Arab Christian figures rebut argument for removing US sanctions on Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) meeting the new Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi (L) in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP/SANA/File Photo)
Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) meeting the new Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi (L) in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP/SANA/File Photo)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Arab Christian figures rebut argument for removing US sanctions on Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) meeting the new Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi (L) in the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP/SANA/File Photo)
  • A Jan. 21 letter claimed “unilateral coercive measures” imposed by the US have made the plight of Syrians worse
  • Critics of the letter say the Assads have a history of using minorities as a means to burnish their image abroad

NEW YORK CITY: When the time came for Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s former UN permanent representative, to leave New York, only one person saw him off at JFK airport: his loyal office assistant.

The symbolism of the moment perhaps eluded the lady as she waved goodbye to the diplomat disappearing through the throng of travelers: Nothing more than Jaafari’s lonely departure could embody the image of Bashar Assad’s regime as it stands isolated on the world stage today.

Jaafari went back to Damascus where he would take up his functions as deputy minister for foreign affairs, back into the arms of a regime that was his sole supporter at the UN headquarters.

He had for years used the time allotted to him at the Security Council to blame the West for the misery Syrian people rile under. He once called Western nations “Ali Baba’s thieves without borders,” there only to pillage Syria’s wealth, both material and cultural.




The UN Security Council members seem to harbor no doubt that only the regime is behind the atrocities inflicted on Syrians, and that only the regime’s corruption is able to account for the ever-worsening economic disaster. (AFP/File Photo)

Jaafari’s insults did nothing, however, to alter the member states’ stance on what are now firmly established facts, regularly emphasized by the secretary-general’s reports on Syria. In every council meeting, representatives called on Assad to come clean about his chemical weapons which, they repeated, he has used against his own people.

They rejected Assad’s plans for “sham elections.” And when the regime, backed by Russia, organized a conference designed to encourage Syrian refugees to return to “now safe” Syria, the Americans dismissed it as “a dog and pony show.”

Apart from Russia, which reliably comes to the regime’s defense, Security Council members seem to harbor no doubt that only the regime is behind the atrocities inflicted on Syrians, and that only the regime’s corruption is able to account for the ever-worsening economic disaster.

Isolated and paralyzed by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act’s sanctions, the regime has been using every ruse in the book to find a way around them. The changing of the guard in Washington, coupled with the appointment of senior White House advisers keen on a thaw with Iran, may be just the break Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had been waiting for.




Isolated and paralyzed by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act’s sanctions, the regime has been using every ruse in the book to find a way around them. (AFP/File Photo)

“We as Syrians are afraid of those advisers who have good ties with the Iranians,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian reformist. “Are they going to sell us out — like they did under (President Barack) Obama — as the icing on the cake of another nuclear accord?

A widely publicized letter sent to President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 by Michel Abs, secretary-general of the Middle East Council of Churches, and co-signed by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, argued that “unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States make the economic plight of the Syrian people worse.”

The signatories include also other clerics besides officials and civil personalities with close ties to the Assad regime.

As scholars of modern Middle East history can attest, the Assad regime has a long history of using minorities as a means to burnish its image abroad while keeping its crimes under wraps.

When Hafez Assad came to power in 1970, he presented himself from day one as the “minority protector” and the antidote to rising Islamic fundamentalism. In the name of fighting radicalism, Assad the father erased entire towns, carried out brutal massacres, and tightened his minority Alawite regime’s iron fist on the nation as its absolute ruler.




A handout picture taken on April 20, 2014 shows Assad (C) visiting the ancient Christian town of Maalula which his troops had recently recaptured from rebels. (AFP/SANA/File Photo)

His son Bashar continues to use the Christian minority in his various attempts to get around the sanctions, and as he desperately tries to regain some sort of international recognition.

Thus, he sent four patriarchs to Washington in 2013 to meet with President Barack Obama. When the latter watched them repeat the same talking points from small paper notes hidden in their pockets, he was infuriated.

“It was a disaster, that meeting,” remembers Abdel Nour, who met with the four patriarchs at their hotel lobby before their meeting with Obama.

“It was very clear that the patriarchs were the regime’s intelligence messenger. So, when they returned the following year, Obama refused to meet with them.”




A Syrian military defector using the pseudonym Caesar, while also wearing a hood to protect his identity, testifies about the war in Syria during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, March 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Assad had more tricks up his sleeve, so to speak, as the sanctions’ noose continued to tighten. In 2017, After he declared victory in Aleppo, he went on to seek the Vatican’s public support.

In order to get it, he gave the Holy See two offers the latter could not refuse: The first was a license to build a Roman Melkite faculty of theology open to seminarians from all over the Middle East.

The second was a visit he personally paid to a Syriac Catholic youth camp. All smiles, he posed for the cameras that showed him buddying up with the Christian youths.

ASSAD REGIME IN NUMBERS

* 128,000 People believed murdered in Syrian jails by Assad regime.

* $ 7.6bn Estimated Iranian line of credit to Assad regime since 2011.

* 70% Decline in Syria’s per capita budget spending since 2010.

* $902m Syria’s projected budget deficit for 2021.

* $117bn Estimated cost of rebuilding Syria’s physical assets.

Patriarch Younan, who was appointed by the Vatican, was very pleased. He and his Roman Melkite counterpart sent Pope Francis telegrams lauding the generosity of the president and imploring him to send a delegation to meet with Assad.

“The pope could not say no. These are his two patriarchs for the whole Middle East, not just Syria,” said Abdel Nour. “They have constituencies in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. So, he sent that delegation. And Assad used the photo-op to show the world that he has the Vatican’s support.”

Again, however, the Vatican quickly moved to distance itself from Assad’s “actions.”

Thus, when Abdel Nour, who is also the editor-in-chief of All4Syria, Syria’s leading independent news outlet, got wind of the Jan. 21 letter, he was alarmed.

He says he picked up the phone and called the signatories. He learned that some had been coerced to sign; others had sought changes to the letter before agreeing to sign, but their names were added anyway without any changes made.




Syrian Christian Orthodox worshippers take part in parade marking Palm Sunday at the Church of Saint Elias in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 9, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

One signatory was on a hospital bed when Abdel Nour called him. The patient had not even heard of the letter, he said.

An examination of the background of one of the letter’s signatories, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient (SOS-CO), reveals that the French NGO knowingly transferred money and equipment to the pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF).

The Nov. 2020 report compiled by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also claimed there are close ties between SOS-CO’s founders and NDF leaders.

The US Treasury Department defines the NDF as “a pro-Assad, Iranian-affiliated militia.” It sanctioned one of its top leaders late last year for his alleged role in the massacre of more than 70 civilians.

What alarmed Abdel Nour most was the sophisticated, efficient language of the letter. It was written by highly respected Christian dignitaries who wrote a single, simple demand: that sanctions be lifted.




Assad (C) walking with Christian and Muslim clerics during an annual conference organised by the Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf) in Damascus. (AFP/File Photo)

This is the kind of letter that gets attention in Washington, D.C. “They worked very hard on it. They started writing in December, two months before Biden took the oath of office,” said Abdel Nour.

“And they submitted it to him on January 21, his second day in office, hoping to capitalize on the new momentum. The letter makes it look as though all the suffering of the Syrian people is due to the Caesar Act sanctions against the figures of the regime.”

Something needed to be done, said Abdel Nour, who is president of the non-profit Syrian Christians for Peace. Work on a new letter then began. A response was written and signed by prominent Christian and Muslim figures from six Arab countries.

They included members of the Christian Arab Congress; the Jordanian diplomat Marwan Muasher; and Lebanese former MPs Fares Souaid and Ahmed Fatfat; in addition to Iraqi intellectuals and politicians, university rectors and famous writers.

The signatories wrote that, in Assad, the world is dealing with a leader who has been summoned by European courts for his war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They argued that Syrians are suffering indeed, but for reasons that have nothing to do with sanctions: The regime has found ways to steal humanitarian aid, sell the goods on the market and use the profits to finance its military operations against civilians.




Syrian civil defence volunteers search for victims following Syrian government air strikes on the Eastern Ghouta rebel-held enclave of Douma, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 20, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

They called for aid to be delivered directly to impoverished Syrian citizens living in refugee camps under the supervision of international organizations.

The letter also pushed to put a stop to any increase in humanitarian supplies, contending that it is not the quantity of aid that is the problem, but the way it is distributed. Instead, according to the signatories, it would be more than enough for the US to push for a full implementation of Resolution 2254, which called for a ceasefire and political settlement.

The letter apparently did not go unnoticed at the State Department. Anthony Blinken, who during his five-hour Senate confirmation hearing last month did not once mention Syria, called UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and discussed some of the letter’s recommendations: Both reaffirmed their commitment to the political process under the Security Council Resolution 2254 and the extension of a cross-border authorization to deliver aid and help relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.”

The issue again came up during a call between Blinken and his Turkish counterpart. “Blinken showed he is an official who has dignity,” commented Abdel Nour. “He read a credible letter from a reputable group of signatories and he adopted it as policy.”




Assad met Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in 2019 during his first to the Islamic Republic since the start of the Syrian conflict. During the meeting, Assad expressed his gratitude to Iran for all that it had done for Syria during the conflict. (AFP/File Photo)

Abdel Nour, whose podcast Risala Ila Sourriyyin (Letter to Syrians) has 1.5 million weekly listeners, said the US still has no strategy for dealing with the Syrian crisis, although the State Department is fashioning one. He believes it will not be separate from the strategy for the Middle East, which includes Iran.

In a list of recommendations that he was asked to share, Abdel Nour urged the State Department team to heed the lessons taught by the Obama-era 2015 nuclear accord: “The deal did not prevent the Iranian regime from expanding and taking control of Arab capitals. It put US allies (the GCC countries) in constant danger. The nuclear agreement should not be reinstated without first addressing the concerns of Arabs who live in the region. Then there is the case of Iran’s ballistic missiles which, if developed, will reach European capitals.”

That the nuclear agreement needs to be updated is, to be sure, Blinken’s own stance. But in a Security Council that has been for years paralyzed by US-Russia sparring, is an updated deal a realistic option?

“I think so,” replied Abdel Nour, “because in the past two years Iran has shown its hostile face. It has shown how much damage it can inflict on Saudi oil facilities using Yemen and Iraq. And that’s very dangerous. What they also did against the American embassy in Iraq is unacceptable.

“This will not pass. There will be retaliation.”

------------------

With inputs from Oubai Shahbandar in Washington, D.C.


Archbishop who taught Pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’

Archbishop who taught Pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’
Updated 14 min 11 sec ago

Archbishop who taught Pope to tweet says Iraq visit offers ‘consolation, hope’

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

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

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
Updated 44 min 58 sec ago

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage

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

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. (AFP)

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.

PKK affiliates many of them backed by Iran, are present in Sinjar and will almost certainly oppose a Turkish military operation there. (AFP)

“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.”

Erdogan has been threatening new cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq, including against its Yazidi affiliates in the Sinjar area. (AFP)

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.

The Turkish government has given repeated warnings of operations against the PKK. (AFP)

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.”

Twitter: @pauliddon
 

 

Desert Storm: 30 years on
The end of the Gulf War on Feb. 28, 1991 saw the eviction of Iraq from Kuwait but paved the way for decades of conflict
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Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
Updated 01 March 2021

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

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

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

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Updated 01 March 2021

Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)

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.”


Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
Updated 01 March 2021

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
  • Pro-Iran Shiite militias pose ‘major’ Mideast threat: Ex-UK envoy to Saudi Arabia
  • Emirati ambassador: UAE has found success by listening to aspirations of country’s youth

LONDON: The UK and Middle Eastern countries should not allow the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions to distract from the importance of countering extremism, a group of experts said on Monday.

At an event hosted by the UK’s Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “The danger of the pandemic is that it distracts our attention (from extremism), and weakens the ability of governments and societies to deal with it and address it honestly and intelligently.”

He added that the appeal of extremist ideologies “hasn’t gone away,” and that all governments need to remain focused on this issue. 

“One of the major threats to the Middle East is the spread of Shiite Islamist militias that have a degree of loyalty not simply to Iran, but to the supreme leader himself — they’re Khameneists, basically,” he said.

“We see it with Hezbollah in Lebanon, we see it in Syria, and we see it extraordinarily in Iraq. The hollowing out of state capacity in large parts of the Middle East, in favor of these predatory militias, is a major long-term threat,” he added. “The key for governments is not to lose focus of all of this.”

John Woodcock, the UK special envoy for countering violent extremism, echoed those concerns over the persistent threat of violent extremism.

“There has been a danger in the last 12 months that national focuses haven’t been on the issue of extremism,” he said.

“I think that’s potentially a far greater issue for the years ahead because of the huge resource pressure that countries will come under in the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

This financial pressure, Woodcock warned, could trickle down to multilateral agencies working in conflict and post-conflict zones, potentially hampering their ability to carry out work that acts as a preventative buffer to the allures of extremism.

His concerns appear to already be playing out in the UK, amid reports on Monday that Britain will cut its aid budget to Yemen, which is embroiled in a civil war involving pro-Iran Houthi militias.

Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to France, said his country recognized early that religious extremism presented a real challenge that demanded attention, and was successful in tackling it.

In the UAE, “we saw that there was a very powerful narrative within our own Islamic community that was pulling kids into warzones and into acts of violence,” he added.

“This recognition happened some time ago,” he said, but after the 9/11 attacks “this became much clearer to us.”

To counter this, the UAE “focused on young people in particular and what aspirations they have, asking how we as a government can provide them with the means to achieve those aspirations,” Ghobash added.

The UAE “has continued to develop sensitivity to what young people want to do and what they can do,” he said.

“The approach of the leadership has been to invest in intellectual, legal and physical infrastructure to provide uplifting visions of where the country and its people can go.”

The launch of the Mars Hope probe, Ghobash said, presents just one example to the country’s youth of how Emiratis can operate internationally, bypassing cultural or religious differences.

Initiatives like that, he added, encourage the country’s youth to focus on “improving the lot of mankind, not just our own neighborhood.”