Three children among 7 civilians killed in Syrian regime bombing

Three children among 7 civilians killed in Syrian regime bombing
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Updated 19 July 2021

Three children among 7 civilians killed in Syrian regime bombing

Three children among 7 civilians killed in Syrian regime bombing
  • Shelling hits village in the south of Idlib region hours after Assad takes oath for new term

EHSIM, Syria: Syrian regime artillery fire killed seven civilians including three children in the country’s last major opposition bastion of Idlib, a Britain-based war monitor said on Sunday.

The shelling hit in the village of Ehsim late on Saturday, in the south of the Idlib region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A family member said that visitors had gathered to congratulate a male relative on getting married when the shelling struck their home.
Earlier in the day, rockets fired by pro-regime forces killed six civilians in the village of Sarja, including three children and a rescue worker, meaning at least 13 were killed in total in Idlib on Saturday.
The shelling in Ehsim came hours after President Bashar Assad took the oath of office for a fourth term, pledging to “liberate” areas still beyond regime control.
On the eve of the May 26 election, the US, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said the poll was “neither free nor fair,” and Syria’s fragmented opposition has called it a “farce.”
The deaths are the latest violations of a ceasefire deal agreed by Turkey and regime ally Russia in March 2020 to stem a regime offensive on the extremist-dominated stronghold.
An AFP photographer in Ehsim saw rescue workers under floodlights cut through a collapsed ceiling to retrieve the body of a woman.
Bundling her body up in a blanket, they then gently lowered it down a ladder and carried it into an ambulance.

FASTFACT

The shelling in Ehsim came hours after President Bashar Assad took the oath of office for a fourth term, pledging to ‘liberate’ areas still beyond regime control.

The Observatory said she was among four women and three girls killed in the bombardment.
Bordering Turkey, the northwestern Idlib region is home to around 3 million people, more than half displaced by fighting in other parts of war-torn Syria. Many rely on humanitarian aid to survive.
The region is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, but other rebel groups are also present.
Syria’s war has killed around half-a-million people and forced millions more to flee their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests.
After Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony, Assad met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, making the first visit by a high-ranking Chinese official to Syria since early 2012.
Both sides discussed Syria possibly taking part in China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure and trade initiative, the presidency said.
Assad was first elected by referendum in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years.
Syria faces a dire economic crisis. More than 80 percent of the population live in poverty, and the Syrian pound has plunged in value against the dollar, causing skyrocketing inflation.
Syria’s war has cost the country $1.2 trillion, the World Vision charity estimates.
In recent weeks, the regime has hiked the price of petrol, bread, sugar and rice, while power cuts can last up to 20 hours a day amid fuel shortages. Nationwide, 12.4 million people struggle to find enough food each day, the World Food Programme says.
The Damascus regime has blamed the country’s economic woes on Western sanctions and a deepening crisis in Lebanon.
Banks in Lebanon have for more than a year forbidden depositors from withdrawing their dollar savings, affecting Syrian clients.
“The biggest obstacle now is the Syrian funds frozen in Lebanese banks,” said Assad, estimating them to amount to tens of billions of dollars.


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 7 sec ago

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US issued fresh sanctions on Tuesday against 15 individuals and four entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, according to the US Treasury Department website.

The sanctions target Iran's counterterrorism special forces as well as Iran's Gholamreza Soleimani of the Basij Resistance Force, among others, the website showed.


Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 11 min 14 sec ago

Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)

DOHA: France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he expected nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to resume on Thursday, but after last week he had not been encouraged and feared Iran’s new negotiating was trying to gain time.

“The elements today of the discussion that re-started are not very encouraging because we have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

He said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week, but he hoped things would take a positive turn otherwise it could lead to a “serious situation.”


Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
Updated 07 December 2021

Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
  • It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels

LONDON: An Iranian warship due to launch next year has capsized before leaving its dry dock at Bandar Abbas port, according to a video and imagery published online at the weekend.

Satellite images appeared to confirm that the naval vessel Talayieh, which was going through the final stages of construction before its launch, was lying on its side and partially flooded. It is not clear how the ship had toppled over.

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media.

The Planetscope satellite image, taken on Dec. 4, was tweeted by Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

The photo shows the ship on its side in the same location as where the Talayieh was pictured being built in an image published by Iranian media in August.

Iranian naval officials said the Talayieh would be an “intelligence reconnaissance” vessel specializing in electronic warfare, while also providing assistance to other Iranian ships.  

According to experts, if a ship of the size of the Talayieh lies in the water for an extended period of time, it can lead to a number of issues that would require considerable time and energy to rectify.

It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels. In June, the Kharg — one of Iran’s largest naval vessels — caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman.

In May 2020, 19 naval servicemen died and another 15 were injured when an Iranian warship accidentally opened fire on one of its own support vessels during a training exercise in the same body of water.


Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
Updated 07 December 2021

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
  • Razan Al-Mubarak wants to ‘debunk myth’ that fighting climate change automatically preserves biodiversity
  • She hopes to see more regional cooperation on protection of indigenous wildlife

LONDON: The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to prevent global biodiversity loss, which she said often “plays second fiddle” to the issue of climate change in international agreements.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak said: “Often we link biodiversity and climate change as one and the same … But what’s important for us to understand and recognize is that addressing the issue of climate change won’t necessarily address the issue of biodiversity loss … because the drivers are different.”

She added that the disconnect between addressing climate change, which is caused largely by excess greenhouse gas emissions, and tackling biodiversity loss, which has an array of localized causes, became abundantly clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent — the greatest decrease in 100 years. But if you look at what happened in the biodiversity agenda, it actually increased,” said Al-Mubarak.

This was partly because urban-to-rural population flows increased, but global lockdowns also meant that conservation workers were prevented from carrying out their essential duties that preserve biodiverse systems.

The Zoological Society of London’s Director General Dominic Jermey told participants that a key indicator of global biodiversity change that his organization produces, the Living Planet Index, shows that land use for products such as palm oil or cotton is “one of the critical killers of wildlife.”

Al-Mubarak, who was recently appointed as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said biodiversity, and nature more broadly, are essential to human survival, but the “myth” that addressing climate change will also protect diverse biological systems needs to be “debunked.”

In her home country of the UAE, her work has already proved successful in protecting or rejuvenating ecosystems, while also building relationships with international partners.

One of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s crowning successes was the re-introduction of the scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild, back into its native Saharan habitat, an initiative carried out jointly with Chadian environmental officials, the ZSL and others.

In Europe, too, Al-Mubarak’s team has made inroads to protect endangered species. The UK and the UAE are signatories to the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, an international agreement that protects the migration routes of birds of prey such as falcons.

And Abu Dhabi is host to the only office dedicated to the administration of the UN’s Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

Al-Mubarak said: “What spurred the Raptors MoU between the UK and the UAE is the story of falconry. If you trace the story of falconry and falcon conservation in the UAE context … it was this fantastic bird, the fastest animal on the planet, that spurred the imagination of the leadership of institutions in the UAE to protect it.”

This went “beyond borders,” she added, explaining that their work to protect falcons and other migratory birds now extends to cooperation with Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. 

She said cooperation with the UAE’s neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, could also improve conservation efforts.

Responding to a question by Arab News, she said: “In our region we share species, and we need to be able to share and work on cross-boundary protected areas, which we really haven’t exploited yet. It’s something that we really need to do more of.”

Adding to the point, Jermey said: “Wild animals don’t have passports. It’s news to them that there are borders between countries, and we do need to think in a trans-border, trans-boundary way.”


Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
Updated 07 December 2021

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
  • Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani discussed options for their countries to jointly run Kabul airport
  • Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, while Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans

ANKARA: The foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar have reviewed plans for the return to normal operations of Kabul’s international airport in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Monday discussed options for their countries to jointly run the airport and ways to deliver further humanitarian aid to the Afghan people under conditions agreeable with the Taliban.

Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans, and a Turkish overseas education foundation has kept its schools open for girls and boys.

During a joint press conference in Doha, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar and Turkey were ready to control Kabul airport if the Taliban agreed to it.

“Qatar and Turkey are continuously working with the interim government in Afghanistan to reach an agreement to open the airport (so it can function) normally,” he added.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Doha on Monday for two days of talks to rebuild ties.

In November, the US signed an agreement with Qatar to designate the Gulf country as the power to protect American interests in Afghanistan, considering it a trusted mediator. Qatar and Turkey played significant roles in the evacuation process out of Afghanistan after the Taliban swept to power.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, told Arab News that Turkey and Qatar could cooperate on calling for limited waivers on US-imposed asset freezes against the Taliban, and leverage their respective bargaining power in Western capitals to achieve that outcome.

He said: “Turkey and Qatar can also coordinate on alleviating Afghanistan’s food security crisis, as Qatar’s experience working with the World Food Program in theaters such as Yemen, could be effective in Afghanistan.”

Ramani noted that Turkey had also been ramping up food aid shipments, such as wheat, to Afghanistan over the past month.

“Neither Turkey nor Qatar is likely to provide the Taliban with recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate authority, but both will encourage engagement with the new Islamic emirate,” he added.

During Monday’s meeting, Cavusoglu urged the international community to engage in dialogue with the Taliban by “distinguishing” between the political and humanitarian aspects.

Zalmai Nishat, research fellow at the University of Sussex’s Asia Center, said the Taliban wanted Turkey to get involved in the operationalization of Kabul airport alongside Qatar.

He told Arab News: “From a historical perspective, Turkey is seen as the successor of the Ottoman empire and is respected by the people of Afghanistan, with the memories of the Caliphate. Also, Turkey is an ally of the US and the EU being a key country within NATO.”

Nishat pointed out that during peace talks between the former government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, control of Kabul airport had been a critical issue and the parties had looked upon Turkey as an ideal partner.

“Ankara must design a robust policy about Afghanistan, which would enable it to put pressure on the Taliban and their supporters to create a political system where diverse ethnic communities of Afghanistan feel themselves at home and feel included in the political system, with a fair representation,” he added.

Turkey, allegedly having established intelligence contacts with some Taliban-linked militia in the country, also has strong historical and ethnic ties in Afghanistan, with its non-combat troops on the ground in the past as a member of the NATO alliance.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, told Arab News that the Taliban needed legitimacy at this stage by establishing themselves as credible actors through the channels of Qatar and Turkey and in doing so help connect the group with the rest of the world.

He said: “Turkey is still looking to position itself as a connection between the Taliban and the outside world. Qatar comes first, with closer ties with the Taliban historically and politically. Turkey would come after Qatar in this political play, but the two countries can play a critical role in maintaining the security of flights in the short term.”

In the medium term, Cagaptay added, Turkey had significant soft power on the ground in Afghanistan that had been developed since the beginning of the early years of the Turkish republic, and it could be used to reach out to Afghan society through its local ties.