Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque

Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque
Updated 02 March 2013

Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque

Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque

BEIRUT: Fighters seized control of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Syria’s second city of Aleppo yesterday after several days of fierce clashes that damaged the building, a watchdog reported.
State news agency SANA, meanwhile, said a car bomb exploded in a regime-held suburb of the central city of Homs, killing a number of people and wounding others.
In Aleppo, regime troops were forced to withdraw from the mosque at dawn, taking up positions in buildings around the landmark structure, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The mosque’s museum caught fire during the battle, causing its ceiling to collapse, adding to damage done in October when one of its intricately sculpted colonnades was charred in clashes.
Aleppo’s director of Islamic endowments said the mosque’s library, which contains “valuable Islamic relics and Qur'anic manuscripts dating back to pre-Mamluk times,” had been ransacked and destroyed.
“Armed terrorist groups have looted and completely destroyed the Islamic library, which is one of the most valuable in the region with an estimated value of hundreds of thousands of Syrian pounds,” Abdel Qader Al-Shihabi told AFP.
The site has been a place of worship since the 8th century, but the original building was razed by the Mongols in the 13th century, from when the current structure dates.
Elsewhere in Aleppo’s UNESCO-listed Old City, fighting raged around the Justice Palace.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said that if the fighters gain control of the palace, they would be able to cut off army reinforcements to Aleppo’s regime-held citadel.
While fighters have taken over large swathes of territory and a number of key military garrisons in Aleppo province, fighting in the city has been at stalemate for months.
Further north yesterday, airstrikes targeted fighter positions around Menegh military airbase, which has been under protracted siege as the opposition battles for control of Aleppo’s major airports.
Warplanes also carried out several raids in the northern province of Raqa.
And fierce clashes erupted in Damascus on the outskirts of opposition-held Jobar district in the east and near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in the south, said the Observatory.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s interior minister said yesterday that refugees who have fled from the war in neighboring Syria have become a threat to Lebanon’s security because of the suspicion that many are in fact fighters.
Residents in northern Lebanon say that fighters pose as refugees to cross the border, and are arming members of the refugee community in Lebanon to fight in Syria. The minister, Marwan Charbel, has said Syrian fighters have set up training camps in Lebanon.
In addition, members of the Free Syrian Army have used Lebanon’s mountainous terrain to regroup before staging attacks on the Syrian Army across the poorly demarcated border.
“What is concerning me is the security situation,” Charbel said at a joint news conference with the United Nations Development Programme. “Who is exploiting (the Syrian refugees)? Who is arming them? We are not controlling them.”

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 
Updated 32 min 23 sec ago

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 
  • Move comes after Turkish purchase of Russian missile defense system
  • Russia-Turkey relationship remains unsteady following Ankara backing for Ukraine

ANKARA: The US has reportedly informed Turkey of its formal exclusion from the new F-35 consortium agreement.  

The long-awaited decision comes as little surprise, following Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system, amid fears over its compatibility with the F-35 and its possible use for Moscow to obtain intelligence on NATO members.  

Turkish companies are expected to fulfill commitments to manufacturing thousands of parts for the F-35 program until next year, but Ankara will no longer be able to obtain the aircraft. 

Turkey now faces a decision over its direction in terms of military procurement, with relations with Moscow complicated by the latest standoff between Ankara and Kremlin over Ukraine. 

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy (EDAM), told Arab News: “Exclusion from the F-35 program has two important consequences. One is obviously about the companies that have until now participated in the manufacturing process of the F-35s. There is no going back because the manufacturing process shifted away from Turkey to other countries.”

The other consequence, he said, concerned the Turkish airforce and Ankara’s deterrence power without the acquisition of the fifth-generation aircraft. 

“There is no real, tangible way to replace the F-35s with another such platform. The only commercially available fifth-generation platforms that could potentially replace them is the Russian Su-57, and the Chinese (Chengdu J-20) but both of them will create more complications given that they are not NATO-interoperable, and it would be considered a signal that Turkey is distancing itself further away from the West,” Ulgen added. 

In February, Turkey hired a Washington-based lobbying firm to attempt to orchestrate a return to the F-35 program with a six-month contract, claiming that its removal was not fair. 

The lobbyists were also expected to get back money Ankara paid to buy over 100 of the jets, but as yet nothing has come of this.  

“Turkey could work on creating the conditions for its return to the F-35 program, which will require an elaborate negotiation with the US. If that is not possible, and if CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions are not lifted, Turkey could create its own domestic fighter plane (development) program,” Ulgen said.

“So far, there has been no solution for manufacturing (an) engine for that potential plan. Secondly, even if that problem is solved, Turkey can only acquire a sizeable number of these airplanes — realistically speaking — in a timeframe of between 2025 and 2030, which means that Turkey’s air superiority will be diminished given that many countries in the region have started to require fifth-generation planes. It will be a strategic gap if it is not addressed properly.”

On Thursday, Selcuk Bayraktar, executive of Turkish drone producer Baykar, and son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that his firm had accelerated its National Unmanned Combat Aircraft project. 

It remains to be seen to what part Russia will play in future Turkish military procurement. 

As Ankara voices support for Kiev amid Russian military reinforcement along its border with Ukraine, Turkey’s defense ties with Moscow might become unsustainable in the short run. 

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said on Wednesday the Kremlin will scrutinize the prospect of military and technical cooperation with Turkey if Ankara delivers drones to Ukraine. 

That was triggered by a report in Turkey’s pro-government Turkiye newspaper claiming that Ankara was ready to sell its weapons and drones to all countries, including Ukraine, following their successful deployment in the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Ulgen said the future of military and industrial cooperation with Russia remains clouded, with Borisov’s statement showing how difficult it would be to rely on Moscow as a safe partner. 

“It also demonstrates the differences between trying to find alternative suppliers outside of the NATO framework. Unlike some NATO partners like Canada, which halt supplies of some specific materials and don’t go beyond that, Russia is trying to gain and use leverage over Turkey, and put pressure on Turkey’s foreign policy positions through its supply lines to the military,” he said. 

Last week, Canada canceled permits for high-tech arms exports to Turkey over the “credible evidence” that the Canadian technology, as an end-user, was diverted to the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. 

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area
Updated 22 April 2021

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area
  • Guard members killed two gunmen and wounded few accomplices in shootout near Kurdish town of Marivan
  • Iran’s Kurdish area has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists

TEHRAN: Unknown gunmen suspected of terrorism killed two members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.
The Guard members also killed two gunmen and wounded several of their accomplices in the Wednesday night shootout near Kurdish town of Marivan, near the border of Iraq.
It said other several other members of the terrorist group fled the site of the clash.
The report identified the fallen Guard members as Osman Jahani and Nasser Amini without giving their rank. It said they were buried on Thursday in Marvian cemetery, which suggested they were local forces of the Guard.
Iran’s Kurdish area has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists, as well as militants linked to the extremist Daesh group.
In December, unknown gunmen killed three Iranian border guards in the Kurdish area near the country’s northwestern border with Turkey. In July, Iran said “terrorists” killed two people and wounded a third person in an attack in a Kurdish area. In June, Iran attacked bases of Iranian Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support
Updated 22 April 2021

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support
  • Jewish Declaration on Anti-Semitism challenges International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition
  • ‘Just like every other state, Israel needs to be subject to criticism,’ Jewish professor tells Arab News

ATLANTA: More than 200 Jewish-studies scholars and academics have endorsed a definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel.

The Jewish Declaration on Anti-Semitism (JDA) challenges the definition proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and adopted by the US government.

The IHRA’s definition treats criticism of Israel, including calls to boycott the country or its products, as anti-Semitic.

The JDA, however, considers valid criticism of Israel and Zionism as a legitimate form of protected speech, and does not consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country as anti-Semitic.

Pro-Palestinian rights activists say equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is an attempt to muzzle discussion about Palestinian suffering.

Prof. Barry Trachtenberg, a scholar of Jewish studies and anti-Semitism at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Arab News that he signed the JDA because he thinks enacting a law to protect Jews specifically reinforces the perception of Jewish exceptionalism.

“The pro-Israel crowd wants to prevent any criticism of Israel as entirely anti-Semitic. Obviously this isn’t correct because Israel is a political entity, and just like every other state it needs to be subject to criticism,” he said.

“Israel doesn’t represent the entire Jewish people, but even if it did, because it’s a political entity it should be subjected to valid criticism.”

Joshua Cooper — a mathematics professor at the University of South Carolina, and a member of the US-based group Jewish Voice for Peace — told Arab News that the JDA is “mostly a positive development in countering the harmful definition of the IHRA.”

However, he expressed concern about the JDA’s “vague” Article 10, which opposes “denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.”

Cooper said: “If someone believes that the radical Jewish settlers living in stolen homes and terrorizing Arabs … should leave, is this an anti-Semitic stance? Surely not.”

Iymen Chehade, a history professor and pro-Palestinian human rights activist in Chicago, told Arab News that the JDA’s definition is a step up from the IHRA’s.

However, he said the JDA “reinforces the false and misleading idea that Israel and the Palestinians live on the same moral plain.”

He added: “It’s ironic that while the signatories rightfully seek to protect one group, they ignore the rights as well as the suffering of the Palestinians in the process.”

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike
Updated 22 April 2021

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike
  • India recorded the world's highest daily tally of 314,835 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday
  • Health officials across northern and western India including the capital, New Delhi, said they were in crisis

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates on Thursday suspended all flights from India, including transit passengers, as coronavirus cases in the country spiked to global records.
Some 300 flights a week were operating between the UAE and India before the ban was announced, according to local media, making the air corridor one of the busiest in the world.
"The decision to suspend flights came after studying and evaluating the epidemiological situation in the friendly Republic of India," the General Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.
The GCAA said that those coming from India through other countries must stay in that third destination for at least 14 days.
UAE nationals and passengers in private jets are exempt from that requirement.
Cargo flights between the two countries will continue after the ban, which comes into effect on April 25 for a period of 10 days "that can be extended".
"This comes in response to the proactive precautionary and preventive health measures issued by all concerned authorities in the country to limit the spread" of the pandemic, WAM cited authorities as saying.
The UAE is home to some 3.3 million Indians who make up a third of the population - most of them in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the federation.
India announced Thursday that nearly 315,000 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded during the past 24 hours, in the highest daily toll in the world.
New Delhi sent out warnings that patients could die if oxygen supplies in hospitals were not replenished.
The country's long-underfunded healthcare system is being stretched to the limit by a devastating second wave of the pandemic blamed on a "double mutant" variant and "super-spreader" mass gatherings.

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud
Updated 22 April 2021

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud
  • Thodex cryptocurrency exchange is under probe following complaints from users unable to access their assets
  • Suspected owner could face possible charges of fraud and forming a criminal organization, Haberturk said

ANKARA: Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into a cryptocurrency exchange Thursday over allegations it may have defrauded some 390,000 investors of an estimated $2 billion.
The office of Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said it was probing the Thodex cryptocurrency exchange following complaints from users unable to access their assets.
Thodex owner Faruk Fatih Ozer deactivated his social media accounts and is believed to have fled Turkey for Tirana, Albania, Turkish broadcaster Haberturk reported.
Ozer could face possible charges of fraud and forming a criminal organization, Haberturk said, adding that a police cybercrimes unit searched Thodex’s Istanbul offices on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the country’s financial crimes investigation agency blocked all Thodex’s funds, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
In a written statement carried by Haberturk and other Turkish media, Ozer denied the allegations of fraud and said he had left Turkey to hold meetings with foreign investors. He said he would return to Turkey within “a few days” to cooperate with the Turkish authorities.
Ozer also maintained that access to the cryptocurrency exchange was temporarily closed down to allow Thodex to investigate an alleged cyberattack.
Earlier in the week, Thodex notified users that it would halt operations for six hours for maintenance and later extended that period to 4-5 days.
Last week, Turkey’s central bank announced that it was banning the use of cryptocurrencies for the payment for goods, saying they presented “irrevocable” risks.
The decision came as many in Turkey have turned to cryptocurrencies to shield their savings from rising inflation and the Turkish currency’s slump.