Turkey bans Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis from flights to Belarus

Turkey bans Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis from flights to Belarus
An Airbus A-321 aircraft of the Turkish Airline arrives at the Vienna International Airport on August 4, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 November 2021

Turkey bans Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis from flights to Belarus

Turkey bans Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis from flights to Belarus
  • Ankara takes steps to curb migrant crisis

ANKARA: Poland, Belarus and Turkey are at the center of a refugee crisis after thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq and Yemen have become trapped at the Polish border, having been denied entry into Poland and prevented from re-entering Belarus. The crisis has now acquired an international dimension with NATO and Brussels on alert.

Since August, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland — all of which share a border with Belarus — have reported a surge in irregular crossings. The latest figures showed that, in October, around 11,300 migrants mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria attempted to enter the EU via the Belarus-EU border compared to 150 in the same month last year.

Warsaw initially criticized Turkey for maintaining an open corridor between Istanbul and Minsk, which, it said, helped Belarus to channel refugees from war-torn countries to the Polish border. The Polish government asked Turkey’s national carrier, Turkish Airlines, to ban nationals from Syria, Yemen and Iraq from its flights to Minsk.

Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority announced on Friday that it had acceded to Poland’s demands, saying: “Due to the problem of illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus, it has been decided that citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen who want to travel to Belarus from Turkish airports will not be allowed to buy tickets, or board, until further notice.”

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs marked Poland’s National Day on Thursday by emphasizing the strategic partnership between the two countries, adding: “We stand by our ally Poland in its fight against irregular migration.”

Belarus’s state-owned airline Belavia recently increased the frequency of its flights between Turkey and Minsk. The airline strongly denies any involvement in human trafficking, and announced on its website that it would comply with the decision of the Turkish authorities and would not accept citizens of Iraq, Syria, or Yemen for transportation on flights from Turkey to Belarus from Nov. 12.

“During the crisis, the number of flights from Istanbul to Minsk grew significantly, from seven a week to 28 per week in July. This is why lots of Poles and Europeans connected the dots and claimed that Turkey was either directly supporting the Belarusian regime’s actions or had chosen inaction so as not to endanger its relations with Russia,” Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News.

According to Wasilewski, there could have been many reasons behind Turkey’s inaction.

“This could have been due to bad (communication), legal doubts or just a different perception —in Turkey’s eyes, a country which proudly hosts 4 million refugees, the situation on the Poland–Belarus border can barely be called a crisis,” he said.

But, he stressed, the situation on that border has shifted dramatically in recent days. Hundreds of refugees are now living in makeshift camps along the Belarusian-Polish border in harsh winter conditions. Poland has implemented a state of emergency along its border, deploying hundreds of troops using water cannons and pepper spray to deter potential asylum seekers from crossing the border illegally.

“The migrants have been organized into huge columns, and trained by the Belarusian regime on how to break the border infrastructure,” he claimed. “And they did it, effectively also breaking the rules of the Geneva Convention. This is why the whole EU suddenly mobilized itself and expressed support for Poland, but this is also why Turkey’s situation got worse,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen underlined on Monday that the EU may consider sanctions and blacklisting for third countries’ whose airlines contribute to human trafficking.

“Although this was not a threat aimed just at Turkish Airlines, it was clear that the EU thinks the Turkish national carrier is part of the problem, even if it was engaging in this unconsciously,” Wasilewski said.

Two senior EU officials, Margaritis Schinas and Josep Borrell, are expected to visit Turkey, among other countries, to discuss and promote measures to stop refugees flying to Minsk.

Aydin Sezer, an expert on geopolitics and Russia-Turkey relations, said Turkey would attempt to maintain the delicate balance of its relationship with Poland, with which it has defense ties, and with Belarus and Russia.

Poland became the first NATO and EU member to buy Turkish-made drones and has also made a commitment to reaching $10 billion in bilateral trade with Turkey.

Turkey also recently flew F-16 jets in Polish airspace under NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and reportedly intercepted low-flying targets over the Baltic Sea.

NATO is obligated to defend the territories of its members, including Poland.

“There is a close relationship between the Turkish and Belarusian leaders, so while Turkey would like to preserve its trade ties with Poland, Ankara won’t risk taking further steps towards mediation between Belarus and Poland in regards to the refugee crisis,” Sezer told Arab News.

However, Turkey will likely take some strategic steps to maintain its international image.

“The commercial value of Turkish Airlines as a national carrier will push Turkey to revise its regional policy for commercial purposes,” Sezer said.

In its statement on Wednesday, Turkish Airlines said the company “makes sure to comply with all security measures and sensibilities in cooperation with international officials in all its flights operated to all corners of the world.”

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
Updated 21 January 2022

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck

At least 11 migrants drown off Tunisia in shipwreck
  • He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned

TUNIS: At least 11 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, while 21 others were rescued by the coast guard, the army spokesman said on Friday.
He added the coast guard had recovered five bodies, while the search was still under way for six more drowned.

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
Updated 21 January 2022

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack

Syria Kurds hunt down Daesh militants after prison attack
  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said five Daesh prisoners managed to break out
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces said arrested two Daesh fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison

BEIRUT: Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria on Friday killed a number of Daesh group fighters after their attack on a Kurdish-run prison housing fellow militants, a war monitor reported.
The Syrian Democratic Forces further announced the death of  several of its soldiers in the attack, the report added.
The rare attack on Ghwayran prison in Hassakeh province on Thursday saw the militia detonate a car bomb near the jail and attack Kurdish forces guarding the facility in an attempt to free some of the group’s members, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said “five IS prisoners managed to break out,” but it remains unclear whether they have since been killed or recaptured.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, described Friday’s attack as the largest such attack since the IS proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.

The US-led coalition battling Daesh said “SDF casualties ensued during the attack,” but it did not disclose how many.
The assault triggered clashes between the militants and US-backed SDF forces around the prison that continued into Friday amid heightened security measures, the Observatory said.
“Clashes are ongoing between IS fighters and (Kurdish) military forces in the area,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, describing it as one of the largest such attacks by Daesh since its proto-state was declared defeated in 2019.
The SDF, which oversees the jail, said on Friday that it “arrested two IS fighters that tried to escape from the Ghwayran prison” as part of combing operations following the attack.
The militants were captured in the vicinity of the jail, it said.
It said Daesh fighters that carried out the attack were hiding in civilian homes in the neighborhood of Al-Zuhoor near the jail.
“Exceptional security measures in the vicinity of the prison and surrounding neighborhoods are ongoing,” it said in a statement on Friday morning.
Daesh fighters “are using civilians in the Al-Zuhoor neighborhood and areas north of the prison as human shields,” it said, adding that the militia had killed some civilians in the area.
“Our forces and the relevant security services are moving with great precision and sensitivity to contain these incident.”

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in a semi-autonomous region controlled by Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
From France to Tunisia, many of the Daesh prisoners’ countries of origins have been reluctant to repatriate them, fearing a public backlash at home.
Daesh “remains an existential threat in Syria and cannot be allowed to regenerate,” the coalition said in a statement after Thursday’s attack.
“Coalition forces will continue to defend against and deter hostile activities against ourselves and our partners.”
The extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.
A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the Daesh proto-state in March 2019.
The remnants of the group mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to attack Syrian government and allied forces.
Earlier this month, Daesh fighters shot dead an aid worker with the Kurdish Red Crescent at the Al-Hol camp for displaced people.
Last week, a militant attack near Syria’s border with Iraq killed five Syrian pro-regime fighters and wounded 14 others, according to the Observatory.

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis
Updated 21 January 2022

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

Gargash: UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against Houthis

LONDON: The UAE will exercise its right to defend itself against the acts of the Houthi militia, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President Anwar Gargash said on Friday.

The UAE has the legal and moral right to defend its lands and residents, he said in a statement published by Al Arabiya. 

The Houthi militia rejected all calls for a ceasefire, and their attack on the UAE Rwabee ship prove their rejection of a political solution, the adviser said. 

The Houthis have turned the port of Hodeidah into a port for maritime piracy, he claimed, and are using it to finance the war.

The UAE will do everything necessary to prevent the danger of terrorist acts on its soil, he said.

Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE. This lead to international condemnation. 

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization after the attack.

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
Updated 21 January 2022

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’

Iraq: Daesh gunmen shoot dead 11 soldiers in ‘brazen attack’
  • The brazen attack was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months

BAGHDAD: Daesh gunmen attacked an army barracks in a mountainous area north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept, Iraqi security officials said.
The officials said the attack occurred in the Al-Azim district, an open area north of of Baqouba in Diyala province. The circumstances of the attack were not immediately clear, but two officials who spoke to The Associated Press said Daesh group militants broke into the barracks at 3 a.m. local time and shot dead the soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to issue official statements.
The brazen attack more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital Baghdad was one of the deadliest targeting the Iraqi military in recent months.

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic
Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”