Daesh movement which is so evil and so destructive and there is a lot more work left to do,” he said.
“It is very important that the global coalition does not hang its hat up and say we are done now, because if we do that there is a very good chance that Daesh will be back.”
“There (is) some evidence now in parts of Iraq that (Daesh is) regrouping and regathering strength.”
On Yemen, Hunt underlined the need for a comprehensive solution that would prevent Iran from using the country as a base to destabilize neighboring states.
Asked about his recent participation in the Warsaw Conference on the Middle East, the British foreign secretary said that the meetings went beyond the Iranian role in the region to touch on reshaping alliances in the Middle East.
He added that he attended a “very productive meeting about Yemen,” in the presence of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
“We spent a long time talking about what is necessary to get peace over the line in Yemen,” he said.
In this regard, Hunt affirmed that a comprehensive settlement in Yemen could only be reached through “a government of national unity in which the Houthis have a stake in which the security of all communities in Yemen is assured, in which Iran is no longer using Yemen as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors, and in which we can end the terrible humanitarian crisis which is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
According to Hunt, the problem lies in how to achieve a final solution and to build trust, in particular the importance of implementing the Stockholm Agreement and withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah “so that we can open up the Red Sea Mills,” where 51,000 tones of UN wheat is stored.
He noted that he held a lengthy discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif about this issue.
According to Hunt, he was told by Zarif that Iran wants to play its part in finding a solution. “We took those commitments at face value but we do now need to see that translated into the Houthis leaving the Port of Hodeideh.”
“All of us know that if that does not happen soon, we are going to see a return to hostilities and that would be an absolute tragedy to the people of Yemen,” Hunt said.
A version of this story was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat