Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows
A forest fire burns near Marmaris, Turkey on Friday. Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth days as the government faced fresh criticism of its handling the disaster. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 August 2021

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows
  • Seven fires were still burning, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said
  • Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months

MARMARIS, Turkey: Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth day near southern coastal resorts in drought-hit Turkey on Monday.
Meanwhile the government faced fresh criticism of its handling the disaster.
Seven fires were still burning, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.
Meteorology maps show areas affected by fires have suffered severe drought in recent months.
Drone footage filmed by Reuters showed grey hillsides near the resort of Marmaris where fires left smoldering buildings and blackened tree trunks.
While 16 planes and 51 helicopters tackled blazes across a swathe of southwest Turkey, villagers carrying water containers up a hill to fight a fire near Marmaris said the government was not doing enough to help them.
“We are here as the entire village, from the locals to others. We didn’t run or anything, so the government must see this and also not run away. It must send some of its planes here,” a woman called Gulhan told Reuters.
Engin Ozkoc, a senior figure in the main opposition CHP, called on Pakdemirli to resign for failing to adequately prepare.
“You don’t deserve that ministry. You didn’t foresee this and buy firefighting planes,” he said, criticizing the amount of aerial resources available.
The European Union said it had helped mobilize three fire-fighting planes on Sunday. One from Croatia and two from Spain joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, rejected criticism of the government’s handling of the fires and condemned a social media campaign calling for foreign help.
“Our Turkey is strong. Our state is standing tall,” Altun said on Twitter, describing most information about the fires on social media as “fake news.” “All our losses will be compensated for.”
Eight people have been killed in the wildfires, but there were no reports of further casualties on Monday.
Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists have left their hotels, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.
The wildfires are another blow to Turkey’s tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bulent Bulbuloglu, head of the South Aegean Hoteliers Association, said 10 percent of reservations had been canceled in Bodrum and Marmaris. Others had cut their visits short.


Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
Updated 14 sec ago

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
  • The US secretary of state congratulates UN envoy to Yemen on his new role during call

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated that resolving the conflict in Yemen remains a top US foreign policy priority.
His comments came during a phone call with the newly-appointed UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg.
Blinken congratulated Grundberg, who was appointed in August to replace Martin Griffiths, on his new role, the State Department said in a statement.
During the call, they “discussed efforts to engage all parties without preconditions and secure a cease-fire, address urgent humanitarian priorities, restart the political process in Yemen, and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.”
Blinken also welcomed collaboration on the common goal of reaching an “inclusive, durable solution” to end the conflict in Yemen and bringing relief to Yemenis, the statement added.
On Monday, Grundberg ended a visit to Oman, where he met with Omani officials, Houthi representatives, and representatives of the international community about reaching a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Yemen.


Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
Updated 28 min 52 sec ago

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
  • Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City
  • Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation

JERUSALEM: Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim holiday.
It was a repeat of violence earlier this year that eventually led to the 11-day Gaza war in May.
Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City. They said 22 suspects were arrested.
Earlier, thousands of Palestinians had marched along the Old City walls and paused at the gate, where a scout band played the Palestinian national anthem. They continued to the Al-Aqsa mosque, where tens of thousands prayed in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation.
An Associated Press photographer said a few dozen youths began shouting at police and throwing water bottles, after which police fired stun grenades. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 17 people who were wounded, including 10 who were taken to a hospital.
Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April and May over a decision to place police barricades at Damascus Gate, a popular holiday gathering spot for Palestinians families.
The clashes continued even after the barricades were removed and eventually spread to the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Muslims and Jews. The violence, along with efforts by settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes, eventually ignited the fourth war between Israel and the militant Hamas group ruling Gaza.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the Jewish temples in antiquity.
Over the last two weeks, sporadic fights have broken out at Damascus Gate between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians and the police.


Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims
American artist Brady Black was inspired to portray the victims of the deadly explosion from Aug. 4, 2020, after he witnessed their beloved families mourn their tragic deaths. (Supplied)
Updated 19 October 2021

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims

Beirut blast memorial wall covered in portraits of victims
  • American artist Brady Black draws more than 200 portraits to memorialize every victim killed in the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion
  • Black collaborated with an art institute in Beirut: ‘All I can do is hope it is helping them in some way’

DUBAI: The victims of the Beirut Port blast will always be “seen and remembered” thanks to a memorial wall of more than 200 portraits drawn by an American artist.

Beirut-based visual journalist and artist Brady Black was inspired to portray the victims of the deadly explosion from Aug. 4, 2020, after he witnessed their beloved families and relatives mourn their tragic deaths. 

Since the world’s third most powerful non-nuclear explosion took place, the victims’ families and relatives have been protesting outside the Beirut Port holding up photos of their beloved ones to demand justice. 

Based in Lebanon since he arrived with his wife in 2015, Black approached an art institute called ‘Art of Change’ in Beirut to collaborate on a creative project and commemorate the victims.

Black spent nearly four months drawing black and white portraits of the 220 victims. Each portrait is around 10 square feet and portrays an image of each victim. 

“All I can do is hope that it’s received in the way it was intended to be and it is helping them in some way,” he told Arab News.

So far, Black said the feedback has been positive and encouraging: “I have heard a lot of the families expressing great appreciation for the work.”

The blast at the government-owned Port of Beirut claimed the lives of 220 people, injured more than 6,500, and left 300,000 homeless. The explosion resulted from a fire in a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate and caused damage worth an estimated $3 billion.

On the 4th day of every month since the explosion, the victims’ families gather to protest and hold up pictures of the loved ones they lost. Black witnessed several of these gatherings, which inspired him to do the project. 

“It looked to me like they were saying ‘See them … remember them.’ So I decided to basically do what they were doing, which was holding their loved ones’ pictures up for others to see,” Black said. “But I’m doing it in a permanent and very visible way.”

Art of Change played a vital role in the project, Black said.

“The actual installation took only a few hours with 40 volunteers who all came together to put the whole thing up,” he said. “We needed a few more days for the final touches.”

Art of Change is an art institute and creative hub that collaborates with artists and was co-founded by Jason Camp and Imane Assaf in Beirut.

“The 220 victims’ portraits were set up on a memorial wall to commemorate them in Al Saifi area, which is a few meters away from the blast spot,” Assaf, the hub’s director, told Arab News.

“On Aug. 4, to mark the one-year anniversary of the explosion, families came to check the memorial wall and they placed flowers. It was so emotional and powerful.”

She said they have collaborated with Black on similar projects involving the poor and needy as photos were posted in areas like Hamra, Manara, and others.

For this particular project, Black said he appreciated the feedback but was not emotionally prepared to speak with victims’ families. 

“It felt really encouraging being able to be a small part of helping their voices be heard,” he said.


IAEA: Surveillance of Iran nuclear program no longer ‘intact’

IAEA: Surveillance of Iran nuclear program no longer ‘intact’
Updated 19 October 2021

IAEA: Surveillance of Iran nuclear program no longer ‘intact’

IAEA: Surveillance of Iran nuclear program no longer ‘intact’
  • Director-general says Tehran ‘taking their time’ in arranging meeting with FM
  • How long it would take Iran to field nuclear weapon ‘continuously lessening’

LONDON: Temporary measures to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities are no longer “intact,” the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Financial Times that he urgently needs to meet with Iran’s new foreign minister to discuss proposals to resume monitoring.

“I haven’t been able to talk to (Hossein Amirabdollahian),” Grossi said. “I need to have this contact at the political level. This is indispensable. Without it, we cannot understand each other.”

Up until recently, temporary cameras and other monitoring devices had sustained an uneasy status quo following the breakdown of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — widely known as the Iran deal — which curbed the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The Biden administration had hoped to renegotiate the deal with Iran, but six rounds of indirect talks have stalled since Ebrahim Raisi was elected president in June.

The US State Department said it hopes Iran will return to the ongoing talks in Vienna “as soon as possible,” but President Joe Biden had “made clear that if diplomacy fails we are prepared to turn to other options.”

Iran has steadily revitalized its nuclear research and facilities in recent years, including by increasing the levels of enriched uranium it is producing, bringing it ever-closer to the highly enriched level required for nuclear weaponry. Grossi said Iran is “within a few months” of having enough material for a nuclear weapon.

The so-called breakout time — how long it would take Iran to field a nuclear weapon — is “continuously lessening” as it enriches more uranium with more efficient centrifuges, Grossi said. 

He added that he needed working cameras in Iran’s recently reinstated Tesa Karaj manufacturing complex — which builds centrifuges — “yesterday.”

A last-minute compromise in February this year kept cameras rolling at key sites, albeit with an agreement to temporarily forgo examination of footage. 

Last month, Grossi protested Iran’s refusal to allow surveillance at Tesa Karaj, which he views as a “very important” facility because of its role in manufacturing centrifuges.

“There is this issue with Karaj, and I’m working on it,” he said. ”Our stop-gap has been seriously affected so it’s not intact. But it’s not valueless either.”

Grossi said Tehran had told him he could meet Amirabdollahian “but they are taking their time.”


Israel gives legal status to 4K in gesture to Palestinians

Israel gives legal status to 4K in gesture to Palestinians
Updated 19 October 2021

Israel gives legal status to 4K in gesture to Palestinians

Israel gives legal status to 4K in gesture to Palestinians
  • It's one of a series of gestures announced after a rare high-level meeting in August between Israeli Defense Minister and Palestinian President aimed at strengthening the PA
  • Israel is trying to bolster the increasingly unpopular and autocratic PA in order to weaken its militant Hamas rivals

JERUSALEM: Israel said Tuesday it would grant legal residency to 4,000 Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The move comes as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority that will allow people who have lived under severe restrictions for years to get official IDs.
It’s one of a series of gestures announced after a rare high-level meeting in August between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas aimed at strengthening the PA, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security.
Israel is trying to bolster the increasingly unpopular and autocratic PA in order to weaken its militant Hamas rivals, who rule the Gaza Strip. Other gestures include loaning some $155 million to the cash-strapped PA and authorizing an additional 15,000 permits for Palestinian laborers to work in Israel and its settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and has shown no interest in reviving peace talks, which stalled out more than a decade ago. Israel is also continuing to build and expand settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories it captured in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state.
But Israeli officials have vowed to take steps to improve the Palestinian economy and daily life in order to reduce frictions.
“The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be,” Gantz was quoted as saying after his meeting with Abbas. “And the greater its ability to govern is, the more security we’ll have and the less we’ll have to do.”
The Israeli defense body that oversees civilian affairs in the territories said it would approve the registration of 1,200 Palestinians who have been living in the West Bank for many years but are not listed in the Palestinian population registry. It will approve a change of address for 2,800 Palestinians who moved to the West Bank from Gaza prior to 2007, when Hamas seized power.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official who serves as the liaison with Israel for civilian affairs, confirmed that a “first batch” of 4,000 names had been approved and said the PA was working to secure more.
Israel, which controls all access to the occupied West Bank, must approve any changes to the Palestinian population registry, which is administered by the PA. When the second Palestinian uprising broke out in 2000, Israel restricted new registrations to children under 16 with a resident parent.
That and other Israeli policies have left an estimated tens of thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza without legal status, severely limiting their freedom of movement. They include foreign nationals — mainly Palestinians from other countries — who married Palestinians in the territories and have families there.
Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank who are registered in Gaza are meanwhile at risk of deportation. Israel maintains dozens of checkpoints within and around the West Bank.
Human Rights Watch referred to Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian residency in a lengthy report earlier this year accusing it of the international crime of apartheid. The nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank have Israeli citizenship and face no similar restrictions.
Jessica Montell, the head of HaMoked, an Israeli rights group that assists Palestinians, said the latest move was welcome but did not go far enough.
Israel has previously approved tranches of applications for legal status as goodwill gestures to the PA. In 2008, it granted legal status to some 32,000 Palestinians following several petitions filed by HaMoked on behalf of families, Montell said.
“To my mind the real headline is tens of thousands of people are living with no status and Israel is not fulfilling its legal obligation to grant them status,” she said.