NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to talks about tensions at sea

NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to talks about tensions at sea
Warships from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and France, participate in a joint military exercise which was held from 26-28 of August, south of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean sea. (File/AP)
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Updated 03 September 2020

NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to talks about tensions at sea

NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to talks about tensions at sea
  • “Greece and Turkey are valued Allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security,” a statement said
  • There was no confirmation from Ankara or Athens and it was not immediately clear when the talks would begin

ANKARA: The chief of NATO said Thursday that Greece and Turkey have agreed to start “technical talks” aimed at helping to reduce the risks of military incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean, where the allies have been locked in a tense standoff over offshore energy rights.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the possible diplomatic opening in a statement on the military alliance’s website the same day that Turkey announced that Russia plans to conduct live-fire naval exercises this month in the eastern Mediterranean .
“Greece and Turkey are valued Allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security,” the statement read. “I remain in close touch with all concerned Allies to find a solution to the tensions in the spirit of NATO solidarity.”
There was no immediate confirmation from Ankara or Athens and it was not immediately clear when the talks would begin.
Turkey announced the Russian exercises in a navigational notice issued late Wednesday that said they would take place Sept. 8-22 and Sept. 17-25 in areas of the Mediterranean Sea where Turkish research vessels are doing seismic work for oil and gas exploration. Greece says the disputed area is over its continental shelf.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the exercises, which Turkey announced after the United States said it was partially lifting a 33-year-old arms embargo against ethnically divided Cyprus. Like Greece, Cyprus has been in a dispute with Turkey over drilling rights in the Mediterranean.
In Athens, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the planned Russian exercises were being “monitored by all the countries in the region, as well as our NATO allies and European Union partners.”
It’s unclear why NATO-member Turkey announced such drills on Russia’s behalf, but the two countries have in recent years significantly strengthened their military, political and economic ties. They are coordinating closely on their military presence in Syria, while Turkey has purchased Russia’s advanced S-400 missiles and has broken ground on a Russian-built nuclear power plant on its southern coast.
Cyprus government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said that Russia notifies Cypriot authorities directly about issuing any navigation notice. He said Cyprus has no issue with Russia and that its only complaint concerns Turkey’s attempts to “take advantage” of the situation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone on Thursday. Germany currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency and has been trying to informally mediate the dispute over eastern Mediterranean drilling.
A statement from Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader wants an arrangement in which resources are shared “fairly” and complained that Greece, Greek Cypriots, and countries backing the two, were the ones escalating tensions.
The Turkish government has reacted angrily to the US move on the Cyprus arms embargo, saying it went against the “spirit of alliance” between Washington and Ankara. It also warned that it would harm efforts to reunify Cyprus, a Mediterranean island nation which is split between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.
Turkish officials have also vowed to take steps to guarantee the security of the self-declared Turkish state in the island’s north.
The Russian exercises come at a time of increased friction between Turkey on the one side and Greece and Cyprus on the other over offshore energy exploration rights.
Warships from Greece and Turkey have shadowed each other in recent weeks as Turkish survey vessels and drill ships continue to prospect for hydrocarbons in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. Greek and Turkish armed forces held their own exercises in the area last month.
The US embargo, imposed in 1987, was designed to prevent an arms race that would hinder UN-facilitated reunification efforts for Cyprus. It was directed against the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island, where Cyprus’ internationally-recognized government is seated.
Washington said it was lifting the arms embargo against Cyprus for one year — with the option of renewal — to let it procure non-lethal equipment.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Thursday that the lifting of the embargo would lead to a deadlock.
“If you lift the embargo on (Greek Cypriot-administered Cyprus) and try to disrupt the balance in this way, this will bring conflict, not peace. This will create a deadlock, not a solution,” he said.
Cyprus split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey is the only nation to recognize a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and it maintains more than 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.
Akar also took aim at France, which joined Greece and Cyprus for military exercises in the region, accusing it of “bullying, making claims and playing the role of a guardian angel.”
US Ambassador to Cyprus Judith Garber said the embargo lifting had no connection to “valued partner and ally” Turkey, but aimed to strengthen regional security and to “counter malign actors in the region.”
Garber said Washington waived a requirement that Cyprus cease to offer refueling and other port services to Russian warships, but that it would continue to “encourage” Cypriot government authorities to deny those services.
“We believe that Russia is playing a very destabilizing role in the region, especially in Syria,” Garber said.
Russian Ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy on Thursday rejected Garber’s remarks. He said that Russia is in Syria legally at the behest of the country’s government, and he accused the US of sowing “blood, chaos, unrest and an unprecedented migration crisis” through its actions in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.
Osadchiy also accused Washington of pursuing a policy of “divide and rule” in the eastern Mediterranean by attempting to drive a wedge between Russia and Cyprus through its demand for the island nation to deny Russian warships access to its ports.
Russia maintains a sizable naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and regularly conducts naval maneuvers there. The announcement of the latest live-fire drill could be a message from Moscow that it remains a major regional player whose influence won’t be diminished by Washington’s embargo move.


Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz
Updated 07 March 2021

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz

Policeman killed, 7 wounded in Houthi drone attack in Yemen’s Taiz
  • Two of the seven injured people are in critical condition
  • Al-Eryani said the militia will not stop its practices unless it becomes under military and political pressure

DUBAI: One policeman was killed and seven others were wounded in a Houthi drone attack targeting a police station in Yemen’s Taiz province, state news agency Saba News reported.
Two of the seven injured people are in critical condition, the report said.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said the Iranian-backed Houthi militia will not stop its practices unless it becomes under military and political pressure.
“The Houthi militia won’t yield to the calls for de-escalation and engage in peacebuilding based on the three references unless they come under military and political pressure, something which the international community should understand,” Al-Eryani said.
He further said that even during negotiations, the Houthis did not show willingness to reach a peaceful solution to end the conflict in the country.
“Their engagement was a mere maneuver to take a break and then regroup and recruit and brainwash more fighters,” he added.
Al-Eryani urged the international community and the United Nations to avoid wasting more time and efforts in convincing the militia to reach peace, as the country’s people are suffering due to their military escalations.
The country’s civil war kicked off in 2014 when Houthis seized the capital, leading the internationally recognized government to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia.


Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures
Updated 07 March 2021

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures

Oman café stops serving beverages in baby bottles, UAE’s Ajman shutters shop for violating COVID-19 measures
  • This practice has received condemnation from people in Oman who called for legal measures against the cafe
  • Ajman emirate in the UAE has shut down a retail outlet and imposed a fine of $1,361 for violating COVID-19 measures

DUBAI: A cafe in Oman’s Al-Buraimi province has suspended serving coffee to customers in baby bottles to prevent the spread of this phenomenon in the Sultanate, local daily Times of Oman reported.
News and pictures of this practice has been spreading over social media, where some cafes across the Gulf region served beverages in baby bottles.
This practice has received condemnation from people in Oman who called for legal measures against the cafe to prevent the spread of this phenomenon from the country.
Dubai authorities on Saturday also banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, Ajman emirate in the UAE has shut down a retail outlet and imposed a fine of $1,361 for violating COVID-19 measures, state news agency WAM reported.
The Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Management team coordinated with Ajman Police and the Department of Economic Development to close the shop which was overcrowded by customers who failed to maintain social distancing.


LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
Updated 5 min 17 sec ago

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour

LIVE: Pope Francis visits Irbil, Mosul on third day of Iraq apostolic tour
  • Pope Francis spent much of Saturday in the air, touching down in three Iraq cities

DUBAI:  Pope Francis spent much of Saturday in the air, touching down in three cities during the second day of his apostolic visit in Iraqi.

He left Baghdad early for Najaf, where he had a historic meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, one of the leading figures in Shiite Islam.

The meeting marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and in terms of Pope Francis’s efforts to deepen interfaith dialogue.

Pope Francis then returned to the sky to head to Nassiriya, where he traveled by car to Ur – traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, a central figure in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths – where he made an impassioned plea for ‘unity’ after conflict in a gathering Iraq’s religious communities.

He then flew back to Baghdad, and after a brief rest celebrated the Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

Follow live coverage of his third day itinerary below (All times GMT)

Pope Francis greets faithful as he arrives to hold a mass at the Immaculate Conception Church. (Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via Reuters)

0910: Pope Francis arrives in Qaraqosh is enroute to the Immaculate Conception Church.

WATCH: Residents of the Iraqi Christian enclave of Qaraqosh wait for the arrival of Pope Francis. Click on Twitter link below.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit provides moral support to Christians of Iraq’s Qaraqosh

People arrive to attend a mass to be held by Pope Francis near the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh, northern Iraq. (Reuters)

0804: Pope Francis has left Mosul and is off to the small Christian village of Qaraqosh north of Iraq to visit the Immaculate Conception church.

Iraqi Catholics wait for Pope Francis inside the restored Immaculate Conception church. (Screengrab)

0733: Pope Francis prays for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Daesh group.
The 84-year-old pontiff said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism — and others forcibly displaced or killed,” Francis said.
The Rev. Raed Kallo, the only priest in Iraq’s second largest city, shared his story among the crowd and before the pontiff. He fled along with most of his congregation of 500 Christian families when Daesh overran the city in June 2014.

Pope Francis releases a white dove during a prayer for war victims in Mosul. (Reuters)


But he said he returned three years ago, after the extremists were defeated by Iraqi and international forces in a grueling campaign that left much of the city in ruins. He said: “My Muslim brothers received me after the liberation of the city with great hospitality and love.”
But he said only around 70 Christian families reside in Mosul today. The rest are afraid to return and many have emigrated abroad.
Also addressing the crowd was Gutayba Aagha, a Muslim and the head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul. In words welcomed by Francis, he said: “In the name of the council I invite all our Christian brothers to return to this, their city, their properties, and their businesses.”

Pope Francis prays for war victims at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul. (Reuters)

0709: Pope Francis is now at the Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where he will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war.

Pope Francis arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul. (AFP)

0655: Pope Francis arrives via helicopter in Mosul, once a stronghold for Daesh and where Christians now number little more than a few dozen families.

MOSUL WAITS FOR POPE FRANCIS

Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in Mosul on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
Iraqis gather in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahira-l-Kubra) in the northern city of Mosul ahead of the Pope Francis’ visit on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

WATCH: Preparations at Hosh Al-Bieaa (Church Square) in Mosul, where Pope Francis will lead a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war. Click on Twitter link below.

0523: Pope Francis arrives in Irbil, and is welcomed by Prime Minister Mansour Barzani of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and other civil authorities of the region.

READ: Pope Francis’ visit brings Iraqi Kurdistan’s safe-haven status into sharp focus

Pope Francis gets a warm welcome from Iraqis dressed in traditional outfits upon his arrival at Irbil airport on March 7, 2021. (AFP)

 


Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh
Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh
  • Under tight security, he will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul
  • He will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits on Sunday Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Daesh group until the jihadists’ “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.
The 84-year-old, traveling under tight security, will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul, an ancient crossroads whose center was reduced to rubble by fierce fighting to oust the Daesh, or also known as ISIL.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace.”
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”
The Christian community of Iraq, a Muslim-majority country of 40 million, has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the population.
“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said an Iraqi Christian leader, Father George Jahoula.
Back in 2014, when IS militants swept across one third of Iraq, Pope Francis had said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war.
Seven years later, after a stop early Sunday in the Kurdish north of Iraq, he will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and efforts to rebuild it.
Pope Francis will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns.
It was largely destroyed in 2014 when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.
To honor the pope, local artisans have woven a two-meter (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ that is still used in Qaraqosh.
Security will be extra-tight in the north of Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS remnants and sleeper cells.
Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed the country, taking planes, helicopters and armored convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in-country.
The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, as Iraq has recently been in the grip of a second wave, with a record of more than 5,000 cases in a day.
Iraqi authorities have imposed lockdown measures to control crowds, but thousands of faithful are expected to flock to a stadium later Sunday in the northern city of Irbil to hear the pope.
Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s oil-rich northern Kurdish region, has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.
Several thousand seats in the Franso Hariri stadium will be left empty to avoid creating a super-spreader event when Iraqis come to hear the Catholic leader, known here as “Baba Al-Vatican,” deliver the holy mass.


Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
Lebanon's Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi greets supporters ahead of a speech on February 27, 2021 at the Maronite Patriarchate in the mountain village of Bkerki, northeast of Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2021

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
  • Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch

BEIRUT: Lebanon has summoned the Iranian ambassador over a media report on the country’s Maronite leader.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi was the focus of a report on the Iranian Al-Alam News Network website that accused him of supporting normalization with Israel.
Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said on Saturday that Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi had been summoned for a meeting on Monday.
The minister said the conversation with the ambassador would be “frank and sincere, based on the existing friendship between the two countries.”
An apology from the Iranian side had reached the patriarch, he added, and Lebanon’s ambassador to Tehran had been asked to provide details of what was reported by Al-Alam. “He informed me of an apology and condemnation issued by the Iranian government,” the minister said.
Earlier this month at a rally in Bkerke, north of Beirut, the cleric had called for a UN-sponsored international conference to deal with Lebanon’s economic collapse and political stalemate.
He urged neutrality so that the country would no longer be the victim of regional conflicts. But his comments drew anger from Hezbollah, as well as the critical report on the Al-Alam website.
The report said that Al-Rahi was “plotting today against the weaponry of the resistance and describes it as a militia loyal to Iran. He claims to be prudent and objective and talks about neutrality in the war for existence with global Zionism. We will definitely see him tomorrow in the arms of Israel.”
The patriarchate condemned the “insulting” report and said that, since it was issued by a foreign media organization, it was considered as “interference” in Lebanon’s internal and national affairs as well as interference in the church’s affairs.

FASTFACT

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the Free Patriotic Movement, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.

It demanded the channel “back off and apologize” so that it did not cause internal and external unfortunate repercussions, especially since Al-Rahi’s words were clear.
“The TV channel is trying to fabricate a headline to mobilize people against Bkerke, which called a spade a spade, put the finger on the wound and spoke about the situation of all the Lebanese, without exception,” it added.
The Maronite League in Lebanon, headed by former MP Naamatallah Abi Nasr, denounced the report’s accusations about Al-Rahi and said it retained the right to “resort to the competent judiciary.”
It called on the Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassador and inform him of Lebanon’s rejection of such attitudes.
Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch.
Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the FPM, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.
After a meeting of its political council on Saturday, the FPM said that Bkerke “was and still is a beacon for open thought and an edifice of convergence.”
“Patriarch Al-Rahi has always advocated adherence to the roots of this East, and solidarity with all its components in the face of the dangers and enemies that lie in wait. It has never been a conduit for plotting against its people.”