Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
Turkiye has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the Kurdish YPG. Above, Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province in 2008. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 28 November 2022

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
  • Eescalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia

ONCUPINAR, Turkiye: Turkiye’s army needs just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria and such a decision may come at a cabinet meeting on Monday, Turkish officials said, as Turkish forces bombarded a Kurdish militia across the border.
Howitzers fired daily from Turkiye have struck Kurdish YPG targets for a week, while warplanes have carried out airstrikes.
The escalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia. The YPG has denied involvement in the bombing and has responded at times to the cross-border attacks with mortar shelling.
“The Turkish Armed Forces needs just a few days to become almost fully ready,” one senior official said, adding that Turkiye-allied Syrian rebel fighters were ready for such an operation just a few days after the Nov. 13 Istanbul bomb.
“It won’t take long for the operation to begin,” he said. “It depends only on the president giving the word.”
Turkiye has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the YPG, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkiye, the United States and European Union designate a terrorist group.
The PKK has also denied carrying out the Istanbul attack, in which six people were killed on a busy pedestrian avenue.
President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkiye would launch a land operation when convenient to secure its southern border. He will chair a cabinet meeting at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT).
“All the preparations are complete. It’s now a political decision,” another Turkish official told Reuters, also requesting anonymity ahead of the meeting.
Erdogan said back in May that Turkiye would soon launch a military operation against the YPG in Syria, but such an operation did not materialize at that time.
The first Turkish official said a ground operation, targeting the areas of Manbij, Kobani and Tel Rifat, was inevitable to link up the areas brought under the control of Turkiye and its Syrian allies with incursions since 2016.
Ankara had been in contact with Moscow and Washington about its military activities, the person added.
The United States has told NATO member Turkiye it has serious concerns that an escalation would affect the goal of fighting Daesh militants in Syria.
Russia asked Turkiye to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive. It has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s 11-year war, while Ankara has backed rebels fighting to topple him.
On Monday, the defense ministry said Turkiye’s army had “neutralized” 14 YPG militants preparing to carry out attacks in Syrian areas under Turkiye’s control. It typically uses the term to describe casualties.
The defense ministry said on Saturday three Turkish soldiers had been killed in northern Iraq, where the military has been conducting an operation against the PKK since April.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, having traveled to the Iraqi border area, was quoted as telling military commanders on Sunday that Turkiye will “complete the tasks” of the mission.


Iran jails couple in viral dancing video: activists

Updated 16 sec ago

Iran jails couple in viral dancing video: activists

Iran jails couple in viral dancing video: activists
Paris — FRA
Paris, Jan 31, 2023 Agence France Presse: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.
Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran.PARIS: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.
Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran.
Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man.
A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said.
The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added.
HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected.
It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists.
Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime.
At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets.
The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind.
One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity.
It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower.
It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.


Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man.
A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said.
The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added.
HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected.
It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists.
Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime.
At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets.
The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind.
One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity.
It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower.
It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.
sjw/ah/kir

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  
Updated 31 January 2023

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

Heads of Arab and pan-African parliament discuss cooperation on mutual interests  

The President of the Arab Parliament, Adel bin Abd al-Rahman al-Asoumi, met with the President of the Pan-African Parliament, Chief Fortune Charumbira on Tuesday.  

The officials met on the sidelines of the Conference of the Union of Councils of Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Algeria, a statement by the Arab Parliament said. 

The two sides reviewed regional and international interests, and agreed on full coordination in international forums in support of all Arab and African matters.  

The Speaker of the Arab Parliament affirmed that the Arab and African regions possess many common denominators that contribute to supporting Arab and African matters, especially the Palestinian issue and the Libyan crisis.


Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials
Updated 31 January 2023

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials

Three Al-Qaeda suspects killed in Yemen drone strike: officials
  • The attack was carried out on a car in Marib province

YEMEN, Marib: Three alleged Al-Qaeda militants were killed in a suspected US drone strike in northeastern Yemen on Monday, local government officials said.
The attack was carried out on a car in Marib province, the scene of heavy fighting in 2021 in Yemen's long-running civil war, the officials said.
“Three Al-Qaeda members were killed in a strike by a drone that is believed to be American,” a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The three were in a car in Wadi Obeida when they were targeted by the suspected US strike that killed them immediately.”
A second Marib government official confirmed the strike on Al-Qaeda militants and the death toll. There was no immediate comment from Washington.
The United States considers Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch - Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - among the most dangerous branches of the global jihadist network.
AQAP, and other militants loyal to Daesh, have thrived in the chaos of Yemen’s civil war.
AQAP has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad.
Its leaders have been targeted by a US drone war for more than two decades, although the number of strikes has dropped off in recent years.
The conflict in Yemen has since killed tens of thousands of people and triggered what the United Nations terms the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people displaced.


After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands
Updated 31 January 2023

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands

After drought, winter rains revive Iraq’s famed marshlands
  • raq has faced three consecutive years of severe drought and scorching heat, with temperatures regularly exceeding 50 degrees Celsius

Chibayish: Black buffaloes wade through the waters of Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes, leisurely chewing on reeds. After years of drought, winter rains have brought some respite to herders and livestock in the famous wetlands.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the marshes were parched and dusty last summer by drought in the climate-stressed country and by reduced flow from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers due to dams built upstream in Turkiye and Iran.
Winter brings seasonal rains, offering relief in marshes like those of Huwaizah — which straddles the border with Iran — and Chibayish, located in nearby Dhi Qar province.
Among the reeds of Chibayish, buffalo farmer Rahim Daoud now uses a stick to punt his boat across an expanse of water.
“This summer, it was dirt here; there was no water,” said the 58-year-old. “With the rain that has fallen, the water level has risen.”
Last summer, photographers traveled to the Huwaizah and Chibayish marshes to document the disappearance of large portions of the wetlands, observing vast expanses of dry and cracked soil dotted with yellowed shrubs.
In October, an official in the impoverished rural province of Dhi Qar said that in the previous six months, 1,200 families had left the marshes and other agricultural areas of southern Iraq and more than 2,000 buffaloes had died.
Iraq has faced three consecutive years of severe drought and scorching heat, with temperatures regularly exceeding 50 degrees Celsius during the summer of 2022.
“There is a gradual improvement,” Hussein Al-Kenani said after the recent rains.
Kenani, who heads the governmental center in charge of protecting the wetlands, said rainwater collected in canals and rivers has been redirected to the marshes.
“The water level in Chibayish’s swamps has increased by more than 50 centimeters compared with December and by more than 30 centimeters for the Huwaizah swamps,” Kenani said.
In July, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization deplored the “unprecedented low water levels” in the marshes, highlighting “the disastrous impact” for more than 6,000 families, whose buffaloes and livelihoods were being lost.
The relief of rainfall early this month was welcomed by the UN agency, which noted in a statement that in the Chibayish region “salinity levels decreased” to the point where people and animals could again drink the water.
“This has had a great positive impact, especially on buffalo herders,” it said.
While the crisis has been relieved for now, there are fears about the longer-term fate of the threatened wetland habitat.
“There is not enough water coming from the Turkish side,” said Jassim Assadi, head of environmental group Nature Iraq, who added that Iraq’s dams upstream from the marshes “do not have an adequate and sufficient reservoir for the rest of the year.”
“The rains alone are not enough,” he said, voicing fears about another looming “problem next summer.”


Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran
Updated 31 January 2023

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran

Sunni cleric’s aide arrested in restive southeast Iran
  • Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion”

TEHRAN: An aide to Sunni Muslim cleric Molavi Abdol Hamid, an influential leader of Iran’s ethnic Baluchi minority, was arrested in the restive southeastern city of Zahedan late Monday, state media said.
Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion” and “communicating on several occasions with foreign individuals and media outlets,” the official IRNA news agency said.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is home to the ethnic Baluch minority and had been the site of often deadly violence even before nationwide protests erupted in September over the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.
On September 30 last year, dozens of people, including members of the security forces, were killed when thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers at the city’s Makki mosque, headed by Abdol Hamid.
They were protesting the alleged rape of a 15-year-old-girl in custody in the port city of Chabahar by a local police commander.
As the protests raged on for weeks and months, Iranian officials were critical of Abdol Hamid, describing his prayer sermons as “provocative.”
“If there were no provocative remarks in the sermons, we would have seen peace in Zahedan,” Iran’s deputy interior minister Majid Mirahmadi said in late October when asked about the persistent unrest.
State media characterised the unrest as attacks by “extremists” on police stations. Abdol Hamid said security forces “shot at people” around the mosque, amid public anger over the alleged rape.
Zahedan is one of the few cities in Shiite-majority Iran which is mainly Sunni.