Turkey and Russia escalate standoff in Syria

Turkey and Russia escalate standoff in Syria
A man stands on a rock in the Mazqaft water reservoir near Qahtaniyah, in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province, during Syrian Kurdish Nowruz, Persian New Year, celebrations, Mar. 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2021

Turkey and Russia escalate standoff in Syria

Turkey and Russia escalate standoff in Syria
  • The Syrian Kurds have been under Russian pressure for some time to cede control of Ain Issa to Damascus
  • Ain Issa has become the focal point of Turkish and Syrian National Army attacks for a few months

ANKARA: Turkey has asked for Russia’s help in shielding northwestern Syria following mounting airstrikes in the area, which is home to 4 million people. 

The attacks are hitting civilian targets like hospitals as well as fuel facilities, which are vital for the infrastructure that Turkey wants to establish.

A missile targeted the town of Qah in northern Idlib as well as a truck and trailer park near Sarmada, wounding several civilians.

Syrian artillery also killed at least seven civilians and injured medical staff in an attack on a hospital in the rebel-controlled town of Al-Atareb. On Sunday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that strikes carried out by Russian jets hit a fuel depot in Bab al-Hawa, near the Turkish border.

The Turkish Defense Ministry sent a statement to Russia after the Qah airstrike, asking it to stop the attacks. There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.

Its request comes as Russia increases its pressure on Syrian Kurds to leave the strategically located town of Ain Issa while also trying to push Turkey back from gaining more space.

Analysts said that Russia’s latest moves in Idlib aimed to destabilize the region and undermine commercial activities.

But President Bashar Assad’s regime and Russia say they are only targeting militant Islamists.

“Turkey has only a few areas in Syria where it can really push the Russians, as needed,” Nicholas Heras, a senior analyst at the Newlines Institute in Washington, told Arab News.

“Although the Syrian Kurds are an irritant to Russia’s policy to reestablish the Assad regime’s control over all of Syria, the Kurds are also a useful chip for Russia in bargaining with Turkey and to try to convince the Kurds to pull away from the Americans.”

Ain Issa, which is held by Kurdish forces, has become a flashpoint between Turkey and Russia.

Russia expressed its displeasure a few days ago at Turkish movements around Ain Issa, viewing them as a violation of the Sochi agreement signed in Oct. 2019.

Kurdish forces withdrew 32 km back from the Turkish border under the deal, and Ain Issa is 37 km away from the frontier.

The Turks and Russians are conducting joint patrols in the area, and Russia already has a coordination center in Ain Issa.

Turkey is attacking the mainly Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northwestern Syria and backs the Syrian National Army against them. It sees the YPG as a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is outlawed in Turkey and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU.

Heras said that Russia’s guardianship of YPG-controlled areas in Aleppo was useful for Russia and that the Turks, who would like to take over those areas, were well aware of this.

“Turkish movements in these areas are messaging to the Russians that the Turks have the means to weaken Russia's hand in the game for control over northern Syria.”

The Syrian Kurds have been under Russian pressure for some time to cede control of Ain Issa to Damascus.

Russia is trying to avoid a military operation by Turkey in the region in order to restrict its influence, so is pressuring the YPG to withdraw or decrease its military presence.

Ain Issa has become the focal point of Turkish and Syrian National Army attacks for a few months.

Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, expected a growing standoff by Russia that would remind Turkey about its unmet commitments on different fronts.

In January, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund signed a deal with Turkey on the co-production of its Sputnik V vaccine.

But there has been no progress so far, nor any statement from the Turkish side on how this cooperation will evolve.

Sezer also said that Russia had expressed its discomfort about Turkey’s supportive messages to Crimea and its non-fulfillment of commitments for joint energy projects.

“Russian moves in Syria and its unconditional support to Damascus should be seen from a wider perspective,” he told Arab News. “Apart from the vaccine issue, Russia is also uneasy with Turkey’s inaction in Idlib to eliminate all terrorist groups in the region in line with the Astana, Sochi and Moscow deals on Idlib.”

Russia was no longer convinced by Turkey’s longtime narrative about hitting Syrian Kurds in the region as it had the upper hand in military, diplomatic and political terms, he added.

“Therefore, the Kremlin did not even release any statement after Turkey’s Sunday announcement for helping to stop the attacks in Syria. Tensions run high and it is a consciously escalated standoff that might undermine the Turkey-Russia partnership in the region in the near term.”


Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains
Updated 17 June 2021

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

Iran says nuclear talks closer to deal, Russia says time-consuming work remains

DUBAI: Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have come closer than ever to an agreement, but essential issues remain to be negotiated, the top Iranian negotiator said on Thursday.
The Islamic Republic and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for both sides to take. The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
“We achieved good, tangible progress on the different issues .... we are closer than ever to an agreement but there are still essential issues under negotiations,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as telling Al Jazeera television.
Araqchi said Iran’s presidential election on Friday would have no effect on the negotiations and the Iranian negotiating team will continue the talks regardless of domestic policy.
The sixth round of talks resumed on Saturday with the remaining parties to the deal — Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union — meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel.
The US delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
Since former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
“We want to make sure that what happened when Trump pulled out of the deal will not be repeated by any other American president in the future,” Araqchi told the pan-Arab satellite TV network.
Russia’s envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, added a note of caution, saying progress had been made in the last few days but talks were tough.
“Some difficult and time-consuming topics still remain unresolved,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday there were still significant disagreements.
Iran’s new president is expected to name his Cabinet by mid-August. Current President Hassan Rouhani’s term ends on Aug. 3, a government spokesman said.


Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
Updated 17 June 2021

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August
  • The Gulf country in February banned entry of non-citizens to limit the spread of the virus
  • Foreign travellers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson

KUWAIT: Kuwait announced Thursday it would allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to enter the country from August 1, after a months-long suspension.
The Gulf country in February banned the entry of non-citizens in a bid to limit the spread of the virus, but has started to ease some of its Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Government spokesman Tareq Al-Mizrem said foreign travelers will need to have been fully inoculated with one of the four vaccines that the Gulf country has approved — Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Passengers must also hold a negative PCR test conducted a maximum of 72 hours before travel, and undergo another test during a seven-day quarantine in the country, Mizrem told a press conference.
Meanwhile, only Kuwaiti citizens who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to travel abroad from August 1, he said, although some exceptions would be made, such as for pregnant women.
Previously, Kuwaitis were required to have had at least one jab in order to travel.
Mizrem also announced that Kuwait would allow access to large shopping malls, gyms and restaurants from June 27 only for those who have been fully inoculated.
“The government has decided to allow those who have received a (full) Covid-19 vaccine... to enter restaurants and cafes, gyms, salons, shopping malls more than 6,000 square meters,” said Mizrem.
Kuwait has officially recorded more than 332,000 coronavirus cases, over 1,800 of them fatal.


US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts
Updated 17 June 2021

US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts

US blames Houthis for failed Yemen peace efforts
  • Envoy Tim Lenderking condemns Houthis for civilian attacks
  • Tells Yemen’s foreign minister that his government has Washington’s support

RIYADH: The US envoy to Yemen has blamed the Houthi militia for failed efforts to bring peace to the country.
Tim Lenderking made the comments during a meeting on Thursday with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in Saudi Arabia, Saba news agency reported.
Lenderking is holding talks in the Kingdom as part of a US push to bring a nationwide cease-fire.
But the Biden administration appears increasingly frustrated by the Iran-backed Houthis and their refusal to engage with peace efforts.
During his meeting with Bin Mubarak, Lenderking repeated Washington’s position that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict.
He strongly condemned the continued Houthi attacks on civilians and said an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire was a basic necessity to alleviate human suffering.
He said the US continued to support the legitimate government and the unity, stability and security of Yemen.
Bin Mubarak said: “The Houthi militia’s refusal to agree a comprehensive cease-fire, reopen Sanaa airport, and guarantee the supply of oil derivatives revenues to pay employees’ salaries proves the false pretexts these militias claim and confirms their bargaining on the humanitarian side, in order to continue implementing Iran’s subversive agenda.”
He said the militia’s targeting of civilians and populated areas in Marib with ballistic missiles has not stopped, but rather increased in severity, which exacerbates the seriousness of the humanitarian situation, increases the number of civilian casualties and undermines international efforts to establish peace.”


Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death
Updated 17 June 2021

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death

Houthis denounced for sentencing two activists to death
  • Yemeni minister Ahmed Arman: Houthis are using the judicial bodies in areas under their control to “settle scores” with their opponents and to confiscate their property
  • Yemeni rights groups voiced concerns about the Houthis’ escalating crackdown on dissidents at a time when mediators are pressing them to agree to a peace initiative

ALEXANDRIA: Yemeni government officials, human rights activists and journalists have condemned a Houthi-run court’s decision to sentence two Yemeni activists to death, accusing the rebels of using the judiciary in areas under their control to punish dissidents.

On Tuesday, a Houthi-run court ordered that Zafaran Zaid, a Yemeni human rights activist and lawyer, and her husband and fellow activist Fuad Al-Mansouri be executed by firing squad. The two were tried in absentia. 

Zaid, head of the Yemeni Women’s Empowerment Foundation (Tamkeen), has exposed a number of human rights abuses by the Houthis. Al-Mansouri is the head of the Development Media Association and an outspoken critic of the Houthis. His brother, the journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, was abducted by the Houthis in 2015 and sentenced to death in 2020. 

The court found the couple guilty of smuggling Buthaina Mohammed Al-Raimia — the Yemeni child injured in an errant airstrike by the Arab coalition in 2017 — to Riyadh. 

The child was sent to Riyadh by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, where she received life-saving medical treatment. Once she was fully recovered, she was returned to her family in northern Yemen.

Ahmed Arman, Yemen’s minister of legal affairs and human rights, told Arab News on Thursday that the Houthis are using the judicial bodies in areas under their control to “settle scores” with their opponents and to confiscate their property. 

“The ministry renews its strong condemnation and denunciation of all immoral and inhumane practices used by the Houthis against citizens in areas under their control and calls on the international and regional community to provide support to the Yemeni government and help it restore its authority over all Yemeni territories,” Arman said.

He added that Houthi-controlled courts have issued similar death sentences against hundreds of Yemeni activists, military and security officials, politicians and journalists for challenging their rule and backing the Yemeni government and Arab coalition. 

“The Houthis continue to use so-called judicial authority in areas under their control to seek vengeance on Yemenis,” Arman said.

Yemeni activists and rights groups echoed Arman’s concerns about the Houthis’ escalating crackdown on dissidents at a time when regional and international mediators are pressuring the rebels to agree to a peace initiative brokered by the UN to end the war. 

“The Houthis have become violent and oppressive towards Yemeni women — employing all methods of intimidation against them. What is happening is a flagrant violation of human rights,” Noora Al-Jarwi, a Yemeni activist, said.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties demanded the Houthis put an end to their “farcical” death-sentence rulings. 

“SAM emphasizes that such rulings seriously violate a set of basic rights guaranteed by both Yemeni and international law,” the organization tweeted.


Egypt completes concrete work on tallest tower in Africa

Egypt completes concrete work on tallest tower in Africa
Updated 17 June 2021

Egypt completes concrete work on tallest tower in Africa

Egypt completes concrete work on tallest tower in Africa
  • The central business district of the NAC will feature 20 towers, including the 400-meter Iconic Tower
  • The 80-floor Iconic Tower project covers an area of 65,000 square meters

CAIRO: Egypt has announced the completion of the concrete work at the Iconic Tower skyscraper — the tallest tower in Africa — in the New Administrative Capital (NAC), east of Cairo.

“This represents a historic day in the history of modern Egypt and serves as a documentation of the growth the country is witnessing,” Minister of Housing Assem Al-Gazzar said at a function celebrating the feat on Thursday.

The project’s investments are estimated at $3 billion.

The project is being jointly implemented by the Egyptian Ministry of Housing, represented by the New Urban Communities Authority, and the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, one of the largest contracting companies in the world.

Al-Gazzar said the political leadership is taking full interest in the development projects at the NAC.

He said the Iconic Tower project will serve as a turning point in the history of urbanization in Egypt and that next week a new project will be launched in the city of El-Alamein alongside several new towers, “which confirms the extent of cooperation between Egypt and China.”

He added that several further projects would be inaugurated in the coming period.

Al-Gazzar thanked China and the Chinese company for their “great flexibility with the Egyptian government in implementing this huge project.”

The central business district of the NAC will feature 20 towers, including the 400-meter Iconic Tower.

Ahmed Al-Banna, project manager from the company Dar Al-Handasa, said the construction took 800 non-stop working days, adding that the pandemic did not halt the work.

He said the work was carried out in three phases, after which the concrete strength was installed, which accelerated work inside the tower.

The second phase, from the third floor to the 30th floor, took about 100 workdays, while during the third phase, one floor took about six workdays. The number of engineers, technicians and workers in the group amounted to 190.

The 80-floor tower project covers an area of 65,000 square meters.