US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
In this photo taken on July 15, 2017, an F-16 fighter jet of the Turkish air force flies on the wing of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plane as he traveled from Ankara to Istanbul. (AFP file)
Short Url
Updated 04 February 2023

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
  • ‘No guarantee’ of $20bn deal even if Ankara approves Swedish, Finnish request, analyst says 

ANKARA: A bipartisan group of 29 US senators has told President Joe Biden that Congress cannot “green light” the $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye until Ankara ratifies a request by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

The move comes amid a diplomatic standoff between Turkiye and Sweden over what the former claims is Swedish support for terror groups and sympathizers.

Both Sweden and Finland announced their NATO bid last year following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, Ankara has set preconditions in exchange for Turkish ratification of the membership applications, asking both Nordic countries to toughen their stance against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deport certain individuals, and review their regulatory framework for arms exports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused both countries of being “guesthouses for terror organizations.” 

After a far-right Danish politician recently burned a copy of the Qur’an near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, Turkiye suspended trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland, and postponed a meeting between Turkish and Swedish defense ministers in Ankara.

Although Ankara hinted at the possibility it would approve Finnish NATO accession before Sweden’s, Helsinki rejected the offer, saying that the security of both countries is dependent on each other.

In their letter to Biden, the US senators said that the two Nordic countries were “making full and good faith efforts to meet the conditions for NATO membership that Turkiye asked.”

The senators said that they could not promise any automatic sale of F-16s if Ankara agreed to the Finnish and Swedish request, but warned  they “won’t even ponder this sale” in the absence of ratification.

“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the letter said.

For the first time, members of Congress are insisting on linking the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye with the ratification of the NATO accession bids by the two Nordic countries.

In January, CNN quoted Congressional sources saying that the Biden administration is preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the F-16s sale.

If approved, it will be one of the largest US arms sales in recent years.

Turkiye has been waiting for the sale of 40 F-16 fighters and almost 80 modernization kits for its existing fleet since October 2021.

Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Washington and said that the Nordic NATO accession should not be tied with the F-16 sale.

Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council, sees little chance of some US senators, such as Robert Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Van Hollen, changing their position on the F-16s even if Ankara green lights the Swedish request while Erdogan remains in office.

“They have a winning domestic political issue with a range of constituencies that dislike Turkiye, including the Greek lobby, Armenian lobby, and Syrian Kurdish YPG-sympathetic activists. With such rewards, there is little incentive to cede ground,” he told Arab News.

New Jersey, Menendez’s home state, has a large Greek-American and Armenian-American community. 

In a message posted on Twitter in December, Menendez said he that would not “approve F-16s for Turkiye until Erdogan halts his abuses across the region,” referring to longstanding tensions between Turkiye and Greece over airspace, and the militarization of islands in the Aegean.

Arms sales to foreign countries are subject to congressional approval. But Congress alone cannot block foreign arms sales.

However, experts say that Ankara’s ratification of the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland would facilitate the sale process in Congress.

According to Outzen, “transactional politics” on defense deals can work when done privately and reciprocally, but the F-16 deal has become a public issue with conflicting demands.

“It makes near-term resolution almost impossible,” he said.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, said that the senators’ letter is not surprising since NATO enlargement is a priority for the alliance and the US.

He added that “it is not at all guaranteed” that the F-16 sale will be approved, even if Ankara ratifies the Finnish and Swedish request.

Ulgen believes the White House may have to rely on the presidential prerogative to override Congressional opposition.

“But (Biden) will be much less willing to use this political prerogative, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who did not have a long political experience with the Congress,” he said.

Turkiye was expelled by the US from its fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 after its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Ankara has requested the F-16 jets instead of reimbursement for the undelivered F-35 fighters, and has said that it will consider alternatives, including from Russia, if the F-16s are not delivered. 

Syria says Israeli strikes near Damascus wound 2 soldiers

Syria says Israeli strikes near Damascus wound 2 soldiers
Updated 30 March 2023

Syria says Israeli strikes near Damascus wound 2 soldiers

Syria says Israeli strikes near Damascus wound 2 soldiers
  • Explosions heard in the Syrian capital early Thursday
  • Syria’s air defense intercepted several missiles, says defense ministry

DAMASCUS: Syrian state media said Israel staged airstrikes in the Damascus area early Thursday, wounding two soldiers and causing material damage.
Loud explosions were heard over the Syrian capital around 1:30 a.m., and the SANA state news agency said Syrian air defenses were “confronting hostile targets.” SANA, quoting an unidentified military official, said some missiles were shot down by the air defenses.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, including attacks on the Damascus and Aleppo airports, but it rarely acknowledges specific operations.
Israel says it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
An Israeli airstrike last week targeting the airport at the northern city of Aleppo put it out of commission for two days.
Along with airports, Israel has also targeted seaports in government-held areas in an apparent attempt to prevent Iranian arms shipments to militant groups backed by Tehran, including Hezbollah.


Iraq preserves traumatic memories of Daesh reign

Iraq preserves traumatic memories of Daesh reign
Updated 30 March 2023

Iraq preserves traumatic memories of Daesh reign

Iraq preserves traumatic memories of Daesh reign

MOSUL: The horrors they endured under the Daesh group may be in the past for the people of Iraq, but the traumatic memories remain.

Now a research project is recording their witness testimonies for posterity. Omar Mohammed, founder of the Mosul Eye project, rose to prominence during the Daesh reign by bravely sharing news via Twitter from inside the city under jihadist rule.

Years later, he wants to make sure nothing is forgotten.

“When I was in Mosul recording everything myself, I felt the need to include all the people, to record our history in their own voice,” he said.

Bereaved mother Umm Mohammed, 55, is among those who have shared their memories of terror, suffering and loss with the non-governmental group.

The extremists came for her family one night in 2015 and took away her son Ahmed, then a 27-year-old construction worker. His brother Mohammed, 10 years younger, then made a fateful choice: he decided to join the ranks of Daesh, with a daring plan to find and liberate Ahmed.

“I told him: ‘My son, don’t join them’,” recounted Umm Mohammed, her hair under a dark scarf.

“He said: ‘It’s none of your business. I’m going to get my brother. I’ll go into the prisons.’“

The elderly woman said, with sadness in her voice, that Mohammed left “and never came back.”

And neither did Ahmed.

Both are presumed to be among the many killed under the group’s self-declared “caliphate” that cut across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Umm Mohammed said she suspects the jihadists felt that Mohammed “was not one of them. They must have thought he was a spy.”

Speaking about those dark days years later for the Mosul Eye project has brought up a storm of emotions, but ultimately had a cathartic effect for Umm Mohammed.

Mosul Eye, with funding from the US Agency for International Development, has trained 10 students to conduct and film interviews, mostly in Mosul but testimonies have also been collected from people hailing from elsewhere in Iraq.

The youngest of the 70 witnesses are barely 10 years old. Others are in their 80s. The oldest is 104.

The footage will be kept at the group’s archives at Mosul University, and George Washington University in the US capital, for use by researchers and for future generations.

“We wanted to show the world how the people of Mosul overcame this experience,” said a spokesman for Mosul Eye, Mohannad Ammar.

Another witness is Muslim Hmeid, a 27-year-old law student whose Sunni Arab family endured five months of Daesh rule in Sinjar in 2014 before fleeing.

Seared in his mind especially is the “bloody first week, impossible to erase from memory.”

He relived with pain how Daesh targeted the local Yazidi minority, whose non-Muslim faith the extremists considered heretical.

Hmeid remembered watching helplessly as the jihadists came and loaded Yazidi girls and women into lorries.

“Once I saw two or three trucks full of women,” he said. “And a few men, but mostly young women, aged 17 to 30, maybe.”

Entire Yazidi villages were emptied and many fell victim to crimes since recognized as genocide by the United Nations and courts in several countries.

Women were forced into sexual slavery and the men were killed, while “those who could fled into the mountains,” Hmeid said.

“Witnessing such a catastrophe happen to your neighbors and not being able to help ... We were heartbroken,” said Hmeid. “Psychologically, we were devastated.”

With three of his brothers in the military and on the Daesh kill list, the family fled to Turkiye but later returned to Iraq.

“By talking about these topics, we reopen wounds,” said Hmeid. But, added the father of two, “the next generations must know exactly what happened.”

From streets of Cairo to the biggest Arab clubs: The rise of Ramadan football tournaments

From streets of Cairo to the biggest Arab clubs: The rise of Ramadan football tournaments
Updated 30 March 2023

From streets of Cairo to the biggest Arab clubs: The rise of Ramadan football tournaments

From streets of Cairo to the biggest Arab clubs: The rise of Ramadan football tournaments
  • From humble beginnings among groups of soccer-loving friends the contests have become more organized and professional, even attracting the attention of major sponsors
  • ‘These matches were initially played on the streets, on cold, hard asphalt, but around the year 2000, youth centers started to host them on well-equipped pitches,’ said one organizer

CAIRO: For more than 25 years, football tournaments have been among the most popular of the special events in Egypt associated with the holy month of Ramadan.

They began when groups of friends would gather together to organize matches so that they could indulge their passion for the game and show off their skills. But as the years have passed they have become more organized and professional, in some cases even attracting the attention of major sponsors.

The growth of these Ramadan soccer competitions can be traced back through the years to humble beginnings in the neighborhoods of Cairo before they expanded to other parts of the country and then elsewhere in the Arab world. Along the way, they moved from the streets to youth centers and, eventually, major sports clubs.

“The Ramadan football tournaments first started in the streets of the capital, where players had to be self-reliant,” Mohammed El-Sayed, a sports journalist with Egyptian newspaper Akhbar El-Youm, told Arab News.

“Youths from different regions would organize their own teams and rounds within each region. They took the streets as their stadium and there were no uniforms involved; the team unity alone was enough.

“In the past, Ramadan football tournaments were always played immediately before iftar. Young people took advantage of the quiet streets at that time to hold matches, while children and young adults gathered around to watch them as a form of entertainment.”

Hatem Hussein, also known as Mizo, is one of the best-known players who took part in Ramadan tournaments during the 1990s.

“I was playing in the streets (back then) and we were all very eager to play … the competition was strong,” he said. “We always adopted the knockout matches method: The team that eliminated all its competitors until the end of the tournament would be considered the winner.

“The prizes were symbolic and reflective of the entry fee that the teams paid at the beginning. Second and third place both took home a complete sports kit.”

The growth of these Ramadan soccer competitions can be traced back through the years to humble beginnings in the neighborhoods of Cairo before they expanded to other parts of the country. (Supplied)

Karim Al-Bibani, an organizer of Ramadan tournaments in the Abdeen area, near the center of Cairo, said: “These matches were initially played on the streets of Cairo, on the cold, hard asphalt, but around the year 2000, youth centers started to host them on well-equipped pitches.

“In part, this was a result of the large number of housing units that were being built, which left little or no space for playing football on the streets.

“The tournaments have now moved to youth centers because of their good playgrounds, strong lighting and better capabilities. These centers organize the tournament and are responsible for it, financially.”

As the popularity of the seasonal competitions grew and spread, it was no surprise that established football clubs wanted to get in on the act.

“In the past 15 years, Ramadan tournaments began to move to major clubs, and a number of great players who had retired from their clubs began to play in these tournaments,” said sports journalist El-Sayed. In particular, an increase in the number of five-a-side pitches with artificial grass that were being built helped to fuel this trend, he added.

“The participation of the retired players is the reason Ramadan tournaments started to expand outside Egypt,” El-Sayed said.

As a result of these popular veteran stars taking part, in recent years Ramadan tournaments have increasingly become big business, attracting lucrative sponsorship deals, said journalist Mahmoud Essam

“For the big clubs, sponsorship will be at a higher level, including real estate and mobile phone companies, among others,” he said. “These sponsorships depend on having big names participating in these tournaments.”

Palestinian children bear the scars of Israeli raids

Palestinian children bear the scars of Israeli raids
Updated 30 March 2023

Palestinian children bear the scars of Israeli raids

Palestinian children bear the scars of Israeli raids
  • The Defense for Children International Palestine movement has documented the testimonies of youngsters in Jenin who have been traumatized by military action

RAMALLAH: The excessive force used by the Israeli forces against civilians during incursions into Palestinian territories has resulted in children living in constant fear and anxiety, a report has said.

The Defense for Children International Palestine movement has documented the testimonies of youngsters in Jenin who have been traumatized by military action.

The movement said in its report that, in addition to violating the right to life of 17 children since the beginning of the year, the practices of the Israeli forces had resulted in significant effects on other children.

This had manifested itself in their behavior, thinking, and academic performance. The violence they had witnessed had violated their rights guaranteed by international law and threatened their psychological and social security, it said.

Among the 17 children killed since the beginning of this year, six were from Jenin.

Children had been used as human shields. They were detained for long hours in their homes which were used as military barracks and sniper and observation points during the storming of the city and its camp. All of this greatly affected the children, the report said.

A 17-year-old said: “While my colleague Mahmoud Al-Saadi, 17, and I were heading to school in the morning, the Israeli army stormed the camp and started shooting from all directions. He was killed.

“We were planning together to graduate from school, go to university, and study together, but all of that was shattered.”

A 16-year-old said: “The occupation’s raids into the camp have become routine.

“The army enters at any time, so I can no longer leave the house. I am afraid of the army’s raids while I am outside the home.”

Khaled Quzmar, DCIP director, told Arab News that the Israeli army’s use of excessive force had left Palestinian children with no sense of security and no confidence in the future.

He said: “Children live in the situation of hopelessness. For example, a child was found in Dheisheh camp moving around with his will written on a piece of paper in his pocket, because he was afraid that he would be in the wrong place at the wrong time and might be killed.”

Quzmar said that the 17 children killed by the Israeli army did not pose any security threat to the soldiers. They were killed while carrying out daily tasks.

He added that when a child returns to his classroom and finds a bouquet in the place of a classmate killed by the Israeli army, it leaves a deep psychological mark on them.

He said that Palestinian children in the areas of repeated military action, such as Jenin camp and Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, needed psychological support sessions because life had become worthless for them.

The testimony of another 17-year-old read: “In every raid there are martyrs, shootings, destroyed homes and property. 

“Bullets penetrated the walls of our house. Danger pursues me while I am in bed. When I want to move inside the house, I must crawl on my stomach for fear of a sniper or stray bullets.

“Death is more merciful than this fear and anxiety. For more than a year, I have been unable to sleep normally. Sometimes I wake up to the sound of bullets and explosions, and other times I wake up due to nightmares. I no longer distinguish between dreams and reality.”

A 15-year-old said: “[The camp] has become full of pictures of martyrs, and there is a story and memories behind every martyr. From the window of the house, I saw young men wounded by the occupation’s bullets left to bleed until they died, and I also saw completely burned bodies of martyrs.

“The occupation forces killed our teacher, Jawad Bawakna. He was the teacher closest to us. He sent us energy and hope through his activities and constant movement, full of vitality.

“He had a great ability to support us psychologically in light of these conditions in the camp.

“We lost one of the most important sources of psychological support. The school has become a painful memory for our loved ones, and we are trying to stay away from it as much as possible.”

Israeli armed forces surrounded a house during one of their incursions into the Jenin camp. They took the man residing there away from his wife and two children, Tolin, 2, and Misk, 1.

The father later said: “The behavior of the two daughters changed radically after this incident, especially Tolin, who turned from an active into a secluded child, attached to her mother and distracted, afraid of any sound or movement, except for the frequent nightmares and bouts of crying.”

Experts emphasize the need to protect children in Lebanon from cyberbullying

Experts emphasize the need to protect children in Lebanon from cyberbullying
Updated 29 March 2023

Experts emphasize the need to protect children in Lebanon from cyberbullying

Experts emphasize the need to protect children in Lebanon from cyberbullying

BEIRUT: A conference held on Wednesday heard that internet abuse had become a threat to the safety of Lebanon’s children.

The conference, Protecting Children in the Digital Space, was held at the Beirut Bar Association.

Speakers warned that child protection was not limited to protecting them from sexual exploitation and human trafficking alone, but “it goes beyond that and includes the phenomenon referred to as cyberbullying, which sometimes leads to suicide.”

A 2018 study conducted by Save the Children in Lebanon showed that children in the country were most exposed to physical bullying (41 percent), while 6 percent were victims of cyberbullying.

The study found that Syrian refugee children were most exposed to verbal bullying (32 percent) and Lebanese and Syrian children were bullied at almost the same rates, at 21 and 19 percent.

Mayke Huijbregts, from UNICEF Lebanon, said: “The many global changes and increasing risks in light of COVID-19 forced children to learn online and they are now facing various kinds of risks, whether through viewing harmful contents in the form of pictures and videos or by sending and sharing their pictures that travel the world in seconds, making them victims of social media.”

Lebanon’s children “were not spared from bullying, harassment and extortion,” she added, stressing the necessity of “sharing UNICEF’s plans in Lebanon with the relevant ministries, launching awareness-raising campaigns at schools and holding training sessions.”

Suha Ismail, head of the International Center for Human Justice, said: “Smartphones and video games, which have become a necessity for everyone, created many risks that could threaten the safety of children, subject them to extortion, kidnapping or addiction, while also affecting their physical and mental development.

“This forces us to determine what is beneficial and what is not, despite the local censorship, which cannot provide protection on its own.

“Internet usage is no longer limited to completing homework; it is now used for many purposes. This situation requires the adoption of regulations and the development of laws. These steps are at the heart of the center’s objectives, with the aim of having a legal framework and training sessions that serve this purpose.”

Nadine Dakroub, president of the Juvenile Affairs and Children’s Rights Committee at the Beirut Bar Association, said that “rapid technological development sometimes gets ahead of the development of local laws related to the protection of juveniles and minors.”

She added that “various workshops on juveniles and children’s affairs are needed to deal with this issue, along with an active participation in the Parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee and the remaining relevant parliamentary committees, especially the Women and Children Parliamentary Committee.”

Inaya Ezzedine, head of the Women and Children’s Parliamentary Committee, said: “Dealing with this issue with legislative fragmentation has resulted in a state of chaos and a lack of effectiveness.

“The approach, which is focused on protecting children in the digital space, should progress on two paths simultaneously: firstly, a legislative path that protects children’s personal data and privacy, while also censoring digital content; secondly, a children’s awareness-raising path that focuses on enhancing their protective skills, allowing them to identify the sources of danger in the digital space.

“In 2019, I submitted a draft law aimed at amending article 120 of the law on electronic transactions and personal data in order to regulate minors’ access to some websites, protecting children from violent and pornographic contents that affect their physical development and behavior in society. I took this step in light of the increasing number of websites that encourage immorality, suicide and homosexuality.

“The sexual harassment law, which was adopted recently, took into account electronic harassment. However, protecting children and implementing the relevant law requires technical capabilities that would allow the Lebanese government to obtain unified data from children signing in, stop illegal internet providers, and have full control over the electronic space, which constitutes part of the country’s national security.”

Abbas Halabi, the caretaker education minister, said: “The child protection principles, including child protection in the digital space, were included in the public education sector’s national pre-university curriculum, while a large number of teachers have received the relevant and necessary training.

“In 2018, the ministry, in cooperation with UNICEF, launched its policy on student protection in the school environment. The ministry’s operations room has a hotline that receives calls related to child protection in schools, including the digital space, and addresses them with the help of experts.

“We rely on the parents’ vigilance, as they are a key partner in the efforts to prevent risks and ensure the safety of children when they use modern technologies. We also rely on the Bar Association when it comes to establishing a legal framework for effective, permanent and comprehensive protection against the various risks children might be subjected to.”

Participants in the discussions warned against “restricting freedoms or adopting regulations that obstruct the right of any person, especially children, to access information and gain knowledge, as it is a sacred right, particularly enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Activist groups have already launched individual initiatives to address the problem of online harassment. Harrasstracker is a platform that enables people to anonymously report cases of sexual harassment in Lebanon.