Turkey lobbies Taliban in bid to operate five Afghan airports

Special Turkey lobbies Taliban in bid to operate five Afghan airports
A C-17 Globemaster takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 29, 2021. (Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 21 December 2021

Turkey lobbies Taliban in bid to operate five Afghan airports

Turkey lobbies Taliban in bid to operate five Afghan airports
  • Deal could see Ankara gain further influence in regional political, security concerns 
  • Proposal includes joint Turkish-Qatari involvement 

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on Monday that a Turkish and a Qatari company would jointly put forward a proposal to the Taliban to run five airports in Afghanistan for their approval “if conditions are favorable.”

A busy week awaits the technical delegations as one group of experts is expected to travel to Doha first, before heading to Afghanistan to discuss details for operating Kabul airport — a key point to channel humanitarian aid to Afghan civilians — and reopening it for international travel.

Experts underline that Turkish and Qatari involvement in the running of the airports will help the Taliban to maintain their links with international actors and evade international isolation, while Ankara will also use its Afghanistan card to repair ties with Washington and to have a foothold in regional geopolitics.

In the meantime, Turkish and Qatari delegations, which already signed a joint agreement on operating the airports in Afghanistan, will make joint proposals to the Taliban, which will be discussed on Wednesday.

Turkey was initially offering to operate Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul with technical and security assistance, but questions remain unanswered about why the initial plan changed and the benefits of this proposal for regional security and channeling of humanitarian assistance.

On Sunday, Cavusoglu met with the acting Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on the sidelines of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Islamabad to discuss the airport issue.

“As the Taliban succeeded in taking over Afghanistan militarily, and the Doha peace process became dead, now the Taliban are interested to increase their capability to govern, but they lack legitimacy both internally and internationally,” Zalmai Nishat, a research fellow at the Asia Center at the University of Sussex, told Arab News.

“The Taliban may have requested the operationalization of these airports in the western, northern, southern and central parts of Afghanistan. The lack of capacity in these airports is a key problem and Turkey can fulfill it with its much-needed technical expertise,” he added.

However, Nishat underlined that during the new round of negotiations with the Taliban, Turkey should devise its own Afghanistan policy and must use its stature and prestige to ensure democratic representation of all ethnic, sectarian communities and political factions of Afghanistan.

With its non-combatant role in the country over the years, Turkey established connections with diverse segments of Afghan society, including the Taliban.

The Turkish government insists on including some Turkic figures from minority groups — like Turkmen and Uzbeks — as well as women in Afghanistan’s new Cabinet.

“By helping run the airports, Ankara is eyeing getting an influential foothold in Afghanistan, to help achieve its broader goals in the region,” Galip Dalay, a fellow at the German Institute for Security and Policy Affairs, told Arab News.

“All regional powers already had their roles in Afghanistan and establishing a meaningful influence in the operationalization of the airports is the only area that Turkey can currently occupy,” he added.

However, for Dalay, Ankara is likely to bring to the negotiation table the “security” role that it wants to assume in the airports of Afghanistan.

“Qatar is willing to share responsibilities with Turkey on this issue because it doesn’t have enough skills to handle the security of the airports,” he said.

Dalay also noted that the Taliban and Ankara would find a middle ground for the security role at the airports without being restricted with the technical or civilian roles.

“The Taliban are currently in economic and political isolation at the international sphere and they will be open to any offers to break it. At that point, a Turkish private contractor can assume the security role at the airport, and thereby Turkey will gain leverage in its relations vis-à-vis the Biden administration and the EU with this new responsibility as it will both open humanitarian aid channels to the country and help manage the migration flows to Europe,” he said.

On Monday, Cavusoglu said a Turkish and a Qatari company had signed a memorandum of understanding for running five airports in Afghanistan, including Hamid Karzai, but did not name the other four.


Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 25 June 2022

Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

Residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
  • UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948

UNITED NATIONS: Donors pledged about $160 million for the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.
Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the UN Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.
“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”
UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.
There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.
Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.
In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.
“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”
Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”
Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.
Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.
Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.
“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.
Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s UN Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.
Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with UN policies.”


Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
Updated 24 June 2022

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery

Mikati urges Lebanese to unite and put country on path to recovery
  • PM-designate to meet MPs as first step towards forming new govt

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s newly reappointed prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has called on the Lebanese to leave their differences aside and put the country on the path to recovery.

Mikati, currently serving as caretaker PM, was named prime minister-designate by President Michel Aoun on Thursday after binding parliamentary consultations.

The billionaire, who has already served in the role three times, received the support of 54 of 128 MPs.

However, if he fails to form a new government in the four months before President Michel Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 31, no executive decisions will be able to be taken during that time.

Meanwhile, 25 MPs designated Nawaf Salam, a former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and now a judge at the International Court of Justice, while one MP, Jihad Al-Samad, designated former premier Saad Hariri, arguing that “Hariri is the top representative of the Sunni community in Lebanon.”

Forty-six MPs, including Christian MPs affiliated with the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, in addition to some reformist MPs, refrained from designating anyone.

Mikati is expected to hold non-binding parliamentary consultations by Monday or Tuesday to elicit MPs’ opinions, and to see whether the new government will be a government of national unity.

Following the binding parliamentary consultations, many MPs stressed the importance of forming a government.

MP Sami Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, said: “I wish MPs would stop saying that there will be no government before the presidential elections. The country cannot wait, and the people cannot wait, nor can the economy or the national currency. Lebanon cannot withstand four more months like this.”

Calling on the forces of change to unite to form an opposition force, opposition MP Michel Moawad said: “The dispersal of the opposition is a major obstacle to our ability to achieve change.

“We have a collective responsibility in the opposition to agree on the crucial milestones; otherwise we will bear the responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

Hezbollah did not announce its position on participating in the government, but did designate Mikati to form it.

MP Bilal Abdallah, from the Democratic Gathering bloc, told Arab News: “When it comes to forming a government, the current stage is different from the previous ones. Last time, we designated Mikati and participated in his government, but we have a different approach today. We have called on unifying the political position of the opposition, but no one answered our call. The majority remains divided.”

Abdallah said that the FPM did not designate Mikati the last time, but insisted on selecting all the Christian ministers in his government.

“Will this happen again this time? That political team’s demands will be even more impossible to meet if it wishes to disrupt the presidential elections. We got so used to seeing this team disrupting political life; how can we trust that it wants to hold presidential elections on time? They have always disrupted government just to have their way. Disruption is their middle name.”

Meanwhile, the FPM is continuing its campaign against Riad Salameh, seeking to have the central bank governor replaced before the end of Aoun’s term.

Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun filed another lawsuit against Salameh, his four former deputies, former director-general of the Ministry of Finance Alain Biffany, and several central bank employees in light of a complaint submitted by the People Want Reform group against Salameh and anyone whom the investigations show to be involved in illicit enrichment, money laundering, forgery, counterfeiting and fraud.

Aoun, who is affiliated with the FPM, referred the case to the first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, requesting the arrest of Salameh and the others, and referring them to the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court, while maintaining the travel ban issued against Salameh.

Earlier, Aoun personally supervised a raid on Salameh’s home in the Rabieh area.

State security officers searched the house and opened safes, only to find that the property had been abandoned and the safes contained only some papers, which were confiscated.


Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
Updated 24 June 2022

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla

Morocco: 5 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Melilla
  • About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: Moroccan authorities said that five migrants were killed and scores of migrants and police officers were injured in a “stampede” of people trying to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla on Friday.
About 130 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday, the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said about 2,000 people attempted to enter the North African city.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence. It said five migrants were killed and 76 injured, and 140 Moroccan security officers were injured.
Those who succeeded in crossing went to a local migrant center, where authorities were evaluating their circumstances.
Several migrants and police officers were slightly injured, said the spokesperson, who could not be identified by name in keeping with government rules.
People fleeing poverty and violence sometimes make mass attempts to reach Melilla and the other Spanish territory on the North African coast, Ceuta, as a springboard to continental Europe.
Spain normally relies on Morocco to keep migrants away from the border.
Over two days at the beginning of March, more than 3,500 people tried to scale the 6-meter (20-foot) barrier that surrounds Melilla and nearly 1,000 made it across, according to Spanish authorities.
Friday’s crossings were the first attempt since relations between Spain and Morocco improved in March after a year-long dispute centered on the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976.
Morocco loosened its controls around Ceuta last year, allowing thousands of migrants to cross into Spain. The move was viewed as retaliation for Spain’s decision to allow the leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement to be treated for COVID-19 at a Spanish hospital.
Tensions between the two countries began to thaw earlier this year after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to Western Sahara, where activists are seeking full independence.


Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
Updated 24 June 2022

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque ‘in danger of collapsing’ due to Israeli excavation work: Site official

Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site. (Reuters/File
  • Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks

RAMALLAH: Officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem have raised deep concerns over Israeli excavation work at the holy site which they claim has caused cracks and other damage to the building’s structure.

And Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the city’s Islamic Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs department, has warned that the mosque could be in danger of collapse if the digging continued at its current intensity.

The Israelis have been carrying out excavations beneath Islam’s third-holiest site for a number of weeks which officials say has led to cracks appearing and stones being dislodged from walls and ceilings.

Al-Khatib said: “There are dangerous and unknown excavations, and no one knows what they are and what their goals are. We see the removal of large quantities of dust and hear the sounds of digging equipment and the breaking of stones.

“The vibrations led to the fall of several stones from the mosque’s ceilings in the southern prayer halls.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow specialized engineers and technicians from our department to find out what is going on and what is happening, and for a week we have been talking to the Israeli police about these excavations, which are taking place day and night, and they just ignore our request,” he added.

Al-Khatib noted that similar activities had taken place in the past but digging work had been stepped up in recent weeks.

He said: “We are concerned about the tunnels being dug that may lead to the collapse of the Al-Aqsa. So, we informed the Jordanian Royal Court, the Jordanian Ministry of the Islamic Awqaf, the Jordanian ambassador, and most importantly, we appealed to (Jordan’s) King Abdullah, custodian of the holy sites, to intervene in this issue.

“The Islamic Awqaf does not want friction but is deeply concerned about surprises for Al-Aqsa and stability in the region.

“I asked the Israeli police to allow us to repair the wall from which stones came off, and which might be in danger of collapsing, but they refused.

“Neither the Waqf, nor UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) knows what is happening. We are entrusted with Al-Aqsa and carrying out our mission. What is happening is a dangerous matter that worries and frightens us,” Al-Khatib added.

Technical sources in the Islamic Awqaf told Arab News that a committee of engineers and experts affiliated with the department had been set up to look into what was happening and report back to officials.


Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
Updated 24 June 2022

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader

Lebanon’s Aoun stresses importance of preserving Jerusalem in meeting with Hamas leader
  • Palestinian people have the right ‘to establish their independent state,’ president says
  • ‘Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon,’ Ismail Haniyeh, head of group’s political bureau, says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun on Friday reaffirmed his country’s position on the Palestinian cause during a meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the political bureau of Hamas.

Aoun expressed “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all their national territory, with Jerusalem as its capital,” and stressed Palestinian refugees’ right to return home.

“Palestinians’ resistance to occupation is not terrorism,” Aoun said, adding that “no one can imagine Jerusalem without the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy sites,” and stressing the need “to preserve Jerusalem, where Christianity, Islam and Judaism meet.”

After the meeting, Haniyeh said: “The Israeli occupation does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian in Palestine, especially in Jerusalem.

“Hamas stands in solidarity with Lebanon and condemns the Israeli enemy’s attempt to steal from Lebanon’s maritime resources.”

He added that he wished Lebanon “security, stability and more solidarity.”

Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon is his third in two years and coincided with World Refugee Day. On his first visit, he said: “Our missiles will be launched from our land (targeting Israel) and we will not involve Lebanon.”

Raafat Murra, a Hamas official, said Haniyeh’s visit to Beirut “highlights the need to resolve the crisis of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Haniyeh’s office said one of the aims of the trip was “addressing the reality of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon” as well as “consulting and cooperating with the Palestinian factions’ officials, in a way that serves the Palestinian cause.”

A Palestine Liberation Organization official in Lebanon, who chose to remain anonymous, told Arab News that “the PLO and Fatah are not involved with Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon. This visit is part of the special program between Hamas and Hezbollah.”

During his time in Lebanon, Haniyeh also visited Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah said that “Haniyeh and Nasrallah underlined the importance of cooperation between the Axis of Resistance to serve the central goal, which is concerned with Jerusalem, holy sites and the Palestinian cause.”

The PLO official said that Hezbollah was “trying to solve the problems between Hamas and the Syrian regime.”

Asked about a Hamas announcement that Haniyeh’s visit to Lebanon was related to the Palestinian refugee camps, he said the refugees had their own authority — the PLO — and that Lebanon recognized the independent state of Palestine and deals with it to address all issues facing the camps.