KOS, Greece: Greece on Saturday opened two more of its new “closed” migrant camps that have been criticized by rights groups for their restrictive measures.
“A new era is beginning,” Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi said announcing the opening of the camps on the islands of Leros and Kos.
“We are extricating our islands from the migration problem and its consequences,” he said. “The images that we all remember from 2015-2019 are now in the past.”
Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — entered Europe in 2015 and its islands in the Aegean Sea are the main port of call from people arriving via Turkey in search of a better life in Europe.
The crisis in Afghanistan has prompted fears of a new migration wave.
The “closed” camps feature barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors and gates remain closed at night.
They also have many features, like running water, toilets and more security, that were absent from the previous facilities that became infamous for their living conditions.
Greece inaugurated the first such camp on the island of Samos in September and plans to open two more, on the islands of Lesbos and Chios.
The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps.
But NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps’ structure in isolated places and residents’ confinement, saying that the movement of people in the camps should not be restricted.
According to latest UN estimates, there are currently around 96,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.
Hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville
Updated 52 min 26 sec ago
COLLEYVILLE, US: The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during livestreamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hourslong standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman inside the suburban Fort Worth synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard a gun click as he was praying.
Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday.
“First of all, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online.
Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman engaged. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation devolved, Cohen said the gunman told them to get on their knees. Cohen recalled rearing up in his chair and slowly moving his head and mouthing “no.” As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run.
“The exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.
The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the US The statement followed comments Saturday from the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”
At a service held Monday evening at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well-wishes and kindness and compassion” has been been overwhelming.
“Thank you for all of the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said.
“While very few of us are doing OK right now, we’ll get through this,” he said.
Video of the standoff’s end from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.
Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.
The investigation stretched to England, where late Sunday police in Manchester announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges.
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the US at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
Akram arrived in the US on a tourist visa from Great Britain, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her US counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of the police and security services in Britain in the investigation.
Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Siddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.
An attorney in Texas who represents Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connections to Akram.
“She said from the beginning when she was sentenced that she does not want any violence done in her name and she doesn’t condone any type of violence being done,” said attorney Marwa Elbially.
Akram, who was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he’d been “suffering from mental health issues.”
“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim, etc. is wrong and should always be condemned,” his brother, Gulbar Akram, wrote.
Community organizer Asif Mahmud, who has known the family for 30 years and attends the same mosque, said the family was devastated by what happened in Texas.
He “had mental health issues for a number of years,” Mahmud said. “The family obviously were aware of that … but nobody envisaged he would potentially go and do something like this.”
Mohammed Khan, leader of the local government council in Blackburn, said the community promotes peace across all faiths.
“Ours is a town where people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths are welcomed, and it is a place where people get along and support one another,’’ Khan said in a statement.
Major US airline CEOs warn 5G could ground some planes, wreak havoc
FAA warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations
AT&T and Verizon on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks
Updated 18 January 2022
WASHINGTON: The chief executives of major US passenger and cargo carriers on Monday warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis in less than 36 hours, when AT&T and Verizon are set to deploy new 5G service.
The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service set to begin on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and cause “chaos” for US flights.
“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” wrote the chief executives of American Airlines , Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others in a letter first reported by Reuters.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancelations, diversions or delays,” the letter https://twitter.com/davidshepardson/status/1483148794690740224?s=20 cautioned.
Airlines late on Monday were considering whether to begin canceling some international flights that are scheduled to arrive in the United States on Wednesday.
“With the proposed restrictions at selected airports, the transportation industry is preparing for some service disruption. We are optimistic that we can work across industries and with government to finalize solutions that safely mitigate as many schedule impacts as possible,” plane maker Boeing said on Monday.
Action is urgent, the airlines added in the letter also signed by UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air , JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express. “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
The letter went to White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Airlines for America, the group that organized the letter, declined to comment. The government agencies did not immediately comment.
’Intervention is needed’
AT&T and Verizon, which won nearly all of the C-Band spectrum in an $80 billion auction last year, on Jan. 3 agreed to buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce interference risks and take other steps to cut potential interference for six months. They also agreed to delay deployment for two weeks until Wednesday, temporarily averting an aviation safety standoff, after previously delaying service by 30 days.
Verizon and AT&T declined comment on Monday.
The CEOs of major airlines and Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun held a lengthy call with Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday to warn of the looming crisis, officials told Reuters.
The airlines ask “that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles (3.2 km) of airport runways” at some key airports.
“Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.
The airlines added that flight restrictions will not be limited to poor weather operations.
“Multiple modern safety systems on aircraft will be deemed unusable causing a much larger problem than what we knew... Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded.”
One area of concern is whether some Boeing 777s will be unable to land at some key US airports after 5G service starts, as well as some Boeing cargo planes, airline officials told Reuters. The airlines urged action to ensure “5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”
The FAA said on Sunday it had cleared an estimated 45 percent of the US commercial airplane fleet to perform low-visibility landings at many airports where 5G C-band will be deployed and they expect to issue more approvals before Wednesday. The airlines noted on Monday that the list did not include many large airports.
A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off
The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami
Updated 18 January 2022
SYDNEY: The first death from a massive underwater volcanic blast near the Pacific island nation of Tonga has been confirmed, as the extent of the damage remained unknown Monday.
Tonga remained virtually cut off from the rest of the world, after the eruption crippled communications and stalled emergency relief efforts.
It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in a film of ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.
But with phone lines still down and an undersea Internet cable cut — and not expected to be repaired for weeks — the true toll of the dual eruption-tsunami disaster is not yet known.
The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami. She was identified as Angela Glover, 50, who lived in the Tonga capital with her husband James, Glover’s brother Nick Eleini told British media.
Two women also drowned Saturday in northern Peru in big waves recorded after the volcanic blast, authorities there said.
Only fragments of information have filtered out via a handful of satellite phones on the islands, home to just over 100,000 people.
In one of the few communications with the outside world, two stranded Mexican marine biologists made a plea for help from their government, using a satellite phone provided by the British embassy to call their family.
“They said they were sheltering in a hotel near the airport and they asked us for help to leave the island,” Amelia Nava, the sister of 34-year-old Leslie Nava, told AFP in Mexico.
Tonga’s worried neighbors are still scrambling to grasp the scale of the damage, which New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern said was believed to be “significant.”
Both Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes Monday in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air.
And both have put C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational and ash clouds allow.
There are initial reports that areas of Tonga’s west coast may have been badly hit.
Australia’s international development minister, Zed Seselja, said a small contingent of Australian police stationed in Tonga had delivered a “pretty concerning” initial evaluation.
They were “able to do an assessment of some of the Western beaches area and there was some pretty significant damage to things like roads and some houses,” Seselja said.
“One of the good pieces of news is that I understand the airport has not suffered any significant damage,” he added.
“That will be very, very important as the ash cloud clears and we are able to have flights coming into Tonga for humanitarian purposes.”
Major aid agencies, who would usually rush in to provide emergency humanitarian relief, said they were stuck in a holding pattern, unable to contact local staff.
“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense — especially for outlying islands,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation.
Even when relief efforts get under way, they may be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions. Tonga only recently reported its first-ever coronavirus case.
France, which has territories in the South Pacific, pledged to help the people of Tonga.
“France is willing to respond to the population’s most urgent needs,” the foreign ministry said. This assistance would be provided through a humanitarian aid mechanism with Australia and New Zealand that is known as FRANZ, the ministry added.
What is known is that Saturday’s volcanic blast was one the largest recorded in decades, erupting 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) into the air and depositing ash, gas and acid rain across a swathe of the Pacific.
The eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
The Tongan capital Nuku’alofa was estimated to be cloaked in 1-2 centimeters of ash, potentially poisoning water supplies and causing breathing difficulties.
“We know water is an immediate need,” Ardern told reporters.
After speaking to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, she described how boats and “large boulders” washed ashore.
Wellington’s defense minister said he understood the island nation had managed to restore power in “large parts” of the city.
But communications were still cut. The eruption severed an undersea communications cable between Tonga and Fiji that operators said would take weeks to repair.
“We’re getting sketchy information, but it looks like the cable has been cut,” Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP.
“It could take up to two weeks to get it repaired. The nearest cable-laying vessel is in Port Moresby,” he added, referring to the Papua New Guinea capital more than 4,000 kilometers from Tonga.
Tonga was isolated for two weeks in 2019 when a ship’s anchor cut the cable. A small, locally operated satellite service was set up to allow minimal contact with the outside world until the cable could be repaired.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province
Updated 18 January 2022
THE HAGUE: Dutch police late Monday discovered the body of a Belgian child, whose disappearance five days ago sparked a massive search spanning two countries.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province after a man was arrested elsewhere in the Netherlands earlier during the day, police said.
“We thank everybody who helped and are sending condolences to his family,” they added.
Police said the body was discovered at Neeltje Jans, an island that forms part of the Oosterschelde flood barrier and is popular with Dutch tourists.
Police earlier on Monday also sent out a so-called Amber Alert — issued in child abduction cases — with the description of the toddler and a picture.
The alert came after police arrested a 34-year-old Belgian man in the town of Meerkerk, south of Utrecht, about 120 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Neeltje Jans.
Verberckmoes was last seen in the Belgian city of Sint Niklaas near Antwerp on Wednesday in the company of the man, only identified as Dave De K., the NOS public broadcaster reported.
De K. regularly minded Dean and his younger sister, the toddler’s mother told the Belga news agency.
The man was supposed to take the child to his grandparents on Thursday and when that did not happen the mother reported him missing.
Dutch police launched a massive search after at became known that De K. and the toddler may be in the Netherlands.
“The police investigation pointed to a possible crime scene on Monday evening... and a police helicopter also joined the search,” Dutch police said.
“Around 10.00 p.m. (2100 GMT) the lifeless body of a child was found,” police said.
‘Serb crimes still fresh in Kosovar memories’ on Recak massacre anniversary
Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lulzim Mjeku appeals for justice and preservation of peace in the Western Balkans
Comments come as Kosovar Albanians mark 23rd anniversary of 1999 killing that spurred NATO intervention
Updated 18 January 2022
RIYADH: The people of Kosovo want to see more international involvement in the Western Balkans to stem a rising tide of hate speech and preserve peace in a still tense region, its ambassador to Saudi Arabia has told Arab News.
In an interview with Arab News in the run-up to Kosovo’s Independence Day on Feb. 17, Lulzim Mjeku cited a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Jan. 14 as Kosovars were preparing to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre.
The statement said individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Serbia, have glorified atrocities, praised war criminals, targeted communities with hate speech and, in some cases, directly incited violence.
Mejku said that the OHCHR “called upon the international community to intervene and to take concrete action against hate speech. Unfortunately, we have seen denialism in recent times.” Denialism refers to the practice of rewriting the past and pretending that historical events did not happen as they did.
The incidents the OHCHR was referring to involved large groups of people chanting the name of Ratko Mladic, a Serbian war criminal, while holding torchlight processions and singing nationalistic songs urging the takeover of various locations in the former Yugoslavia.
The hate crimes cited by the UN statement occurred in Serbia and in several locations in the Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina northwest of Kosovo. In one incident, shots were fired near a mosque in Janja in northeastern Bosnia, where local Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were mocked and threatened while returning from prayers.
Muslims populations of the Western Balkans know only too well the ugly history of ethnic hatred. “Forty years ago, the father of Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, Kosovo’s current minister of foreign affairs, was assassinated,” Mejku said, referring to the murders of Jusuf and Bardhosh Gervalla, Kosovar Albanian artists, writers and political activists, allegedly by the Serbian-Yugoslav secret police on January 17, 1982, near Heilbronn, a city in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.
“The gunmen also killed Kadri Zeka, a friend and collaborator of the Gervalla brothers. As dissidents who opposed Serbia’s oppressive regime in Kosovo and worked for their province’s independence, the three activists had been living in exile since 1980. The assassins have never been brought to justice.”
As a young journalist in 1999, Mjeku covered the massacre which occurred on Jan. 15 in Recak, a village in Kosovo. Forty-five people had been shot and their bodies dumped in a ravine outside Recak, apparently by ethnic Serb policemen and soldiers.
Other massacres of Kosovar Albanians followed, including in Krusha in March 1999, Meja on April 27, 1999, and Dubrava prison on May 22, 1999.
“As we commemorate this month the 23rd anniversary of the Recak massacre, the horrible crime is still fresh in our memories,” Mjeku told Arab News. “As sad as it may sound, the Republic of Kosovo owes its very existence to the crimes that were committed against the Kosovan people.”
Nikola Sainovic, a former deputy prime minister of Serbia, was among those responsible for spreading widespread terror among the Kosovar Albanian population.
In 2009, he was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo War. Soon after he was granted early release in 2015, Sainovic was appointed to the board of the Socialist Party of Serbia.
Allegations of war crimes have also dogged members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the main ethnic Albanian guerrilla force in Kosovo which fought against the Serbs.
After politicians unsuccessfully waged a years-long peaceful struggle for greater autonomy or independence, the KLA launched an armed uprising against Serbian rule in the mainly Muslim Yugoslav province in March 1998.
This galvanized a disproportionate response from the Serb political establishment, which did not discriminate between Kosovar Albanian fighters and civilians, sending thousands of refugees into neighboring Albania and North Macedonia.
In response to the escalating violence, notably the Recak massacre, NATO launched a 78-day bombing campaign that eventually forced Serb policemen and soldiers to withdraw from Kosovo.
After Yugoslavia accepted a peace proposal in June 1999, NATO ended the bombing campaign and the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, suspending Yugoslav rule in Kosovo and forming the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo with a NATO peacekeeping element, KFOR.
The cessation of violence brought hope to Kosovars at a time of great despair, paving the way for a new reality and prompting a return of refugees.
Many KLA leaders subsequently moved into politics. Hashim Thaci, a former president of Kosovo and a commander in the KLA, stands accused by a court in the Netherlands of responsibility for almost 100 murders.
Mjeku believes now is the time for diplomacy to take primacy. “During all these years, Kosovo as a country has voted for stability and security, not only for its own population, but also for the wider Balkan region and Europe,” he told Arab News.
Kosovo, a country of almost 2 million people, is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. After nine years under UN control, Kosovo declared independence through its assembly on February 17, 2008. Since then, more than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo.
The US, several EU member states and the GCC countries recognized Kosovo’s independence early on. Today Saudi Arabia, which was among 35 states that submitted statements supporting Kosovo, covers the country on non-residential basis from its embassy in Tirana, Albania
Mjecku said that with the generous assistance of its friends, Kosovo has made progress in healing the wounds of the past. Sixty percent of the population is under the age of 30, and many have little memory of the years of grief and violence, he said.
The Western Balkans is calmer than it was 20 years ago, although ethnic tensions are rising again in advance of elections in Serbia in April, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October.
UNMIK, which at its peak fielded more than 50,000 soldiers, is now down to 3,500 men, headquartered in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. The mission seeks to support a normalization agreement, better known as the Brussels Agreement, between Belgrade and Pristina brokered by the EU in 2013.
“As a young nation, we have made great progress in rebuilding our lives and healing our wounds,” Mjeku told Arab News.
“In this long-term journey, we have not been alone. We have had the assistance of our friendly countries, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the institutions of our allies, notably the US and the EU.”