JERUSALEM: Israel has signed an aviation agreement with Jordan that will allow flights from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to fly through Israeli airspace, it said on Thursday.
The deal had been discussed for years, but the neighbors were only able to finalize it after Israel and the two Gulf Arab states signed a historic agreement last month to normalize ties, Israel’s Transportation Ministry said.
Jordanian officials had no immediate comment.
With commercial planes now able to fly through the Israel-Jordan corridor, flight times for some routes between Asia and Europe and North America, including flights from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, will be shorter, the Israeli ministry said.
Its statement did not specify any other countries that could benefit from the new arrangement.
“The agreement will significantly cut flight times to Gulf countries, Asia and the Far East, leading to fuel savings and less pollution,” it said.
European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol, based in Brussels, helped make the aviation deal happen, the ministry said.
Boosting civil aviation was an important part of last month’s historic diplomatic accords signed in Washington at a ceremony hosted by US President Donald Trump.
In those agreements, Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreed it was critical to ensure regular and direct flights to promote relations.
UN: Arbitrary detentions in Syria conflict may be war crimes
Updated 2 min 52 sec ago
GENEVA: Thousands of Syrian civilians were subject to multiple forms of war crimes, including torture and sexual violence, while others' fate remains unknown to date amid "arbitrary detentions" during the country’s 10-year conflict, said a UN commission report released Monday. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has regularly reported on suspected human rights violations and abuses since the civil war erupted. According to the report, the Syrian government arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and committed “war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of detention.” Other parties in the conflict also committed crimes by unlawfully and arbitrarily depriving individuals of their liberty, it said. Rival groups have been blamed for atrocities since Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with anti-government protests that morphed into a civil war. They run jails where wide violations are reported against detainees. The conflict has killed nearly half a million people, displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees abroad. Large parts of Syria are destroyed and tens of thousands still live in tent settlements. The more than 30-page report is based on 2,658 interviews with victims and witnesses conducted from 2011 to the end of 2020, in addition to photographs, videos, satellite imagery, official documents and reports from multiple sources. It is also based on investigations into more than 100 specific detention facilities, history documents and continued detention-related violations and abuses by nearly every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011. “The wealth of evidence collected over a decade is staggering, yet the parties to the conflict, with very few exceptions, have failed to investigate their own forces,” said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “The focus appears to be on concealing, rather than investigating crimes committed in the detention facilities,” she added. The report notes “massive scale of detention” and abuses perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and also lists detentions by insurgent groups, including Turkey-backed opposition fighters, other rebel groups and the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. It also examines the record of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Daesh group — both designated terrorist organizations by the UN. The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown, the report said. Many are presumed to have died or been executed, while some are believed to be held in inhuman conditions of detention. “Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones’ fate,” said the commission’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro. The commission also urged the government in Damascus to take urgent steps to reveal the fate of those missing. The report appeals on all parties to halt and prevent violations, immediately release specific groups of individuals, allow independent monitoring of detention facilities and provide support to victims. The report is to be discussed by the UN-backed Human Rights Council, which set up the commission, on March 11, as part of its current four-week session. ___ Mroue reported from Beirut.
Archbishop who taught Pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’
He ‘intends to reach the hearts of all Iraqis,’ ex-head of Vatican’s social media tells Arab News
Updated 17 min 28 sec ago
ROME: The visit of Pope Francis to Iraq this week will send a message of “consolation and hope” to those who have suffered so much in the country, according to the archbishop who revolutionized the Vatican’s communications.
Claudio Maria Celli, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications from 2007 to 2016, worked closely with Pope Francis after helping convert Catholic leaders to social media to deliver their message to followers around the world.
As a result, the Pope’s historic Iraq visit will be relayed through the various social media accounts, including @Pontifex, the account of Pope Francis.
“With this trip, the pope intends to reach the hearts of all Iraqis. He doesn’t want to talk just to the Christians who live in that country and who’ve suffered so much from war and persecution by Daesh,” said Celli. “He wants to bring his closeness … to the people, no matter what their faith.”
The 80-year-old Celli spoke of “hope of reconstruction for a people who have the right to rebuild peace thanks to the collaboration and respect between the religious and national identities that are present in Iraq. The pope believes very much in dialogue between religions.”
Pope Francis “will certainly bring a message of solidarity to the Christians who live in that country. He wants to be close to them as a brother and as a father, so that they feel that the universal Church shares the hardship lived by a community that has suffered too much and for too long from violence and fundamentalism,” said Celli.
“He wants to help rebuild trust in a tomorrow that must be different from the past, a better tomorrow made of peace, prosperity, love and common good for all in a country that deserves to be able to look forward.” All this is part of a “great dimension of interreligious dialogue,” said Celli.
In 2012, Celli helped Pope Benedict join Twitter as he transformed the Vatican's communications to keep up with the social media era. He also established a YouTube channel for the Pope.
He once stated that Catholic media “should not become instruments of a religious or cultural fundamentalism.”
How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
Deaths of 13 hostages held by the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Gara region came to light after Turkish airstrikes
President has used the incident to whip up nationalistic fervor and dial up pressure on opposition parties
Updated 48 min 15 sec ago
ERBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: In the immediate aftermath of a failed cross-border, hostage rescue attempt earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened further military action against Kurdish fighters abroad and ratcheted up the rhetoric against his secularist opponents at home.
Erdogan’s latest foray against the PKK, an armed group fighting for greater political and cultural rights for Kurds in Turkey, has quickly expanded into a fresh crackdown on the pro-Kurdish HDP political party as well as a war of words with Washington over its ado-hoc alliance with a Syrian Kurdish PKK affiliate in the fight against Daesh.
It all began on February 13, when Turkey launched a raid against the PKK in the Gara region of Iraqi Kurdistan. After clashes, 13 Turkish citizens, most of them police officers and soldiers in PKK captivity since 2015 and 2016, were found dead.
Ankara said the PKK executed the hostages, but the group said Turkish airstrikes on the cave complex during the operation caused their deaths. Even as many Turks cast doubt on the government’s version of the events, security agencies arrested more than 700 people, including members of the HDP accused by Erdogan of being “official terrorist accomplices.”
Using the same political logic, Erdogan also accused the US of supporting terrorism. “What kind of NATO alliance is this? … They (the Americans) still act with terrorists,” he said on February 22, referring to US alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) group in the campaign against Daesh in northeast Syria. The leading political entity in northeast Syria is the Kurdish PYD, which was founded as the Syrian branch of the PKK.
Many analysts view the combination of the crackdown at home and the outburst against the US as a cynical attempt by Erdogan to divert attention away from the bloody outcome of the hostage-rescue operation.
The developments also come as the Turkish people continue to struggle financially, student frustrations spill over into violence, and the country's management of the coronavirus crisis is rated a lowly 74th out of 98 by the Lowy Institute's COVID Performance Index.
“Erdogan and the Turkish government do not view the hostage-rescue operation as a failure,” Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor Senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE, told Arab News. “The whipping up of patriotic fervour and the crackdown on the HDP are a familiar tactic employed by Erdogan to drum up support of his nationalist base for anti-PKK operations.”
She said the mileage Erdogan could get out of the crisis was not unlimited. “If the PKK did in fact kill the hostages, it will help build support at home in Turkey for more anti-PKK operations abroad and might strengthen Ankara case for more leeway in its Iraqi operations," Hawthorne said. “But it won’t help much with negative Iraqi public opinion vis-a-vis the operations.”
Clashes between Turkey and the PKK in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast markedly decreased in 2020, compared with the years when the Turkish-PKK conflict (which began in 1984) flared following the collapse of a ceasefire in July 2015. Fighting now takes place mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Of late, Erdogan has been threatening new cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq, including against its Yazidi affiliates in the Sinjar area. In January, Turkish officials met with the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership and discussed, among other things, removing the PKK from that region.
However, in addition to PKK affiliates, Iraqi Shiite militia groups, many of them backed by Iran, are present in Sinjar and will almost certainly oppose a Turkish military operation there.
Under the circumstances, Hawthorne doubts that Erdogan can effectively invoke the deaths of those Turkish hostages to win some support from the Biden administration for another bloody offensive against the PKK.
“The Turkish government has tried and failed for years to appeal to the US government regarding its concerns about the PKK,” she said. “It is unlikely that the US will become softer towards Turkey because of one particularly difficult and deadly operation in a decades-long struggle.”
More generally, the Turkish government has given repeated warnings of operations against the PKK. But if fresh incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan, or even a new foray into Sinjar, happen, Hawthorne anticipates that the “further south the operations are, the more complicated the issue will be with the Iraqi government.”
Her views are echoed by Kurdish analyst Gunes Murat Tezcur, the Jalal Talabani Chair and Professor at the University of Central Florida, who believes the failed Gara operation is unlikely to “have any influence over the Biden administration’s current policy towards Turkey, which is characterized by a divergence of interests at multiple levels.”
These include US opposition to Turkey’s procurement of Russian S-400 air defense missiles and Turkey’s opposition to American cooperation with the SDF in Syria. Furthermore, Tezcur said it is an indisputable fact that the Gara raid was a failure since it led to the deaths of all the hostages.
“The contrast with a successful rescue operation, such as the one conducted by Israel at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976, is instructive in this regard,” he told Arab News, adding that one of the Gara raid’s negative outcomes is that Erdogan will not be able to “score any political points domestically.”
Even so, the opposition cannot hold the President Erdogan accountable for the loss of Turkish lives in view of “the prevailing power asymmetry” in Turkey, arising from his government’s domination over the media and the weakened state of parliament.
Analysts also say Erdogan’s relentless hounding of the HDP is part of a strategy, in play since 2015, of demonizing and criminalizing its leadership by equating it with the outlawed PKK and denying it autonomy as a political party.
“That strategy, which has had its ebbs and downs, has been very consistent for the last several years,” Tezcur said. “It keeps the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the junior partner of the ruling coalition, content, and aims to drive a wedge between the HDP and other Turkish opposition parties.”
He also noted that the HDP has become more dispensable for the government since the Turkish military and security forces have established stronger military leverage over the PKK in recent years, at least partially through technological developments such as the use of sophisticated and lethal armed drones.
“The government feels that it no longer needs the messenger/mediating role of the HDP given its relentless military operations that significantly limit the PKK’s room for maneuver,” Tezcur said.
While he foresees more Turkish incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan aimed at PKK bases throughout this year, he doubts that the Turkish military will open a new front by launching an unprecedented ground assault on Sinjar.
At least three factors have led Tezcur to this conclusion. First and foremost is the presence of Iraqi military and Shiite militia groups in the Yazidi homeland.
Then there is the “considerable international concern and sympathy” for the beleaguered Yazidis, who were subjected to a vicious campaign of genocide by Daesh in 2014.
Finally, the distance from the border would make logistical support for a ground operation considerably more difficult for the Turkish army.
Among those who view the arrests of HDP members as Erdogan’s way of shifting blame for the Gara raid failure is Mohammed Salih, a Kurdish affairs analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.
The actions of Erdogan “reveal the impunity, at both the domestic and international levels, with which he can behave in an authoritarian way,” Salih told Arab News.
“The Turkish leader will certainly continue military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan because foreign operations are now a sure way for him to deflect attention from the many problems at home.”
As for the Biden administration, Salih said it “has already made clear, with its silence over the mass arrests, and the violations of Kurdish rights in Turkey in general, that the human and democratic rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey are practically of no value.”
Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
84% of those surveyed reported experiencing multiple symptoms of PTSD
‘It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage … but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see,’ expert tells Arab News
Updated 01 March 2021
LONDON: More than three-quarters of Syrian refugees may be suffering from serious mental health problems caused by their country’s 10-year conflict, according to a new report.
UK charity Syria Relief surveyed hundreds of refugees living in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province, and found that 84 percent of people had at least seven out of 15 key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
People suffering from PTSD, which is usually caused by witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, experience a range of symptoms including panic attacks and anxiety, and it often comes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as depression.
Despite the sky-high rates of PTSD, Syria Relief said accessing professional medical help is difficult, if not impossible, for many refugees.
Only 15 percent of refugees in Lebanon believe there is some mental health support available, and for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib that figure drops to just 1 percent.
One respondent to the survey, Ahmed, was hit by a government airstrike and trapped inside a destroyed building for 12 hours before being rescued.
“We could only see dust and darkness. We remained trapped under the rubble, in the cold for 12 hours until the Syrian Civil Defence (the White Helmets) freed us,” he said.
“What we saw, it cannot be described. The sound of aircrafts was so terrifying. I am, and I always will be, so scared of that sound, even after a hundred years. My fear has become my obsession,” he added.
“Whilst I received medical help, psychologically no one has taken care of me. I don’t even know if there is any mental health support for people like me, or even for people in a worse mental health condition than me.”
Charles Lawley, the report’s author and head of communications at Syria Relief, told Arab News: “There needs to be a change of attitudes toward mental health. It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage — broken buildings and bodies — but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see.”
He and the team at Syria Relief have urged the international community to “ensure there is funding to meet the psychosocial needs that are bound to result from people becoming victims of conflict and disaster.”
There is a danger that the mental health effects of the conflict on the millions of Syrian refugees could outlast the war itself, Lawley said.
“One woman I spoke to witnessed her husband being killed in an airstrike on their home, and four months later lost two of her three children in another airstrike. This was six years ago. How is anyone ever going to come to terms with that without the help of a mental health professional?” he added.
“Some of the people I speak to haven’t been inside Syria or an active conflict zone for five, seven, even 10 years, but the symptoms of the trauma from their experiences aren’t healing.”
Nearly 12 million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced — more than half of the pre-war population.
The conflict began in 2011 when a pro-democracy protest movement was met with brutal force by the Assad regime.
Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state
Updated 01 March 2021
LONDON: Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has denounced a CIA report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it completely rejected the “negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”
Pompeo told Fox News that President Joe Biden’s administration wanted to take the Kingdom, which is an important security partner for the US, and make it a foe.
“They want to go sit down and cut deals with the Iranians who have, by the way, murdered far more people all across the world than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has during our four years and the eight years before that as well,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, if you’re looking about extraterritorial killings the ayatollah is the place to look, (Foreign) Minister Zarif is the place to look, President Rouhani is the place to look in Iran, not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
The Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the people responsible for the journalist's death had been convicted and sentenced in Saudi courts, and that these sentences were “welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi.”