Assad regime renews threat to attack Idlib after militants refuse to pull out

A Syrian rebel-fighter from the National Liberation Front (NLF) walks in a street in the rebel-held al-Rashidin district of western Aleppo's countryside near Idlib province on October 15, 2018. (AFP / Aaref Watad)
Updated 16 October 2018
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Assad regime renews threat to attack Idlib after militants refuse to pull out

  • Province ‘must return to Syrian sovereignty,’ minister warns as buffer-zone deal hangs in balance
  • Syrian FM says it is now up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which averted a regime offensive last month, was being fulfilled

BEIRUT: The Assad regime renewed its threat on Monday to launch an offensive in Idlib province in northwest Syria after militants defied a Russia-Turkey deal for them to pull out.

The fighters failed to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for them to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last opposition stronghold.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem said at a press conference in Damascus with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there are other options.”

Al-Moualem said it was now up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which averted a regime offensive last month, was being fulfilled. “We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” he said.

When Idlib was recaptured from the opposition, the regime would turn its attention to territory held by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the minister said. “After Idlib, our target is east of the Euphrates,” which must also return to Syrian sovereignty, he said.

Civilians in Idlib said they were concerned about an increase in violence if the Russian-Turkish accord collapsed. “We fear the deal’s sponsors will fail to implement all its points, and that the bombardment and battles will return,” one said.

The deal provides for a 15-20 km horseshoe-shaped buffer zone around opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

The dominant militant force in the region is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch. The group has signaled that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it has not explicitly said so.

“We value the efforts of all those striving — at home and abroad — to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said.

Elsewhere in Syria, the Assad regime on Monday reopened a vital border post with Jordan and a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Two white jeeps crossed into Israeli-occupied territory during a low-key ceremony to mark the reopening of the Quneitra crossing in the Golan, four years after it was closed when Syrian opposition forces seized nearby territory.

In the south, and three years after it too was closed, a black metal border gate opened at the Nassib crossing into Jordan as police and customs officials stood nearby.

The Jordan crossing was previously a major trading route, while the remote Quneitra post is used primarily by a UN force that monitors a cease-fire line separating Israeli-occupied parts of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Syrian businessman Hisham Falyoun, who lives in Jordan with his wife and children, was the first person to cross the border in his black Mercedes SUV.

“I wanted to be the first person to cross to show everyone that Syria is safe, Syria is back,” said Falyoun, who was hoping to surprise his parents in Damascus.


Egypt offers residency to foreign investors

Updated 21 November 2018
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Egypt offers residency to foreign investors

  • A three-year residency is on offer for those who invest $200,000, and five years for those who purchase property worth $400,000
  • To begin the process for obtaining Egyptian residency, a preliminary contract must be agreed between the property owner and the foreign investor

CAIRO: In an attempt to further boost its booming real estate sector and attract foreign investment, Egypt will grant residency permits to foreigners who invest at least $100,000 in the country’s property market.
The growth rate of Egypt’s property market stands at 133 percent in 2018. This has been fueled by strong demand for housing, along with the sporadic launch of residential construction projects.
The minimum investment required to obtain a residency permit is $100,000. A three-year residency is on offer for those who invest $200,000, and five years for those who purchase property worth $400,000. The offer also applies to properties that are still under construction.
Khaled Abbas, the deputy minister of housing, said the procedures for the scheme are being set up in consultation with the Passport, Immigration and Nationality Administration.
To begin the process for obtaining Egyptian residency, a preliminary contract must be agreed between the property owner and the foreign investor, and then signed by an authorized body, such the Urban Communities Authority, the Tourism Development Authority or the governorate in which the property is located. Bank statements must also be provided confirming that the money has been transferred from overseas. The passport office will then approve the period of residence.
Members of the House of Representatives welcomed the announcement as a positive move for Egypt and an incentive for foreign investment, which it is hoped will create jobs and economic opportunities.
Whether the public will be so keen remains to be seen.
“This might be a bit problematic,” said Aly Salem, a resident of Cairo. “The housing demand in Egypt is already high, with the surging youth population and more and more people looking to get married each year. Where will they stay, if foreigners start swooping in and acquiring both residency and a huge housing unit with just $100,000?”
Offering further details, Gen. Kamel Amer, the head of the Parliament’s Defense and National Security Committee, said foreigners will not have any political rights for the first five years of residency and they will not be eligible to vote for 10 years. He also said spouses and children of investors will not be granted residency unless they live in Egypt.
Spain and Portugal have implemented similar programs in an attempt to boost their property markets. Previously, a foreigner had to live in Egypt for 10 consecutive years to be eligible for naturalization.
The new residency law is part of the efforts to repair the damage to Egypt’s economy caused by severe austerity measures imposed after the $12 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.
The cost and size of properties in Egypt, which are often large and lavish apartments, compare favorably to those in many other countries. Despite this, few Egyptians can afford to pay for a house upfront, but some private property developers are offering 10-year, interest-free installment plans.