Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

This undated handout file photograph released on October 15, 2021, by the Anadolu Culture Center via AFP)
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This undated handout file photograph released on October 15, 2021, by the Anadolu Culture Center via AFP)
An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)
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An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 25 October 2021

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration

Diplomatic row heats up in Turkey over envoys’ joint declaration
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordeed the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata”
  • Ankara’s foreign policy being driven by domestic political considerations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The joint declaration by 10 ambassadors of Western countries urging the release of the 64-year-old jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala continues to shape domestic politics in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordering the Foreign Ministry to declare the envoys “persona non grata.”

The move is expected to have domestic and international political and economic repercussions.

Kavala, who denies the charges, is behind bars for four years, accused of financing nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

The ambassadors of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands called for a quick and just resolution of Kavala’s case on Oct. 18 — the day marking four years of the start of his detention.

We “believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,” the ambassadors’ statement read, echoing the European Court of Human Rights ruling on its member country Turkey.




An undated handout file photograph released on Oct. 15, 2021, by Anadolu Culture Center shows Osman Kavala speaking during an event in Istanbul. (AFP)

The ambassadors were summoned by the Foreign Ministry after the release of the statement.

“I gave the necessary instruction to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These ten ambassadors must be declared persona non grata immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.

“They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand it they will leave,” he added, noting that these ambassadors would not release “terrorists” in their own countries.

A declaration of “persona non grata” — an envoy who is no longer welcome — is a diplomatic move that is one step before expulsion.

The Turkish government considers the ambassadors' declaration as direct interference into domestic politics, rather than reminding European top court's ruling.

In the meantime, Kavala, who served on the advisory board of US philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society’s national foundation in Turkey until 2018, released a statement on Friday saying that he would not attend his next trial on Nov. 26 to deliver his defense, as he believes his hearing would be not fair in light of recent circumstances.

The ambassadors referred to the ECHR in their declaration. The top European court urged the immediate release of the Turkish philanthropist in late 2019, saying that his detention was aimed at silencing him.

Last month, the Council of Europe warned that infringement proceedings against Ankara would begin at the end of November if Kavala was not released.

The Danish, Dutch and Norwegian embassies in Turkey said that they had not received any notification from Turkish authorities and would continue to urge Turkey to comply with its international obligations.

Experts, however, note that the expulsion of 10 European and North American ambassadors — unprecedented in Turkish political history — may trigger actions in kind from these countries.

“As elsewhere in the world, all politics is local,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News.

“Turkish foreign policy has been driven excessively driven by domestic political considerations and this case is no different,” he said.

According to Unluhisarcikli, Erdogan’s instruction to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare these ambassadors as “persona non grata” may please his voters and divert attention from domestic troubles, but it will also contribute to Turkey’s international isolation at a time when the country is already under US sanctions and came close to being sanctioned by the EU last year.

Last year, the US administration sanctioned the Turkish defense industry over its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The action was taken under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“Moreover ,Turkey is going through a currency crisis, which could trigger a financial crisis about 18 months before the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023,” Unluhisarcikli said.

In public statements, Turkey’s former ambassadors underlined that although harsh reactions could be given in diplomatic proceedings, the main goal should be the management and resolution of the crises.

Abdurrahman Bilgic, a retired envoy who served as the ambassador to Tokyo and the UK, said the ambassadors in Turkey had the right to declare their countries’ stance on Kavala’s release, either individually or through a joint declaration.

“In return, the Turkish Foreign Ministry can also retaliate with a declaration to show their uneasiness. But in the meantime the ambassadors should not target our ruling government and judiciary with their consecutive social media statements,” he told Arab News.

However, for Bilgic, declaring these diplomats “persona non grata” would not serve Turkey’s interests and could trigger retaliation.

“If the process is being handled like this, Turkey could not only loose its voting rights at the Council of Europe but even its membership,” he said.

Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution provides that in the case of conflict between international agreements in the area of fundamental rights and freedoms, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.

“Expelling ambassadors is not the way to defend national interests or to explain one’s position on any given matter. Impulsive foreign policy with an eye on domestic politics has only served to aggravate Turkey’s isolation. This should not be deepened through rash action,” tweeted Alper Coskun, the former Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan and senior fellow at Washington-based think-tank Carnegie Endowment.

In the past 50 years, Turkey has declared only three diplomats — one from Libya in 1986, Syria in 1986, and Iran in 1989 — as persona non grata, while the last foreign ambassador Ankara declared persona non grata was an Iranian envoy.


French ambassador tells Aoun: Implement Jeddah Agreement

French ambassador tells Aoun: Implement Jeddah Agreement
Updated 08 December 2021

French ambassador tells Aoun: Implement Jeddah Agreement

French ambassador tells Aoun: Implement Jeddah Agreement
  • Judiciary challenges political pressures, returns Beirut blast file to judicial investigator

BEIRUT: On Tuesday, at the request of President Emmanuel Macron, French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Griot briefed Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Macron’s Gulf tour, especially his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which “expressed its commitment to helping Lebanon, pointing out the need to implement the commitments that have been undertaken,” as stated by the media office of the Lebanese presidency.

During the meeting, Griot stressed that “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are ready to undertake the required steps, and that for its part, Lebanon should undertake what is required from it and prove its credibility in its commitment to reforms, especially the structural reforms that require new work tools to confront the deep crisis.”

The meeting held last Saturday in Jeddah between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Macron saw the issuing of a statement concerning Lebanon, in which the pair stressed the “need (for) the Lebanese government to undertake comprehensive reforms.”

The two sides also stressed the “need to limit possession of arms to legitimate state institutions,” and that “Lebanon should not serve as a base for terrorist acts that destabilize the security and stability of the region, or a base for drug trafficking,” further stressing “the importance of strengthening the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining the security and stability of Lebanon.”

The pair had made a joint phone call during the meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

During her talks with Aoun, Griot stressed the importance placed by the international community and France in the legislative, municipal, and presidential elections due next year.

In response to the Saudi-French statement, on behalf of Hezbollah, former minister Mohammed Fneish said on Tuesday that the group “will not … substitute the symbol of our dignity and freedom with bare essentials of living conditions.

“The attempts to make us relinquish the resistance and its arms in return of resolving the economic crisis is something unacceptable to us,” he added.

BACKGROUND

The meeting held last Saturday in Jeddah between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Macron saw the issuing of a statement concerning Lebanon, in which the pair stressed the ‘need (for) the Lebanese government to undertake comprehensive reforms.’

Cabinet sessions have been suspended since Oct. 12 over Hezbollah’s stubbornness over the  investigation into the Port of Beirut explosion. Judicial investigator Tariq Bitar is accused by the group of being biased against it, according to its chief, Hassan Nasrallah.

On Tuesday, the Civil Court of Appeal of Beirut, headed by Judge Randa Harrouq, rejected a lawsuit submitted by former minister Youssef Fenianos against Bitar “for lack of qualitative jurisdiction.”

Harrouq decided to “fine the plaintiff an amount of 800,000 Lebanese pounds ($530) and inform Judge Bitar of the content of the decision, which entails that he continues his investigations related to the file of the Port of Beirut explosion.”

A judicial source told Arab News that the defendants have exhausted all the steps that could be undertaken at the Court of Appeal, and that they might resort to the Court of Cassation to obstruct the interrogation of 4 former ministers in addition to former Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Bitar has not yet undertaken any indictments despite the fact that nearly 16 months have passed since the disaster.

According to another judicial source, Bitar has rejected all attempts to remove the brief from him and to refer the ministers and the prime minister to a court that would be formed by Parliament to try presidents and ministers, a request made by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.


Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz
Updated 08 December 2021

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

Gazan who lost 6 family members in Israeli strike loses case against Gantz

THE HAGUE: A Dutch appeals court on Tuesday upheld  a lower court’s decision to throw out a civil case against Israel’s defense minister and another former senior military officer over their roles in a deadly 2014 airstrike.

The Hague District Court ruled in January 2020 that the case against Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and former air force commander Amir Eshel couldn’t proceed because the men have “functional immunity from jurisdiction.”

The Hague Court of Appeal said on Tuesday that the lower court was right to rule that Gantz, who was military chief of staff at the time of the airstrike, and Eshel had immunity because they were carrying out Israeli government policies.

The case was brought by Ismail Ziada, who lost six members of his family in the airstrike that lawyers for the men argued was part of an Israeli military operation during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

A military slaughter in Gaza. A legal slaughter in The Hague. That’s how it feels.

Ismail Ziada

He wanted the Dutch court to order Gantz and Eshel to pay damages and his lawyers argued that the men didn’t have immunity because their actions amounted to war crimes.

Ziada said Tuesday’s ruling was “in contradiction with any sense of justice” and branded the judges “cowards” for their decision.

“A military slaughter in Gaza. A legal slaughter in The Hague. That’s how it feels,” he said.

Responding to the Dutch court decision while on a tour of the Gaza border, Gantz said he was proud of his command of the Israeli military, which he said “adheres to values and human rights” and observes international law ”with a real goal to protect the citizens of Israel and allow them to live in peace and calm.”

Roy Schondorf, a deputy Israeli attorney general, welcomed the ruling.

“The appeals court recognized their immunity from civil prosecution for anti-terror activities in the framework of operation ‘protective edge.’ This is a very important legal precedent that protects all IDF (Israeli military) commanders from similar attempts,” Schondorf tweeted.

The lower court also said Ziada was free to sue the men in Israel. At hearings in 2019, Ziada rejected the idea that he has access to justice in Israel as “farcical as well as vicious.”

Ziada told an earlier hearing that he lost his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a 12-year-old nephew in the airstrike.

Israel’s Justice Ministry told the court before the 2020 decision that an internal Israeli military investigation determined the airstrike had killed four militants hiding in the house.

It said the attack was permissible under international law. Gaza’s Hamas rulers themselves have said that two militants were in the building.

Ziada’s lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said the judges had taken a conservative interpretation of the law.

“They had the ... legal space to decide differently in our favor, legally speaking, but then there’s no precedent,” Zegveld said. “So they had to do something not so much new, but something that hadn’t happened before.”

The ruling can be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court.

 


Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp
Updated 08 December 2021

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

GENEVA: Two Swiss half-sisters whose mother took them out of the country with her when she joined the Daesh militant group in the Middle East in 2016 have been repatriated from a desert camp in northeastern Syria, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The older girl, now 15, had suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg, requiring three operations, while the younger was said to be in poor health.

The ministry confirmed that it had repatriated the two minors from the Al-Roj camp in northeast Syria.

“The children arrived on Swiss soil on Dec. 6 at Geneva airport, having passed through Iraq,” it said in a statement.

FASTFACT

The Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps hold nationals from some 60 countries who fled from Daesh’s last enclaves.

The repatriation, believed to be the first of its kind to Switzerland, was carried out with the consent of their mother.

The government has previously said she was still in the camp and has several nationalities, although her Swiss citizenship had been withdrawn for security reasons. The girls have different fathers in Geneva.

The case had been raised by UN  human rights experts in April.

The experts said then that the girls had been allegedly abducted in 2016 by their mother who joined Daesh. A senior Swiss official said at the time that it was working hard to have the girls sent home.

More than 60,000 people, two-thirds of them children, are held in camps for families associated with Daesh. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits the camps, has described them as a “tragedy in plain sight.”


Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Updated 08 December 2021

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”