Turkey-US relations in the spotlight again after Biden’s Armenia statement 

Turkey-US relations in the spotlight again after Biden’s Armenia statement 
Armenians march from the Turkish ambassador’s residence to the Turkish Embassy on the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide during a protest in Washington. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2021

Turkey-US relations in the spotlight again after Biden’s Armenia statement 

Turkey-US relations in the spotlight again after Biden’s Armenia statement 
  • Ties strained over issues including purchase of Russian air defense system

ANKARA: Turkey has shown unexpected restraint after US President Joe Biden formally recognized the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide by so far avoiding the deployment of rebellious or bellicose rhetoric against its NATO ally. 

Turkey maintains that the killing of Armenians was not systematically orchestrated and that they died in wartime conditions, leaving the government with two options after Biden’s Saturday statement.
Either it can continue to be cautious and dodge a diplomatic crisis with the US at a time when the Turkish lira is depreciating against the dollar, or it can move further into Russia’s orbit and risk seriously damaging relations.
Turkey’s reaction is a test for the future of bilateral ties, which are already strained because there is no major support for the country within the US establishment.
Biden also delayed his much-awaited telephone conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until April 23.
“Once the Pentagon was Turkey’s biggest supporter inside the US government, now it turned to be Turkey’s biggest adversary in Washington,” Soner Cagaptay, an academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News. “Now Erdogan needs the US more than he thinks Washington needs him. Biden therefore is seizing this opportunity.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the US statement. “We have nothing to learn from anybody about our own past,” he tweeted. “Political opportunism is the greatest betrayal to peace and justice. We entirely reject this statement based solely on populism.”
The ministry urged Biden to correct this “grave mistake” that had no legal basis, was not supported by any evidence and had “caused a wound that was difficult to repair.”
But Turkey did not call for its newly arrived ambassador in Washington, DC, Murat Mercan, for consultation. Nor did it table the possibility of retaliatory action, like restrictions on the use of Incirlik air base by US forces.
However the US ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, was summoned on Saturday night following the statement so that Ankara could condemn it.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that Biden’s statement was seen by most Turks as singling out the country with a double standard approach that would have long-term consequences for perceptions toward the US.
“On the other hand one could also argue that anti-Americanism in Turkey is already as bad as it can get,” he told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey maintains that the killing of Armenians was not systematically orchestrated and that they died in wartime conditions, leaving the government with two options after Biden’s Saturday statement. 

• Either it can continue to be cautious and dodge a diplomatic crisis with the US at a time when the Turkish lira is depreciating against the dollar, or it can move further into Russia’s orbit and risk seriously damaging relations.

Unluhisarcikli said the government could create real consequences for the US by dragging its feet in the Afghanistan peace process, making unilateral incursions to northeast Syria or closing Incirlik air base to US flights.
“However, the low-profile response by the government suggests that Turkey may not choose to or cannot afford to pick another fight with the US right now.”
Turkey-US relations have been in decline over a range of issues such as Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, policy divergence in Syria, the country’s human rights record and an ongoing US court case targeting Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for evading Iran sanctions.
Turkey was also removed from the US F-35 fighter program’s new contract because of the S-400 system.
Biden’s declaration followed a nonbinding resolution by the US Senate in 2019 recognizing the Armenian killings as genocide.
Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center, said although Biden’s statement had no legal or even policy implications for Armenia, it did extend significant credence and political capital to the Armenian quest for recognition and reassurance.
“It may also help Turkey to begin to more sincerely deal with its own troubled past and help to end the counterproductive state policy of genocide denial by the Turkish government,” he told Arab News.
Giragosian said the statement made the genocide issue less confrontational for Turkey and offered a fresh opportunity for it to reengage in earlier diplomatic efforts with Armenia to “normalize” relations.
“As Turkey no longer has either justification or motivation to keep its border with Armenia closed, as the war ended with a victory for Turkish-backed Azerbaijan, there is a potential positive aspect of the new post-war reality in the South Caucasus region.”
But Unluhisarcikli believed that normalization was not completely tied to Biden’s statement.
“Some argue that Biden’s statement has made Turkey-Armenia normalization more difficult. In reality, normalization between the two countries is linked to a permanent peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia in which the two Caucasus countries acknowledge their respective international borders,” he said.


Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast
Updated 9 min 56 sec ago

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

Fire erupts in engine of tanker near Syrian coast

CAIRO: A small fire has occurred in one of the engines of a tanker off the coast of Syria's Mediterranean port of Banias, state media said.

More to follow ...


Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
Updated 55 min 28 sec ago

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
  • Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption
  • He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras

KARBALA: A leading Iraqi anti-government activist was killed early Sunday, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed.
Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran’s influence in Iraq.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Wazni narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against government corruption and incompetence in Iraq in October 2019.
Around 600 people were killed as a result of their association with that movement — many on the streets during rallies, others targeted on their doorsteps away from the rallies.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
In a video recording in the morgue where his body was initially held, a fellow activist made it clear who he and colleagues blamed for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unnamed activist. “They are going to kill all of us! They threaten us and the government remains silent.”
Police in Karbala said they “will spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the killing and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019.
Such targeted killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to identify the perpetrators of these political killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
Pro-Iran groups view the premier as being too close to Washington and protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
“Such crimes against activists in Iraq raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability for... (those) responsible for crimes” targeting protesters, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday.
Wazni had himself challenged Kadhemi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“


Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
Updated 45 min 18 sec ago

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
  • Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

"We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late," Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
"I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.

Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as "barbaric" attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
"What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behaviour) that is rejected and condemned," the government said in a statement.
Frictions have mounted in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with nightly clashes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom, which lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.
"Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes," Safadi said in comments on state media.

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around al Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest mosque, at the height of the Ramadan fasting month.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 09 May 2021

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445

DUBAI: The UAE has administered 11,126,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses so far with an additional 78,342 jabs provided to residents overnight, bringing the country’s distribution rate to 112.50 doses per 100 people.

Health officials have embarked on a rapid vaccination campaign to stem the spread of coronavirus, and the country has one of the highest proportions of the population inoculated

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the vaccination program was in “line with plan to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society and efforts to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination,” a report from state news agency WAM said.

This will help reduce the number of cases and control the COVID-19 virus, the reported added.

Meanwhile, the UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445, as well as three new deaths overnight.

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities is now at 1,610.

The MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,701 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 514,769.