OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy
The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2018

OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy
  • Ambassador Jaafari says it's up to the UN mission to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations
  • The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, blamed by Western powers on the Syrian regime, left more than 40 people dead

NEW YORK: Experts from the OPCW chemical watchdog are awaiting the green light from a UN security assessment team before beginning their investigation of an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma, the Syrian ambassador said Tuesday.
The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday, said Ambassador Bashar Jaafari.
“If this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow,” Jaafari told the Security Council.
The Syrian state news agency earlier reported that the international team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had entered Douma to begin their investigation of whether chemical agents were used as a weapon.
The ambassador stressed that the “Syrian government did all that it can do to facilitate the work of this mission” but that it was up to the UN and the OPCW to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations.
The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Saturday, when Britain, France and the US launched military strikes against what they said were targets linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, near Damascus, reportedly left more than 40 people dead and was blamed by Western powers on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Syrian regime forces shelled the last pockets in Damascus controlled by Daesh, preparing the ground for a possible assault on the terrorist stronghold, a monitor said Wednesday.
After fully retaking the Eastern Ghouta region on the edge of the capital, the Syrian regime has turned its attention to other areas across the country that still escape its control.
Among them are neighborhoods in southern Damascus from which many civilians have fled but are still held by Daesh, including the Yarmouk area that hosts a Palestinian refugee camp.
“Regime forces shelled several Daesh positions in Yarmouk camp and Hajjar Al-Aswad, killing one person and wounded others,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Both sides had traded fire the previous night, the Britain-based monitor said, causing at least five deaths, most of them regime soldiers.
“The regime is turning up the heat ahead of a big assault that would break Daesh’s back and force them to evacuate the area,” the head of the observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
Daesh still has a presence in Yarmouk, and the neighboring areas of Hajjar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam. Yarmouk used to be the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, with a population of 160,000, but only a few thousand people remain inside the devastated area.
The state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday that a deal had also been reached for rebels to quit Dumayr, a town further to the east, where a reconciliation agreement had kept a security status quo since 2016.
It said on Wednesday fighters from the Jaish Al-Islam rebel faction were continuing to hand over their heavy and intermediate weapons in Dumayr ahead of their departure to the northern town of Jarabulus.
SANA said a total of 5,000 people including 1,500 rebels were expected to leave the town.


Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
Updated 25 min 42 sec ago

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing for international action against Iran over a deadly attack on a ship managed by an Israeli billionaire, branding Tehran an “exporter of terrorism” after the likely drone strike.
The MT Mercer Street tanker was struck Thursday in the northern Indian Ocean, killing two crew members, in what the United States said was a drone-style attack.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the strike, but maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said “this latest attack has the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”
On Friday Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”
“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all,” he said.
“We must never remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism, which also harms freedom of navigation,” Lapid added.
Lapid said he had also spoken to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”
Zodiac Maritime, the tanker’s London-based operator owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, said a Romanian national also died in the attack.
The Mercer Street, an oil products tanker, was traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.


The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.
Israeli retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom said the attack appeared to copy elements of a reported Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.
Israel, Brom told AFP, “started developing drones and is among the first (countries) to develop the concept of a kamikaze.
“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques,” said Brom, now a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Iran’s strike marked “a certain escalation” but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said.
“They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation,” Brom added.
In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.
But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.


Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.
A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.
By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.
The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.
Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.


Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest
Updated 54 min 1 sec ago

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces placed a judge, accused by human rights groups of being close to Islamists and hiding terrorism-related files, under house arrest for 40 days, local Radio Mosaique FM said on Saturday.
The decision against Judge Bechir Akremi came after President Kais Saied pledged to lead a campaign against rampant corruption in all sectors to save the country, following his dismissal of the prime minister and freezing of parliament.
Tunisia has been thrust into a political crisis by Saied's move, leading major parties to accuse him of a coup, which he denies. Two lawmakers were also arrested after he decided to lift their immunity.


US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014
Updated 1 min 44 sec ago

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

DUBAI: The US-led coalition has provided the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth more than $5 billion since 2014, the bloc’s spokesman said Friday.

“Only in the last week, the international coalition equipped the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth 35 million dollars,” international coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Morato said.

“This is part of From the Fund for financing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, which was supported by the American forces,” he added. 

This includes communications and intelligence equipment as well as other support, Morato added in a statement to the Iraqi News channel, carried by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). 

“The support will continue to support the Iraqi forces, and perhaps in the future and in light of the decision to withdraw combat forces, and it will be left to a decision by the Iraqi and American governments,” the spokesman said. 

Last week,  an Iraqi army official said that Iraq's relationship with the international coalition will be based on  fighting terrorism, providing training and equipment to Iraqi forces, and intelligence effort, the INA reported.


Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
Updated 31 July 2021

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
  • Yemeni official calls on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes

DUBAI: Areas in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militias have become the largest hotbeds of human trafficking, Muammar Al-Eryani, the conflict-ridden country’s information minister, said.

Al-Eryani issued the statement as the world celebrated International Day for Combating Human Trafficking on July 30.

The Houthi militia’s coup and war have undermined the efforts made by the state before 2014 in combating human trafficking in terms of regulations, laws and field procedures, the official said, in a report from state news agency Saba.

The militia’s “policy of child soldier recruitment, disappearance of women in secret prisons, sexual abuse, enforced waves of internal and external displacements, and high rates of poverty and unemployment, have made the areas under Houthi control the largest hotbeds of human trafficking in the world,” Al-Eryani said.

The Yemeni official called on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes in human trafficking and to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice by treating them as “war criminals.”


Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
Updated 31 July 2021

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
  • Rached Ghannouchi says President Kais Saied's locking of parliament's doors was a "very serious error"
  • Saied took over executive powers last week "to save Tunisia" as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and economy faltered

TUNIS: Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired party Ennahda, has warned that “if there is no agreement on the return of parliament, on the formation of a government and its presentation to parliament, the Tunisian street will undoubtedly mobilize.”

Ghannouchi, who is also the parliament speaker, claimed that President Kais Saied had “put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.”

He was speaking after the president froze parliament and took over executive powers, saying he had to save Tunisia, which is suffering from a coronavirus outbreak and a failing economy.

Ghannouchi said: “Since the start, we have called on the people to fight the coup d’etat with all peaceful means, and this resistance will continue with peaceful means.”

Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to Ennahda.

FASTFACT

Ghannouchi claimed that President Kais Saied had ‘put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.’

Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.

The probes follow Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.

Ghannouchi admitted there had been “mistakes in the economic and social fields, and Ennahda bears a part of the responsibility, which corresponds to the part of power it has held.”

He said the parties in parliament had made the mistake of not managing to establish a constitutional court and that Saied had used the absence of a constitutional court “to monopolize the interpretation of the constitution and to make himself the constitutional court, and that’s an error in which we all bear a part of the responsibility.”

Ghannouchi voiced regret at the lack of dialogue with the presidency. “We are ready to make all concessions so that democracy can return to Tunisia,” he added.

“There is no dialogue today with the president nor with his advisers. But we think we need a national dialogue. We are trying to use all peaceful means — dialogue, negotiations, street pressure, pressure from organizations ... internal and external pressure — to bring back democracy.”