Jordan reports ‘dramatic’ increase in drug smuggling attempts from Syria

Drugs smugglers go to extreme lengths to avoid Jordan’s surveillance of its borders with Syria, which stretch more than 360 km, but several have been shot or killed by border guards in their efforts to cross. (Supplied/Jordanian Armed Forces)
Drugs smugglers go to extreme lengths to avoid Jordan’s surveillance of its borders with Syria, which stretch more than 360 km, but several have been shot or killed by border guards in their efforts to cross. (Supplied/Jordanian Armed Forces)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Jordan reports ‘dramatic’ increase in drug smuggling attempts from Syria

Drugs smugglers go to extreme lengths to avoid Jordan’s surveillance of its borders with Syria, which stretch more than 360 km, but several have been shot or killed by border guards in their efforts to cross. (Supplied/Jordanian Armed Forces)
  • Hezbollah to blame for war-torn country becoming a narco-state, experts say

AMMAN: With the latest figures from the Jordanian Armed Forces revealing a “dramatic” increase in drug smuggling attempts from Syria, experts have warned of the war-torn country becoming a narco-state, posing cross-border threats to nearby Jordan, the region and the rest of the world.

The Jordanian army said in a recent statement it had thwarted 361 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria into the kingdom, and seized about 15.5 million pills of narcotics of different types, including Captagon and tramadol, more than 16,000 sheets of hashish weighing 760 kg and almost 2 kilograms of heroin.

Jordan’s Customs Department said on Jan. 12 that working with anti-narcotics teams its personnel foiled an attempt to smuggle 2.7 million Captagon pills in two trucks traveling from Syria at the Jaber-Nasib border crossing.

A military source, who requested anonymity, told Arab News the figures were “dramatically high.”

“Illicit drug cultivation and manufacture has become a growing industry in Syria,” the person said.

The Jordanian army said it foiled more than 130 infiltration and smuggling attempts from Syria in 2020 that resulted in the seizure of about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

Drugs smugglers go to extreme lengths to avoid Jordan’s surveillance of its borders with Syria, which stretch more than 360 km, but several have been shot or killed by border guards in their efforts to cross.

In October, the Jordanian army said it shot down a drone carrying a large quantity of drugs as it flew over the border.

Another Jordanian security source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that traffickers from Syria used secret routes and tunnels to smuggle their illicit products into the kingdom.

“Having all these routes spotted by the Jordanian army, smugglers resort to other methods, including drones and even animals,” the person said.

According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi, drug smuggling operations are most active in Syria’s southern regions of Daraa and Al-Suwayda. Most of the smuggling routes are controlled by armed Bedouin tribes that have affiliations inside Jordan, it quoted sources as saying.

It added that traffickers used sewer pipes and tunnels to smuggle drugs into Jordan.

In November 2018, the Jordanian army said it thwarted a “large terrorist scheme” to infiltrate the kingdom via the Trans-Arabian Pipeline.

Experts say the strong presence of Lebanon’s Shiite militant organization Hezbollah in Syria and the expansion of its drug trafficking operations are the main reasons for the war-torn country becoming a narco-state, and the increase of drug smuggling into Jordan, Arab Gulf states and Europe.

In remarks to Arab News, Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and military analyst, said Hezbollah had resorted to the narcotics trade to secure funding after the US sanctions on Iran.

“There is an established illicit drugs industry for Hezbollah in Beirut’s Dahieh Al-Janubiya in the Shiite stronghold of Baalbek. Hezbollah has relocated some of its drug factories to Aleppo and other Syrian government-controlled regions,” he said.

Dweiri said Hezbollah had always used its money laundering and drug trafficking networks to finance its military arsenal and operations, and to fund the social services for its constituents.

“The US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah hard, obliging Tehran’s most funded proxy to look for other sources of revenues,” he said.

Asked whether the Syrian government was involved in illicit drug trafficking, Dweiri said: “I don’t have any documents proving that but to let Hezbollah operate such massive illicit activities in the country is alone a big crime.”

Enab Baladi claimed that drugs were being smuggled from Lebanon to Syria in vehicles backed by the armed forces, meaning they could pass through military checkpoints without being inspected.

According to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah has significantly expanded and institutionalized its drug trafficking enterprises, which now generate more money than its other funding streams. The think tank claimed that Hezbollah’s global narcotics industry began in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1970s, using well-established smuggling routes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

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Three killed as strong quake rocks southern Iran: IRNA

Iranians gather outside their buildings after an earthquake was felt in the capital Tehran on May 7, 2020. (AFP)
Iranians gather outside their buildings after an earthquake was felt in the capital Tehran on May 7, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 57 min 38 sec ago

Three killed as strong quake rocks southern Iran: IRNA

Iranians gather outside their buildings after an earthquake was felt in the capital Tehran on May 7, 2020. (AFP)
  • The quake struck just a minute after a 5.7 tremor

TEHRAN: At least three people were killed and 19 injured when a strong earthquake shook southern Iran early Saturday, the state news agency IRNA reported.
The 6.0 magnitude quake hit 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of the port city of Bandar Abbas in Hormozgan province, the US Geological Survey said.

A handout shakemap made available by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) shows the location of a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hitting around 54km north east of Bandar-e Lengeh, Iran, 02 July 2022. (EPA)

Three people were killed in Sayeh Khosh village close to the epicenter of the quake, IRNA reported, citing a member of the village Islamic council who said three bodies had been pulled from the rubble.
The quake struck just a minute after a 5.7 tremor.
One person was killed in November last year when Hormozgan province was hit by twin 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes.
Situated on the edge of several tectonic plates and crossing various fault lines, Iran is an area of strong seismic activity.
Iran’s deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor that struck in 1990, killing 40,000 people in the north of the country.

 


Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya
Updated 02 July 2022

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya



BENGHAZI, Libya: Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at UN-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps toward unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Haftar. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.


Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis
Updated 02 July 2022

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.


Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
Updated 02 July 2022

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown
  • Numbers double in six months

JEDDAH: The number of executions in Iran has more than doubled in the past six months in a new campaign to intimidate anti-regime protesters, rights groups said on Friday.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, 251 Iranians were hanged compared with 117 in the first half of last year. The surge in executions has coincided with a series of nationwide protests over Iran’s economic collapse and the soaring price of basic food staples such as bread.
“There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights, an activist group in Norway.
“Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said 137 of the executions had been carried out since the latest wave of anti-regime protests in Iran began on May 7. Six women were among those executed, and eight prisoners were hanged at the Rajai Shahr Prison outside Tehran this week alone.
The group said its estimate of executions included only those published in official media or confirmed by at least two independent sources, so the real number was likely to be higher.
Activists also accuse Iran of executing a disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities, especially Baluch and Kurds. Iran Human Rights said it counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, mainly Sunni Muslims who live in the southeast.
Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty in 2021 said that at least 19 percent of recorded executions in Iran were Baluch, although they make up only about 5 percent of the population.
There is also concern over the execution on June 20 of Firuz Musalou, a Kurd convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged an insurgency in Turkey. His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for human rights.


Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive
Updated 02 July 2022

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

Erdogan warns Turkey may still block Nordic NATO drive

MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement a new accession deal with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit at which the US-led alliance formally invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
The two nations dropped their history of military non-alignment and announced plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their bids were headed for swift approval until Erdogan voiced concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing a haven for outlawed Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism.”
Erdogan also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three sides on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Tuesday appeared to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan lifted his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden that was followed by a promise of new warplane sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters at an impromptu press conference held as the summit ended that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
New countries’ applications must be approved by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan warned Sweden and Finland’s future behavior would decide whether he forwarded their application to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the very earliest in late September and may wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
One Western diplomatic source in the hallways of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail.”
Erdogan delivered his message one day after Turkey said it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 were all accused of being either outlawed Kurdish militants or members of a group led by a US-based preacher Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists.”
He did not explain when Sweden issued this promise or provide other details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference but stressed that Sweden strictly adhered to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is applied by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if it is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been processed by officials and the courts.
“I would guess that all of these cases have been solved in Finland. There are decisions made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them up again.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its more robust ties with the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden keeps no official ethnicity statistics but is believed to have 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million people.
The Brookings Institution warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive framing” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the months to come.
“The complication arises from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond criminalizing participation in violent acts and infringes on basic freedom of speech,” the US-based institute said in a report.