‘Dangerous’ Western Sahara showdown sparks diplomatic rifts

‘Dangerous’ Western Sahara showdown sparks diplomatic rifts
Sahrawi soldiers parade during the celebrations marking the 45th anniversary of the declaration of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the southwestern Algerian city of Tindouf on Feb. 27, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 06 September 2022

‘Dangerous’ Western Sahara showdown sparks diplomatic rifts

‘Dangerous’ Western Sahara showdown sparks diplomatic rifts
  • Morocco angry as Tunisian president greets Polisario head Brahim Ghali on a red carpet at Tunis airport

TUNIS: A bitter showdown between Morocco and its arch-rival Algeria over the disputed Western Sahara territory is causing diplomatic rifts with other nations and even risks sparking a full-blown conflict, analysts say.

“We’re seeing a diplomatic war, where both sides are resorting to anything short of open conflict,” said Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa project director at think-tank the International Crisis Group.

Western Sahara, a Spanish colony until 1975, is mostly desert but boasts immense phosphate resources and rich Atlantic fishing grounds.

About 80 percent of it is controlled by Morocco and 20 percent by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front which seeks self-determination for the local Sahrawi people.

The conflict has long simmered but its dynamics changed in 2020 when then US President Donald Trump recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for the kingdom’s normalization of relations with Israel.

Emboldened by Washington’s backing, Rabat has been playing hardball ever since to persuade other states to follow suit, heightening tensions with Algiers, which has since cut diplomatic relations with Rabat.

Last week, Morocco reacted angrily when Tunisia’s President Kais Saied greeted Polisario head Brahim Ghali on a red carpet at Tunis airport as he arrived for a Japan-Africa investment summit.

Slamming the act as “hostile” and “unnecessarily provocative,” Morocco immediately canceled its participation in the high-profile conference and withdrew its ambassador for consultations — prompting Tunisia to respond in kind.

The incident showed that “the Western Sahara conflict is starting to have repercussions beyond bilateral Morocco and Algerian relations,” Fabiani said. “From now on Morocco will consider Tunisia as part of the pro-Algerian camp.”

Morocco’s 2020 deal with Trump also reset Rabat’s ties with Israel and opened the door to military cooperation with the Jewish state.

Algeria, which has long supported the Palestinian cause and sees Israeli influence on its doorstep as a threat, cut ties entirely with Morocco the following August, citing “hostile acts” — including the alleged use of Israeli spyware against its senior officials.

Fabiani said the shifting dynamic had meant “the unfreezing” of the Western Sahara conflict.

On the ground, this has taken the form of repeated clashes since late 2020 between Morocco’s military and the Polisario, which had agreed to a ceasefire in 1991.

On the diplomatic front, Rabat’s more assertive stance was evident in a year-long diplomatic dispute with Madrid.

In April 2021, Ghali visited Spain to be treated for COVID-19, sparking a row that only ended after Madrid dropped its decades-long stance of neutrality over Western Sahara and backed a Moroccan plan for limited self-rule there.

And last month, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI demanded in a speech that his country’s other allies “clarify” their positions on the issue, calling it “the prism through which Morocco views its international environment.”

But observers say that Morocco is not the only party in the region to be behaving more assertively.

Algeria is Africa’s top natural gas exporter with pipelines directly to Europe, and in recent months has hosted a steady stream of top European officials hoping to win favor and new gas contracts.

Algeria, Africa’s largest country, has been flush with cash since energy prices soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“During the last decade, Morocco geared up its diplomacy, especially in Africa, and became more assertive with some EU members,” said Dalia Ghanem, a senior analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies.

At the same time Algeria, under the late president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, “lagged behind,” she said. “Now, Algeria wants to get back on the regional arena and be the regional leader in Africa.”

“There was a big Algerian campaign to recruit Tunisia to its side,” said Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Tunisia, Algeria’s smaller neighbor, is struggling with a grinding economic crisis and has also seen political turmoil since Saied staged a dramatic power grab in July last year.

Dworkin warned that there was now “a disturbing trend of everything in the region being seen in a binary way through the prism of Algerian-Moroccan rivalry.”

“Morocco is pushing a narrative of ‘you’re with us or against us’, and there has been some similar rhetoric from Algeria,” he added, warning European governments to seek balanced relationships with all sides.

“It’s a delicate and dangerous moment.”

Last weekend, the United Nations’ Western Sahara envoy Staffan de Mistura visited the region, but few observers see any prospect of progress in long-suspended negotiations.


UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
Updated 8 sec ago

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
  • No travel guidance issued against visiting rest of the country
  • Flights by British carriers continue as normal to Turkish airports outside affected area

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office has advised British travelers against visiting southeastern parts of Turkiye in the aftermath of the three earthquakes that hit the country on Monday.
It did not issue specific guidance not to travel to the country, but told people to check with their airlines if they already had flights booked to avoid being disrupted by cancelations.
The three airports closest to the epicenter — at Gazientep, Hatay and Ceyhan — are currently closed to commercial flights.
There are also no flights currently from the UK to Adana, which is 220 km west of Gazientep.
However, flights to popular tourist destinations such as Istanbul, Bodrum and Dalaman have not been canceled, and Adana can be reached via internal flights from western Turkish airports.
Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah reported: “Currently, only planes carrying aid and rescue teams are allowed to land and take off from (Gazientep and Ceyhan).
“Hatay Airport, whose runway was damaged because of the earthquake, was closed for all flights.”
As of this time, no British operators have canceled flights to Turkiye outside of the region affected.
Hugh Fraser, founder of Corinthian Travel, told the Daily Mail: “Southeastern Turkiye and the area in the vicinity of Gaziantep has many spectacular attractions and is noted for its delicious regional cuisine, but has traditionally been the preserve of the second or third-time cultural visitors to Turkiye.
“The earthquake is a human tragedy but it is unlikely to have much impact on Turkiye’s major centers of tourism — Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Aegean Coast — all of which are located hundreds of miles away to the west.”
So far, over 5,000 people are confirmed to have died in the disaster in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, with tens of thousands injured and homeless.
The World Health Organization has said the death toll could rise to as high as 20,000, with people left exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK is sending immediate support to Turkiye, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
“In Syria, the UK-funded White Helmets have mobilized their resources to respond. We stand ready to provide further support as needed.”


3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
Updated 8 min 14 sec ago

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
  • UK FM: ‘We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low’
  • PM Rishi Sunak: ‘The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can’

LONDON: Three British nationals are missing in Turkiye following Monday’s series of earthquakes, and the UK Foreign Office is providing support to at least 35 Britons affected by the disaster, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Tuesday.

The earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing at least 5,000 people. More than 6,000 buildings collapsed due to the shockwaves, with vital electricity and gas infrastructure damaged amid freezing winter temperatures.

“We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low,” Cleverly told the UK Parliament. “The Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and they are requesting international assistance on a scale that matches the enormity of the situation that they are facing.”

The UK has already authorized the deployment of a medical assessment team, Cleverly said, adding: “The further stages of requirement will evolve over time. We will, of course, work closely with our international partners to make sure we address that.

“Many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkiye reside in the affected provinces. Turkiye’s outstanding disaster relief response capability has been severely tested by the sheer scale of this catastrophe.”

He said: “Turkiye will lead the disaster relief response in the areas of Syria where it has the presence.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared 10 provinces in the country as disaster zones.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”


Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
Updated 37 min 15 sec ago

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
  • There was little amongst the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before
  • One of the hospital's surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness

ISKENDERUN, Turkiye: Rescue teams and survivors peered through the twisted remains of an Iskenderun hospital on Tuesday, searching for signs of life a day after a major earthquake struck Turkiye and neighboring Syria.
There was little among the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before.
One of the hospital’s surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness.
“I’m devastated. I see bodies inside, everywhere. Although I’m used to seeing bodies because of my expertise, it’s very difficult for me,” he said.
Much of Iskenderun, a port city located in Turkiye’s southern Hatay province, lay in ruins after the magnitude 7.8 quake hit just after 4 a.m. on Monday. More than 1,200 buildings were destroyed in Hatay alone.
“A doctor said there are about 15 people here, including the patients,” taxi driver Kerim Sahin said as he looked for a colleague in one part of the hospital.
“At the moment, they’re all trapped inside. Nobody can go near the building, only one cabinet is supporting the third floor.”
Sahin said the scale of the damage meant further rescue efforts were reliant on excavation equipment arriving from nearby cities.
The death toll in Turkiye had risen to 3,549 people, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday as he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. In Syria, the toll stood at just over 1,700, with tens of thousands injured or left homeless in several Turkish and Syrian cities.
Turkish authorities say more than 12,000 search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas, plus another 9,000 troops.


UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
Updated 36 min 21 sec ago

UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
  • The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million
  • It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates Tuesday pledged $100 million to Syria and Turkiye, one of the largest sums yet following a massive earthquake that killed more than 5,400 people across both countries.
The oil-rich Gulf nation — which had already pledged some $13.6 million to Syria — is spearheading regional relief efforts, having dispatched planes to both countries with relief items and rescue teams following the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck early Monday.
On Tuesday, Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan “ordered the provision of $100 million for the relief of those affected,” Emirates News Agency said.
The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million, according to the news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced.
Major General Saleh Al-Ameri, commander of joint operations at the UAE’s defense ministry, said Tuesday that three military planes had been dispatched to Turkiye, carrying search and rescue teams who have since commenced operations.
A total of seven flights are planned to the quake-hit countries, including two to the Syrian capital Damascus, he told local media.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said Tuesday that an Emirati plane carrying 10 tons of food supplies had arrived at the Damascus international airport.
The UAE reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018.
In March last year, Assad made a visit to the UAE — his first to an Arab state in more than a decade of brutal civil war.


3 Yemeni families buried under quake rubble in Turkiye

3 Yemeni families buried under quake rubble in Turkiye
Updated 07 February 2023

3 Yemeni families buried under quake rubble in Turkiye

3 Yemeni families buried under quake rubble in Turkiye
  • No deaths have been reported among at least 300 Yemenis living in earthquake-hit centers in Turkiye
  • The Yemeni Embassy and the union have set up emergency facilities and hotlines

AL-MUKALLA: Rescuers are trying desperately to reach three Yemeni families buried under earthquake rubble in a southern Turkish city, authorities said on Tuesday.
The disaster that killed thousands in Syria and Turkiye on Monday has also left at least 50 Yemenis injured and their property destroyed.
A spokesperson for the Yemen Students Union in Turkiye, Anas Al-Mazabi, told Arab News that a woman had been pulled from the wreckage of a building as rescuers continued attempts to save three Yemeni families buried under debris in Malatya in the south of the country.
No deaths have been reported among at least 300 Yemenis living in earthquake-hit centers in Turkiye.
The Yemeni Embassy and the union have set up emergency facilities and hotlines, and asked Yemenis to report any missing relatives or friends.
Al-Mazabi said that a special operations center is monitoring information and maintaining contact with Yemenis trapped in regions devastated by the earthquake.
An aid team has been sent to Hatay province and an evacuation team to Iskenderun to help Yemenis, he added.
Hotlines have been swamped with calls from anxious Yemenis in Turkiye and Yemen searching for relatives and friends after earthquake-affected regions experienced Internet and mobile phone blackouts.
“We attempted to comfort them about the situation and (told them) that if their children do not respond, it is because communication has been disrupted and does not imply that their circumstances are awful,” Al-Mazabi said.
Official Yemeni media said that Rashad Al-Alimi, president of the Presidential Leadership Council, and other council members phoned the Yemeni Ambassador to Turkiye, Mohammed Saleh, for an update on the situation facing Yemenis and ordered him to offer all required help.
Thousands of Yemenis, including politicians, tribal leaders, military personnel and journalists, fled to Turkiye and nearby countries after the Iran-backed Houthis took control in Yemen in 2014.
Hundreds of Yemeni students attend Turkish institutions around the country.
Separately, Al-Alimi reiterated his council’s commitment to helping a UN mission establish peace in Yemen and secure a comprehensive agreement to end the war.
During a meeting with UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg in Aden, Al-Alimi called for greater international pressure on the Houthis to comply with efforts to end the war.
Grundberg landed in the city on Tuesday as he embarked on a fresh mission to push for a renewal of the UN-brokered truce that collapsed in October and to persuade Yemeni factions to embrace a peace agreement.
The UN envoy’s arrival in Yemen follows a visit to Riyadh, where he discussed peace efforts, and economic and humanitarian operations with the GCC Secretary General Jasem Al-Budaiwi and the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jabir.
Attempts to restore peace in Yemen suffered a severe blow in October when the Houthis refused to extend the UN-brokered truce or open roads to the besieged city of Taiz.
The militia also launched drone attacks on oil installations in southern Yemen in an attempt to force the Yemeni government to share oil profits and pay public workers in regions they control.