Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

Update Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Damascus “denies it had kidnapped or is holding any American citizen on its territories.” (File/AP)
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Updated 17 August 2022

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive
  • US is certain Tice is being held by the government of President Bashar Assad

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Wednesday denied holding American nationals captive, including journalist Austin Tice who was abducted a decade ago in Damascus.
It issued a statement in response to US President Jo Biden saying last week that he knows “with certainty” that Tice “has been held by the Syrian regime,” and calling on Damascus to help bring him home.
The foreign ministry denied the accusation in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
“The Syrian Arab Republic denies that it has kidnapped or forcibly disappeared any American citizen who entered its territory or resided in areas under its authority,” the statement said.
It said it would only accept “official dialogue or communication with the American administration if the talks are public and premised on a respect for Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he went missing, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later, but there has been little news of him since.
Biden’s statement came on the tenth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.
“There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Biden said.
The previous administration under Donald Trump sent a White House official on a rare mission to Damascus in 2020, aiming to seek Tice’s freedom.
But that mission yielded no visible results.
In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to the journalist’s recovery.


US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
Updated 30 November 2022

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
  • Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories

BAGHDAD: The US team’s victory over Iran at the World Cup on Tuesday was closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Supporters view it as the leader of an “axis of resistance” against what they see as US imperialism, corrupt Arab rulers and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The divide is especially intense in Lebanon and Iraq, where heavily armed Iran-backed political factions vie for political influence with opponents more oriented toward the West. In those countries, many believe Iran or the US are due for comeuppance — even if only on the pitch.
Others wished a plague on both their houses.
“Both are adversaries of Iraq and played a negative role in the country,” Haydar Shakar said in downtown Baghdad, where a cafe displayed the flags of both countries hanging outside. “It’s a sports tournament, and they’re both taking part in it. That’s all it is to us.”
A meme widely circulated ahead of Tuesday’s match between the US and Iran jokingly referred to it as “the first time they will play outside of Lebanon.” Another Twitter user joked that whoever wins the group stage “takes Iraq.”
The Iran-backed Hezbollah was the only armed group to keep its weapons after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. It says its arms are needed to defend the country from Israel and blames Lebanon’s economic crisis in part on US sanctions. Opponents decry Hezbollah as an “Iranian occupation,” while many Lebanese accuse both the US and Iran of meddling in their internal affairs.
In Iraq, the 2003 US-led invasion led to years of intense violence and sectarian strife, and Iran-backed political factions and militias largely filled the vacuum. While US forces and Iran-backed militias found themselves on the same side against the Islamic State extremist group, they have traded fire on several occasions since its defeat.
Both Lebanon and Iraq have had to contend with years of political gridlock, with the main dividing line running between Iran’s allies and opponents.
In Yemen, the Iran-aligned Houthi militia captured the capital and much of the country’s north in 2014. The Houthis have been at war since then with an array of factions supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two US allies.
In Syria’s civil war, Iran supported President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels, some supported by the West. In the Palestinian territories, it backs Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant factions that do not recognize Israel and have carried out scores of attacks over the years.
Interviews with soccer fans in Beirut and Baghdad revealed mixed emotions about the match.
In Beirut’s southern suburbs, a center of Hezbollah support, young men draped in Iranian flags gathered in a cafe hung with a “Death to America” flag to watch the match.
“We are against America in football, politics and everything else,” Ali Nehme said. “God is with Lebanon and Iran.”
Across the city on the seafront promenade, Beirut resident Aline Noueyhed said, “Of course I’m not with Iran after all the disasters they made. Definitely, I’m with America.” She added, however, that the US also was “not 100 percent helping us.”
The post-game reaction in the streets of Beirut after the US defeated Iran 1-0, eliminating it from the tournament and advancing to the knockout round, was far more subdued than after the previous day’s win by Brazil — a fan favorite in Lebanon — over Switzerland.
In Baghdad, Ali Fadel was cheering for Iran, because “it’s a neighboring country, an Asian country.”
“There are many linkages between us and them,” he added.
Nour Sabah was rooting for the US because “they are a strong team, and (the US) controls the world.”
In Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, fans also gave mixed reactions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zainab Fakhri was rooting for the US to beat Iran “to punish the Iranian regime that has been oppressing the women’s revolution,” referring to recent protests there.
At the same cafe, Aras Harb, 23, was backing Iran. “We prefer them because my family were able to flee there during the war, and the Iranian people are kind.”
Saad Mohammad, 20, had been hoping for a tie, fearing that a win could worsen an already alarming security situation. If locals celebrate the win, he said, “I fear Iran will launch rockets at us.”
Although the Iran supporters were visibly upset at their loss, the crowd filed out after the game without incident.
Regional politics hovered over the last matchup, at the 1998 World Cup, when Iran famously defeated the US 2-1, eliminating it from the tournament. That came less than two decades after Iran’s Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed shah and protesters overran the US Embassy, leading to a prolonged hostage crisis.
French riot police were on site at the stadium in Lyon that year, but they weren’t needed. The teams posed together in a group photo, and Iran’s players even brought white roses for their opponents.
In this year’s matchup, allegiances have been scrambled by the nationwide protests gripping Iran, with some Iranians openly rooting against their own team. The players declined to sing along to their national anthem ahead of their opening match, in what was seen as an expression of sympathy for the protests, but reversed course and sang ahead of their next one.
In some neighborhoods of Tehran, people chanted “Death to the dictator!” after the match, even though it was past midnight local time.
Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar who has researched the politics of sports, said World Cup fandom is not necessarily an indicator of political affiliation, even in countries with deep divisions.
Local sports in Lebanon are “highly politicized,” with all the major basketball and soccer clubs having political and sectarian affiliations, he said. But when it comes to the World Cup — where Lebanon has never qualified to play — fans latch on to any number of teams.
That’s true across the region, where fans sporting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys can be found from Gaza to Afghanistan.
“This is one of the few spheres where people have the liberty and freedom to choose a country that they simply like and not the country where they think there’s an obligation for them to be affiliated with it,” Reiche said.


Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
Updated 29 November 2022

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
  • Under an agreement signed on Tuesday in Rabat, they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property

RABAT: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will work with authorities in Morocco to protect heritage in Sub-Saharan African countries, under a partnership agreement signed in Rabat on Tuesday.

In particular they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property. They will also share their expertise in the protection of cultural artifacts with specialists in museums, promote the role of museums in African societies, create inventories, and train heritage-conservation experts.

The agreement was signed on behalf of Mohammed Mehdi Bensaid, the Moroccan minister of youth, culture and communication, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general.

 


Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’
Updated 29 November 2022

Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

TEHRAN: Tehran and Baghdad Tuesday identified fighting “terrorism,” maintaining mutual security and extending economic cooperation as key priorities during the new Iraqi prime minister’s first official visit to Iran.

Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani was received by President Ebrahim Raisi, who expressed hopes of bolstering ties that have lately been hit by tensions over Iran carrying out cross-border strikes against exiled opposition groups.

Al-Sudani came to power last month, after a year-long tussle between political factions over forming a government following an October 2021 general election.

“From our perspective and that of the Iraqi government, security, peace, cooperation and regional stability are very important,” Raisi told a joint press conference.

“As a result, the fight against terrorist groups, organized crime, drugs and other insecurity that threaten the region depends on the common will of our two nations,” he said.

Al-Sudani said that “our government is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran’s security.”

Since nationwide protests erupted in Iran more than two months ago, Iranian officials have accused Kurdish opposition groups exiled in northern Iraq of stoking the unrest and the Islamic republic has repeatedly launched deadly cross-border strikes.

Such strikes — targeting Iranian-Kurdish groups in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — resumed this month, even after Iraq’s federal government summoned Iran’s ambassador in late September to complain about cross-border missile and drone hits that killed at least seven people.

Iraq has announced in the past week that it will redeploy federal guards on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, rather than leaving the responsibility to Kurdish peshmerga forces — a move welcomed by Tehran.

Al-Sudani added that the two countries’ national security advisers would hold consultations to “establish a working mechanism for on-the-ground coordination to avoid any escalation.”

Al-Sudani also thanked Iran for its continued deliveries of gas and electricity, which have been in short supply in Iraq, while he also pointed to discussions on a “mechanism” to enable Iraq to pay Iran for these services.


Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
Updated 29 November 2022

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
  • Family trip back home to India brings delight to employee
  • Super app had 10th anniversary in July

DUBAI: Hailing app Careem has celebrated the completion of 1 billion rides across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

The billionth journey was completed by Captain Razak Uppattil, who has completed 10,500 rides since joining Careem four years ago. 

To commemorate the milestone, the Dubai-based super app gave Uppattil a trip back home to visit his family in India.

He said: “It’s the people that I get to meet from all over the world that I really enjoy.

“I have three children back home in Kerala, India, and I am so excited I’ll see them soon.”

Genera Tesoro, who was Careem’s 1 billionth passenger, was given a year of ride-hailing trips to mark the milestone. 

Careem, which marked its 10-year anniversary in July, is now operating in more than 100 cities in 14 countries. It recently expanded its fleet in Qatar by more than 50 percent ahead of the World Cup.

 


Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon
Updated 29 November 2022

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon

Turkish ground op in Syria would ‘jeopardize’ anti-Daesh gains: Pentagon
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces have played a key role in dislodging Daesh fighters from the territory they seized in the country

WASHINGTON: A Turkish ground operation in Syria would “severely jeopardize” gains made in the war against Daesh, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, urging restraint.
Turkiye has carried out air strikes against semi-autonomous Kurdish zones in Syria and Iraq since a deadly Istanbul bombing it blames on Kurdish groups, and has threatened to launch an operation on the ground in Syria.
The US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), now the Kurds’ de facto army in northeast Syria, have played a key role in dislodging Daesh fighters from the territory they seized in the country.
“The continued conflict, especially a ground invasion, would severely jeopardize the hard-fought gains that the world has achieved against Daesh and would destabilize the region,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told journalists.
“We... remain concerned about a potential Turkish ground operation in Syria, and again would urge restraint,” he said, while also acknowledging Ankara’s security concerns.
Ryder said US forces have reduced the number of joint patrols with the SDF, but have not redeployed.
“We have reduced the number of patrols because... we do these partnering with the SDF, and so they have reduced the number of patrols that they’re doing,” he said.
Since 2016, Turkiye has launched several incursions against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have allowed it to control areas along the border.