Syria peace deal threatened as Iran and Turkey clash in Idlib

Syria peace deal threatened as Iran and Turkey clash in Idlib
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters walk as the sun sets in Eastern Afrin countryside, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2018

Syria peace deal threatened as Iran and Turkey clash in Idlib

Syria peace deal threatened as Iran and Turkey clash in Idlib

ANKARA: A deadly attack carried out by Iranian militias on Turkish troops deep inside Syria has cast renewed doubt on the survival of a de-escalation agreement meant to ease tensions between three of the main powers enmeshed in the long-running conflict.
The assault on the outpost in Idlib province, southwest of Aleppo city, on Monday night killed one Turkish soldier and injured five others. The Turkish military retaliated with rocket fire, but experts have told Arab News that the bloodshed could be a sign of further trouble to come.
Last year officials from Ankara, Tehran and Moscow agreed to set up a series of de-escalation zones in Syria that were supposed to reduce violence between anti-government insurgents and forces fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The UN backed the move but all three countries remain deeply involved in the conflict and Monday night’s attack was just the latest indication that their detente is in danger of collapsing into a new wave of violence.
Huseyin Bagci, a professor of international relations at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, said the deal — struck in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana — was “still valid” but “the three guarantor countries should immediately meet and discuss the ongoing problems with each other.”
He anticipated more clashes between Iran’s proxy forces and Turkish troops in the coming weeks, as both powers seek to exert their influence over Idlib — a province controlled by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
The outpost that was attacked on Monday had only been established that morning. It is the fourth observation point the Turkish military has set up in Idlib, with a further eight still due to be built under the terms of the Astana deal, but its construction came at a particularly delicate time.
On Jan. 20, the Turkish military launched Operation Olive Branch against Kurdish fighters belonging to militias including the People’s Protection Units (YPG) stationed in the nearby Syrian district of Afrin. Ankara has since portrayed the offensive as a successful attempt to root out separatists threatening its sovereignty but Damascus fears Turkish troops are moving deeper into Syrian territory in an attempt to establish a permanent presence in the country.
The Syrian civil war has turned into a battleground for regional and international powers since it first began with a wave of civil unrest against the Assad regime in 2011. The regime responded to the peaceful protests in brutal fashion, arresting and killing thousands of its opponents and deliberately stoking the flames of an Islamist insurgency.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism and protecting one of its main allies, Iran has become increasingly involved in the war. There was further evidence of this close relationship after Monday night’s attack, with the Syrian army yesterday (Tuesday) deploying anti-aircraft missiles to the front lines in Aleppo and Idlib in an apparent warning to Ankara not to retaliate further.
Tehran has also urged Turkey to stop its military offensive against the Kurdish separatists, accusing it of breaching Syrian sovereignty and destabilizing the region.
Meanwhile, Russia still finds itself mired in the conflict almost three years after first launching airstrikes against opposition groups fighting the Assad regime. Last Saturday, one of its pilots blew himself up with a grenade to avoid being captured by insurgents after his plane was shot down over Idlib.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Moscow-backed Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News that the latest clash between Turkey and Iranian-sponsored militias might yet develop into a major new fault-line in the war.
“It would not be unrealistic to expect confrontation between Turkey-backed groups and pro-Assad forces in the coming days. The decisive factor, however, will be the absence of Russian air support in any offensives against Turkish interests,” he said.


Egypt welcomes Qatar invite

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite
Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
Updated 3 min 10 sec ago

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite

Egypt welcomes Qatar invite
  • Egypt is always striving for the best relationship with the Arab brothers,” Shoukry added

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Qatar’s invitation to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to visit Doha is appreciated, and a diplomatic approach will be taken to set the appropriate timing for it.
“We have strong institutions that monitor and take the necessary measures to protect Egyptian interests,” Shoukry told the local Sada Al-Balad satellite channel.
He stressed that all topics related to Egypt’s security and stability, including the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, are being addressed, and that Qatar’s response to Cairo’s demands will be evaluated.
“We are proceeding positively in removing the effects of the boycott between Egypt and Qatar, and we are also dealing with all the issues that concern us. Egypt is always striving for the best relationship with the Arab brothers,” Shoukry added.


Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
Updated 13 June 2021

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
  • The cost of the project is estimated at ‘around $1 billion’
  • Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July

AMMAN: Jordan said Sunday it plans to build a Red Sea desalination plant operating within five years, to provide the mostly-desert and drought-hit kingdom with critical drinking water.
The cost of the project is estimated at “around $1 billion,” ministry of water and irrigation spokesman Omar Salameh said, adding that the plant would be built in the Gulf of Aqaba, in southern Jordan.
The plant is expected to produce 250-300 million cubic meters of potable water per year, and should be ready for operation in 2025 or 2026, Salameh said.
“It will cover the need for drinking water (in Jordan) for the next two centuries,” he said, adding that the desalinated water would be piped from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the rest of the country.
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, is now in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history.
Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July, Salameh said.
Desalinating water is a major drain of energy, and the companies must suggest how to run the plant in Jordan, which does not have major oil reserves.
Last month Salameh said that Jordan needs about 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year.
But the quantities available are around 850 to 900 million cubic meters, with the shortfall “due to low rainfall, global warming, population growth and successive refugee inflows,” he said.
This year, the reserves of key drinking water dams have reached critical levels, many now a third of their normal capacity.


Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
Updated 13 June 2021

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
  • In the indictment, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime”
  • On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security

AMMAN: Jordan’s former royal court chief and another man will go on trial this week at the State Security Court (SSC) for their alleged roles in a plot to “destabilize the country.”

The country’s public prosecutor endorsed the charges against Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah, the former royal court chief.

Both are accused of working with Prince Hamzah, the former crown prince.

In the indictment, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime, and the country’s security and stability,” as well as “inciting sedition.”

On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security. The court is expected to begin the trial next week.

Awadallah and bin Zaid were arrested on April 3 along with 15 other people suspected of involvement in the case, which also involved Prince Hamzah. Jordanian authorities said that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah were attempting to destabilize Jordan in collaboration with “foreign entities.”

Prince Hamzah’s involvement was resolved within the framework of the Hashemite family upon directives from his half brother King Abdullah II. The Jordanian royal court published a letter signed by Prince Hamzah in which he vowed allegiance to King Abdullah and confirmed that he would act “always for His Majesty and his Crown Prince to help and support.”

The charge sheet into the sedition case said that there is enough evidence proving a “solid connection” between Prince Hamzah and the two suspects, Awadallah and bin Zaid.

It also said that bin Zaid recommended Awadallah to Prince Hamzah to help them gather external support in their plot to topple the regime and place Prince Hamzah on the throne.

The charges said that the three men regularly met at the home of Awadallah, who was reportedly “encouraging the prince to intensify his meetings with notables and tribal leaders.”

Prince Hamzah then moved to the so-called “open criticism stage,” and began attacking national institutions and accusing them of ineptitude, the indictment said.

The charges also claim that Prince Hamzah exploited a hospital tragedy to mobilize Jordanians and ignite public anger against the state.

Seven COVID-19 patients died in March in the New Salt Public Hospital, northwest of the capital Amman, when the hospital’s oxygen supply failed.

The incident triggered public anger, forcing Jordan’s health minister at the time, Nazir Obeidat, to step down.

The indictment contains a number of text messages that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah sent to each other during March, days before the case became public.

On March 13, Awadallah sent a WhatsApp message to bin Zaid that said: “It is time for H.” On the same date, Prince Hamzah wrote to bin Zaid: “There is another person saying ‘go ahead.’” The latter wrote back: “This (medical tragedy) is considered the spark.”

Before nationwide rallies planned for March, 24, prosecutors said that bin Zaid sent a text message to Prince Hamzah warning: “From now on, there should not be only words, but there should be a leadership.”

Activists affiliated with the United Jordanian Movement, Hirak called for the nationwide rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of massive opposition protests in 2011 organized by the Youth of March 24 movement.

Bin Zaid sent another message to Prince Hamzah urging him to “seize the opportunity, maybe not today or tomorrow, but I’m sure not in June, for example. God be on your side.”

In another text message to Prince Hamzah, bin Zaid said: “Things are coming my friend and, as the man (Awadallah) said again last day, the thing will occur sooner than you think.”


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 13 June 2021

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 13 June 2021

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.