Ankara on alert over McGurk’s expected appointment to Syria

McGurk is often blamed by the ruling Justice and Development Party as the mastermind behind Washington arming the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against Daesh. (AFP/File)
McGurk is often blamed by the ruling Justice and Development Party as the mastermind behind Washington arming the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against Daesh. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 January 2021

Ankara on alert over McGurk’s expected appointment to Syria

Ankara on alert over McGurk’s expected appointment to Syria
  • McGurk's expected appointment carries several messages to Turkey

ANKARA: US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to select Brett McGurk, the former envoy to the US-led anti-Daesh international coalition, as National Security Council senior director for Washington’s policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

McGurk was appointed to the same post in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama and served until he resigned over the withdrawal of US forces from Syria in December 2018.

His expected appointment carries several messages to Turkey, according to experts, who argue that it could bring a new source of disagreement between Washington and Ankara as McGurk is seen negatively by Turkey’s political leaders.

“This would be viewed as a very provocative appointment. A bad start for the Biden era on the US-Turkey relations front if this is realized,” tweeted Yusuf Erim, an Ankara-based political analyst.

McGurk is often blamed by the ruling Justice and Development Party as the mastermind behind Washington arming the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their fight against Daesh, with the YPG considered a terror group by Turkey because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, it is only natural that Biden will pick several former Obama officials to serve in his government.

“Brett McGurk may be a controversial figure for Turkey, but he is quite mainstream for the Democratic Party and popular in those circles, therefore it will be no big surprise if he gets a senior job within the Biden Administration,” he told Arab News.

Unluhisarcikli also noted that McGurk is only one of several former Obama Administration officials who had friction with Turkey and will now become part of the Biden Administration.

“This will be a challenge Turkey will need to live with particularly regarding differences over the YPG,” he said.

McGurk also took a tough stance on Turkey’s cross-border military operations against the YPG, and criticized Ankara for not effectively managing its border with Syria when foreign fighters were travelling to join Daesh.

As a former supreme court clerk, McGurk also served under President George W. Bush as a diplomat.

“The Turkish government should not be consumed by its perception of McGurk in judging what approach Biden might have toward Ankara. Biden is not necessarily a third Obama term and McGurk’s role is not typically the forefront diplomatic position,” Joe Macaron, a Middle East analyst at the Arab Center in Washington, told Arab News.

According to Macaron, if the expectation is that the US might withdraw from Syria and end support for the YPG, this expectation should be managed regardless of whether McGurk is serving in Biden’s government.

“The US-Turkish relations might be more tense moving forward, but they have common interests to work together on Syria if Ankara recognizes that Washington will ultimately not sell out the YPG,” he said.

However, pro-government media outlets have already begun their harsh criticisms of the McGurk’s potential appointment.

On Aug. 1, 2017, Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper published a front page that claimed “the coalition forces under the leadership of McGurk are the murderer of 46,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria.” In its coverage on Jan. 7, Yeni Safak has described McGurk as a “colonial governor.”

But Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, McGurk’s return would not necessarily make a huge difference.

“Yes, Turkey is not satisfied with this possibility, while the YPG and its political wing are happy about it. However, even without McGurk’s presence, the Syrian Democratic Forces has already received very serious support from the US,” he told Arab News.
 


Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
Updated 1 min 51 sec ago

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
DUBAI: Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket in recent days and now appears to be preparing to try again, the country’s latest effort to advance its space program amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal.
Satellite images, a US official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran’s space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6. Those images include what appears to be fuel tanks alongside a massive white gantry that houses a rocket, while scientists fuel it and prepare for launch. Before the launch, workers tow the gantry away to expose the rocket.
The number of fuel tanks, based on their size, appear to have been enough to fill the first and second stages of an Iranian Simorgh rocket, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Simorgh is a satellite-carrying rocket that has been launched from that same area of the spaceport, he said.
Later satellite images on June 17 showed a decrease in activity at the site. Lewis said analysts believe Iran launched the rocket at some point in that window.
“Nothing had blown up. There wasn’t a giant stain — like they had dumped the fuel — and the vehicles had kind of just moved around,” he said. “The overall level of activity at the site was much lower. So to our mind, that looked like a launch.”
CNN, which first reported on the failed launch, quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and US Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
On Sunday, a new satellite image from Planet Labs showed renewed activity at the site. The image shows a mobile platform previously used to secure a Simorgh rocket at the gantry, a support vehicle seen at previous launches and a new line of fuel containers lined up at the site. Lewis said the equipment suggests that another launch is imminent.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. A failed launch this month would be the fourth in a row for the Simorgh program. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A rocket explosion in August 2019 drew even the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” But Lewis said such failures are common, especially when trying to put objects carefully into orbit around the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.
The launch comes after the landslide election of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s hard-line judiciary chief tied to the mass execution of thousands in 1988. The vote saw the lowest turnout in a presidential election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi will take over from Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the US to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US has alleged such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
The Simorgh, however, is far too large and too slow to fuel to be a good carrier for a nuclear-tipped weapon, Lewis said.
“It’s a butter knife,” he added. “Could you stab someone with a butter knife? Yeah, but that’s not really the tool.”

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
A doctor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) checks a rescued migrant's identity before administering a Coronavirus test, in Ben Guerdane, southern Tunisia, Saturday June 12, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
  • Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities

CAIRO: Ninety Egyptians who had been detained at the headquarters of illegal immigration in Tripoli since last Friday have been released, said the head of Egypt’s Diplomatic Mission in Libya’s capital.
Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities.
He thanked the Libyan interior minister, officials and local authorities for their efforts, which Selim said reflect the close relations between the two countries. He added that most of those released were from Minya Governorate.


Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi receives Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues

Egyptian leader backs Greek PM on eastern Med issues
  • El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Greece, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs

CAIRO: Egypt will stand in solidarity with Greece against any threat to its sovereignty, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said.

The Egyptian president was speaking at a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following talks between the two leaders in Cairo.
El-Sisi reiterated Egypt’s firm position in the eastern Mediterranean, especially regarding the principles of noninterference in internal affairs, stressing solidarity with Greece.
“Relations with Greece are a model for cooperation and integration at the regional level, as Egypt and Greece share distinguished friendship ties,” he said, adding that Egypt’s position in the eastern Mediterranean region is consistent, and respects the sovereignty and territorial waters of countries.
He also stressed the necessity of disbanding militias in Libya, saying that Egypt and Greece agreed on the need to start an effective political movement in the country following the exit of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting the Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

FASTFACT

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. El-Sisi and Mitsotakis also discussed supporting Libyans in conducting elections on the scheduled date of Dec. 24.

The two leaders agreed on the need to enhance tripartite cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, and to achieve maximum benefit from that cooperation. They stressed the importance of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which would open up prospects for cooperation and investment between the countries of the region in the field of energy and gas.
The two sides stressed the importance of reaching a fair and balanced legal agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built by Ethiopia in a manner that achieves the interests of the downstream countries and maintains regional stability.
Extensive talks were held between Egypt and Greece, co-chaired by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and his Greek counterpart.
Madbouly voiced his hopes of strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the field of energy, electrical interconnection across the island of Crete, and working with the Greek government to export natural gas surplus to Europe.
He referred to recent efforts made by the Egyptian government to provide a healthy and safe environment for tourists, in order to restore the incoming tourism movement, calling on the Greek side to strengthen tourism cooperation between the two countries.
Mohamed Shaker, minister of electricity and renewable energy indicated that he is working in coordination with the Ministry of Petroleum to finalize the study of the proposed memorandum of understanding for cooperation with Greece in this regard.
Tarek El Molla, minister of petroleum and mineral resources, expressed his aspiration to sign a long-term cooperation agreement in the field of gas, and expressed his readiness to receive all the details of the Greek side’s needs in this regard.


Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
Updated 23 June 2021

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis

Battle for Marib deals severe blow to Houthis
  • Yemeni government vows to defeat Houthis as fighting rages outside Marib
  • Austrian FM: Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia are unacceptable

ALEXANDRIA: Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has killed 90 fighters in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government’s forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.

The Ministry of Defense said that dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.

Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.

The Ministry of Defense said the Houthis lost a significant amount of military equipment.

State media on Tuesday broadcast videos showing government forces exchanging mortar and heavy machine gun fire with the Houthis as a large convoy of vehicles rushed to reinforce government troops.

Bodies of dead Houthis were also seen scattered on the battlefield.

Yemeni Army commanders and government officials said that massive military support, logistics and air cover from the Arab coalition have shored up Yemeni government forces and helped thwart relentless Houthi assaults on Marib.

Lt. Col. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at the Yemeni Army’s Moral Guidance Department, told Arab News that military operations and airstrikes in Marib have greatly worn down the Houthis, with the rebels losing thousands of fighters, including many senior commanders.

“The Houthi militia has been largely depleted. The Arab coalition warplanes played a vital role in striking its reinforcements and weapons depots and destroying its equipment,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

To seize control of Marib’s oil and gas fields and power stations, the Houthis resumed a major military offensive in February.

The effort has forced thousands of Yemenis to flee their homes amid warnings from local and international aid organizations that the Houthi invasion of Marib would aggravate the humanitarian crisis and trigger a large displacement, with the city hosting thousands of internally displaced people.

The government and military commanders have vowed to push ahead with military operations in Marib until the Houthis are defeated and justice is brought to rebel leaders who ordered attacks on civilians across Yemen.

Yemen’s official news agency reported on Monday that Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed telephoned senior military commanders in Marib to renew the government’s support to troops and allied tribesmen in their “decisive” battle against the Houthis, vowing to punish the Iran-backed force for disrupting peace efforts to end the war and killing and abducting Yemenis.

The Yemeni Army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Sagheer bin Aziz, also said that its troops and tribesmen have high combat skills and morale.

He said they follow military plans and that “the force of arms” alone would put an end to the Houthi militia’s takeover of power.

“They would destroy the capabilities of the Iranian Houthi terrorist militia and force them to surrender by force of arms, as that is the only way to restore the state and end the suffering of our people,” Bin Aziz tweeted.

 

Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia denounced

Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Tuesday condemned the relentless Houthi attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “unacceptable.”

Saudi Arabia’s air defenses intercepted and destroyed a booby-trapped drone launched by the militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.

The drone was targeting the city of Khamis Mushayt. The Arab coalition said this was the latest example of the Houthis deliberately targeting civilians and civilian targets.

At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Schallenberg said Vienna supports developments taking place across Saudi Arabia in several areas.

Prince Faisal said the Houthi militia has regularly rejected initiatives for a complete ceasefire, and always resorted to escalating the situation.


Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
Updated 22 June 2021

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage

Mother and four daughters killed as they looked for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage
  • Family were preparing for journey to Beirut airport to meet father as he returned from working abroad
  • Lebanon facing vast queues for petrol amid fuel shortage and economic crisis

BEIRUT: A Lebanese mother and her four daughters were killed when their car was hit by a military vehicle as they searched for fuel amid Lebanon’s petrol shortage.

The family were preparing to travel from southern Lebanon to Beirut airport this week to pick up the daughters’ father, who was expected to fly home from working abroad.

Fatima Koubeissi, her twins Tia and Lia, 4, and her two other daughters Aya, 13, and Zahra, 17, were killed when the military vehicle hit their car from behind on Monday night. Another relative, Hussein Zein, 22, who was driving their car, died on Tuesday from his injuries.

The sisters had not seen their father, Imad Hawile, since he went looking for a job in Liberia five months ago, their uncle Qassim Hawile told Arab News.

Amid a worsening economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages with long queues outside petrol stations leading to traffic jams on nearby roads.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces [ISF] traffic control section reported a number of recent accidents caused by petrol queues.

The family from Al-Sharqeyye village went searching for petrol on Monday afternoon to prepare for the journey to the airport on Wednesday.

“We have not been able to find petrol across the south,” Qassim said.

ISF’s traffic control said the accident involved five cars and took place on the Jeyye-Saida highway.

A cousin of Fatima told Arab News that the accident happened because of a “vehicle that came in the opposite direction of the road wanting to bypass a queue outside a petrol station.
“They (the mother and four daughters) died on the spot,” he said.

Qassim said his brother contracted malaria during his first month in Liberia and then a second time “so he decided to return for better medication.”

“We did not want my brother to know that his family died in the crash but he saw the news and images on Facebook,” said Qassim.

He said the funeral was expected to take place on Thursday.

The accident happened when their driver saw two BMWs rammed into each other so he stopped but the military vehicle came and hit them from the back, sending it into a pick-up truck, Qassim said.
Civil Defense and Red Cross teams attended the scene and moved the injured and the dead to nearby hospitals.

Petrol stations have been constantly low on subsidized petrol for weeks, but shortages worsened in June as people’s fears of rationing and shortages intensified, leading to a large number of petrol stations closing down.

A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers.
Last week, three people were injured in an accident outside a petrol station where cars were queueing on the highway connecting Beirut to southern.