What is the US aiming for by lifting the Cyprus arms embargo?

What is the US aiming for by lifting the Cyprus arms embargo?
Warships from Cyprus, Greece, Italy and France participate in a joint military exercise which was held from Aug. 26-28, south of Turkey in Eastern Mediterranean Sea. (AP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

What is the US aiming for by lifting the Cyprus arms embargo?

What is the US aiming for by lifting the Cyprus arms embargo?
  • Uncertainty grows as tensions between warring sides already high in east Mediterranean region

ANKARA: A new element has been introduced to ongoing disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing on Tuesday that a 1987 arms embargo on Cyprus was being partially lifted.

Experts are divided about Washington’s motive and whether this decision is connected to Ankara’s maneuvers in contested waters where it is drilling for gas.
The US decision, which was strongly criticized by Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Wednesday, gives the green light for non-lethal weapons sales to Cyprus for a year. Turkey made it clear that it would take unilateral action if Washington did not reconsider its decision.
Ankara said that the US move might discourage Greek leaders from engaging in long-standing reunification talks with the Turkish side of Cyprus.
But for Aaron Stein, who is director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the US decision was about Russia rather than Turkey.
“There is a strain of American thinking that is pushing for a US effort to begin to push back against Russian influence on the island,” he told Arab News.
Under the 2019 Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, Washington has boosted ties with Greece and Cyprus and provided them with security assistance in a bid to stop Russian military vessels from docking and refueling at Cyprus’ Limassol Port.
According to Stein, Turkey is so unpopular that it has no support in US Congress to stop these efforts. “So, the US State Department folks that were pushing this line were able to get it through,” he added.
In the meantime, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced late Thursday that Greece and Turkey had agreed to enter into technical talks under NATO auspices to “establish deconfliction mechanisms and reduce the risk of incidents and accidents” in the eastern Mediterranean.
Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign policy analyst at the Arab Center, thought there were growing voices inside the US administration that were pressuring President Donald Trump to push back against Turkish policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“And this pressure will only increase now that Turkey has signed a contract to deliver the second batch of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems,” he told Arab News.
In late August Ankara and Moscow reportedly signed a contract to deliver a second consignment of air defense systems to Turkey, making it the first NATO member to buy such a system from Russia.
Macaron said that the pressure was evident in the recent US condemnation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with Hamas, and now this partial lifting of the arms embargo on Cyprus. Both were issued by the US State Department not the White House, which meant Trump wanted to keep the lines open with Erdogan.
“The US is taking some distance from Turkey without necessarily siding with France in the Eastern Mediterranean tensions, as this decision is valid for 1 year only and is restricted to nonlethal military equipment,” Macaron said.
Greece and Turkey, which are both conducting extensive research for energy in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, have conflicting understandings of maritime boundaries together with the long-standing quarrel between Turkey and Cyprus over offshore gas reserves around the divided island since 1974.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, agreed that the US decision was part of an effort to distance Cyprus from Russia.
“The timing may be related to the upcoming US elections as there are around 1.4 million Americans with Greek descent as opposed to around 350,000 Americans with Turkish descent,” he told Arab News.
Nevertheless, Unluhisarcikli added, while this move would not change the military balance on the island in any way, the timing was unfortunate as it may be perceived by Greek Cypriots as an endorsement of their current policy and disincentivize the start of dialogue with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on the exploitation of the island’s energy resources.

In the meantime, Brussels is expected to discuss a list of possible sanctions against Turkey during a leaders’ meeting later this month.


Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program
Updated 11 min 15 sec ago

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program

Dubai expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccination program
  • Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can also now be administered to all individuals 16 years and above
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now be injected to anyone aged 18 and above

DUBAI: Dubai has expanded the coverage of its COVID-19 vaccination program, with residents aged 40 and above holding valid resident visas now allowed to register and receive jabs at any of the emirate’s inoculation facilities.

Dubai’s health authority likewise said that elderly individuals aged 60 and above with a valid resident visa issued in any emirate can register for the vaccine, provided they can prove they are residing in Dubai, according to state news agency WAM.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can also now be administered to all individuals 16 years and above, instead of 18 years, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now be injected to anyone aged 18 and above, instead of those between 18-65 years.

Gulf nationals with a valid Emirates ID can also now get vaccinated at Dubai health facilities, the report added.

The UAE, which leads the world on COVID-19 vaccinations, has embarked on a widescale campaign to inoculation to achieve mass immunity and will help reduce the number of cases and control the spread of coronavirus.

About 66,539 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered overnight, bring the total doses at 6,094,956 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 61.62 doses per 100 people.

Health officials meanwhile confirmed 2,721 new infections overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the UAE to 396,771.


Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French  prosecutors
In this file photo taken on May 22, 2017, smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2021

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French prosecutors

Syrian victims of chemical strikes file case with French  prosecutors
  • People in Khartoum watch a movie at the Sudanese European Film Festival at an outdoor cinema for visitors adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. (AFP)

PARIS: Lawyers representing survivors of a chemical weapons attack in 2013 in Syria have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian officials whom they blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a rebel-held area.
France is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, and its investigating judges have a mandate to determine whether crimes against humanity were committed anywhere in the world.
The case, which about a dozen people have joined, follows a similar one opened in Germany last year. It offers a rare legal avenue for action against the government of President Bashar Assad.
Attempts by Western powers to set up an international tribunal for Syria have been blocked by Russia and China at the UN Security Council.
“This is important so that the victims have the possibility to see those responsible being brought to justice and held accountable,” Mazen Darwish, who heads the Paris-based Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), said.
The SCM filed the complaint along with two other NGOs: the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative and Syrian Archive.

BACKGROUND

France is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, and its investigating judges have a mandate to determine whether crimes against humanity were committed anywhere in the world.

France’s intelligence services concluded in 2013 that a sarin gas attack on the Eastern Ghouta region just south east of Damascus that killed 1,400 people had been carried out by Syrian government forces.
The complaint is based on what the lawyers say is the most comprehensive body of evidence on the use of substances such as sarin gas in Syria.
“We have compiled extensive evidence establishing exactly who is responsible for these attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta, whose horrific effects continue to impact survivors,” said Hadi Al-Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive.
A UN-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria concluded in 2016 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.
Darwish said he expected another case to be opened in Sweden in the coming months.


Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany
Soldiers of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SARD) parade during celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the creation of the SARD Saturday, Feb.27 2021 near Tindouf, southern Algeria. (AP)
Updated 03 March 2021

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany

Sahara tension: Moroccan row deepens with Germany
  • A senior Moroccan government official confirmed on Tuesday that the letter was authentic, but said it was not meant to be made public

RABAT: Morocco’s Foreign Ministry has suspended ties with the German Embassy because of “deep misunderstandings,” notably related to the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco is angered by German criticism of former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for moves by Rabat to normalize its relations with Israel.
A letter leaked online from Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to the rest of the government orders officials to suspend “all contact, interaction and cooperation” with the German Embassy and embassy-related activities.
A senior Moroccan government official confirmed on Tuesday that the letter was authentic, but said it was not meant to be made public.
The official also noted the appearance of a flag of the pro-independence Polisario Front outside the state assembly in the northern German city of Bremen. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was aware of media reports about the letter.
The Algeria-backed Polisario Front fought for independence for Western Sahara after Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975. UN peacekeepers now monitor a 30-year-old cease-fire between Moroccan forces and Polisario supporters.
The UN has expressed concern that Trump’s decision could thwart negotiation efforts in the long-running Western Sahara conflict.


Iraq starts vaccinations with jabs gifted from China

Iraq starts vaccinations with jabs gifted from China
Iraqis get vaccinated against Covid-19 with Chinese Sinopharm vaccine at a private nursing home in Baghdad on March 2, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2021

Iraq starts vaccinations with jabs gifted from China

Iraq starts vaccinations with jabs gifted from China
  • The public health infrastructure in Iraq, a country of 40 million, has been severely worn down by decades of war, under-investment and corruption

BAGHDAD: Iraq began coronavirus vaccinations on Tuesday, inoculating medical staff hours after a military plane brought in 50,000 Sinopharm jabs donated by China.
The campaign was launched as Iraq battles a second wave of COVID-19 infections, with more than 4,600 new cases a day, and ahead of a three-day visit by Pope Francis from Friday.
“The vaccines arrived overnight and we immediately distributed them to health centers and began the vaccinations,” Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi said at Baghdad’s Medical City hospital compound.
“We will be carrying out more vaccinations tomorrow in the provinces and remote areas.”
Aside from health workers, security forces and the elderly will be first to receive the free-of-charge vaccine, his ministry said on a citizens’ registration platform which, however, was not functional.
The public health infrastructure in Iraq, a country of 40 million, has been severely worn down by decades of war, under-investment and corruption.
The Health Ministry has said it agreed with the Chinese ambassador in Baghdad to purchase another 2 million Sinopharm doses, but provided no details on the cost or the timing. Iraqi authorities said in January they had approved three vaccines for use, but there have been repeated delays and contradictory statements from health authorities.
The ministry said it was expecting to receive a total of 16 million jabs through the global Covax scheme, through which wealthy nations are meant to allocate vaccines for poorer countries.

SPEEDREAD

The ministry said it was expecting to receive a total of 16 million jabs through the global Covax scheme, through which wealthy nations are meant to allocate vaccines for poorer countries.

That figure appeared to be based on Covax’s pledge that, subject to funding, it could help poorer countries vaccinate 20 percent of their populations — or 8 million people in Iraq.
The ministry has also said it would receive 3 million AstraZeneca jabs, but the World Health Organization has only approved the distribution of 2 million of those doses to Iraq through Covax.
The ministry also says it has secured funding from the World Bank for 1.5 million jabs from Pfizer/BioNTech, but the deal requires a parliamentary vote which has yet to be held.
Sinopharm affiliate the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products says its vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72.51 percent, behind rival jabs by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95 percent and 94.5 percent rates respectively.


Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer
Updated 38 min 35 sec ago

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

Hezbollah gunmen fight off bid to arrest Rafik Hariri’s killer

BEIRUT: Gunfire broke out in south Beirut on Tuesday night when Hezbollah fought off an apparent attempt by Lebanese security forces to arrest the man convicted of assassinating former prime minister Rafik a.

Information circulating on social media said officers tried to raid a house thought to be the hideout of Salim Ayyash, 57, who is wanted by the Lebanese state at the request of the International Tribunal for Lebanon. Hezbollah fighters opened fire, surrounded the security patrol, and detained its members and their vehicles.

Amateur video footage on social media shows shots being fired and a Hezbollah fighter shouting: “Attack them and disarm them.”

An activist close to Hezbollah told Arab News: “The security patrol wanted to arrest wanted suspects accused of a crime, it is not true that there was a clash with Hezbollah."

Rafik Hariri died in a suicide bombing of his car in Beirut in February 2005. The Special Tribunal tried Ayyash in his absence, and sentenced him to life imprisonment in August 2020 for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. Hezbollah has said it will never hand him over.

Desert Storm: 30 years on
The end of the Gulf War on Feb. 28, 1991 saw the eviction of Iraq from Kuwait but paved the way for decades of conflict
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