Car bomb hits near Russian base in northeast Syria

Car bomb hits near Russian base in northeast Syria
The scene of an attack targeting a bus transporting regime soldiers as they traveled home for holidays in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. (AFP)
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Updated 02 January 2021

Car bomb hits near Russian base in northeast Syria

Car bomb hits near Russian base in northeast Syria
  • Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, the Observatory says

BEIRUT: A car bomb detonated near a Russian military base in northeastern Syria on Friday in the first such militant attack in the area against the ally of Damascus, a war monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported several wounded in the attack after midnight in the Tal Saman area in Raqqa province, but did not give an exact figure.
There was no immediate Russian report of the incident, which occurred in a broader area controlled by Kurdish-led forces but where the Syrian regime and its ally Russia are also present.
A statement circulated on social media and attributed to the Hurras Al-Deen militant group claimed the attack.
The Observatory said two men parked an explosives-laden pickup truck outside the base and fled, in what was a rare such assault by Hurras Al-Deen in the area.
“It’s the first such direct attack against a Russian base in northeastern Syria,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Hurras Al-Deen has fighters in the country’s last major rebel bastion in the northwestern region of Idlib, but very rarely operates outside that area.
Russia entered Syria’s war in 2015, and its air force has backed Damascus regime forces in several deadly military campaigns against Idlib.
Russia has repeatedly accused rebels in Idlib of attacking its Khmeimim Air Base west of the opposition stronghold with drones, but car bomb attacks are much rarer.
Russian troops are stationed in northern Syria, including as part of several deals brokered with rebel backer Turkey.
A day earlier, Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed nearly 40 soldiers in Syria the day before when militants ambushed a bus in eastern Syria.
The Observatory said Daesh had attacked regime soldiers as they traveled home for holidays in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing 37.
It said eight officers were among those killed while 12 other soldiers were wounded in the attack.
A statement by Daesh’s propaganda arm Amaq said its fighters had “ambushed a bus transporting apostate Nusayri army elements,” using a derogatory term for the Alawite sect to which Syria’s Bashar Assad belongs.

HIGHLIGHT

There was no immediate Russian report of the incident, which occurred in a broader area controlled by Kurdish-led forces but where the Syrian regime and its ally Russia are also present.

The vehicle was targeted “with heavy weapons” and “multiple explosive devices, which led to destroying the bus and killing nearly 40 elements and wounding others,” added the statement, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.
It was one of the deadliest attacks since the fall of the Daesh (self-proclaimed) caliphate last year, the Observatory chief told AFP on Wednesday.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a cross-border “caliphate” in 2014, before multiple offensives in the two countries led to its territorial defeat.
The group was overcome in Syria in March last year, but sleeper cells continue to launch attacks namely in the vast desert that stretches from the central province of Homs to Deir Ezzor and the border with Iraq.
The Observatory said two other buses which were part of the convoy managed to escape.
Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, the Observatory says.
The dead include more than 130,500 pro-government fighters, among them foreigners, as well as 117,000 civilians.


Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province
Updated 18 min 56 sec ago

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province


Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials
Updated 20 min 1 sec ago

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for Covid-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion
Updated 28 February 2021

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

DUBAI: Iran was most likely behind an explosion that occurred earlier this week on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman, the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. 
The MV Helios Ray, which was carrying vehicles in the Gulf was struck on Febriuary 25.
“The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified," Gantz said in an interview with Israeli state television Kan.

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context that is my assessment,” he added.And Gantz said that it was known that Iran was intending to target Israeli assets and citizens.
Top Israeli defense and political leaders will discuss on Sunday their response to the apparent attack, Kan reported citing officials who have said it "crossed a red line."

The explosion did not cause any casualties but left two 1.5-meter-diameter holes in the side of the vessel.

The MV Ray Helios arrived in Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

 The Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray was seen sitting at dry dock facilities in Dubai by an AP journalist. 

Reuters quoted a statement by a spokesman for Dubai state port operator DP World saying that “an assessment can be made” when the ship arrives. DP World owns and operates the dry docks, where ship repairs and maintenance are carried out.

Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the ship.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 28 February 2021

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday. 


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“