US Secretary of State Blinken heads to Israel, Morocco, Algeria

US Secretary of State Blinken heads to Israel, Morocco, Algeria
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hopes to rally support for the US and NATO effort to blunt the Russian aggression. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 March 2022

US Secretary of State Blinken heads to Israel, Morocco, Algeria

US Secretary of State Blinken heads to Israel, Morocco, Algeria
  • The top US diplomat aims to show that the United States still has a deep interest in the Middle East

US top diplomat in Israel for landmark Arab talks

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel Sunday for a “historic” meeting with Arab countries which have normalized relations with the Jewish state in the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

Blinken, who arrived in Tel Aviv Saturday evening, will meet with his counterparts from Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the Negev desert Sunday and Monday to mark the shift in Arab-Israeli relations that began in late 2020.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described it as a “historic summit.”

Blinken’s visit, the first stop in a trip that will also take him to the West Bank, Algeria and Morocco — where he will hold talks with the UAE’s ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed — is focused in part on building support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

US officials say two other key issues are on the agenda for the trip: quelling the Jewish state’s worries about a looming nuclear deal with Iran, and discussing the potential global wheat shortage caused by the Ukraine war that could deal a heavy blow to the import-dependent Middle East.

“We know this pain is keenly felt in the Middle East and North Africa, where most countries import at least half of their wheat,” much of it from Ukraine, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert said ahead of the trip.

The war “will only continue to increase the price of basic staples like bread in the region, taking money from the pockets of the hardest working and most vulnerable families,” she said.

The trip comes as the US and Iran are in the final stages of negotiating a revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity.

The administration of former US president Donald Trump quit the deal unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed punishing economic sanctions, and Iran has since resumed many of its sensitive nuclear activities.

The conclusion of a renewed accord could come in a matter of “days,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is coordinating talks with Tehran, said Saturday.

“We are very close but there are still some issues pending,” Borrell told reporters on the sidelines of the Doha Forum in Qatar.

His comments came as the EU diplomat chairing the Vienna talks on the deal, Enrique Mora, was due in Tehran.

US officials say reaching a deal hinges on one or two key issues, but that Tehran has to make “difficult choices” if it wants an agreement.

But the possible deal worries Israel and US allies in the Gulf, who see Iran as a menace.

In February, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was “deeply troubled” by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, which Israel fears would not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Ahead of the talks, Bennett sent a rare message to regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, expressing “sorrow” over a wave of attacks by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on Friday that hit targets including an oil plant near the Formula One race in Jeddah.

“This attack is further proof that Iran’s regional aggression knows no bounds,” Bennett wrote on Twitter late Saturday.

Blinken will also meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Palestinians remain concerned that they are being forgotten in the US-backed push for Arab governments to boost relations with Israel and focus on Iran as their principal threat.

The Trump administration slashed support for the Palestinians and closed the US consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to Palestinian relations.

Biden promised to reopen the consulate, but a year into his administration that move has not come.

The consulate issue “will certainly be a topic of discussion,” Lempert said.

After Israel, Blinken will travel to Morocco and Algeria to talk about regional security and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which has divided the two neighbors.

Also in Morocco, he will hold talks with the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed, who has become a major political force in the region.

 

 

WARSAW: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flies to Israel Saturday as the Ukraine war rages, aiming to rally regional support for Kyiv and quell the Jewish state’s worries about a looming nuclear deal with Iran.
On the first stop of a tour that will include the West Bank, Morocco and Algeria, Blinken will join a mini-summit of counterparts from Bahrain, the UAE and Morocco, the so-called “Abraham Accords” countries that have normalized relations with Israel.
He will fly in from Poland, where he accompanied President Joe Biden in meetings to shore up Western backing for Ukraine.
The top US diplomat aims to show that the United States still has a deep interest in the Middle East even as the region has dropped in importance for Washington as China, and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have risen to the top of priorities.
He also hopes to rally support for the US and NATO effort to blunt the Russian aggression, amid heavy economic fallout from the war, including spiking energy prices and the threat of a wheat shortage that could hit Arab countries severely.
The trip comes as the United States and Iran are in the final stages of negotiating a revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity.
The administration of former US president Donald Trump quit the deal unilaterally in 2018, and since then Iran has advanced its nuclear program to the point that Western experts think it is not far from the “break-out” stage of becoming a real nuclear threat.
US officials say reaching a deal hinges on one or two key issues, but that Tehran has to make “difficult choices” if it wants an agreement.
“I want to be clear that an agreement is neither imminent nor is it certain,” US state department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.
But the possible deal leaves Israel and US allies in the Gulf region who see Iran as a menace particularly nervous.
In February, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was “deeply troubled” by the prospect of a new nuclear deal, which Israel fears would not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Separate from meeting Bennett, Blinken will also meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinians remain concerned that they are being left behind in the US-backed push for Arab governments to boost relations with Israel and the focus on Iran as a regional threat.
The Trump administration slashed support for the Palestinians and closed the US consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to Palestinian relations.
Biden promised to reopen the consulate, but a year into his administration that move has not come.
The consulate issue “will certainly be a topic of discussion,” State Department Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert said.


Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
Updated 21 sec ago

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers

Hundreds still under earthquake rubble in rebel-held Syria — rescue workers
  • Rescue effort hampered by freezing conditions
  • White Helmets rescuers seek international help
AMMAN: Time is running out to save hundreds of families trapped under the rubble of buildings brought down by Monday’s earthquake, the head of the Syrian opposition-run civil defense service said on Tuesday.
Raed Al-Saleh told Reuters urgent help was needed from international groups for the rescue effort by the organization known as the White Helmets in rebel-held northwest Syria, where hundreds were killed and injured.
“Every second means saving lives and we call on all humanitarian organizations to give material aid and respond to this catastrophe urgently,” he said.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria early on Monday, toppling apartment blocks, wrecking hospitals and leaving thousands of people injured or homeless.
At least 1,444 people were killed in Syria and about 3,500 injured, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.
Rescue teams worked early on Tuesday to free people trapped in the rubble of buildings in southern Turkiye as the death toll in that country rose to more than 3,400.
In areas hit by the earthquake in northwestern Syria, rescue efforts were hampered by lack of equipment and freezing conditions. Rescuers cleared piles of debris using makeshift tools and their hands.
“There are a lot of efforts by our teams but they are unable to respond to the catastrophe and the large number of collapsed buildings,” Al-Saleh said.
Syria’s Emergency Response Team, a non-governmental organization that operates in the rebel-held enclave, said snow storms had closed roads within makeshift camps that house tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.
“We have great difficulty in getting heavy equipment because of the large spread of places that were affected,” said Salamah Ibrahim, a senior rescuer operating in the city of Sarmada, where a whole neighborhood fell to the ground.
The rebel-held enclave in the northwest of Syria is a refuge for around four million people, many of whom have been uprooted by a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that turned the tide in favor of President Bashar Assad during the more than decade-long Syrian conflict.
“Most of the hospitals are full and the situation is catastrophic. We are in need of medicines urgently to cover the needs,” said Zuhair al Qarat, head of the health authority in Idlib city.
Damage was also widely seen in government-held Aleppo city’s eastern sector, whose buildings bore the brunt of intensive aerial bombing by Russia and the Syrian military to push out rebels in 2016, according to rescuers and aid workers.

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people
Updated 12 min 18 sec ago

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people

WHO: Turkiye, Syria quake could affect up to 23 million people
GENEVA: Up to 23 million people could be affected by the massive earthquake that has killed thousands in Turkiye and Syria, the WHO warned on Tuesday, promising long-term assistance.
“Event overview maps show that potentially 23 million people are exposed, including around five million vulnerable populations,” the World Health Organization’s senior emergencies officer Adelheid Marschang said.
“Civilian infrastructure and potentially health infrastructure have been damaged across the affected region, mainly in Turkiye and northwest Syria,” she said.
The WHO “considers that the main unmet needs may be in Syria in the immediate and mid-term,” Marschang told the WHO’s executive committee in Geneva.
She spoke as rescuers in Turkiye and Syria braved freezing cold, aftershocks and collapsing buildings, as they dug for survivors buried by a string of earthquakes that killed more than 5,000 people.
“It is now a race against time,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, explaining that the UN health agency was urgently sending aid to the area.
“We’re mobilizing emergency supplies and we have activated the WHO network of emergency medical teams to provide essential health care for the injured and most vulnerable.”
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast Turkiye-Syria border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
The situation is particularly dire in northern Syria, which has already been decimated by years of war.
“The movement of aid through the border into northwest Syria is likely to be or is already disrupted due to the damage caused by the earthquake,” Marschang said.
“This in itself would be a huge crisis already.”
She addressed a special meeting on the tragedy, which held a minute’s silence for the victims.
The WHO chief vowed that the agency would “work closely with all partners to support authorities in both countries in the critical hours and days ahead, and in the months and years to come as both countries recover and rebuild.”

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response
Updated 23 min ago

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response

In Turkiye’s worst-hit province, residents cry for help amid weak quake response
  • Rescue workers struggle to cope with the scale of destruction across southern Turkiye and northwest Syria
  • the total death toll rising above 5,000 on Tuesday morning

ANTAKYA: “They’re making noises but nobody is coming,” Deniz cried out, holding his hands to his head as he railed against the lack of efforts to rescue those trapped under rubble after a powerful earthquake killed thousands in Turkiye and Syria.
Desperate screams for help could be heard from those trapped in collapsed buildings in the Mediterranean coastal province of Hatay where people tried to keep warm around bonfires in cold rainy weather.
Hatay, which borders northwest Syria, is the worst-hit province in Turkiye with at least 872 people killed. Residents complained of inadequate emergency response and rescue workers said they have struggled to get equipment.
Deniz cried as he pointed to a destroyed building in which his mother and father were stuck, awaiting emergency workers.
“We’re devastated, we’re devastated. My God!” he said. “They’re calling out. They’re saying, ‘Save us,’ but we can’t save them. How are we going to save them? There has been nobody since the morning.”
Rescue workers have struggled to cope with the scale of destruction across southern Turkiye and northwest Syria, with the total death toll rising above 5,000 on Tuesday morning.

Turkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has said 13,740 search and rescue personnel have been deployed to the quake region, but the level of damage is huge with nearly 6,000 buildings destroyed in southern Turkiye.
In Hatay alone, more than 1,200 buildings have been destroyed, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
Rescue teams in the province complained about a lack of equipment, while people on the road stopped cars and asked for any tools to help remove the rubble.
The government declared a “level 4 alarm” after the quake struck, calling for international assistance, but has not declared a state of emergency that would lead to mass mobilization of the military.
In Hatay’s provincial capital of Antakya, where 10-story buildings had crumbled on to the streets, Reuters journalists saw rescue work being carried out at one of the dozens of mounds of rubble.
“There are no emergency workers, no soldiers. Nobody. This is a neglected place,” said one man, who had traveled to Hatay from Ankara after managing to pull out a woman from the wreckage of a building on his own.
“This is a human life. What can you do when you hear a sound of life?” said the man, who declined to be named, as the woman received medical attention in a car.
The southern province of Hatay hosts more than 400,000 Syrians, mostly refugees from the country’s nearly 12-year civil war, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.


Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank
Updated 07 February 2023

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank
  • 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head
  • Since the start of this year, 42 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian Health Ministry said Tuesday that Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager in an army raid in the occupied West Bank.
He was the latest casualty in what is already one of the most violent periods in the West Bank in recent years.
The ministry said 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head but provided no additional details about the incident. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
The incident came a day after Israeli forces killed five Palestinian gunmen linked to the Islamic militant Hamas group in a raid on refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli army has staged almost nightly raids across Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly attacks in Israel last spring. The Palestinian Authority declared it would cease security coordination with Israel after 10 Palestinians were killed in a raid last month.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Since the start of this year, 42 Palestinians have been killed in those territories. Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed some 30 people in 2022.
The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.


Earthquake death toll surpasses 5,000 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll surpasses 5,000 in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 07 February 2023

Earthquake death toll surpasses 5,000 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll surpasses 5,000 in Turkiye, Syria
  • At least 3,419 people died in Turkiye, with 1,602 in Syria
  • More than 5,600 buildings flattened across several cities

HATAY, Turkiye: The death toll from a massive earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria rose above 5,000 on Tuesday, official data showed, with rescue workers still searching for trapped survivors.
At least 3,419 people have died in Turkiye and 1,602 in government- and rebel-controlled parts of Syria, bringing the total to at least 5,021, officials and medical sources said.
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
“Where is my mum?” asked a distraught seven-year-old girl who was pulled — her face, hair and pyjamas covered in dust — from a collapsed building in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the border.
The sense of disbelief was widespread, as residents struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.
As residents tried to clear a mountain of masonry, plasterboard and furniture that had been a multi-story building, another collapsed nearby — sending crowds screaming and clamouring for safety.
With aftershocks continuously rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors spent the night outdoors, too afraid to go home.
Some huddled under bus shelters, some wrapped themselves in plastic to repel the freezing rain and others burned debris to keep warm.
Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their parked car.
“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”

 

Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD put the latest death toll at 3,419 in that country alone — bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkiye and Syria to more than 5,000.
There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old student Omer El Cuneyd in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.
“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Overwhelmed medics struggled to treat the estimated 20,000 injured.
The US Geological Survey said Monday’s first earthquake struck at 4:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles).
The initial earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Greenland and was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that struck in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday.
The impact was devastating and sparked a global response, with dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand vowing to send help.
But a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow and officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.
The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria’s envoy to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.

 

 

The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.
Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.
The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list — Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkiye.
At a jail holding mostly Daesh group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.
President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkiye, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.
Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams and other supplies.
Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.