Elderly British adventurer dies in Iraq amid guided tour smuggling accusations

Elderly British adventurer dies in Iraq amid guided tour smuggling accusations
Iraq’s ancient heritage has been decimated by conflict, destruction and looting, especially since after the 2003 US invasion of the country. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2022

Elderly British adventurer dies in Iraq amid guided tour smuggling accusations

Elderly British adventurer dies in Iraq amid guided tour smuggling accusations
  • Tour group accused of attempting to smuggle precious artifacts from Iraq

LONDON: A British tour guide leading a multinational group in Iraq has died under police observation in hospital amid fears that a fellow Briton in his tour group could be executed for smuggling national treasures.

Geoff Hann, 85, from West Yorkshire in northern England, suffered a stroke and died after Iraqi authorities blocked his exit from the country when members of his tour group were accused of attempting to smuggle precious artifacts from Iraq.

Jim Fitton, 66, a geologist from Bath, Somerset, who was on Hann’s tour is now facing a trial this month for attempting to smuggle pieces of ancient pottery found in luggage at Baghdad airport.

A diplomatic scuffle has erupted over the incident, with Fitton’s family accusing the British government of preferring not to anger the Iraqi judicial authorities. A petition has now been launched urging the Foreign Office to assist the family, and it has so far attracted 95,000 signatures.

The trip had always been set to be Hann’s final tour following a glittering international guiding career, including visits to Baghdad, Mosul, and the ancient cities of Mesopotamia.

Fitton’s 31-year-old daughter Leila Fitton said that the tour group visited a site at Eridu, the ancient Sumerian city south of modern Tall Al-Muqayyar.

Describing the scenario that led to her father’s arrest, she said: “There are no guards present, no signage warning against removal of any of the detritus, and indeed neither the Ministry of Tourism representative with them nor the experienced tour guide team led by Geoff gave even a hint of warning that these items were considered valuable.”

She added: “Jim and others on the tour inquired whether they would be OK to take home a few shards from the site to remember the trip by and were told that this would be perfectly fine as the debris had no economic or historical value.”

But Hann was not fully guiding throughout the trip. Ahead of his tragic hospital death, he reported feeling unwell during the tour, spending significant portions resting on the bus while a trainee guide led the group. On March 20, he was blocked from boarding a flight home at Baghdad airport and suffered an apparent stroke.

A German on the tour party and Fitton stayed to assist him but were arrested after pottery shards were found in their luggage.

Fitton’s daughter said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office urged them against speaking publicly about the case for “fear of upsetting the Iraqi authorities.”

She added: “It is our view that the entire FCDO political hierarchy has abandoned Jim to his fate, all the way up to the prime minister.”

Fitton, who used his geological expertise in a global career in the gas and oil industry, now resides in Malaysia.

Laith Hussein, head of antiquities and heritage in Iraq, said: “The British man was detained at the airport after the customs found in his luggage different pieces of antiques from several sites.”

Amanda Milling, the British minister for Asia and the Middle East, said: “We understand the urgency of the case, and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr. Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”


Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry

Updated 12 sec ago

Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry

Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry
DAMASCUS: Syrian counter-narcotics units seized a record haul of 2.3 tons of the amphetamine-type stimulant known as captagon, the interior ministry announced Wednesday.
Law enforcement officers had earlier discovered 249 kilos of captagon hidden in steel machinery inside containers ready to leave the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
The ensuing investigation alerted the authorities “to the existence of a warehouse containing drugs on a farm” in the nearby province of Hama, a ministry statement said.
“The weight of the confiscated bags amounted to 2,103 kilos,” the statement said, adding that 10 arrests were made and several vehicles confiscated.
With a kilo of captagon estimated to amount to around 6,000 pills, the cumulated number of pills seized tops 14 million, the largest recorded haul by the Syrian government in years.
Several recent reports have accused senior members of President Bashar Assad’s government and security apparatus of being at the heart of the booming captagon trade.

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden
Updated 41 min 34 sec ago

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden
  • Extradition sought under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids

ITANBUL: Turkey said Wednesday it would seek the extradition of 33 “terror” suspects from Sweden and Finland under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids.
“We will seek the extradition of terrorists from the relevant countries within the framework of the new agreement,” signed on Tuesday by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted as saying by NTV television.


Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers
Israel has accused Hezbollah gunmen of setting up clandestine positions at the border in defiance of UNIFIL. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 June 2022

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers

Israel accuses Hezbollah of trying to hack UN Lebanon peacekeepers
  • The allegation — to which there was no immediate response from Beirut, Tehran or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — came as Israeli-Iranian tensions soar

JERUSALEM: Israel accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah on Wednesday of conducting a cyber operation designed to disrupt a UN peacekeeping mission on the border between the countries, and threatened harsh Israeli retaliation against enemy hackers.
The allegation — to which there was no immediate response from Beirut, Tehran or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — came as Israeli-Iranian tensions soar.
In what he termed a first public disclosure of the incident, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “Iranian security institutions in cooperation with Hezbollah (recently) launched a cyber operation with the aim of stealing materials about UNIFIL activities and deployment in the area, for Hezbollah’s use.”
“This is yet another direct attack by Iran and Hezbollah on Lebanese citizens and on Lebanon’s stability,” he told a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University, without elaborating.
Established in 1978, UNIFIL patrols Lebanon’s southern border. It is charged with monitoring the ceasefire that ended the last war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Israel has accused Hezbollah gunmen of setting up clandestine positions at the border in defiance of UNIFIL. Lebanese officials say Israel continues air force overflights of their territory in violation of the cease-fire.
Gantz said an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps cyber unit called “Shahid Kaveh” had “conducted research to damage ships, gas stations and industrial plants in several Western countries including Britain, the US, France and Israel.”
Britain’s Sky News reported similar allegations last year, saying the Iranian embassy in London had not responded to them.
Gantz hinted that Israel — which is widely believed to have waged cyber war against Iran’s nuclear facilities and other infrastructure — may retaliate physically against enemy hackers.
“We know who they are, we target them and those who direct them. They are in our sights as we speak — and not just in the cyber-space,” he said. “There is a variety of possible responses to cyber-attacks — in and outside of the cyber-domain.”


Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election
Updated 29 June 2022

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election

Israel’s Knesset set to dissolve by midnight triggering snap election
  • The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve
  • Foreign minister Yair Lapid will take over as prime minister of a caretaker government

JERUSALEM: Israel was headed on Wednesday toward its fifth election in less than four years, plunging it deeper into political uncertainty as it grapples with rising living costs and renewed international efforts to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett moved last week to dissolve parliament after infighting made his ruling coalition no longer tenable. The Knesset set a deadline for midnight on Wednesday for a final vote to dissolve.
Once the calling of a snap election gets the Knesset’s final approval, Israel’s center-left foreign minister, Yair Lapid, will take over from Bennett as prime minister of a caretaker government with limited powers.
But even with lawmakers grappling over the exact election date, either Oct. 25 or Nov. 1, the campaign has already become dominated by the possible comeback of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid and Bennett ended Netanyahu’s record reign a year ago by forming a rare alliance of rightists, liberals and Arab parties, which lasted longer than many expected but faltered in recent amid infighting.
Netanyahu, now opposition leader, has been delighted by the end of what he has called the worst government in Israel’s history. He hopes to win a sixth term in office despite being on trial for corruption on charges he denies.
Surveys have shown his right-wing Likud party leading the polls but still short of a governing majority despite support of allied religious and nationalist parties.
Lawmakers from the pro-Netanyahu bloc have said they were working to form a new government before parliament dissolves. That scenario, which appears remote, would scupper an early election.


Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians
Updated 29 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians

Palestinian killed by Israel army in West Bank: Palestinians
  • The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian early Wednesday during clashes in the hotspot town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
Mohammad Marei, 25, died from a bullet wound to the chest, the Palestinian health ministry said. The Palestinians’ official Wafa news agency said he was killed during an Israeli raid in the town.
The Israeli army said it conducted overnight “counter-terrorism activities” in several West Bank locations.
In Jenin, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on troops, the army said.
“A number of suspects also hurled explosive devices at soldiers, who responded with fire. A hit was identified,” the army added, without specifically commenting on Marei’s death.
His killing comes amid spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed since late March, mainly in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Israeli security forces have responded with near-daily raids in the West Bank, including in and around Jenin.
Forty-eight Palestinians have been killed, mostly in the West Bank — among them attackers and suspected militants but also non-combatants, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army fire while covering a raid in Jenin, according to the United Nations.
Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed since late March.