Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 

Special Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan eat ice cream as they visit the MAKS 2019 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 27, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 February 2022

Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 

Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 
  • Military assault in Ukraine ‘will have lasting ramifications for security of Turkish people,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Debate on whether Turkey will implement the wartime articles of the Montreux Convention on its Dardanelles and Bosporus straits

ANKARA: On Sunday evening, Turkey pursued a terminological change in defining the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine as a “war” — a strong wording compared to its earlier statements that described it as an “unacceptable military intervention.”

Ankara also reiterated its mediation proposal to host peace negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow. 

Ankara’s latest move sparked debates about whether it will implement the wartime articles of the Montreux Convention on its Dardanelles and Bosporus straits that would bar Russian warships not associated with the Black Sea fleet from crossing the Turkish straits for the duration of the conflict.

“We are witnessing yet another war in our region. President Erdogan has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine as we have strong relations with both countries. . He also called for a unified stance on the part of the allies,” Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications chief, tweeted. 

Another critical question is whether Turkey can play an effective role in mediating between the warring parties at a time when Ankara is attempting to maintain its good ties with Ukraine and Russia to secure both its energy imports and tourism flows from Russia and defense cooperation with Ukraine. 

In a similar vein, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk that “the situation in Ukraine is officially a war according to the Article 19 of the Montreux Convention.” 

On the first day of the war, Ukrainian Ambassador to Ankara Vasyl Bodnar urged Ankara to close the straits to the passage of Russian warships.

But Cavusoglu emphasized that Turkey cannot block all Russian warships reaching the Black Sea because a clause in the Montreux Convention exempts those returning to their registered bases. 

Ankara’s move to describe events in Ukraine as a war under the Montreux Convention gives Turkey the right to act accordingly. Until Sunday, it termed the conflict as a “military intervention” or an unacceptable “operation.”

So far, Turkey’s senior officials repeatedly urged the parties to begin ceasefire negotiations and to immediately halt Russian attacks. 

As a diplomatic tool, Turkey attaches high importance to mediation. A decade ago, it launched with Finland the Mediation for Peace Initiative, a group of countries that work on different mediation practices.

Turkey’s mediation offers have been consistently welcomed by the Ukrainian side, while Russia would welcome any Turkish effort to convince Ukraine to come into compliance with the existing Minsk Protocol of 2015 as a result of any mediation offer.

Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Rane Intelligence, said that Turkey’s announcement to partially close the Bosporus straits to Russian military activity will probably make the country appear less neutral in any potential Ukrainian-Russian peace talks.

“That being said, Russia is feeling very isolated at the moment and could be looking to give Turkey some sort of symbolic win to improve Moscow’s relationships in the post-war aftermath,” he told Arab News. 

But Bohl added that the potential of Turkey mediating any talks relies on the assumption that Russia is interested in serious ceasefire negotiations.

“It’s still not clear if Putin’s maximalist aims that he laid out in his nationwide speeches are going to remain Russia’s strategy going forward,” he said. 

“If they do, then any role Turkey might play in negotiations would be symbolic,” he added.

On Sunday, Cavusoglu conducted intense diplomatic contact with key figures for the conflict’s resolution, including OSCE Secretary-General Helga Maria Schmid, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. 

According to Jonathan Katz, senior fellow and director of Democracy Initiatives at the US-based German Marshall Fund, Turkey should support Ukraine through direct military and humanitarian assistance, bolster the defense of NATO and its partners, including in the Black Sea and South Caucasus. 

“Therefore, Ankara shutting down the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Russia’s warships is also critical,” he told Arab News.

“Putin’s war with Ukraine is a direct threat to Turkey’s security and will have lasting ramifications for the security of the Turkish people.”

At least six Russian warships and a submarine passed through Turkey’s straits this month. 

Although Ankara is yet to join Western sanctions against Russia, the Russian side is still skeptical about a possible role that Turkey might play in the peace talks, especially after Ankara openly defined the Russian invasion as a “war” and termed Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an occupation. 

Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank close to the Kremlin, said that it would be difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept Erdogan’s mediation. 

“The reason is that because the latter has always sided with Ukraine since 2014. It’s like having two Zelenskys at the table across Putin instead of one,” he told Arab News. 

Since 2018, Turkey has sold Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine, which has helped the military destroy significant amounts of Russian armor, while the two countries also agreed to jointly produce some defense and security technologies.

“Although being a mediator between Ukraine and Russia would be Turkey’s dream scenario, it is increasingly unlikely it will happen, especially if Turkey really decides to close the Straits to Russia warships as it will be a clear political signal that it chooses the pro-Ukrainian side,” Karol Wasilewski, a Turkey analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News. 

“I also doubt the Russians would agree to that,” he added. 

“The regime is increasingly isolated and would definitely connect the dots that Turkey’s change of rhetoric about the Russian aggression — the fact that Turkey started to call this a ‘war’ — came right after the NATO summit,” said Wasilewski.


Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
Updated 04 February 2023

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage

Images of emaciated Iranian prisoner on hunger strike prompt outrage
  • Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution

TEHRAN: Social media images purported to be of an emaciated jailed Iranian dissident on hunger strike have caused outrage online as supporters warned on Friday he risks death for protesting the compulsory wearing of the hijab.
Farhad Meysami, 53, who has been in jail since 2018 for supporting women activists protesting against Iran’s headscarf policy, began his hunger strike on Oct. 7 to protest recent government killings of demonstrators, the dissident’s lawyer said.
The images of Meysami went viral on social media on the same day Iran released award-winning director Jafar Panahi on bail after seven months in jail. Panahi said the images of Meysami reminded him of survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Iran’s judiciary denied the hunger strike claim and said the photos were from four years ago when Meysami, a physician, did go on hunger strike.
As evidence, the semi-official YJC news agency posted what it said was Meysami’s latest photo, in which he does not look emaciated and is sitting on the floor of his prison cell with a bag of what looks like chips next to him.
Reuters was unable to confirm when the pictures were taken.
Iranian authorities released Panahi on bail after he started a hunger strike this week to demand to be freed pending a retrial, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing the Directors Guild of Iran.
There was no official word from Iran’s judiciary on the release, but videos on social media purportedly showed Panahi speaking to well-wishers outside Evin prison.
“The images of Farhad Meysami... remind one of the people in Auschwitz or of (Mahatma) Gandhi, since Meysami has written about non violence,” Panahi said. “Many are left behind bars... so how can I say I feel happy?“
Iranian authorities detained Panahi in July to serve a six-year sentence which a court originally ordered in 2010 for “propaganda against the system.” In October, the ruling was quashed by Iran’s supreme court which ordered a retrial.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Morality police arrested Amini for flouting the hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarves. Women have played a prominent role in the protests, with many waving or burning their headscarves.
Rights groups say more than 500 protesters have been killed and nearly 20,000 arrested. At least four people have been hanged, according to the Iranian judiciary.
“My client Farhad Meysami’s life is in danger,” tweeted lawyer Mohammad Moghimi. “He went on hunger strike to protest the recent government killings in the streets.” He said Meysami had lost 52 kg (115 lb).
Images show Meysami curled up on what looks like a hospital bed, and another standing, his ribs protruding.
“Shocking images of Dr. Farhad Meysami, a brave advocate for women’s rights who has been on hunger strike in prison,” tweeted Robert Malley, Washington’s special envoy for Iran.
“Iran’s regime has unjustly denied him and thousands of other political prisoners their rights and their freedom. Now it unjustly threatens his life,” he said.
Amnesty International said: “These images (of Meysami) are a shocking reminder of the Iranian authorities’ contempt for human rights.”
In a letter published by BBC’s Persian Service on Thursday, Meysami made three demands: an end to executions, the release of political-civil prisoners and an end to “forced-hijab harassment”.
“I will continue my impossible mission in the hope that it may become possible later on with a collective effort,” he wrote.

 


Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
Updated 04 February 2023

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi

Iranian protests are ‘beginning of the end for regime in Tehran’, says Nobel laureate Ebadi
  • Exiled Nobel-winning former judge speaks out
  • Revolution is a ‘train that will not stop,’ she says

JEDDAH: Protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman are the start of an irreversible “revolutionary process” that will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime, one of Tehran’s most eloquent critics said on Friday.

Shirin Ebadi, the distinguished Iranian lawyer and former judge who lives in exile in London, said the protests were the boldest challenge yet to the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical establishment.

“This revolutionary process is like a train that will not stop until it reaches its final destination,” said Ebadi, 75, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending human rights.

“The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she told Reuters in a phone interview from London.

Iran’s clerical rulers have faced widespread unrest since Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16 last year after she was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire.”

This image grab from a UGC video posted on Feb. 3, 2023, reportedly shows protesters demanding the release of political prisoners during a march in Iran's southeastern city of Zahedan. (AFP)

Iran has blamed Amini's death on existing medical problems and has accused its enemies of fomenting the unrest to destabilise the regime.

For months, Iranians from all walks of life have called for the fall of the clerical establishment, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Amini’s death has unbottled years of anger among many Iranians over issues ranging from economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities to tightening social and political restrictions.

As they have done in the past in the face of protests in the past four decades, Iran’s hard-line rulers have cracked down hard. Authorities have handed down dozens of death sentences to people involved in protests and have carried out at least four hangings, in what rights activists say is a crackdown aimed at intimidating people and keep them off the streets.

BACKGROUND

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

The rights group HRANA said 527 protesters had been killed during unrest, of whom 71 were children, and nearly 20,000 protesters had been arrested.

However, protests have slowed considerably since the hangings began. Videos posted on social mediashowed people chanting “Death to Khamenei” from rooftops in some cities, but nothing on the scale of past months.

Ebadi said the state’s use of deadly violence would deepen anger felt by ordinary Iranians about the clerical establishment because the their grievances remain unaddressed. “The protests have taken a different shape, but they have not ended,” she said.

The crackdown has stoked diplomatic tensions at a time when talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers are at a standstill.

To force the regime from power, Ebadi said the West should take “practical steps” such as recalling their ambassadors from Tehran, and should avoid reaching any agreement with Iran, including the nuclear deal. 

With deepening economic misery, chiefly because of US sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear work, many Iranians are feeling the pain of galloping inflation and rising joblessness.

Inflation has soared to over 50 percent, the highest level in decades. Youth unemployment remains high with over 50 percent of Iranians being pushed below the poverty line, according to reports by Iran’s Statistics Center.

(With Reuters)


Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
Updated 04 February 2023

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
  • Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site

TEHRAN: Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Friday showed damage done to what Iran describes as a military workshop targeted by Israeli drones, the latest such assault amid a shadow war between the two countries.
While Iran has offered no explanation yet of what the workshop manufactured, the drone attack threatened to again raise tensions in the region. Already, worries have grown over Tehran enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, with a top UN nuclear official warning the regime had enough fuel to build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose earlier tenure as premier saw escalating attacks targeting Iran, has returned to office and reiterated that he views Tehran as his country’s top security threat. With State Department spokesperson Ned Price now declaring Iran has “killed” the opportunity to return to its nuclear deal with world powers, it remains unclear what diplomacy immediately could ease tensions between Tehran and the West.
Cloudy weather had prevented satellite pictures of the site of the workshop since it came under attack by what Iran described as bomb-carrying quadcopters on the night of Jan. 28. Quadcopters, which get their name from having four rotors, typically operate from short ranges by remote control.
Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site.
Images taken on Thursday by Planet Labs PBC showed the workshop in Isfahan, a central Iranian city some 350 km south of Tehran.
An AP analysis of the image, compared to earlier images of the workshop, showed damage to the structure’s roof. That damage corresponded to footage aired by Iranian state television immediately after the attack that showed at least two holes in the building’s roof.
The Iranian state TV footage, as well as satellite photos, suggest the building’s roof also may have been built with so-called “slat armor.”
The structure resembles a cage built around roofs or armored vehicles to stop direct detonation from rockets, missiles or bomb-carrying drones against a target.
Installation of such protection at the workshop suggests Iran believed it could be a drone target.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.
A segment aired on Iranian state TV in October included purported confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now lives in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
It remains unclear whether the military workshop targeted in the drone attack was that aerospace facility.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the satellite images and other questions about the workshop.
The attack comes Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad.
Nationwide protests have shaken the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police.
Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the US dollar.
Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.
In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.
Israel has not commented on this drone attack.
However, Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or the Mossad.
A letter published Thursday by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, said that “early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible for this attempted act of aggression.”
The letter, however, did not elaborate on what evidence supported Iran’s suspicion.

 


Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
Updated 04 February 2023

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
  • Party chief threatens to disrupt election over militant menace
  • MP Rifi: ‘Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into terror camp, Captagon lab, murder scene’

The head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayel, has threatened to disrupt presidential elections if the other parties try to elect a president who would provide cover for Hezbollah’s weapons.

Speaking at the party’s general conference on Friday, Gemayel — a fierce opponent of Hezbollah — said that what was happening was an attempt to change the face of Lebanon.

The opening session of the general conference was attended by anti-Hezbollah political figures, who also expressed opposition to the party’s recent actions.

Gemayel’s parliamentary bloc is the third largest Christian bloc following the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party.

They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world.

Sami Gemayel

“They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world,” he said.

Gemayel added that the battle today was not against a certain category of Lebanese people, but rather over Christian and Muslim coexistence.

“However, there is a huge group of Christian and Muslim Lebanese, and of all denominations, who believe that Lebanon is a message of civilization and development.

“They also believe in freedom and were born clinging to this freedom.

“Whoever is trying to eliminate the Lebanese spirit is not a group of Lebanese, but rather an armed party that is taking its sect hostage and trying to turn the conflict in Lebanon into a sectarian one,” he said.

Gemayel talked about suspicious land purchases, demographic change, institutional crippling and a systematic attack on free media.

He said: “We could not force the Syrian army to withdraw until we stood hand-in-hand in Martyrs’ Square. Today, we will not be able to preserve Lebanon unless we all unite again.”

Gemayel said that the ruling class handed over the country to Hezbollah under the pretext of defending Christians.

“We had warned against handing over the country to Hezbollah,” he added.

“We warned against economic collapse and international isolation. Some are clearly trying to kick us out of the economic, diplomatic, and political equations, but the true will of the Lebanese people was expressed in the Cedar Revolution and the Oct. 17 Revolution.”

Gemayel added: “Today, there are two states in Lebanon, the Lebanese Republic, and another state, which is the Islamic Republic of Hezbollah, and each state has its own funding, army, and foreign policy.

“The Islamic Republic is trying to put its hand on the pluralistic Lebanese Republic, and we need to fight such attempts. We cannot continue to deal with the dictatorial practices in a traditional manner; compromising with the Islamic Republic has dragged us into this catastrophic situation. We kept making one concession after the other, one settlement after the other.

“From this moment on, we refuse to submit to Hezbollah’s will."

Gemayel continued: “We call on all the Lebanese to assume their responsibilities, and we want Hezbollah to know that we will no longer accept this status quo.

“If a divorce between the two states is inevitable, then so be it. Hezbollah ought to announce it, but we will not accept living like second-class citizens. We will not submit; we will resist.

“The Kataeb Party is not a fan of war. We support the state and the army, but if anyone dares approach our homes, we will defend ourselves,” he added.

On the second anniversary of the assassination of researcher Lokman Slim, who was known for his outspoken opposition to Hezbollah, Gemayel noted: “We know that no trial will ever be held to shed light on Slim’s assassination.”

He added: “We thus know the extent of intimidation to which the Lebanese who oppose Hezbollah are subjected.”

Slim’s family and friends commemorated the second anniversary of his assassination on Friday in the absence of an indictment from the Lebanese judiciary.

Slim had told the public that he was receiving death threats from Hezbollah prior to his assassination in southern Lebanon.

MP Ashraf Rifi said: “They are trying once again to impose a president and government by taking advantage of the vacuum and making threats.

“Lebanon was an icon in the East, but the axis of evil turned it into a terror camp, a Captagon lab, and a murder scene. They are now seeking to elect a puppet to continue controlling the country.”

 

 


Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
Updated 03 February 2023

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
  • To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services

CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian bibliophiles weave through a labyrinthine display of books, reviving an annual tradition at the Arab world’s largest book fair, but this year it comes at a steep cost.
The 54th Cairo International Book Fair was overshadowed by a punishing economic crisis that has seen Egypt’s currency, the pound, halve in value and prices skyrocket in the past year.
Organzers say the fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend alone — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this will not translate to sales.
“We expected a much smaller turnout this year than we had,” said Wael Al-Mulla, one of more than 800 publishers at the fair.
Budgets are tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, forcing many to dip into their savings to cover ever-rising daily costs.

BACKGROUND

Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.

“Books are a luxury product,” said Mulla, who heads the Masr El-Arabia publishing house. “They’ll inevitably be less of a priority when people need to budget for the basics.”
A steep currency devaluation has compounded costs for import-dependent publishers, leading many to hike the price of books by up to double.
“You could once come with 2,000 pounds (now $66) and fill a suitcase with books,” said Mohamed El-Masry, CEO of El-Rasm Bel Kalemat Publishing.
“You can’t do that any more,” the 38-year-old lamented.
To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services.
State-owned publishers have also offered heavily discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, or $1.
According to sellers, readers — eager for their annual haul despite the crisis — are deploying new methods to lessen the burden.
“We see most people coming with their friends as a group. They’ll decide what they want, divide the books among themselves and then pass them around,” said Abdallah Sakr, 33, a publishing manager at El-Mahrousa.
“Everyone’s surprised when they see the prices, but there’s still a desire to read. So instead of buying five books they’ll get two, or one instead of two,” he added.
To survive the crisis, publishing houses have grown more selective.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock — all imported — quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Mulla said.
“I have to be very careful with my choice of books, only picking the titles I’m really sure will be popular.”
Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.
“Some publishing houses have had to downsize to the bare minimum, or halt activities until the economic landscape is a little clearer,” Mulla said, noting some had already had to shut down their presses permanently.
In a corner of the fair, vendors from the city’s well-known Azbakeya second-hand book market appeared unfazed by the economic downturn.
Nestled against the walls of the historic Azbakeya Garden, the stalls have for over a century sold used books, as well as pirated prints, for a fraction of the prices elsewhere.
As in past years, the booksellers have carted their innumerable volumes from the bustling market in central Cairo to the polished new exhibition centre on the city’s outskirts.
Like hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, 39-year-old Mohamed Shahin “made a beeline” for the Azbakeya booksellers with his family in tow, he said.
“This is the most popular place at the fair, even though the good books sell out quick because there aren’t a lot of copies,” 18-year-old engineering student and volunteer Malak Farid said.
Mohamed Attia, an imam in his 40s, travels to Cairo for the fair every year from his hometown of Dakahlia, some 150 km north of the capital.
With most volumes going for less than one dollar, the Azbakeya market has long been a treasure for Attia, and now it has become a necessity.
“Books are so much more expensive this year,” he said.
But, he added with relief, “prices in Azbakeya have remained the same” — a rare boon in today’s economic climate.