Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus send firm message to Ankara over actions in the Med

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L), King Abdullah II of Jordan (C) and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint statement aimed at Turkey. (Reuters/File Photos)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L), King Abdullah II of Jordan (C) and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint statement aimed at Turkey. (Reuters/File Photos)
Short Url
Updated 30 July 2021

Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus send firm message to Ankara over actions in the Med

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (L), King Abdullah II of Jordan (C) and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint statement aimed at Turkey. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • Leaders call for respect to the sovereignty and jurisdiction each state has over its maritime zones in accordance with international law
  • Joint statement was issued following a trilateral summit in Athens as leaders also call for a solution to Turkey-Cyprus border tensions

ATHENS: The leaders of Cyprus, Greece, and Jordan sent Turkey a firm message that all unilateral measures or actions in Cyprus that are not in line with relevant UN resolutions and international law or undermine efforts for a peaceful solution through negotiations, must cease.

They also emphasized that “a peaceful, stable and prosperous Mediterranean is a strategic priority of the region.”

The joint statement was issued late on Wednesday following a trilateral summit in Athens between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

They called for respect to the sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction each state has over its maritime zones in accordance with international law.

The three leaders focused on the Cyprus problem, including the latest developments in Varosha, the fenced-off area of Famagusta, as well as the presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council (UNSC) on the provocative partial opening of the abandoned suburb by the Turkish side.

The three leaders stressed their support for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, based on the relevant UNSC resolutions and international law. They underlined that a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem will not only benefit the people of Cyprus but also contribute significantly to peace and stability in the region.

Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974. Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar, announced in July a partial lifting of the military status in Varosha during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Oct. 8, 2020, the Turkish side initially opened part of the fenced area of Varosha, following an announcement made in Ankara two days prior. 

Both the UN secretary-general and the EU expressed concern, while the UNSC called for the reversal of this course of action. UNSC resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN.

The trilateral meeting among Greece, Cyprus, and Jordan was one more piece in the puzzle of regional integration among like-minded countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Diplomatic sources told Arab News that this trilateral scheme could, in the future, expand to include Egypt and Iraq. This was part of a wider regional strategy followed by Athens.

“Greece’s foreign policy aims at fostering regional cooperation through multilateral schemes. Meetings with Jordan and Cyprus are placed in this context. Jordan is a longstanding partner of Greece and friendship is based on historical ties,” said George Tzogopoulos, a senior research fellow at the Center international de formation européenne (CIFE).

“The participation of all three countries in the East Med Gas Forum also outlines a new perspective on energy synergies. Greece values Jordan’s role for relevant stability in the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off and pays close attention to recent high-level meetings between Jordanian and Israeli officials. Turkish-Jordanian relations are also in Athens’ microscope as long as US president Joe Biden’s administration is recalibrating American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

In other developments during the trilateral summit, the three leaders discussed how to further enhance their cooperation in sectors including politics, economy, security, and other fields of mutual interest in the post coronavirus (COVID-19) era. They agreed to resume the sectoral meetings that were suspended due to the pandemic, in order to identify specific plans that could offer opportunities in the framework of the three countries’ strategic partnership. 

Mitsotakis, Anastasiadis, and King Abdullah reiterated a strong commitment to counter the common threat of terrorism and violent extremism. They also expressed support to the government in Iraq along with the country’s territorial integrity, stability, and security. They also expressed their commitment to a political solution in Libya and in Syria.


Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Updated 10 sec ago

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections
MOSCOW: Russia reported 34,303 cases of new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, a record-high number since the start of the pandemic, data from the state coronavirus task force showed on Sunday.
It also reported 997 deaths from the disease, five fewer than the daily record-high of 1,002 reported the previous day.
The latest coronavirus deaths brought the official national death toll to 223,312, with a total of almost 8 million cases.
Russian authorities blame a slow vaccination campaign for the sharp rise of infections and deaths, which forced the health ministry to ask retired, vaccinated medics to return to hospitals. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics
Updated 10 min 47 sec ago

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics
  • Detained activists are members of the ‘No Beijing 2022’ campaign
  • The Beijing Winter Games are scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20, 2022

ATHENS: Two women attempted to hang a banner from the Acropolis in Athens Sunday morning in protest at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, and were detained by Greek police.
The activists, 18-year-old Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and 22-year-old exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu, both American citizens, are members of the “No Beijing 2022” campaign, a statement from the New York-based organization Students for a Free Tibet said.
They, and a third person, entered the archaeological site as paying customers and then Zoksang and Siu climbed up some scaffolding, from which they attempted to unfurl the banner.
A security officer rushed to them and took the banner away. The two women remained on the scaffolding and deployed a Tibetan flag and a smaller banner proclaiming, “Free Hong Kong Revolution.” They also chanted slogans including “Free Tibet,” “Boycott Beijing 2022” and “No freedom, no Games.” Police arrived and detained the protesters.
The whole incident lasted about 10 minutes.
“Now it is time for the international community, and all people of conscience, to take a stand and boycott Beijing 2022; anything less will be a clear endorsement of China’s genocidal regime,” Zoksang was quoted as saying in the statement. ”The IOC is sending the world a message that it is ok to turn a blind eye to genocide and crimes against humanity in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia,” added Siu.
The Olympic flame for the 24th Winter Games will be lit at Ancient Olympia Monday and handed over to the Chinese at a ceremony in Athens’ Panathenian Stadium Tuesday. The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board met in Athens Saturday. The board will gather at Ancient Olympia later Sunday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Executive Board’s founding. The dress rehearsal for the Olympic flame ceremony will also take place Sunday.
A protest against the staging of the summer Olympic Games by China previously took place in Athens in March 2008; a couple of dozen Greek and Tibetan activists tried unsuccessfully to interfere with the torch relay for that year’s Summer Olympics.
The Beijing Winter Games are scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20, 2022, with the Paralympics set to follow from March 4-13.


Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’
Updated 17 October 2021

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’
  • Vast majority of girls are barred from lessons across the country, including in the capital Kabul

KABUL: Afghan teenager Amena saw dozens of classmates killed when her girls’ school was targeted by a Daesh bomb attack in May, but she was determined to continue her education.
Now, like most secondary school girls in the country, she is banned from lessons altogether after the Taliban’s hard-line government excluded them from returning to class one month ago.
“I wanted to study, see my friends and have a bright future, but now I am not allowed,” 16-year-old Amena said at her home in western Kabul.
“This situation makes me feel awful. Since the Taliban arrived, I am very sad and angry.”
On September 18, Afghanistan’s new Islamist rulers ordered male teachers and boys aged 13 and over back to secondary schools, picking up an academic year already cut short by violence and the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there was no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.
The Taliban later said older girls can return to secondary schools, which were already mostly split by gender, but only once security and stricter segregation under their interpretation of Islamic law could be ensured.
Reports have emerged of girls going back to a few high schools — such as in Kunduz province where the Taliban promoted the return with a stage-managed rally.
The de facto Taliban education minister told the UN children’s body that a framework to allow all girls to go to secondary school will be announced soon, a senior UNICEF executive said Friday.
But for now, the vast majority are barred from lessons across the country of about 39 million people, including in the capital Kabul.
Primary schools, meanwhile, have reopened for all children and women can go to private universities, though with tough restrictions on their clothes and movement.
Amena lives just a short walk from her Sayed Al-Shuhada High School, where 85 people — mainly young girls — perished in the May bomb attack.
“Innocent girls were killed,” Amena said, her eyes welling up.
“I saw with my own eyes the dying and wounded girls.
“However, I still wanted to go to school again.”
Amena would be in Grade 10 studying her favorite subjects such as biology, but instead is stuck inside with a handful of books doing “nothing special.”
The teenager said she dreamt of becoming a journalist, but now has “no hope in Afghanistan.”
Her siblings help her at home, and occasionally she gets lessons from a psychologist who comes to see her younger sister, still traumatized by the school attack.
“They say: ‘Study if you cannot go to school — study at home so that you may become someone in the future.’“
“My brother brings home storybooks and I read them,” Amena said. “And I always watch the news.”
But she does not understand why boys are allowed to study and girls are not.
“Half of the society is made up of girls and the other half is made up of boys. There is no difference between them,” she said.
“Why can’t we study? Are we not part of society? Why should only boys have a future?“
After US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, progress was made in girls’ education.
The number of schools tripled and female literacy nearly doubled to 30 percent, but the change was largely limited to the cities.
“Afghan women have made great achievements in the past 20 years,” said Nasrin Hasani, a 21-year-old teacher at a Kabul secondary school who now helps out with primary pupils.
But the current situation has “lowered both our and the students’ morale,” she said, questioning the Taliban’s reasoning.
“As far as we all know, the religion of Islam has never hindered the education and work of women.”
Hasani said she has not experienced any direct threats from the Taliban.
But Amnesty International reported that one high school teacher received death threats and was summoned for prosecution because she used to teach co-educational sport.
Hasani said she was clinging to hope that the Taliban will be “a little different” from their brutal 1996-2001 regime, when women were not even allowed out of their homes unchaperoned.
Born years after 2001, Zainab has no memories of that period and loved going to school until the Taliban directive.
The 12-year-old was stuck looking out of the window with a “terrible feeling” last month when boys went back to school.
“It is quite obvious that things get worse day by day,” said Zainab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
Her 16-year-old sister Malalay said tearfully that she had “feelings of despair and fear.”
Malalay, whose name has also been changed, passes her time helping around the house, cleaning, washing dishes and doing laundry.
She said she tries not to cry in front of her mother “because there are a lot of pressures on her.”
The teen had dreams of promoting women’s rights and speaking out against the men depriving her of her rights.
“My rights are to go to school and university,” she said.
“All my dreams and plans are now buried.”


Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea
Updated 17 October 2021

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea
  • Despite the risks, many migrants and refugees say they’d rather die trying to cross to Europe than be returned to Libya

ABOARD THE SEABIRD: As dozens of African migrants traversed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy white rubber boat, a small aircraft circling 1,000 feet above closely monitored their attempt to reach Europe.
The twin-engine Seabird, owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, is tasked with documenting human rights violations committed against migrants at sea and relaying distress cases to nearby ships and authorities who have increasingly ignored their pleas.
On this cloudy October afternoon, an approaching thunderstorm heightened the dangers for the overcrowded boat. Nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations’ migration agency.
“Nour 2, Nour 2, this is aircraft Seabird, aircraft Seabird,” the aircraft’s tactical coordinator, Eike Bretschneider, communicated via radio with the only vessel nearby. The captain of the Nour 2, agreed to change course and check up on the flimsy boat. But after seeing the boat had a Libyan flag, the people refused its assistance, the captain reported back on the crackling radio.
“They say they only have 20 liters of fuel left,” the captain, who did not identify himself by name, told the Seabird. “They want to continue on their journey.”
The small boat’s destination was the Italian island of Lampedusa, where tourists sitting in outdoor cafés sipped on Aperol Spritz, oblivious to what was unfolding some 60 nautical miles (111 km/68 miles) south of them on the Mediterranean Sea.
Bretschneider, a 30-year-old social worker, made some quick calculations and concluded the migrants must have departed Libya approximately 20 hours ago and still had some 15 hours ahead of them before they reached Lampedusa. That was if their boat did not fall apart or capsize along the way.
Despite the risks, many migrants and refugees say they’d rather die trying to cross to Europe than be returned to Libya where, upon disembarkation, they are placed in detention centers and often subjected to relentless abuse.
Bretschneider sent the rubber boat’s coordinates to the air liaison officer sitting in Berlin, who then relayed the position (inside the Maltese Search and Rescue zone) to both Malta and Italy. Unsurprisingly to them, they received no response.
Running low on fuel, the Seabird had to leave the scene.
“We can only hope the people will reach the shore at some moment or will get rescued by a European coast guard vessel,” Bretschneider told AP as they made their way back.
The activists have grown used to having their distress calls go unanswered.
For years human rights groups and international law experts have denounced that European countries are increasingly ignoring their international obligations to rescue migrants at sea. Instead, they’ve outsourced rescues to the Libyan Coast Guard, which has a track record of reckless interceptions as well as ties to human traffickers and militias.
“I’m sorry, we don’t speak with NGOs,” a man answering the phone of the Maltese Rescue and Coordination Center told a member of Sea-Watch inquiring about a boat in distress this past June. In a separate call to the Rescue and Coordination Center in Rome, another Sea-Watch member was told: “We have no information to report to you.”
Maltese and Italian authorities did not respond to questions sent by AP.
Trying to get in touch with the Libyan rescue and coordination center is an even greater challenge. On the rare occasion that someone does pick up, the person on the other side of the line often doesn’t speak English.
More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the Italian Ministry of Interior, nearly double the number of people who crossed in the same time period last year.
Although it is illegal for European vessels to take rescued migrants back to Libya themselves, information shared by the EU’s surveillance drones and planes have allowed the Libyan Coast Guard to considerably increase its ability to stop migrants from reaching Europe. So far this year, it has intercepted roughly half of those who have attempted to leave, returning more than 26,000 men, women and children to Libya.
Sea-Watch has relied on millions of euros from individual donations over several years to expand its air monitoring capabilities as well. It now has two small aircraft that, with a birds-eye view, can find boats in distress much faster than ships can.
Taking off from Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than Italy, the planes can reach a distress case relatively quickly if its position is known. But when there are no exact coordinates, they must fly a search pattern, sometimes for hours, and scan the sea with the help of binoculars.
Even when flying low, finding a tiny boat in the vast Mediterranean can strain the most experienced eyes. The three- to four-person crew of volunteers reports every little dot on the horizon that could potentially be people in distress.
“Target at 10 o’clock,” the Seabird’s photographer sitting in the back alerted on a recent flight.
The pilot veered left to inspect it.
“Fishing boat, disregard,” Bretschneider, the tactical coordinator, replied.
In rough seas, breaking waves can play tricks and for brief moments resemble wobbly boats in the distance. Frequently, the “targets” turn out to be nothing at all, and the Seabird returns to land hours later without any new information.
But finding boats in distress is only the first challenge. Getting them rescued is just as difficult, if not harder.
With the absence of state rescue vessels and NGO ships getting increasingly blocked from leaving port, Sea-Watch often relies on the good will of merchant vessels navigating the area. But many are also reluctant to get involved after several commercial ships found themselves stuck at sea for days as they waited for Italy’s or Malta’s permission to disembark rescued migrants. Others have taken them back to Libya in violation of maritime and refugee conventions.
This week, a court in Naples convicted the captain of an Italian commercial ship for returning 101 migrants to Libya in 2018.
Without any state authority, the Seabird can only remind captains of their duty to rescue persons in distress. In this way, Bretschneider recently got an Italian supply vessel to save 65 people from a drifting migrant boat, just moments before the Libyan Coast Guard arrived.
On another mission a few days later, the Seabird returned from its flight without knowing what would happen to the people they had seen on the white rubber boat.
Bretschneider checked his phone at dinner that night, hoping for good news. On the other side of the Mediterranean, 17 bodies had washed up in Western Libya, apparently from a different boat.
The next day the Seabird took off to look for the white rubber boat again, in vain. On their way back, they got a message from land.
The white rubber boat had reached waters near Lampedusa and was picked up by the Italian Coast Guard. The people had made it.


Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege
Updated 17 October 2021

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege

Tigray residents describe difficult life under siege
  • In rural areas, life is even grimmer as thousands of people survive on wild cactus fruit or sell the meager aid they receive

NAIROBI: As food and the means to buy it dwindled in a city under siege, the young mother felt she could do no more. She killed herself, unable to feed her children.

In a Catholic church across town, flour and oil to make communion wafers will soon run out. And the flagship hospital in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, wrestles with whether to give patients the expired medications that remain. Its soap and bleach are gone.

A year of war and months of government-enforced deprivation have left the city of a half-million people with rapidly shrinking stocks of food, fuel, medicine and cash. In rural areas, life is even grimmer as thousands of people survive on wild cactus fruit or sell the meager aid they receive. Man-made famine, the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, has begun.

Despite the severing of almost all communication with the outside world, The Associated Press drew on a dozen interviews with people inside Mekele, along with internal aid documents, for the most detailed picture yet of life under the Ethiopian government’s blockade of the Tigray region’s 6 million people.

Amid sputtering electricity supplies, Mekele is often lit by candles that many people can’t afford. Shops and streets are emptying, and cooking oil and baby formula are running out. People from rural areas and civil servants who have gone unpaid for months have swelled the ranks of beggars. People are thinner. Funeral announcements on the radio have increased.

“The coming weeks will make or break the situation here,” said Mengstu Hailu, vice president for research at Mekele University, where the mother who killed herself worked.

He told the AP about his colleague’s suicide last month as well as the deaths of two acquaintances from hunger and a death from lack of medication. “Are people going to die in the hundreds and thousands?”
he asked.

Pleas from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and African nations for the warring sides to stop the fighting have failed, even as the US threatens new sanctions targeting individuals in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

Instead, a new offensive by Ethiopian and allied forces has begun in an attempt to crush the Tigray fighters who dominated the national government for nearly three decades before being sidelined by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Ethiopia is one of the top recipients of US humanitarian aid. The government in Addis Ababa, fearing the assistance will end up supporting Tigray forces, imposed the blockade in June after the fighters retook much of Tigray, then brought the war into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. Hundreds of thousands are now displaced there, widening the humanitarian crisis.

After the AP last month reported the first starvation deaths under the blockade, and the UN humanitarian chief called Ethiopia a “stain on our conscience,” the government expelled seven UN officials, accusing them of falsely inflating the scale of the crisis. The expulsions were “unprecedented and disturbing,” the US said.

Just 14% of needed aid has entered Tigray since the blockade began, according to the UN, and no medicine at all.

“There is no other way to define what is happening to the people of Tigray than by ethnic cleansing,” InterAction, an alliance of international aid groups, said this month of the conflict marked by mass detentions, expulsions and gang-rapes.

“The Tigrayan population of 6 million face mass starvation now,” former UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock wrote in a separate statement.

In response to questions, the spokesperson for the Ethiopian prime minister’s office, Billene Seyoum, again blamed Tigray forces for aid disruptions and asserted “the government has worked relentlessly to ensure humanitarian aid reaches those in need.” She did not say when basic services would be allowed to Tigray.

At Tigray’s flagship Ayder referral hospital, Dr. Sintayehu Misgina, a surgeon and the vice chief medical director, watches in horror.

Patients sometimes go without food, and haven’t had meat, eggs or milk since June. Fuel to run ambulances has run out. A diesel generator powers equipment for emergency surgeries only when fuel is available.

“God have mercy for those who come when it’s off,” he said.

No help is in sight. A World Health Organization staffer told Sintayehu there was nothing left to give, even though a warehouse in neighbouring Afar was full of life-saving aid.

Scores of badly malnourished and ill children have come to the hospital in recent weeks. Not all have survived.

“There are no drugs,” said Mizan Wolde, the mother of a 5-year-old patient. Mehari Tesfa despaired for his 4-year-old daughter, who has a brain abscess and is wasting away.

“It’s been three months since she came here,” he said. “She was doing OK, then the medication ceased. She is now taking only oxygen, nothing else.”

Across Tigray, the number of children hospitalized for severe acute malnutrition has surged, according to the UN children’s agency — 18,600 from February to August, compared to 8,900 in 2020. The UN says hospitals outside of Mekele have run out of nutrition supplies to treat them.