Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?
Turkish and Israeli flags are displayed before an El Al Israel Airlines cargo flight is loaded, Istanbul, May 24, 2020. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 26 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?
  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.


Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
Updated 45 min 52 sec ago

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Blinken calls Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’
  • He said the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness in the nuclear talks
  • US says indirect nuclear talks with Iran to resume on Thursday

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran’s announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity “provocative,” saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna.
Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 percent — a big step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade from the 20 percent maximum it has reached so far — in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility.
“We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent,” Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, referring to Iran.
The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.
“I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington’s reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday Iran has “almost completed preparations” for 60 percent uranium enrichment.
Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.
“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.
Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth looking at.”
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran’s president similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned Tehran its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous.”
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)


GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
Updated 14 April 2021

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks

GCC calls on world powers to include Gulf concerns in Iran nuclear talks
  • Nayef Al-Hajraf told P5+1 talks in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program

LONDON: The Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna must address the concerns and interests of Gulf countries to enhance security and stability in the region, the GCC secretary general said on Wednesday.
The comments by Nayef Al-Hajraf came in letters sent to the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, UK, France, china and Russia — and Germany.
The talks in Vienna are aimed at finding a way for the US to re-enter Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers and have Iran comply again with its limits.
Al-Hajraf said the GCC is a major contributor to strengthening the security and stability of the region, and that the negotiations currently underway in Vienna should not be limited to the Iranian nuclear program, but rather should include Iran’s destabilizing behavior, ballistic missiles, and paths.
The talks have been thrown into disarray by a weekend attack on Iran’s main Natanz nuclear enrichment site suspected to have been carried out by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing it would enrich uranium up to 60 percent — higher than it ever has before but still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
The GCC chief warned that Iran’s announcement of uranium enrichment is a dangerous and worrying indicator for regional and international security.
Saudi Arabia similarly issued a statement, saying enriching at that level “could not be considered a program intended for peaceful purposes.”
Al-Hajraf also called on the “international community to shoulder its responsibilities toward this dangerous and threatening development to regional and global peace and security.”
(With AP)


Explosives-laden drone targets US forces at Iraq's Erbil airport

Explosives-laden drone targets US forces at Iraq's Erbil airport
Updated 5 min 37 sec ago

Explosives-laden drone targets US forces at Iraq's Erbil airport

Explosives-laden drone targets US forces at Iraq's Erbil airport
  • Kurdish region officials say drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the US forces
  • Erbil International Airport vicinity was also hit by a barrage of rockets in February

ERBIL: A drone dropped explosives near US forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday, Kurdish officials said, with no immediate reports of casualties.
It was the first known attack carried out by an unmanned aerial drone against US forces in Erbil, amid a steady stream of rocket attacks on bases hosting US forces and the embassy in Baghdad that Washington blames on Iran-backed militias.
The interior ministry of the autonomous Kurdistan regional government, based in Erbil, said in a statement the drone was carrying TNT which it used to target the US forces. It said no one was hurt in the attack.
A group that Western and some Iraqi officials say is aligned with Iran praised the attack, but did not explicitly claim it.
A barrage of rockets hit the same US-led military base in the Erbil International Airport vicinity in February, killing a non-American contractor working with the US military.
Shortly before Wednesday's attack in Erbil, at least two rockets landed on and near a base to the west of the city that hosts Turkish forces, Iraqi security officials said.
Sirens at the US consulate in Erbil blared during the airport attack, witnesses said.
Turkey also has troops in Iraq both as part of a NATO contingent and a force that has attacked Kurdish separatist militants in the north.
The Iran-backed militias oppose both the presence of the United States and Turkey and demand a full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
The United States has sometimes responded with air strikes against Iran-aligned militias including on the Iraqi-Syrian border.


Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling

Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling
Updated 14 April 2021

Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling

Turkey frees journalist Altan after European rights court ruling
  • Award-winning editor was jailed after writing politically-sensitive articles and columns critical of Erdogan and supporting Kurdish rights
  • Cassation Court’s Wednesday ruling overturned Altan’s conviction in the 2019 case related to charges of assisting a terrorist organisation

ISTANBUL : A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered the release of journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan after over four years in prison for involving in a failed 2016 coup attempt that he had always denied.
The Court of Cassation ruling came a day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) demanded the 71-year-old’s freedom in a verdict that accused Turkey of violating his civil rights.
Altan’s lawyer Figen Calikusu told AFP that the writer was released from the Silivri prison on Istanbul’s western outskirts a few hours after the verdict was announced.
The award-winning novelist and newspaper editor was jailed after writing politically-sensitive articles and columns critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supporting Kurdish rights.
The 71-year-old was arrested shortly after the putsch attempt as part of a purge of media organizations and accused of supporting the uprising by “disseminating subliminal messages to the public.”
He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to overthrow the government — a ruling that was later quashed by Turkey’s top court.
But the case was re-examined and he was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for “knowingly supporting a terrorist organization” that was involved in the 2016 coup attempt.
“Very happy to hear Turkey’s Court of Cassation has just ordered the release of novelist Ahmet Altan after more than 4.5 years in jail,” the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor tweeted.
“Will be even happier after seeing him enjoying fully his freedom and all charges dropped. Hope all other (ECHR) rulings will be applied too.”
The Court of Cassation ruling came as Erdogan mounts a charm offensive aimed at mending torn relations with the European Union and building a new rapport with the US administration of President Joe Biden.
EU leaders highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record during a summit in Ankara last week.
Biden’s White House has also made human rights a much bigger issue in US-Turkish relations than it had been in the former administration of Donald Trump.
Turkish officials argue that the courts are independent and not swayed by politics or Erdogan’s whims.
But critics accuse Erdogan of stacking them with supporters during the sweeping purges that followed the coup attempt.
Western observers have thus been watching the case of Altan and some other famous prisoners for signs of Turkey’s diplomatic intentions and future political course.
Perhaps the most celebrated case involves civil society leader Osman Kavala — in custody without a conviction for nearly four years and re-arrested after being cleared of all charges in 2019.
Altan was also briefly freed and cleared of all charges before being almost immediately rearrested in 2019.
The Court of Cassation ruling on Wednesday overturned his conviction in the 2019 case related to charges of “assisting a terrorist organization.”
He had turned to the ECHR for help in 2017 after calling the charges against him “grotesque.”
The Strasbourg-based rights court on Tuesday found “no evidence that the actions of the applicant had been part of a plan to overthrow the government.”
It ordered Turkey to immediately release him and pay him 16,000 euros ($19,000) in damages for violating his rights to freedom of expression.
“Deprivation of liberty, in particular continued detention, must be based on reasonable suspicion,” the ECHR ruling said.
The ECHR “found that the applicant’s criticisms of the president’s political approach could not be seen as an indication that he had had prior knowledge of the attempted coup,” it added.


Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing

Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing
Updated 14 April 2021

Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing

Remains of Daesh-beheaded Syrian archaeologist still missing
  • Three bodies had been located in Kahloul, 10 km east of Palmyra, where Khaled Al-Asaad was killed in 2015, but DNA testing has ruled out the archaeologist being among them
  • Al-Asaad, known as ‘the father of Palmyra,’ was 83 when Daesh extremists executed him on August 18, 2015, three months after they overran the so-called ‘Pearl of the Desert’

DAMASCUS: The remains of Khaled Al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist beheaded by Daesh group extremists, have yet to be recovered, his son told AFP on Wednesday.
The official SANA news agency reported in February that authorities had uncovered three corpses in Kahloul, 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the ancient city of Palmyra where Al-Asaad was killed in 2015.
Al-Asaad was believed to be among them, SANA said at the time, ahead of DNA testing.
But two months later, DNA results have shown that the remains of the archaeologist have yet to be found, his son Tareq said.
“Authorities have just informed us that the DNA test results are not compatible with my father,” he said.
“Our sorrows and wounds have returned,” he said. “We had hoped to close this wound.”
Officials have yet to comment.
Al-Asaad, known as “the father of Palmyra,” was 83 when Daesh extremists executed him on August 18, 2015, three months after they overran the so-called “Pearl of the Desert.”
Seen as a pioneer of Syrian archaeology, Al-Asaad was director of antiquities in Palmyra for 40 years until 2003.
He was responsible for the discovery of several ancient cemeteries and oversaw the excavation of 1,000 columns as well as the site’s stunning necropolis of 500 tombs.