UK condemns recent threats by armed groups against Iraq's Green Zone

Unidentified gunmen drove vehicles around the fortified Green Zone, which hosts foreign embassies and government buildings, as a show of force. (Reuters)
Unidentified gunmen drove vehicles around the fortified Green Zone, which hosts foreign embassies and government buildings, as a show of force. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 June 2021

UK condemns recent threats by armed groups against Iraq's Green Zone

UK condemns recent threats by armed groups against Iraq's Green Zone
  • ’These militia groups undermine the rule of law and the Iraqi people’s desire for peace,’ said Dominic Raab
  • Powerful paramilitary groups aligned with Iran in Iraq have attacked US targets in the country

LONDON: The UK on Wednesday condemned Iran-aligned armed militias for besieging the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
“Today I spoke to Prime Minister (Mustafa) Al-Khadhimi of Iraq to condemn recent threats by armed groups against the Baghdad International Zone,” Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in a tweet.
Last week, Iraqi security forces arrested militia commander Qasim Muslih, in a move security sources said was linked to attacks on a base that hosts US forces and on suspicion of orchestrating the killing of a prominent pro-democracy activist amid a wave of murders of activists and journalists that started in 2019.
Following the arrest, unidentified gunmen drove vehicles around the heavily fortified diplomatic quarter, which hosts foreign embassies and government buildings, as a show of force and demanded his release, said a security source who spoke on condition of anonymity
“These militia groups undermine the rule of law and the Iraqi people’s desire for peace,” Raab added.

The US on Thursday also condemned the violence and the attacks on protesters.
“The violation of Iraqi sovereignty and rule of law by armed militias harms all Iraqis and their country,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, two days after two Iraqis were killed during demonstrations by thousands of people in Baghdad.
Another 28 people were injured in the protests, which were held to demand justice over a wave of deadly attacks on pro-democracy activists and journalists.
“We welcome every effort by the government to hold accountable the militias, thugs, and vigilante groups for their attacks against Iraqis exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as for their assault on the rule of law,” Price said.
“The United States is outraged that peaceful demonstrators who took to the streets to urge reform were met with threats and brutal violence,” Price added.
Killings, attempted murders and abductions have targeted more than 70 activists since a protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019.
Since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of 2003, political parties have controlled life in Iraq and corruption has plagued state institutions.
(With Reuters and AFP)


Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace
Updated 21 January 2022

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace

Palestinian foreign minister says US moving too slow on pushing peace
  • The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki says

NEW YORK: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki criticized US President Joe Biden on Thursday for moving too slowly to reverse all of former President Donald Trump administration’s adverse policies against the Palestinians and not using Washington’s special relationship to pressure Israel to abandon “its rejection of a two-state solution and peace negotiations.”

Malki told the UN Security Council there were hopes that the end of Donald Trump’s administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “would be enough to pave the way for renewed momentum for peace.”

But while the Biden administration reversed several “unlawful and ill-advised” Trump policies, he said it has been slow to act, especially on the US commitment to reopen the US consulate in east Jerusalem which would restore Washington’s main diplomatic mission for the Palestinians in the contested city.

After Biden took office a year ago, the Palestinians thought the US “could try to move the Israeli position toward us,” Malki told reporters later.

“But we have seen that the Israeli position has been able to move the American position a little bit toward them — and this is really what troubles us very much.”

The US “has yet to ensure the current Israeli government renounces its colonial policies and abandons its rejection of the two-state solution and peace negotiations,” Malki said.

“This is an unacceptable stance that should neither be tolerated nor excused and must be reversed.”

Malki said he had “a very open, frank discussion” earlier on Wednesday with US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, including on US-Palestinian relations, the peace process, Palestinian expectations from the US and “what they are trying to do in the near future in order to see things moving forward in the right direction.”

He said the Palestinians are engaging with the US administration about possible ways to eliminate restrictions imposed by Congress on reopening the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.

Tor Wennesland, the UN Mideast envoy, told the council that six Palestinian men were killed by Israeli security forces, another died in unclear circumstances, and 249 Palestinians were injured, including 46 children, in the West Bank in he past month.

He said 15 Israelis were injured in attacks by Palestinians.

Malki called on the Security Council to take urgent action to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and save the two-state solution, pointing to Israel’s accelerated settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, confiscation of Palestinian land “and even annexing Palestinian land.”

“Absent this sense of urgency, prepare yourself then to attend the funeral of this solution, with all the consequences of such a death for the lives of millions of people, Palestinians and others,” Malki warned.

“The Palestinian people will survive, but the two-state solution may not,” he said.

“What happens then? Will you convert to advocates of the one-state solution of freedom and equal rights for all between the river and the sea? These would be the only options available then.”

Malki urged support for an international peace conference and echoed Russia’s call for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the US, UN, EU and Russia — “as soon as possible to mobilize efforts to get out from the current impasse.”

He said the UN, EU and Russia have agreed to a ministerial meeting but “we’re still waiting for the approval of the American side.”

He said the three other Quartet members should convince the US about the importance of a ministerial meeting to move the Middle East peace process forward.

Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, made no mention of the meeting with Malki or the Quartet in her briefing to the council, but she reaffirmed the Biden administration’s “strong support for a two-state solution” and said “this year offers an opportunity to recommit to reaching a political solution to the conflict.”

The US envoy, who visited Israel and the West Bank in November, reiterated that Israel and the Palestinians “are locked in a spiral of distrust.”

“Israelis don’t believe they have a partner for peace, while Palestinians are trapped in despair born of the complete absence of a political horizon,” she said.

To make progress, Thomas-Greenfield said both sides must refrain from unilateral steps that increase tensions and undercut efforts toward a two-state solution.

That means Israel should refrain from annexing territory, settlement activity, demolitions and evictions “like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah,” the Jerusalem neighborhood where Israel on Wednesday evicted Palestinian residents from a disputed property and demolished it, and Palestinians should stop inciting violence and compensating individuals imprisoned “for acts of terrorism,” Thomas-Greenfield said.


Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction
Updated 21 January 2022

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction

Israel releases Palestinians held after eviction
  • Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance

JERUSALEM: Five members of a Palestinian family arrested after Israeli police demolished their house in East Jerusalem have been released, their lawyer said on Thursday.

The arrest of several members of the Salhiya family came as they were evicted from their house in the sensitive neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli authorities before dawn on Wednesday. Walid Abu Tayeh, the family’s lawyer, confirmed “the release of the five people detained since Wednesday, including Mahmoud Salhiya and his sons.”

Police had accused several Salhiya family members of “violating a court order” and public disturbance.

Abu Tayeh said the release of the five on Thursday was conditional on payment of a 1,000 Israeli shekel ($320) fine, and that the group was forbidden from entering Sheikh Jarrah for one month.

The looming eviction of other Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year partly fueled an 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.

In those cases, Palestinians risked having to surrender plots of land to Jewish settlers who had mounted legal claims to the land.

But Jerusalem authorities have stressed the Salhiya family eviction is a different case and that the city intends to build a special needs school on the land, benefitting Arab residents of east Jerusalem.

The city has said it purchased the land from previous Arab owners and that the Salhiya’s had lived there illegally for years, but failed to agree to a compromise on an eviction order first issued in 2017. The foreign ministries of France, Germany, Italy and Spain urged Israeli authorities to stop the construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem.

In a statement, the European countries said that the hundreds of new buildings would “constitute an additional obstacle to the two-state solution,” referring to international peace efforts to create a state for Palestinians.

Israeli authorities recently approved plans for the construction of around 3,500 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, nearly half of which are to be built in the controversial areas of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa.

The foreign ministries said that building in this area would further disconnect the West Bank from East Jerusalem and that these settlements are a violation of international law.

The four countries also expressed concern about the evictions and demolitions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel captured East Jerusalem including the Old City in a 1967 war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which abuts the city, and the Gaza Strip. Israel views the entire city as its indivisible capital.

Most world powers deem the Israeli settlements illegal for taking in territory where Palestinians seek statehood.


Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
Updated 20 January 2022

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
  • The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs

TUNIS: More than 50,000 people have participated in Tunisia’s national consultation that will feed into the drafting of a new constitution, authorities said.

President Kais Saied had announced the consultation in December when he extended a suspension of parliament, a move which fueled concerns for the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.

The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs.

 “We are at the fifth day and the number of participants has reached 52,000 — that’s good,” Technology Minister Nizar Ben Neji said. “We will intensify our awareness campaign.”

The electronic platform for the consultations was fully launched on Saturday after it partially opened on Jan. 1.

Tunisians abroad are also able to participate, using their identify card to access the platform and register their remarks.

Authorities say more than three quarters of Tunisia’s 12 million population has internet access, while those without will be able to use computers in youth centers across the country.

A constitutional referendum is planned for July 25, 2022 — exactly a year after Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and said he would assume executive powers.

The president later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political system.

His intervention was initially supported by many Tunisians frustrated over repeated deadlocks within the fractious legislature.

On Dec. 13, Saied laid out a roadmap for drafting a new constitution, which is set to grant more powers to the executive branch at the expense of the legislature in the North African nation, before elections at the end of this year. Saied won elections in 2019 with a landslide 73 percent of votes.


Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
Updated 20 January 2022

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
  • On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched it’s push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement

BEIRUT: Shelling on the Turkish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed six civilians on Thursday, the latest in a spate of attacks, a war monitor said.

It was not immediately clear who fired the artillery shells but the attack came from a region where Kurdish fighters and Syrian regime forces are present, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Six people, including two children, where killed,” said the Britain-based monitor which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports.

Nearly 30 others were wounded, it added.

The shelling came a week after a suicide bomber launched an attack near a military base run by Turkey-backed fighters in Afrin, according to the Observatory.

Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over several military operations launched since 2016 against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia.

In March 2018, they seized Afrin after pushing the Syrian Kurdish forces out.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched its push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement.

“Recovering Afrin and (securing) the safe return of it’s inhabitants ... is our main priority,” Mazlum Abdi, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted.

The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, since it broke out in 2011.

Meanwhile, five Roman artifacts from the ancient city of Palmyra, a site damaged during the conflict, were returned to Damascus on Thursday by a private Lebanese museum where they had been on display since 2018.

The limestone statues and carved funerary stones dating from the Roman second and third centuries AD were returned at the initiative of a private Lebanese collector, Syrian antiquities chief Mohamed Nazir Awad said at a handover ceremony hosted by Lebanon’s National Museum in Beirut.

The collector, Jawad Adra, acquired them from European auction houses before Syria’s war began in 2011, Awad said, describing his actions as “a generous initiative.”

The pieces, which had been on display at the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, were returning to “their original homeland,” the Syrian regime official added.

During the Syrian conflict, the site of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world, fell under the control of Daesh, which blew up some of its major monuments, including the Arch of Triumph.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said talks were underway to arrange the return of other artifacts from the National Museum in Beirut to Syria.


Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor
Updated 20 January 2022

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists: Monitor
  • A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh militants attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility
  • Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces blamed the attack on ‘Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces’

BEIRUT: Daesh attacked a Kurdish-run jail in northeast Syria on Thursday, freeing fellow militants, a war monitor reported without specifying how many escaped.

A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh extremists attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“A number of prisoners managed to escape,” said the Observatory which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. It did not specify how they managed to break out.

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in northeast Syria, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed the rare attack in a statement but did not mention any prisoners fleeing.

“A new insurgence and attempted escape by Daesh terrorists detained in Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasaka in conjunction with an explosion of a car bomb,” it said.

It blamed the attack on “Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces.”

The Observatory said the SDF has dispatched reinforcements to the prison and cordoned off the area.

Aircraft belonging to the US-led international coalition battling Daesh hovered over the facility and dropped flares in its vicinity, the monitor added.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment.

Daesh’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.

A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the extremist proto-state in March 2019.

The remnants of Daesh mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to harass Syrian government and allied forces.