Afghans told to leave Kabul airport over ‘very credible’ Daesh threat

Afghans told to leave Kabul airport over ‘very credible’ Daesh threat
Hurried to escape Taliban rule, Western officials said the group had made assurances that some evacuations would be permitted after next week's US withdrawal deadline. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2021

Afghans told to leave Kabul airport over ‘very credible’ Daesh threat

Afghans told to leave Kabul airport over ‘very credible’ Daesh threat
  • A NATO country diplomat in the Afghan capital said that although the Taliban were responsible for security outside the airport, threats from Daesh could not be ignored

The United States and allies urged Afghans to leave Kabul airport on Thursday, citing the threat of an attack by Daesh militants, as Western troops hurry to evacuate as many people as possible before an Aug. 31 deadline.
Pressure to complete the evacuation of tens of thousands of foreigners, and Afghans who helped Western countries during the 20-year war against the Taliban, has intensified. US and allied troops have to to switch their focus in the coming hours or days to the logistics of their own withdrawal.
In an alert issued on Wednesday evening, the US Embassy in Kabul advised citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and said those already at the gates should leave immediately, citing unspecified “security threats.”
In a similar advisory, Britain told people to move away from the airport area. Its armed forces minister, James Heappey, said intelligence about a possible suicide bomb attack by Daesh militants had become “much firmer.”
“I can’t stress the desperation of the situation enough. The threat is credible, it is imminent, it is lethal. We wouldn’t be saying this if we weren’t genuinely concerned about offering Islamic State a target that is just unimaginable,” Heappey told BBC radio.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said areas outside the airport gates were “incredibly crowded” again despite the warnings.
Australia also issued a warning for people to stay away from the airport while Belgium ended its evacuation operations because of the danger of an attack.

The Netherlands said it expected to carry out its last evacuation flight on Thursday. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said this was the most dangerous phase of the evacuation process.
The warnings came against a chaotic backdrop in Kabul, where the massive airlift of foreign nationals and their families as well as some Afghans has been under way since the day before the Taliban captured the city on Aug. 15, capping a lightning advance across the country as US and allied troops withdrew.
’Risking lives’
The Taliban, whose fighters are guarding the perimeter outside the airport, are enemies of the Afghan affiliate of Daesh, known as Islamic State Khorasan (Daesh-K), after an old name for the region.
“Our guards are also risking their lives at Kabul airport, they face a threat too from the Daesh group,” said a Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ahmedullah Rafiqzai, a civil aviation official at the airport, said people continued to crowd around the gates despite the attack warnings.
“People don’t want to move, it’s their determination to leave this country that they are not scared to even die,” he told Reuters.
A NATO country diplomat said threats from Daesh could not be ignored.
“Western forces, under no circumstances, want to be in a position to launch an offensive or a defensive attack against anyone,” the diplomat added.
The US military has said it would shift its focus to evacuating its troops in the final two days before the deadline.
President Joe Biden has ordered all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month to comply with a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, despite European allies saying they needed more time.
Since the day before the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out about 95,700 people, including 13,400 on Wednesday, the White House said on Thursday.
The US military says planes are taking off the equivalent of every 39 minutes.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at least 4,500 American citizens and their families had been evacuated from Afghanistan since mid-August.

End of month deadline
The Taliban have said foreign troops must be out by the end of the month. They have encouraged Afghans to stay, while saying those with permission to leave will still be allowed to do so once commercial flights resume.
The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by public executions and the curtailment of basic freedoms. Women were barred from school or work. The group was overthrown two decades ago by US-led forces for hosting the Al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban have said they will respect human rights and will not allow terrorists to operate from the country.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson said on Thursday that Russia had yet to determine its position toward the Taliban and would see how they act toward the Afghan population and Russian diplomats.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said governments of the Group of 20 major economies must be committed to making sure fundamental freedoms and basic rights for women are preserved.


Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic
Updated 26 November 2021

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic
  • The country’s economy has suffered the worst contraction in its post-independence history in the last two years

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is focusing on economic diplomacy, the new foreign minister has said in an interview with Arab News, as the country’s economy needs to rebound after two years of losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 caused the worst contraction in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, as annual growth slid from 3.1 percent in 2018–19 to -3.6 percent in 2020. Revenue from tourism — one of the country’s main economic sectors — dropped by $3 billion over the first eight months of 2021, compared with the same period in 2018.
While the Sri Lankan economy is slowly picking up, economic diplomacy is going to be a key factor in its foreign policy.
“The country is returning to normalcy after the pandemic, we are reopening schools and foreign tourists have started coming
to Sri Lanka. We are asking our foreign missions to focus on economic diplomacy to dwell on investments, trade and tourism,” Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said in the interview
earlier this week.
The minister, who took office three months ago, said Colombo does not have “exclusive relations with any particular country,” but expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for investing $1 billion in its infrastructure.
“We are thankful to Saudi Arabia for being a regular contributor to various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka,” he said. “The projects included construction of the Epilepsy Hospital, National Trauma Center, Kinniya bridge — the longest bridge in the island — and the construction of roads, tanks and highways.”
Saudi Arabia has also been one of the key sources of remittance inflows from Sri Lankan expats.
“The Middle East is the home for 1.5 million migrant workers, which includes the largest concentration in the Kingdom,” Peiris said.
The UK Foreign Office said this week that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated in the first half of 2021, with an increased use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the minister said it was indeed time to amend the 42-year-old law.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows the detention of suspects for up to 18 months without charges. It also gives the Minister of Defense the power to restrict freedom of association and expression without the possibility of appeal.
“Since there is no provision to repeal this act, the parliament will consider amending some clauses to keep abreast of changes that have taken place in the recent times,” Peiris said. He said that if there have been rights violations, citizens are free to file their cases with the Supreme Court.
“We have fundamental rights jurisdiction in our Supreme Court,” he said. “Rule of law is well exercised and people go to courts whenever they feel that their rights are infringed.”


Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe
Updated 26 November 2021

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe
  • Draghi: France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties
  • The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking

ROME: Italy and France signed a treaty on Friday to strengthen bilateral ties and reinforce their coordination within Europe, at a time when EU diplomacy is being tested by the departure of Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron put their names to the new pact in Rome’s Quirinale Palace. Afterwards, twin formations of planes trailing smoke in the colors of the two nations, sped through a stormy sky.
“The treaty ... marks an historic moment in relations between our two countries. France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties,” Draghi told reporters.
The signing ceremony came days after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive
French leaders.
The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate, and both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged US.
Macron said the Quirinale Treaty, named for the Roman residence of the Italian president, did not challenge French relations with Germany, but was complementary and aimed at boosting all of Europe.
Among the goals laid out in the 15-page document was a pledge to reinforce military connections, even at an industrial level, and work in tandem to enhance Europe’s defense capabilities.
“The objective we are following ... is to have a stronger and more sovereign Europe ... A Europe that knows how to protect its borders and defend itself,” Macron said.
The treaty was originally envisaged in 2017, but negotiations ground to a halt in 2018 when a populist government took office in Rome and clashed repeatedly with Macron over immigration.
There has been a renaissance this year following the appointment of Draghi to lead an Italian unity government, and the two men have met repeatedly in recent months, working closely on areas that were previous flashpoints, such as efforts to end years of conflict in Libya.
The Quirinale Treaty, loosely modelled on a 1963 Franco-German pact, will lead to Paris and Rome seeking common ground ahead of EU summits, just as France already coordinates key European policy moves with Germany.
Draghi said the two nations would launch “new forms of cooperation” in energy, technology, research and innovation. He added that at least once every quarter, an Italian minister would attend a French Cabinet meeting, and vice versa.
France and Italy also committed to working together in the space sector, and would facilitate “reciprocal investment” and define “common strategies in international markets.”
French companies have invested heavily in Italy in recent years, but Italian politicians have accused Paris of being less forthcoming when Italian businesses seek cross-border deals. Earlier this year, state-owned shipmaker Fincantieri’s bid to take over its French peer Chantiers de l’Atlantique collapsed, thwarted by EU competition issues.
Italian officials suspected Paris actively sought to undermine the deal behind the scenes.


UK bans Hamas in its entirety as ‘terrorist group’

Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)
Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 November 2021

UK bans Hamas in its entirety as ‘terrorist group’

Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)

LONDON: Britain on Friday designated all of Hamas an “Islamist terrorist group,” warning that its members and those who support the group could face stiff jail terms.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the group that rules the Gaza Strip, has been banned in Britain since 2001 but the interior ministry extended the ban to its political entities.

London said last week it was no longer possible to make a distinction, assessing that Hamas “commits, participates in, prepares for and promotes and encourages terrorism.”

“The Islamist terrorist group Hamas has today become a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK in its entirety following parliament's approval,” the Home Office said.

“This means that members of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for up to 14 years.”

Israel has welcomed the move, which follows similar action by the United States and the European Union.

But Hamas itself has called the UK move “a crime against our Palestinian people and all their history of struggle.”


Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police
Updated 26 November 2021

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police
  • Italian prosecutors believe Gabriel Abutbul Alon helped the grandfather of six-year-old Eitan Biran to take the boy back to Israel
  • Alon and Eitan's grandfather Shmuel Peleg are accused of having driven the boy from Italy to Switzerland

NICOSIA: A man has been arrested in Cyprus in connection with the alleged kidnapping of an Israeli boy who was the only survivor of a cable car disaster in Italy in May, police said, after Italian authorities issued an international warrant for him.
Italian prosecutors believe Gabriel Abutbul Alon helped the grandfather of six-year-old Eitan Biran to take the boy back to Israel in September without the consent of the paternal aunt he was living with.
The boy’s parents, younger brother and 11 other people died in the cable car crash in northern Italy.
Alon and Eitan’s grandfather Shmuel Peleg are accused of having driven the boy from Italy to Switzerland, where they chartered a private jet onward to Israel.
“The arrest occurred yesterday in Limassol ... on an Interpol warrant,” a Cyprus police source said.
Alon was taken on Friday to a district court, which said it would decide on Monday whether he should remain in custody. A lawyer for Alon could not be immediately reached for comment.
Shmuel Peleg’s decision to take the boy to Israel triggered a cross-border custody battle between him and the paternal aunt.
An Israeli tribunal upheld a petition to send him back to Italy, but its top court has halted procedures as it reviews a request to appeal against the decision.
The prosecutor’s office in the Italian city of Pavia was not immediately available to comment.


French fishermen block Calais port over fishing license row

French fishermen block Calais port over fishing license row
Updated 26 November 2021

French fishermen block Calais port over fishing license row

French fishermen block Calais port over fishing license row
  • In an effort to disrupt trade, several trawlers manouevered to force the DFDS and P&O ferries to reduce speed and hold outside the port
  • The blockade, which lasted 90 minutes, marked an escalation in the post-Brexit row between London and Paris over fishing rights in Britain's coastal waters

CALAIS, France: French fishermen blockaded the port of Calais on Friday, temporarily preventing two ferries carrying trucks and passengers from entering, in protest against the UK’s failure to issue more licenses to fish in British waters.
In an effort to disrupt trade, several trawlers manouevered to force the DFDS and P&O ferries to reduce speed and hold outside the port, a major entry point to the continental market for British goods.
The blockade, which lasted 90 minutes, marked an escalation in the post-Brexit row between London and Paris over fishing rights in Britain’s coastal waters.
Britain says any licenses that are being withheld lack the correct documentation to issue them.
The two ferries outside the port on Friday reduced their speed until their path was clear, the MarineTraffic app showed.
The protest then shifted to the Channel Tunnel where the fishermen held up goods moving to and from Britain through the Channel Tunnel rail link.
Dover — Calais is the shortest sea route between Britain and the European Union — just 23 miles (37 km) — and has been one of Britain’s main arteries for European trade since the Middle Ages.
Before Brexit and the pandemic, 1.8 million trucks per year were routed through Calais.
Earlier in the day, fishermen blocked a small British cargo, the Normandy Trader, from docking in the Brittany port of Saint-Malo. France says Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, has also failed to issue licenses due to its fishermen under a post-Brexit deal.
The one-hour Saint-Malo protest and the larger action further east along France’s coast risk reigniting a dispute between the two countries over a mutual licensing system for fishing vessels.
They are also embroiled in a row over cross-Channel migration.
With Britain’s exit from the European Union, the two sides agreed to set up a licensing system for granting fishing vessels access to each other’s waters.
Paris says London and the Channel Island of Jersey, a British crown dependency, are not honoring the agreement.
Britain says it is respecting the post-Brexit arrangements.
In October, France briefly seized a British scallop dredger off its northern coast for allegedly operating without a legitimate permit, and both countries have this year sent patrol vessels to waters off Jersey.
President Emmanuel Macron has accused Britain of pushing his country’s patience and said the government would not yield in the dispute.
Fishing rights dogged Brexit talks for years, not because of its economic importance but because of its political significance for both Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Separately, the French government said Britain’s Home Minister Priti Patel was no longer welcome at a Sunday meeting on immigration with other European officials following criticism of France by Johnson over its handling of cross-Channel migration.
The meeting is to address how to curb the flow of migrants after 27 people drowned trying to reach British shores on Wednesday.