Russia, SDF to set up joint military posts in strategic Syrian town

Russia, SDF to set up joint military posts in strategic Syrian town
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) runs for cover during shelling on the Islamic State group's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 3, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2020

Russia, SDF to set up joint military posts in strategic Syrian town

Russia, SDF to set up joint military posts in strategic Syrian town
  • Russia has reportedly asked the SDF to surrender Ain Issa to the Assad regime, but that proposal was rejected by the Syrian Kurds

ANKARA: Russia and the Syrian government have agreed with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish three joint military observation posts in the town of Ain Issa.

The posts, which will be deployed in the strategically important town linking Aleppo to Al-Hasakah, will monitor the cease-fire and violations of Turkish-governed zones in the region.

Ain Issa is currently under the control of the SDF and is located on the M4 highway that connects northeastern Syria to the western part of the country.

The town has come under regular attack, most recently by Ankara-backed rebel groups against Syrian Kurdish YPG militia positions. In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of a possible new operation into the region.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst from the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, did not anticipate a new Turkish offensive on the scale of its October push to clear SDF fighters away from the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ayn, both near Ain Issa.

“This agreement on establishing observation posts is just a public relations activity and nothing will change. It will just reduce the intensity of the tensions at that front but will not end them in the long run because the SDF has been violating the cease-fire agreement by digging tunnels, which Turkey and Ankara-backed groups were destroying,” he told Arab News.

Turkey considers the SDF as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Kyle Orton, a UK-based independent researcher on Syria, told Arab News: “Ain Issa does not affect any of the broader dynamics in Syria, it is just the kind of trouble one would expect along the line of contact between two forces as mutually hostile as Turkey and the PKK.

“The PKK’s Rojava statelet in Syria has always been significantly dependent on the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad and Iran system and as the US draws down or threatens to, the PKK has little choice but to lean ever-more into this other option.”

Russia has reportedly asked the SDF to surrender Ain Issa to the Assad regime, but that proposal was rejected by the Syrian Kurds.

HIGHLIGHT

The posts, which will be deployed in the strategically important town linking Aleppo to Al-Hasakah, will monitor the cease-fire and violations of Turkish-governed zones in the region.

“For Russia, having the Assad regime directly take Ain Issa would have allowed them to make progress on restoring Assad’s writ across the whole country, an important part of the effort to rehabilitate the regime internationally by presenting its victory as a fait accompli, and simultaneously to gain goodwill from Turkey by claiming to have removed the PKK from territory,” Orton said.

He pointed out that the present option worked too. “The Turks are much less concerned about Russia being the custodian of the PKK rather than the US partnering with the PKK, which is seen as something much more threatening.”

Orton added that the developments in Ain Issa would not threaten the Russo-Turkish understanding over Syria, manifested in the Astana process.

Halid Abdurrahman, a researcher and analyst on the Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News that control over Ain Issa was of strategic importance for gaining the control of the key M4 highway.

“Turkey wanted to establish a military base in Ain Issa’s Saida village in order to increase its supremacy in the region, but the Russians didn’t lean toward this offer. Then, Turkish army and Ankara-backed rebel groups began attacking YPG targets intermittently,” he said.

He noted that if Turkey blocked the passage of Ain Issa, it would be able to cut supply lines between the towns of Kobane and Manbij towns, while interrupting their contacts with the Jazira canton – something that would facilitate any potential Turkish military operation into the region in the future.

“However, Russia is uneasy with Turkey’s moves about Ain Issa, and would rather prefer giving the town to the Syrian regime forces in order to prevent any military move to the region by Ankara. Establishing observation posts with SDF and following an active military strategy with Syrian Kurds is just a short-term strategy to extend this challenge over time,” Abdurrahman said.

Russia and YPG militia have reportedly conducted some informal joint drills and recently held technical meetings about regional challenges.

“Turkey and Russia have not been on good terms with each other for a while. They have a tense relationship about their moves in Idlib, while Russia’s joint operations with Kurdish-led SDF would not please Ankara apparently,” Abdurrahman added.


127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months
Updated 7 sec ago

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months

127 Gambians fly home in first Libya evacuation in months
TRIPOLI: A group of Gambian migrants stranded in Libya have been repatriated, the United Nations’ migration agency said Friday, the first such evacuation flight in months.
“127 Gambian migrants were assisted to voluntarily return to The Gambia yesterday after IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return program received clearance to resume humanitarian flights from #Libya,” the International Organization for Migration said in a tweet.
Rocked by a decade of lawlessness and war, Libya has become a key conduit for migrants, mainly from African countries south of the Sahara, seeking to reach Europe by sea.
But many end up becoming stranded in Libya, where they face grave abuses, according to international rights groups and UN agencies.
The resumption of humanitarian flights came as Tripoli hosted an international conference to seek support for stability in Libya.
The UN’s vice-head for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, used the conference to urge authorities to speed up repatriations and release migrants in detention.
Libyan authorities faced international outcry earlier this month after carrying out sweeping raids described by Doctors without Borders as “violent mass arrests” that left at least one person dead.
Days later, guards had shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in Tripoli, while at least 24 others were wounded, the IOM said.
Some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos.
The Libyan interior ministry said a “stampede” had left an “irregular migrant” dead and wounded others as well as several police officers.
The United Nations has in the past offered flights for migrants voluntarily seeking repatriation.
Its refugee agency, the UNHCR, organized one such flight to Rwanda in July with 133 asylum seekers on board — the only one authorized by Libyan authorities this year.
The UNHCR on Friday welcomed the resumption of humanitarian evacuation flights but warned that “it is not enough.”
“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart,” its regional envoy Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.
“But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”
The UNHCR urged the Libyan government to “immediately address the dire situation of asylum seekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are currently prioritized for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption, it said.

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’
Updated 22 October 2021

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’
  • This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan
  • The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May

MALUALKON, South Sudan: He feels like a man who has drowned.
The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass. His field of sorghum, which fed his family, is under water. Surrounding mud dykes have collapsed.
Other people have fled. Only Yel Aguer Deng’s family and a few neighbors remain.
This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperiling livelihoods of many of the 11 million people in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now climate change, which the United Nations has blamed on the flooding, is impossible to ignore.
As he empties a fishing net, Daniel Deng, a 50-year-old father of seven, recalls a life of being forced to flee again and again because of insecurity. “But this one event (the flood) is too much,” he said. “It is the worst thing that happened in my lifetime.”
The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May. Here in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the Lol river has burst its banks.
This state is usually spared from extreme flooding that plagues the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Unity that border the White Nile and the Sudd marshlands. But now, houses and crops have been swamped.
A new report this week coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing such climate shocks to come across much of Africa, the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will suffer from it most.
In these rural South Sudan communities, shelters of braided grass put up a fragile resistance in a land of seemingly endless water.
In Langic village, Ajou Bol Yel’s family of seven hosted nine neighbors who had lost their homes. The elders sleep outside on beds protected by mosquito nets, while the children share the floor.
In Majak Awar, some 100 families have been displaced twice, in June when homes were flooded and again in August when their shelters were ruined, too.
“I want to leave for Sudan,” whispered Nyibol Arop, a 27-year-old mother of five, as she boiled her morning tea just steps away from the stagnant water that threatens her current shelter.
It is hard to see a stable future when constantly on the move, a lesson learned during the civil war that displaced millions of people before a peace agreement in 2018.
“Floods are not constant. Some people will stay, and some will go,” said Thomas Mapol, a 45-year-old father of nine, as he showed off the destroyed houses of his village near Majak Awar. “But me, I cannot move anywhere. There is no other place that I know.”


Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai
Updated 22 October 2021

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai
  • Pavilion is one of the largest at the event and could remain as a permanent structure once the expo is over
  • The pavilion’s launch coincides with year-long celebrations marking 75 years of Indian independence 

DUBAI: Stepping into India’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is like being instantly transported from the skyscraper-dominated skyline of the Middle East’s commercial capital to the hustle and bustle of South Asia.

The pavilion, located in Al-Forsan Crescent in the expo’s Opportunity District, is one of the largest at the event. Designed by CP Kukreja Architects in Delhi, it features an innovative kinetic facade made up of 600 individual blocks in assorted hues of brown and beige — not entirely unlike the desert landscape outside — arranged in a mosaic of panels, each of which rotates on an axis.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The design is intended to represent India’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move;” a country rooted in its rich heritage but also avant-garde and innovative in its approach to technological and economic advances.

The pavilion is also a nod to the nation’s fight against COVID-19 and the various reforms implemented by the government to prepare for what is hoped will be a period of high and accelerated growth as India strives to become a $5 trillion economy.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

“The pavilion takes visitors through the numerous phases of development and the unparalleled growth trajectory that India has experienced in all sectors, ranging from health and wellness, climate change, biodiversity, food agriculture to accomplishments in space,” Aman Puri, the pavilion’s commissioner general and the consul general of India in Dubai, told Arab News.

“We have a wide assortment of festivals and celebrations to offer at the pavilion, which provide our visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get the … feel of the diverse Indian culture.”

Visitors are greeted warmly as they arrive at the state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site and showcases the nation’s cultural treasures and technological marvels.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

As they move along a winding pathway they pass by a live yoga display in an area surrounded by greenery, a demonstration of Ayurveda, India’s ancient art of wellness, and a sharply contrasting area dedicated to India’s space program.

Visitors then move up through several levels that offer insights into various aspects of Indian culture, heritage and modern-day achievements. Massive floor-to-ceiling LED screens show images of Indian dancers and traditional ceremonies, and showcase the nation’s successes in the fields of robotics, energy, e-commerce, healthcare, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

A number of conference rooms and meeting spaces will be used to host talks and networking events in the coming months in an attempt to encourage the forging of new international business relationships with India.

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

“The expo is an important occasion to exhibit and invite the world to participate in India’s economic growth by utilizing the existing Indian talent base, creating additional employment opportunities, and empowering the secondary and tertiary sectors,” said Puri.

“The plethora of global discussions, business and investment summits will focus on creating synergies and providing opportunities to explore and accelerate trade partnerships.”

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

INNUMBERS

8.5 million - Population of overseas Indians in the Gulf states (2018).

(Source: GoI, Ministry of External Affairs)

Noting that India is “a country of start-up unicorns, and with an ecosystem of more than 50,000 recognized start-ups,” Puri said that “the Innovation Hub at the India pavilion will host several leading startups from India. Expo 2020 Dubai will be an excellent platform for these startups to engage with the global market.”

As it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, India has set its sights on becoming a high-tech, $5 trillion economy. (Credit: Supplied)

Among the events the pavilion will host is a World Majlis, which includes a program of talks including: Lessons from Space, on Oct. 19; Cities on the Move, on Nov. 2; and Off the Beaten Path, on Jan. 13.

For those interested in sampling some of India’s heritage, arts and crafts, and cultural treasures, the pavilion features a retail area with shops selling gemstones, textiles and pashminas from Jodhpur, Rajasthan and Jaipur.

And of course there is also a food court offering a wide range of Indian delicacies, along with a fine-dining restaurant, managed by Taj Hotels, where visitors can feast on a selection of the country’s rich culinary offerings.

The pavilion will also offer a packed schedule of indoor and outdoor performances of traditional Indian music and dance. In addition, visitors are invited to take part in festivities such as Diwali, the festival of light, and Holi, the festival of color.

 India’s state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site, showcases the nation’s cultural treasures alongside its technological marvels. (Credit: Supplied)

There are plans for the pavilion to remain as a permanent space for cultural and business exchange after the expo concludes, a testament to the long-standing relationship between the UAE and India.

About 2.75 million Indian nationals live in the UAE, representing 27 percent of the Gulf state’s population of about 10 million. The majority work in the service industry, which was badly hit by the precautionary lockdown measures during the pandemic. As a result, many Indian expats were forced to return home.

India’s participation at the expo coincides with the Indian government’s Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, also known as [email protected], a year-long celebration of the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The Indian consulate has launched a number of special events, in addition to those taking place at the expo, to mark the anniversary, including competitions, documentary screenings and art exhibitions. The consulate is also reportedly planning a joint celebration to coincide with the 50th UAE National Day on Dec. 2, in celebration of the bond of friendship between the nations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the 35th World Expo. The previous one was in Milan in 2015, and the next is scheduled to take place in 2025 in the Japanese city of Osaka, which also hosted the 1970 World Expo.

People attend the opening ceremony of the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on September 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo)

The event dates back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London, the first of what came to be called World Expos. In recent years have been staged every five years in a host city for a period ranging from three to six months.

Since 2013, when Dubai impressed a selection panel in Paris with its bid for the 2020 event, the expo has been one the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events in the UAE.

Organizers say the expo, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic and finally got underway on Oct. 1 this year, provides a showcase for more than 200 participating entities, including 192 countries, and features 60 events. About 25 million visitors are expected before it closes in April.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity
Updated 22 October 2021

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

HALABJA: In the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq, municipal director Kwestan Faraj recalls the day when being a woman saved her life.
Though equality may be a distant reality for many women in Iraq, in Halabja women have reached top levels of local government.
Mayor, university dean, director of the veterinary department, and health spokesperson are some of the senior posts held by women in the city of around 115,000 inhabitants.
It marks something of a departure for Iraqi Kurdistan, where public affairs have long been dominated by a handful of men. Tradition and conservative values have meant that women face routine discrimination and are largely confined to the private sphere.
“When you are a woman, climbing the ranks comes with a lot of sacrifices,” Faraj, 55, said.
A former deputy head of the municipality for 15 years, Faraj launched her political career many years earlier when as a student she handed out leaflets against Saddam Hussein’s regime, which carried out an infamous chemical attack on the city shortly before the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
She recalled one day when an armed man arrived demanding that she sign dubious paperwork. She refused.
“I thought he would pull out his gun and shoot,” she said.
“He got up and told me: ‘If you weren’t a woman, I know what I would have done’.”
She said that in her city the drive for gender equality was largely led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of two historical parties in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Yet some residents complain that the advances are largely cosmetic and aimed at masking the shortcomings of public services.
A junior partner in the Kurdistan regional government in Irbil, the PUK holds the post of speaker in the regional parliament, which it also awarded to a woman, Rewaz Faiq.
The party “believes in equality between men and women in all domains,” Faraj said.
“This has allowed us to achieve gender balance in administrative posts in Halabja,” said the head of the municipality, who has held the post since 2016.
Halabja prides itself on having had a woman mayor, Adela Khanum, in the first decades of the 20th century. Now it has another, Nuxsha Nasih.
It also has Kurdistan’s first female university dean, Mahabad Kamil Abdullah. “The Islamist parties were among the first to congratulate me when I became the president of Halabja University,” she said.
But it is by no means representative of the situation of women in Kurdistan as a whole. A 2018 UN report found that women in the workforce represent barely 15 percent of the women of working age. About three quarters of those work in the public sector.
In Iraq’s Oct. 10 parliamentary election, more than 90 women were elected according to preliminary results, exceeding the minimum 83-seat quota established for women in the 329-seat chamber.
Though the Kurdistan region has cultivated an image of relative stability and tolerance, women’s rights activists say key issues like forced marriage and female genital mutilation have gone unaddressed.
“It is not enough to have women in high posts. There need to be more women in the lower ranks,” said Gulistan Ahmed, who heads the governmental commission for human rights in Halabja.
Many residents are more preoccupied with the failings of public services than with seeking gender equality.
“There have been no notable changes in the city under their mandate, whether at the level of public services or with the launch of new projects,” complained Wshyar Abdulkarim, a 45-year-old spice merchant.
Female market trader Mujda Ahmed said having women in top jobs had yet to lead to an improvement in services for women.
“I have worked in the market for six years and not a single person has built public toilets for women,” she said.
“I have the impression that they are being used by their parties, which simply want to improve their image on the issue of equality, nothing more.”


Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence
Updated 21 October 2021

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence
  • Hezbollah and Amal accused Lebanese Forces, which supports the probe, of being responsible for sniper fire against the protesters that ignited street clashes
  • A representative of the military court had "instructed the army intelligence to summon Geagea and take his statement based on information provided by arrested LF members"

BEIRUT: The head of the Lebanese Forces Christian group, Samir Geagea, has been summoned for questioning over deadly violence that erupted at a Shiite rally last week, a judicial official said Thursday.
Seven people were killed in Beirut on October 14 during a protest organized by the Shiite movements Amal and Hezbollah to demand Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating Beirut’s powerful port blast, be removed.
Hezbollah and Amal accused the Lebanese Forces (LF), which supports the probe, of being responsible for sniper fire against the protesters that ignited street clashes.
The Christian group denies the charges.
Fadi Akiki, a representative of the military court, had “instructed the army intelligence to summon Geagea and take his statement based on information provided by arrested LF members,” the judicial official said.
Twenty-six people were arrested after the violence in the heart of the Lebanese capital, most of them LF members, the official said on Thursday.
The exact circumstances of the violence remain unclear.
Geagea has denied responsiblity for the deaths, saying that residents of Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh had “defended” themselves against “Hezbollah militiamen who tried to enter their homes.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that his Iran-backed movement had 100,000 armed fighters at its disposal, and warned it is against sparking any “civil war.”
On Thursday, Geagea told the Lebanon’s MTV channel he was not aware of the summons.
“I am ready to appear before the judge, on one condition: that Hassan Nasrallah does it before me,” he said.
Nasrallah has been in hiding since the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Tensions flared after Bitar summoned two Amal former ministers for questioning as part of the investigation into last year’s devastating Beirut port blast.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.