Daesh abducts 19 in Syria, says human rights monitor

Daesh extremists attacked regime forces in the Badia desert, before kidnapping eight policemen and 11 civilians from a small village. (AFP/File Photo)
Daesh extremists attacked regime forces in the Badia desert, before kidnapping eight policemen and 11 civilians from a small village. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 06 April 2021

Daesh abducts 19 in Syria, says human rights monitor

Daesh extremists attacked regime forces in the Badia desert, before kidnapping eight policemen and 11 civilians from a small village. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Daesh fighters have ramped up their attacks in the past months against regime forces

BEIRUT: Daesh on Tuesday abducted 19 people, mostly civilians, in the centre of war-torn Syria, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The extremists attacked regime forces in the Badia desert, before kidnapping eight policemen and 11 civilians from a small village.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the extremists had taken “a number of inhabitants” from the village of Al-Saan in Hama province, after they went looking for truffles, fungi used in cooking.
Others were wounded and taken to hospital, it said.
Daesh fighters have ramped up their attacks in the past months against regime forces in the vast desert that stretches across central Syria to the eastern border with Iraq.
They have abducted civilians, shepherds and soldiers, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“Those abducted are usually killed, especially if they are members of the regime forces,” he said.
He added the kidnapping was the largest by the jihadists since they lost the last scrap of their cross-border proto-state in 2019.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.
They were expelled from their last patch of territory in eastern Syria in March 2019, but have retained a presence in the vast Badia desert.
In 2018, Daesh abducted around 30 people, mostly women and children, from the Syrian province of Sweida after it went on a deadly rampage butchering 250 people. Several of those abducted were killed.


Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
Updated 17 min 50 sec ago

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast

Judge orders release of 6 detained over Lebanon port blast
  • Investigating judge ordered the release of 6 men including an officer, who had warned top officials of dangers of material stored at port
  • The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge investigating 2020’s massive blast at Beirut’s port on Thursday ordered the release of six people, including security officers, who had been detained for months, state news agency reported.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the release of the men, who include an officer who had written a detailed warning to top officials prior to the explosion about the dangers of the material stored at the port.
Judge Tarek Bitar was named to lead the investigation in February after his predecessor was removed following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.
State-run National News Agency said Bitar ordered the release of the six including Maj. Joseph Naddaf of the State Security department and Maj. Charbel Fawaz of the General Security Directorate. The four others are customs and port employees.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, killing 211 people, wounding more than 6,000 and damaging nearby neighborhoods.
The six will be banned from traveling outside Lebanon, according to a judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity to follow regulations. The official added that 19 people are still being held in the case. Among those who are still held are the head of the customs department and his predecessor as well as the port’s director general.
In a July 20 report, State Security warned that one of the doors of the warehouse where the material had been stored was separated from the wall enough to allow anyone to enter and steal the ammonium nitrate.
The report that was sent to President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned that thieves could steal the material to make explosives. Or, it said, the mass of material could cause an explosion “that would practically destroy the port.”
Holding Naddaf for months had angered some in Lebanon especially that his report two weeks before the blast was a clear warning of the dangers.
The Beirut port explosion has been one of the most traumatic national experiences the Lebanese have faced and families of those killed are skeptical that any investigation into the explosion can be transparent and independent in a country where a culture of impunity has prevailed for decades.


Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area
Updated 30 min 13 sec ago

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area

Lebanon demands Israel halt offshore gas exploration in disputed area
  • Talks stalled after Lebanon demanded larger area, including Karish gas field, where Israel has given a Greek firm rights for exploration
  • "Lebanon is within its rights to evolve its position according to its interest and as suitable under international law," Aoun told US envoy Hale

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun demanded Israel on Thursday to halt exploration in an offshore gas field on its southern border amid ongoing dispute over their shared sea frontier.
Still technically at war, the two countries last year took part in indirect US-brokered talks to discuss demarcation to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration.
The talks stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given a Greek firm rights for exploration.
“Lebanon is within its rights to evolve its position according to its interest and as suitable under international law,” Aoun told visiting United States envoy David Hale.
Aoun “demanded international experts... draw the line according to international law,” the presidency said in a statement.
He also called for a “commitment to not carrying out any oil or gas activities and not starting any exploration in the Karish field and its adjacent waters” until the matter was settled.
The talks last year were supposed to discuss a Lebanese demand for 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area, according to a map sent to the United Nations in 2011.
But Lebanon then said the map was based on erroneous calculations and demanded 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) more territory further south, including part of Karish.
Lebanon’s outgoing public works minister this week signed a decree to make official Lebanon’s demand for the larger area.
Aoun, the caretaker prime minister, and the outgoing defense minister still have to sign it before Lebanon sends it to the UN to make its new demand official.
For his part, Hale on Thursday said the US was ready to continue brokering Israel-Lebanon talks “on the basis on which we initiated these discussions,” appearing to reject the Lebanese move toward demanding a larger area.


Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’
Updated 38 min 21 sec ago

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’

Italian leaders consider Libya a ‘strategic priority’
  • Lorenzo Guerini, Italy’s defense minister, said that the presence in Libya of Italian troops was ‘part of an overall national strategy’
  • According to Italian military statistics, the country has 400 troops deployed in Libya, as well as a field hospital

ROME: Italy considered Libya to be a “strategic priority” and has pledged to provide the peace-seeking north African country’s transitional government with “every assistance needed.”

Lorenzo Guerini, Italy’s defense minister, said that the presence in Libya of Italian troops was “part of an overall national strategy.”

He pointed out that Libya was of “huge significance” to Italy for a number of reasons, “from our national security, economic, historical, and cultural point of view.”

And the minister added that a democratic Libya could act as a barrier for Italy and the EU against the “strong jihadist presence in Africa.”

According to Italian military statistics, the country has 400 troops deployed in Libya, as well as a field hospital.

“Our approach to Libya always remains the same. We support the training to local security forces. And we intend this support to continue on a long-term basis,” Guerini told Italian daily newspaper La Stampa.

“This investment requires patience and persistence, but I am sure that the results we will achieve will be lasting and effective.”

Military and technical cooperation between Italy and Libya began in December following the signing in Rome of a bilateral agreement between the two nations.

“Our action is focused on providing training to the local security forces, but we will be happy to comply with the other priorities the Libyan government indicated, such as de-mining expertise and support for a military health service. We now look with confidence at the action of the new government,” Guerini said.

Italy is supporting the European Irini naval mission, launched in March last year by the Council of the EU, that aims to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. The operation in the Mediterranean was recently extended until March 2023.

Irini also has secondary tasks including monitoring illegal oil trafficking from Libya, helping to counter human trafficking and smuggling activities, and contributing to the training of the Libyan coast guard and navy.

Guerini added: “Irini should be strengthened. A wider contribution from the members states is needed so that the mission can fully reach its goals.”


1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad
Updated 56 min 44 sec ago

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad

1 killed, 12 wounded in market explosion in Baghdad
  • The car was parked at a busy second-hand equipment market in the mainly Shiite district of Sadr city

BAGHDAD: A powerful explosion rocked a market in east Baghdad on Thursday, killing one person and injuring 12 others, according to Iraq’s military.

The cause of the blast in the city’s Sadr City area, in the Habibiya neighborhood, was not immediately known. It sent a cloud of black smoke above the area. Shortly afterward, a crowd of people gathered around the wreckage of a charred car, indicating a possible car bomb. A fire engine was parked nearby.

A military statement said one person was killed and 12 injured, according to a preliminary investigation. Five vehicles were burned, it added.

Explosions in the Iraqi capital were once almost daily occurrences but have become less frequent in the past few years, particularly following the defeat of the Daesh group in 2017. In January, twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital, killing more than 30 people and wounding dozens.

The development comes hours after a drone strike targeted US-led coalition troops near Irbil airport and a Turkish military base in northern Iraq.

Wednesday night’s drone attack targeted coalition forces based near Irbil international airport and caused a fire that damaged a building, according to the Kurdish region’s Interior Ministry and coalition officials.

Separately, a rocket attack targeting a Turkish military base in northern Iraq’s Bashiqa region killed one Turkish soldier and wounded a child in a nearby village, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said.

There was no claim of responsibility for either attack.


Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
Updated 15 April 2021

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
  • Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity
  • Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored

VIENNA: Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with its old adversary the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories held what they described as a first round of “constructive” talks to salvage the pact.
“Don’t worry about Iran. We have always remained committed to our obligations,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“Even today, if we wish, we can enrich uranium at 90% purity. But we are not seeking a nuclear bomb ... If others return to full compliance with the deal ... we will stop 60% and 20% enrichment.”
The 2015 deal was designed to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
“The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
“We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
The deal’s remaining parties — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have agreed to form two expert-level groups whose job is to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.
A delegate at the talks said events in Natanz should not distract, and that this round needed to focus on what the Americans were actually prepared to do.
“They still have not said what they mean,” the delegate said. “We need the Americans to say which sanctions they are prepared to lift.”
Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump.
“We will underline that Tehran does not want to hold corrosive negotiations. Our aim is not just talks for talks. In case of having a constructive outcome, we will continue the negotiations. Otherwise the talks will stop,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state TV.
Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognize, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and US President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions. Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.