Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Syria’s White Helmets is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2021

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
  • With millions living in tents across country’s northwest, threat of COVID-19 is severe
  • $1.6m awarded by non-profit organization funded by UK, US, Canadian, Dutch governments

LONDON: Syria’s White Helmets, the civilian rescue group that recovers victims from rubble after airstrikes in the war-torn country, is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission.
The civil defense service, which has worked to reduce the harm of indiscriminate shelling from the Assad regime, has received a $1.6 million award for the production of PPE from a non-profit organization funded by the UK, US, Canadian and Dutch governments.
Funds from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge group have led to the creation of a PPE-producing facility that has manufactured some 2 million masks.
It is also producing protective gowns and face shields — key equipment in the fight against COVID-19 — and handling the disposal of used PPE for northwest Syria’s population, who live in a precarious area that is predominantly out of the regime’s control. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic was the most difficult challenge the White Helmets faced in 2020,” said Munir Mustafa, its deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs.
“We witnessed the spread of the virus in north-western Syria among humanitarian workers and medical personnel, while the global pandemic made cross-borders logistics almost impossible.”
The White Helmets has enhanced community efforts to keep people safe from COVID-19 amid pressing security challenges.
“Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, health care providers and other essential workers are safer now and can continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic,” Mustafa said.
The White Helmets, established in 2014, was originally formed for search-and-rescue efforts and to broaden the provision of first responders. It claims to have saved some 120,000 lives.
Its role has developed as challenges facing the Syrian people have grown. Violence in the country has demolished health care facilities, decimating communities and cutting off millions from crucial medical care. 
The bombing of civilian areas has forced many to flee to temporary refugee facilities that are often cramped and in poor condition.
With millions living in tents across the country’s northwest, the threat of COVID-19 is severe.
Around 500 cases of COVID-19 are being recorded per day in northwest Syria, but experts say the true number is much higher due to inadequate testing infrastructure.
The Humanitarian Grand Challenge said: “The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.”


Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
Updated 02 March 2021

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances

Iran resistance urges tougher sanctions after exposing secret nuclear advances
  • “Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA.”

CHIACGO: Leaders of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) called on the international community at a press conference on Tuesday to re-enforce sanctions on Iran and not surrender to “Tehran’s blackmailing and posturing.”

NCRI officials revealed new information on how Iran’s Mullahs are carefully building a nuclear weapon while seeking to remove sanctions on its programs.

The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on Feb. 23 shows anthropogenic uranium particles at two sites in Iran. The Iranian regime had blocked access to these sites to IAEA inspectors for months.

“Today’s revelation shows that deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA. Neither Europe nor the US should give into Tehran’s blackmail and posturing,” Ali Safavi of the NCRI told the Arab News following the press conference.

“They should hold it to account for the systematic and flagrant breaches of its own commitments, even under the fatally flawed Iran nuclear deal. Sanctions should not be lifted unless and until the regime comes clean on its nuclear deceptions and stops its malign actions in the Middle East and its oppression of the Iranian people.”

Joining the NCRI at the press conference were US envoy and former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and Struan Stevenson, former senior member of the European Parliament from Scotland.

“The discovery of uranium particles at two suspect sites demonstrate very clearly that the regime continues and has continued to violate the agreement,” Joseph said, emphasizing that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted.

“The regime openly violates the limits of the Iran deal today to coerce the US administration back into the agreement. The lesson here is not to be blackmailed by the regime because if you allow yourselves to be blackmailed you will only have more blackmail in the future, and another fatally flawed agreement.”

Joseph said that rejoining the deal will not achieve the goal of President Joe Biden’s administration to lay the groundwork for a broader and more comprehensive agreement with Iran.

Stevenson criticized the EU’s failure to address the problems and urged Biden to halt efforts to renegotiate with Iran.

“Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, hasn’t uttered a single word of criticism about an Iranian diplomat who was jailed last month for trying to kill hundreds of people in Europe with a bomb,” Stevenson said.

“I sincerely hope that the Biden administration will not follow Borrell’s example of bare-faced appeasement. To do so would, it would be a humiliating defeat to America and a propaganda coup for the theoretical regime. The US, the EU, and the UN must hold the Iranian regime to account for its acts of aggression. Any concessions to the theocratic dictatorship will be seen as an act of weakness by the West.”

The NCRI has been monitoring Iran’s secret nuclear arms development program and said new information released Tuesday was provided by the sources from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran inside the country.

The information includes details on the role and function of the site in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, the experts involved at the time, and their current activities.

The regime has not yet answered the IAEA’s questions regarding the possible presence of nuclear material at these locations, NCRI officials said.

In his introductory statement to the IAEA Board of Governors yesterday, IAEA Director Rafael Grossi expressed the agency's deep concerns on finding nuclear material in undeclared locations in Iran.

“The fact is that the mullahs’ regime is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon as a strategic means to guarantee its survival, and for this reason it has never abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. This pursuit has continued unabated for the past three decades,” Safavi said.

One site, located north of Abadeh city in the Fars province, was built by companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the mid-1990s under the supervision of the then-minister of defense.

The site is part of a project managed by the main entity in charge of research and development of nuclear weapons, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym SPND.

This site was constructed for a project dubbed Marivan for the use of one of the SPND’s subdivisions, called the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies on Explosions and Impact.

The center is engaged in the research and construction of nuclear high-explosive detonators.

Saeed Borji, one of the regime’s top explosives and high-impact specialists who for years worked directly under the supervision of Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the key figure in Tehran’s nuclear weapons project, has been involved in the Marivan project.

Borji is currently in another role along with some of the most senior experts. It is alleged that he is still conducting research for the nuclear weapons program’s explosives and impact fields using a cover.
 


Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
Updated 02 March 2021

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy

Congress urges Biden to see human rights abuses while formulating Turkey policy
  • Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers has been on the radar for a long time
  • Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system

ANKARA: In a bipartisan letter penned by 170 members of the US Congress to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, American lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to consider the “troubling human rights abuses” in Turkey. 

“President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and (the) free press,” the letter said.

Dated Feb. 26 but made public on March 1, the letter asks Washington to formulate its policy regarding Turkey considering human rights, saying that the Erdogan administration has strained the bilateral relationship. 

“Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern,” the letter said, making a specific reference to the May 2017 assault on peaceful protesters and federal employees by Turkish security forces during Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

The letter’s timing coincides with the common declaration of Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project on Monday, criticizing the Turkish government’s failure to comply with a binding European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) order to release Turkish activist Osman Kavala.

The letter also came a day before Turkey announced a much-awaited reform plan that only included vague commitments to launch a “Human Rights Action Plan,” with no clarification about the situation of jailed activists and politicians. 

Washington previously urged Ankara to respect the ECHR’s rulings to release Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and Kavala. 

Turkey’s politically-motivated judicial proceedings against opposition lawmakers, as well as the debates around the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have been on the radar for a long time. 

Indeed, just after the announcement of the “Human Rights Action Plan,” the Court of Cassation launched an investigation into the HDP and requested the summary of proceedings pertaining to its lawmakers — a strong sign that the government is in a rush to shut down the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament. 

Ankara recently made some steps to improve relations with Washington, especially through an expensive lobbying campaign to bypass the deadlock over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system that resulted in the removal of Turkey from the US F-35 fighter jet program. 

“Within the bigger picture, promotion of democracy and human rights, as well as freedoms in Turkey, will for the first time be on the agenda of the US administration,” Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News. 

“Previously, US administrations usually paid lip service, making statements but always separating strategic ties from the democracy and human rights portfolio. But now it is not really possible,” he said. 

According to Cagaptay, among American allies, together with Hungary, Turkey is the country suffering the most from democratic erosion and the curtailment of checks and balances, and for the Biden administration, strengthening democracy abroad has become a vital component for strengthening faith in the democratic process at home. 

While managing differences and expanding areas of cooperation will also be other legs of Turkish-American relations in the new period, democracy will occupy the largest part, experts note. 

“Congress is currently the most powerful focal point of anti-Turkish voices, especially after the purchase of the Russian missile defense system. CAATSA legislation, according to which Turkey was sanctioned for its S-400 acquisition, was written by Congress itself. Turkey is the first country to defy this legislation. Turkey is seen in Congress as the second most problematic country after Russia,” Cagaptay said. 

Therefore, he added, even if the Biden administration were to reset with Turkey, it will be very hard for US-Turkish relations to gain a semblance of normality because, however the White House reaches out to Ankara, Congress will constantly check and temper it.

Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, agrees. 

“While not the only challenges on the agenda, human rights and democratic backsliding will definitely be an area of high-level focus with Turkish officials for the Biden administration and US Congress,” he told Arab News. 

According to Katz, it is clear based on the two recent congressional letters in the Senate and House that there is a ramped-up effort to address what many see as Erdogan pushing Turkey closer toward being an autocracy, and away from being a stalwart NATO ally that shares a US and transatlantic security and political agenda. 

“Turkey’s government carrying out and implementing new reforms would be seen as positive in Washington but there is deep suspicion that these efforts are ‘window dressing’ only meant to strengthen Erdogan politically,” he said. 


Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan
Updated 02 March 2021

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

Land route to link Egypt, Iraq, Jordan

CAIRO: A land route for passengers linking Egypt, Jordan and Iraq will improve transport options for workers and students, according to Cairo and Amman.

Kamel El-Wazir, Egyptian minister of transport, and Amjad Adaileh, Jordan’s ambassador in Cairo, said that the land transport link between the three countries — starting from Cairo and continuing through Amman to Baghdad — will cost $130 per passenger, including the ferry price between the ports of Nuweiba and Aqaba.

During a meeting in Cairo, they discussed ways to support trade between Egypt and Jordan by overcoming hurdles faced at arrival ports, and facilitating the transfer of Egyptian products to Jordan and from there to other Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria.
 

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They also discussed the need to develop the Arab Bridge Maritime Company owned by Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, and open markets to serve the trade movement between the three nations and East African countries.

The land route aims to encourage the movement of Egyptian labor to these countries, and the movement of students and scholars from Iraq and Jordan to Egypt.

Reservations in Egypt can be made through the Arab Union Superjet Company.
 


Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact
Updated 02 March 2021

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

Egypt, Sudan to strengthen military pact

CAIRO: Mohamed Othman Al-Hussein, Sudan’s military chief of staff, and his Egyptian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid, signed a bilateral agreement at a meeting of the Egyptian-Sudanese military committee in Khartoum on Tuesday.

An Egyptian military delegation is visiting Sudan to hold key meetings as part of joint military cooperation.

Farid led a high-level military delegation to Khartoum to take part in the seventh meeting of the joint Egyptian-Sudanese military committee, headed by the chiefs of staff of both countries.

He will hold talks as part of military cooperation and strategic partnership between the two countries.

Egypt and Sudan have extended their joint relations on security since Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan became president of the transitional Sovereignty Council of Sudan following the ouster of former President Omar Bashir.

Last November, Sudanese air force units and Egyptian commando teams conducted a joint Egyptian-Sudanese air drill, Nile Eagles1, the first of its kind.

During a visit by Farid to Khartoum in November, Egyptian and Sudanese military leaders agreed to accelerate joint security and military cooperation.

They also agreed to carry out more drills for all armed forces branches, and step up cooperation in training, border security and combating terrorism, as well as technical insurance and military industries.
 


Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
Updated 02 March 2021

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
  • This papal trip ‘will be different from those made in the past due to the pandemic’

ROME: Pope Francis will probably use an armor-plated car during his first trip to Iraq on March 5-8, and he will be accompanied throughout by a Vatican nurse.

“An armor-plated car is always available for the pope’s trips, and in this trip it’s very likely to be used,” Vatican press spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The pope will use a closed car in all his visits to Iraqi cities, Bruni added, apart from Erbil stadium on Sunday, when he will use an open car and will celebrate Mass.

This papal trip “will be different from those made in the past due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bruni said.

No meetings with crowds are scheduled except for Mass in Erbil; only 10,000 faithful will be allowed there in order to respect social distancing.

This will be the pope’s first trip abroad in about 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions on movement. It is also the first-ever papal journey to Iraq.

He will be accompanied by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri; and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for relations with states.

Seventy-five embedded journalists will also travel aboard the special flight that will take the leader of the Catholic Church from Rome to Baghdad — almost double the number normally allowed on a papal flight.

Parolin described the pope’s visit as a sign of his “closeness to the Catholic Church” in Iraq and to the country’s dwindling Christian communities.

“We know that the Church (in Iraq) has suffered a lot,” Parolin said. “It has lost many Christians who have left Iraq for other countries.”

Therefore, the Church needs the pope’s presence “to be encouraged and to continue her mission of witnessing Jesus Christ and the Gospel in the difficult situation in which she finds herself,” Parolin added.

The pope’s visit will also “boost the efforts that have already started to reconstruct the country,” Parolin said, adding that it will be an occasion of “interreligious dialogue, collaboration, understanding and fraternity between Christians and Muslims for the good of the country and its brighter future.”

The pope will fly to Baghdad on Friday, and will be welcomed at the airport by Iraq’s prime minister.

On Saturday, the pope will go to the city of Najaf, where he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims.

Bruni said this will be the first face-to-face meeting between a Catholic pontiff and a Shiite ayatollah.

The pope will then visit the ancient city of Ur, considered by the Bible to be Abraham’s birthplace.

On Sunday he will fly by helicopter to Mosul, which from 2014 to 2017 was the de facto capital of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

There, Buni said, the pope will have “a moment of intimate prayer to honor the victims of this land.”

He will then fly to Qaraqosh, a Christian-majority city where in 2014, about 45,000 people were expelled by Daesh, before heading to Erbil for a mass at Franso Hariri stadium.