UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
Women react near rubble following an earthquake in Hatay, Turkiye, February 7, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 February 2023

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.”


Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip
Updated 8 sec ago

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip
  • Barbara Leaf, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, visited Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya between March 15 and 25
  • The issues she discussed with officials included escalating tensions in the West Bank, economic reforms in Lebanon and Tunisia, and elections in Libya

WASHINGTON: Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, had productive meetings with the Arab leaders and officials during her recent trip to the Middle East, she said on Thursday.

She discussed with them a wide range of urgent political and economic issues, including economic reforms in Lebanon and Tunisia, elections in Libya, and heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank.

Leaf visited Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya between March 15 and 25. She said her trip “focused on the US’s enduring interests in the Middle East and North Africa” and was an opportunity to reinforce President Joe Biden’s priority of an affirmative framework of American engagement in the region. She added that she also engaged in troubleshooting on some issues.

“I reaffirmed US support for de-escalating conflicts, support for democratic principles and elections, human rights and key economic reform,” she said.

During her briefing, attended by Arab News, Leaf said she worked with officials from Jordan, Palestine and Israel on efforts to reduce the threat of violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians during Ramadan, which this year coincides with upcoming Jewish feast of Passover and Christian celebration of Easter.

Representatives of the US, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority also held meetings earlier this month in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt to discuss security precautions and efforts to de-escalate tensions in the occupied West Bank, in light of Israeli army operations deep within cities in the territory. At least 80 Palestinians have been killed by army forces so far this year, and scores wounded or arrested. Several Israelis have also been killed.

The legislative elections in Israel in November resulted in the formation of a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is described as the most far right in the nation’s history. Some cabinet members have openly called for violence against Palestinians and more Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which are considered illegal under international law.

Palestinian officials accuse such extremist members of the Israeli government of stoking rising tensions and supporting settler violence against the Palestinians in occupied territories.

Regarding the recent rapprochement by some Arab states with Syria, Leaf said officials told her that they believe the international isolation of the Syrian regime and its president, Bashar Assad, has not worked and so they want to try engagement instead. She said she advised them to make sure “to get something out it.”

As for the US position on Syria, she reiterated that Washington will not engage with the regime and will maintain its sanctions on it and key officials.

“The US approach to Syria is unchanged: We don’t intend to normalize relations with Syria,” she said. “The regime is a disaster for its own people and the region.”

Leaf said she met Libyan leaders and other key officials in Tripoli, and that the people of the country want democracy and unity.

“Libyans have made it clear that they want to vote and want a unified government,” she said.

During her meetings with Lebanese officials, she urged them to implement desperately needed economic reforms and “emphasized the urgency” of electing a new president. The office has remained empty since Michel Aoun’s term ended in October, as politicians have been unable to agree on a successor.

Meanwhile the country is engulfed in a devastating financial crisis and efforts to implement economic reforms needed to unlock billions of dollars of international assistance have stalled.

Leaf said the US remains committed to efforts to bring stability to Lebanon and its people, and highlighted the financial assistance recently provided to members of the Lebanese Armed Forces. She added that she urged Lebanese leaders to work with the International Monetary Fund as it is only “lifeline” that can help the country out of its economic crisis. 

During her visit to Tunisia, Leaf gave assurances that the US supports the people of the country and their right to democratic government. She said she also urged Tunisian leaders to continue with the process of economic reform.


Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction
Updated 18 min 6 sec ago

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a man convicted of murdering a schoolgirl in 2006, with her mother vowing to find the real killer in the case that gripped the country. The verdict reignited the mystery around the case that inspired conspiracy theories, books and movies, including a documentary that aired on Netflix.

“The Nazareth district court today acquitted ... defendant Roman Zdorov of the murder of Tair Rada,” the court said in a statement.

Rada, 13, was found with a slit throat and in a pool of blood in a bathroom stall of her high school in Katzrin, a town in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in December 2006.

Zdorov, a Ukrainian resident of Israel, was arrested days after, and charged at the same Nazareth court based on evidence and a confession he later retracted. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.

Expert opinion on the knife used saw the supreme court order a retrial, and in 2014 the Nazareth district court once again found him guilty, a ruling the supreme court upheld.

In 2021 a supreme court judge granted Zdorov the right to another retrial at the Nazareth district court, releasing him to house arrest for the duration of the process that ended Thursday with two of three judges ruling him innocent of Rada’s murder.


Houthi ban on flour imports angers Yemeni traders

Houthi ban on flour imports angers Yemeni traders
Updated 25 min 57 sec ago

Houthi ban on flour imports angers Yemeni traders

Houthi ban on flour imports angers Yemeni traders
  • More than 100 lorries carrying flour have been stuck for days at Houthi checkpoints in Sanaa, Taiz and Al-Bayda as a result of militia restrictions
  • Merchants and traders said the flour originated from the Aden mill and silo facilities, and was not imported via Aden port

AL-MUKALLA: Urgently needed flour supplies on lorries trapped outside Houthi checkpoints will be ruined because of delays caused by militia bans on food imports from government-controlled regions, Yemeni businessmen have warned.

More than 100 lorries carrying flour have been stuck for days at Houthi checkpoints in Sanaa, Taiz and Al-Bayda as a result of militia restrictions.

Merchants and traders said the flour originated from the Aden mill and silo facilities, and was not imported via Aden port.

The businessmen said that they had no objection to paying tax or any other Houthi-approved fees on the products.

Dozens of traders said in a letter to the Houthi minister of commerce and industry that employees in Taiz province’s Al-Rahida district had stopped them importing flour into militia-controlled regions in Taiz and other Yemeni provinces.

Employees claimed they were acting under a ministry directive, the merchants said.

Heavy rain this week will destroy the shipments, costing millions of riyals, they added.

Al-Rahida is a commercial center for local merchants in Dimnat Khadir district, one of five districts in Taiz province under Houthi control.

Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military officer in Taiz, told Arab News on Thursday that as many as 170 flour trucks were stuck outside Houthi checkpoints.

The militia are blocking the goods to force traders to pay more levies, even if it means raising prices or stopping desperately needed commodities from reaching the shelves, he said.

“Under different guises, the Houthis extort traders and force extra costs on them. They do not care whether the commodity’s price increases, or if it disappears from the market. They simply worry about increasing their earnings,” Al-Baher said.

The militia banned imports via government-controlled ports from the start of the year in protest against a government decision to increase the customs exchange rate and force businessmen to import goods through Hodeidah port.

Houthi harassment of businesses is expected to exacerbate Yemen’s already dire humanitarian situation, as foreign relief organizations urge donors to support their programs, which feed millions of Yemenis.

Separately, the Saudi-funded Masam demining program said that six Yemeni civilians have been killed by Houthi land mines in the Ad Duraihimi and At Tuhayta areas of the western province of Hodeidah since the start of Ramadan.

Yemeni Landmine Records, which chronicles civilian land mine casualties in the country, said that three people died when their motorcycle struck a mine in Ad Duraihimi, and two more were killed by a land mine explosion in Al-Hami, west of Hodeida.


Israeli army allows settlers to carry out provocative march on April 10

Israeli army allows settlers to carry out provocative march on April 10
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

Israeli army allows settlers to carry out provocative march on April 10

Israeli army allows settlers to carry out provocative march on April 10
  • Israeli Channel Seven reported that the army agreed to a request by the Nakhla settler organization to hold a massive demonstration that will start from the Za’tara checkpoint
  • The demonstration will take place in conjunction with the Jewish Passover holiday on April 10 and it will see the participation of rabbis, ministers and Knesset members

RAMALLAH: The Israeli army has allowed settlers to organize the largest demonstration in the northern West Bank in years on April 10, in which dozens of settler organizations will participate.

The Israeli Channel Seven reported that the army agreed to a request by the Nakhla settler organization to hold a massive demonstration that would start from the Za’tara checkpoint, south of Nablus, and proceed toward the Avitar settlement outpost built on Mount Sabih, where the army would provide security for the march.

The channel said that the demonstration would take place in conjunction with the Jewish Passover holiday on April 10 and that it would see the participation of rabbis, ministers and Knesset members, among others.

Dozens of Jewish organizations announced their participation in the march, including Yisrael Sheli, Ad Kan, Habitkhonisten, the Sovereign Movement, the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement, Ezra Variel, Beitar Organization, and others.

The participants will demand that the Israeli government fulfill its commitment to allow settlers to return to the Avitar outpost after the Israeli Civil Administration finishes surveying the land.

Ghassan Daglas, an official for settlement issues affiliated with the Palestinian presidency, told Arab News that the settlers were putting pressure on their government to legalize the settlement outpost that they wanted to establish on land owned by Palestinians, benefiting from the presence of extreme right-wing ministers in the government.

“We will not meet them with flowers if they return to Jabal Abu Sbeih, but rather with popular demonstrations and protests. This is the land owned by the Palestinians, and they are trying to seize it by force,” Daglas told Arab News.

Over the past month, extremist settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties have increased.

In a significant development, on Thursday, the Shin Bet security agency announced it arrested two settlers who attacked a Palestinian family on the eve of the Jewish Purim holiday in the town of Huwara while they were in a vehicle outside a retail store.

According to a Shin Bet statement, the detainees threw stones at the vehicle from a short distance, and one of them used an axe to break the vehicle’s windows and attack its passengers.

After interrogating them, the security agency filed against them charges of deliberately committing a terrorist act for racist motives.

Shin Bet accused the two of belonging to a group of violent settlers working to attack Palestinians and disrupt the activities of the Israeli army to thwart Palestinian attacks.

Daglas said these activities would only cause tensions to escalate, threatening people’s lives in the region.

Meanwhile, settler incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque continued on Thursday following calls by the Temple Movements.

Seventy-three settlers stormed the mosque on Thursday, under the protection of the Israeli police. Some of them performed prayers there.

The Har-El youth organization announced their plan to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque next Sunday to celebrate Aliya Day, which symbolizes the Jewish diaspora’s return to Palestine.

Har-El called on its followers to storm the mosque wearing blue shirts bearing the inscriptions of the temple and said that this would be followed by mass incursions by other groups.

These groups called on their supporters to bring sacrificial animals to slaughter them at 10:30 p.m. inside Al-Aqsa Mosque on the evening of next Wednesday.

The organizations referred to their announcement as a declaration of a “state of emergency,” calling on all their supporters to “not miss the Passover Eucharist” at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, 15 rabbis demanded that settlers be allowed to offer the Passover sacrifices in Al-Aqsa Mosque this year. They called on the Israeli government to “exploit Israel’s control over Al-Aqsa Mosque and allow sacrifices inside it.”

In the letter, they claimed that allowing sacrifices inside Al-Aqsa Mosque was “a national interest of the first order for Israel.” They demanded the achievement of this goal “despite all odds.”

Among the rabbis who signed the letter were Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who heads the so-called Temple Institute, one of the groups calling for the construction of a temple on the ruins of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Rabbi Yehuda Kreuzer, the rabbi of the Mitzvah Yericho settlement, who led the settlers as they stormed the mosque.

Last year, the extremist Minister of Finance and Settlement Bezalel Smotrich expressed his sympathy for Jews trying to offer sacrifices at Al-Aqsa, posting a picture of himself inside his car carrying a goat to show his support.

Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and the Islamic holy land, told Arab News that extremist settlers and their associations had no right to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque or to practice their Jewish religious rituals in it, “as it is a place purely for Muslims.”

He said: “Still, Israel seeks to Judaize the holy place and control Al-Aqsa, which represents a provocation to the feelings of millions of Muslims around the world.

“Our Palestinian people and Muslims across the world do not want Al-Aqsa Mosque to be a scene for the superstitions of Jewish extremists and the desecration of Islamic religious values,” he added, holding the Israeli government responsible for the raids and their dangerous repercussions.

“We cannot submit to the diktats of settlement associations. Settlers feel supported by extremist ministers in the government, so they are escalating their threats against Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.


Lebanese public sector pay cut in half

Lebanese public sector pay cut in half
Updated 30 March 2023

Lebanese public sector pay cut in half

Lebanese public sector pay cut in half
  • The cut will take effect in April when the government calculates salaries using an exchange rate of one US dollar to 90,000 Lebanese pounds
  • According to the protesters, the change means that “the purchasing power of their salaries has been totally eroded”

BEIRUT: Military pensioners and angry public sector workers held demonstrations on Thursday after being told that their already eroded pay had effectively been cut in half overnight.
The cut will take effect in April when the government calculates salaries using an exchange rate of one US dollar to 90,000 Lebanese pounds, double the rate used in February. The black-market rate, which many shops use, is now more than 100,000 pounds to the dollar. Four years ago, it was closer to 2,000.
According to the protesters, the change means that “the purchasing power of their salaries has been totally eroded.”
Bechara Al-Asmar, the head of Lebanon’s General Labor Union, told Arab News that the change hit 280,000 people including military personnel and employees of universities, independent offices, municipalities and public hospitals.
Hundreds of military pensioners and professors protested in the Riad Al-Solh square in central Beirut on Thursday, denouncing Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh’s announcement of the change and demanding that their salaries be paid at 28,500 pounds to the dollar instead.
A retired officer said: “My salary used to amount to $1,700 before the economic crisis in Lebanon, but its value deteriorated with the currency collapse. Last month, I received a salary that amounts to no more than $140 according to the black-market rate.
“This month, I might receive no more than $60. How can my family and I survive? This is how they pay back the military, who spent their lives serving the country?”
Protesters held banners condemning the policy, ongoing corruption and the disregard for public and depositors’ funds.
Security bodies had taken strict measures before the protests began, reinforcing barbed wire fencing to prevent protesters from reaching the headquarters of the prime minister.
The protests coincided with an ongoing strike by telecommunications workers. A Cabinet meeting scheduled on Thursday to look at salaries and assistance was postponed until next week after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati traveled to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil said that a full Cabinet meeting was a “necessity” to decide on a “sustainable” settlement for public workers.
Khalil warned that the treasury would lose “significant resources due to the disruption of public utilities, at a time when it urgently needs to secure imports and finance minimal public services.”
He said: “Lebanon is at a dangerous juncture today. Either we maintain a state entity and institutions capable of administering the affairs of the state, or we will be facing further deterioration and we will plunge into the unknown.”
Protesters in the Riad Al-Solh square marched to the central bank headquarters in Hamra Street as army and security forces took up positions around them.
Some in the crowd managed to get past barbed wire fencing to climb to a rooftop. One protester was injured when he fell after anti-riot squad police released pepper spray,
Demonstrators also set tires on fire, blocking the road in front of the central bank.
Salameh said that demands for a lower rate required Cabinet discussion. He asked a delegation of retired military officers to wait until after the weekend for further talks.