Briton, German deny smuggling antiquities in Iraq court

Briton, German deny smuggling antiquities in Iraq court
Jim Fitton, center left, and Volker Waldmann, center right, are handcuffed as they walk outside a courtroom in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 15, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

Briton, German deny smuggling antiquities in Iraq court

Briton, German deny smuggling antiquities in Iraq court
  • Waldmann said the two items found in his possession were not his and instead had been given to him by Fitton to carry
  • Based on the law both men could face the death penalty, an outcome that legal experts said was unlikely

BAGHDAD: A British and a German tourist accused of smuggling ancient shards out of Iraq appeared in a Baghdad court in yellow detainees’ uniforms Sunday, telling judges they had not acted with criminal intent and had no idea they might have broken local laws.
The trial of Jim Fitton, 66, is grabbing international attention at a time when Iraq seeks to open up its nascent tourism sector. The session also revealed first details about a second defendant, identified as Volker Waldmann of Germany.
The three-judge panel in Baghdad’s felony court scheduled the next hearing for May 22. The court must determine whether the defendants had sought to profit by taking the 12 items, which were found in their possession as they attempted to fly out of Baghdad airport on March 20.
Fitton and Waldmann appeared in court in detainees’ yellow and were asked to explain their actions.
Waldmann said the two items found in his possession were not his and instead had been given to him by Fitton to carry. “But did you put them in your bag?” asked head judge Jaber Abdel Jabir. “Didn’t you know these were Iraqi antiquities?”
Waldmann said he didn’t pick up the items from the site, only agreed to carry them for Fitton.
Fitton said he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments, but that “at the time I didn’t know about Iraqi laws,” or that taking the shards was not permitted. Fitton said as geologist he was in the habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and had no intention to sell them.
He said it was not clear to him at the time that picking them up from the site was a criminal offense. “There were fences, no guards or signage,” at the sites he told the court.
“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites,” Jabir responded. “One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden.”
When Fitton said some of the shards were “no larger than my fingernail” , Jabir said this was not relevant. “Size doesn’t matter,” he told him.
Based on the law both men could face the death penalty, an outcome that legal experts said was unlikely. British and German embassy officials were present at the court but have not issued detailed public statements about the case in order not to jeopardize the proceedings, they said.
The defense plans to submit more evidence to clear the men, Fitton’s defense lawyer Thair Soud told The Associated Press. This includes testimony from government officials present at the site where the fragments were collected, he said.
“(Their testimony) is pending approval from their official directorates,” he said.


UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza
Updated 02 December 2022

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza
  • The medical aid will be delivered through Rafah Crossing Point

DUBAI: The UAE has sent a convoy of six trucks, loaded with 85 tons of medical supplies worth $10 million, to support hospitals in Gaza, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Friday.

The medical aid will be delivered through Rafah Crossing Point with aims to support the healthcare sector in Gaza, the report added.

“The UAE has always sought to provide all possible support to improve the humanitarian response to help the Palestinian brothers, and to provide the necessary needs for the people there, especially women and children,” read the statement.

Recently, the UAE pledged $25 million aid for Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. The aid will equip the hospital with essential medical equipment expected to benefit about 130,000 patients.


US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria
Updated 02 December 2022

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria
  • Patrols were reduced following the Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq
  • American troops are in Syria as part of fight against Daesh

RMEILAN: A US-led coalition fighting jihadists resumed regular patrols in Kurdish-held areas of northeast Syria on Friday after earlier Turkish air strikes, an AFP correspondent and a Kurdish military source said.
Patrols were reduced following the Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq, in response to a deadly Istanbul bombing that Ankara blamed on Kurdish groups.
The Kurds denied responsibility.
Hundreds of American troops are in Syria as part of the fight against remnants of the Daesh group jihadists.
Two four-vehicle patrols bearing US flags set off separately from a base in Rmeilan in Hasakah province, the AFP correspondent said.
A vehicle belonging to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accompanied each convoy, which traveled in different directions toward Syria’s borders.
“The international coalition in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed its usual patrols in northeast Syria following a reduction due to Turkish strikes in the area,” a Kurdish military source told AFP.
The source requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The usual 20 weekly patrols had dropped to around five or six following the Turkish strikes, which Ankara said it carried out with aircraft and drones.
The US supports the SDF, which is the Kurds’ de facto army in the area and led the battle that dislodged IS from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.
Turkiye said it struck targets of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF but which Ankara sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkiye and its Western allies designate the PKK as a terrorist group.
The SDF “needs to focus on repelling the Turkish threats and protecting its areas,” the Kurdish military source said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor with a vast network of sources on the ground, said patrols were also seen Friday in Deir Ezzor province further south.
Turkiye has also threatened a ground operation in the semi-autonomous Syrian Kurdish zones, something which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday expressed “strong opposition” to.
The SDF has warned that a Turkish incursion would jeopardize the fight against Daesh.


UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens
Updated 02 December 2022

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed orders $817 million housing support for citizens
  • The third housing package of 2022 coincided with the UAE’s 51st National Day celebrations
  • UAE president earlier waived off over $146 million of debts for 1,214 Emirati citizens

DUBAI: UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has ordered disbursement of housing loans worth $817 million for 1,900 Abu Dhabi citizens.

The third housing package of 2022 coincided with the UAE’s 51st National Day celebrations, marked on Dec.2, bringing the total value of housing support this year to almost $2 billion that benefitted over 4,000 citizens.

“It reflects the leadership’s commitment to ensuring social stability, enhancing living standards and enabling citizens to raise strong and stable families that will benefit the future of the UAE,” said a statement on Emirates News Agency (WAM).

The package includes housing loans, and the exemption of the retired and families of deceased borrowers in Abu Dhabi from loan repayments.

Ahead of the National Day, the UAE president earlier waived off over $146 million of debts for 1,214 Emirati citizens.

The Non-performing Debt Relief Fund said it would settle money owed by Emiratis in 17 banks, WAM earlier reported.


OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause
Updated 02 December 2022

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

OIC welcomes UN resolutions on Palestinian cause

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) welcomed the UN General Assembly’s adoption of five crucial resolutions on Palestine and the Middle East, including a text that calls on Israel to cease all actions aimed at ‘altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.‘
The Assembly adopted resolutions related to the mandate and work of the Committee on the “Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division of Palestinian Rights in the United Nations Secretariat,” the media program on the Palestinian cause and the basic principles of a “peaceful solution” to the Palestinian cause.
It also adopted a resolution to commemorate Nakba Day, when Palestinians were driven from their homes in 1948 following the foundation of Israel.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said, during the debate that Israeli exceptionalism has only emboldened Israel’s worst instincts, a UN Assembly noted.
“Today the Assembly will finally acknowledge the historical injustice that befell the Palestinian people, adopting a resolution that decides to commemorate in the Assembly Hall the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba,” it added.
The OIC praised the positions of the countries that contributed to sponsoring and supporting these resolutions, affirming their commitment to international law and in line with their historical positions based on the principles of truth, justice and peace, state news agency SPA meanwhile reported.


Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears
Updated 02 December 2022

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

Unified strategy needed to resolve water shortage in Arab world, Egypt conference hears

CAIRO: The fourth Arab Water Conference titled “Arab Water Security for Life, Development and Peace,” organized by Palestine, the Arab League and the Arab Water Experts Network in Cairo, kicked off on Nov. 30.

The two-day conference was held under the auspices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with the participation of ministers of water resources as well as delegations from Arab countries and concerned regional organizations.

The conference on Wednesday and Thursday included working sessions and presentations of scientific papers dealing with issues related to water scarcity, drought and climate change.

Among the topics addressed were challenges posed by water scarcity and solutions to these, water demand and drought management, climate change, shared water resources and water diplomacy.

The conference also covered water desalination technology, the management of groundwater resources, the financing of and investment in the water sector, and challenges related to water in the Arab region.

Abbas, in a speech delivered on his behalf by Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, stressed that resolving the issue of water shortage in the Arab world requires developing a unified and comprehensive strategy that defends the right to water in the face of occupation, exploitation, or encroachment. It also entails the development of plans to confront water and food deficits due to existing challenges.

Abbas said: “Arab water security poses a major challenge to nearly 453 million Arab citizens, and it is an issue that captures the attention of Arab countries, as represented by the Arab League’s decision to establish the Council of Arab Water Ministers.”

He added that the transnational waters of the Arab world are a matter of security.

“We stand with our brothers in Egypt and Sudan in their demands on everything related to the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and in ensuring that their water, agricultural or energy-related security is not compromised,” Abbas said.

He called for reaching a binding legal agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, in line with the statement issued by the UN Security Council in September 2021, in a manner that perpetuates cooperation and consolidates common interests among the peoples of the region.

He also called for joint Arab cooperation to find alternative sources of water for major projects that benefit everyone in light of the severe water shortage in Arab countries.

Hani Sweilem, Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation, affirmed that the water issue in Egypt is one of the most important pillars of Egyptian national security and a major axis in achieving sustainable development. 

He said Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world, as rainfall in the country is estimated to be 1.3 billion cubic meters annually.

He said 97 percent of Egypt’s water depends on the Nile, which comes from outside its borders.

Over the years, the per capita share of water in Egypt decreased to about 560 cubic meters annually, compared to the global water poverty line, which determines the per capita share at 1,000 cubic meters annually, Sweilem said.