ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ended months of diplomatically charged delays and asked parliament to quickly back Finland’s bid to join NATO.
A simultaneous decision by fellow holdout Hungary to schedule a Finnish ratification vote for March 27 means the US-led defense alliance will likely grow to 31 nations within a few months.
NATO’s expansion into a country with a 1,340-km border with Russia will roughly double the length of the bloc’s current frontier with its Cold War-era foe.
Finland had initially aimed to join together with fellow NATO aspirant Sweden — a Nordic power facing a litany of disputes with Turkiye that ultimately sunk its chance to join the bloc before an alliance summit in July.
Helsinki and Stockholm ended decades of military non-alignment and decided to join the world’s most powerful defense alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
• NATO’s expansion into a country with a 1,340-km border with Russia will roughly double the length of the bloc’s current frontier with its Cold War-era foe.
• NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkiye’s decision while stressing the importance of Sweden also joining ‘as soon as possible.’
• US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US urged Hungary to conclude its ratification process both for Sweden and Finland ‘without delay.’
• France called Turkiye’s announcement about Finland ‘an important signal’ while reiterating support for Sweden’s bid as well.
Their applications were accepted at a June NATO summit that signaled the Western world’s desire to stand up to Russia in the face of Europe’s gravest conflict since WWII.
But the bids still needed to be ratified by all 30 of the alliance members’ parliaments — a process that got hung up once it reached Turkiye and Hungary.
The breakthrough followed months of tense negotiations between Ankara and the Nordic neighbors that threatened to collapse several times.
Erdogan told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Helsinki had shown a strong commitment to addressing Ankara’s security concerns.
“We decided to start the protocol of Finland’s accession to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan told reporters after the talks.
Erdogan added that he “hoped” that parliament will approve the application before Turkiye’s crucial general election in May.
The Turkish parliament is expected to end its current session in mid-April.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkiye’s decision while stressing the importance of Sweden also joining “as soon as possible.”
“The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly, not whether they join at exactly the same time,” Stoltenberg said.
The White House echoed the NATO chief’s position. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US urged Hungary to conclude its ratification process both for Sweden and Finland “without delay.”
And France’s Foreign Ministry called Turkiye’s announcement about Finland “an important signal” while reiterating support for Sweden’s bid as well.
Erdogan had accused the Nordic neighbors of breaking the terms of a separate deal they reached in June 2022 under which Turkiye agreed to approve the bids.
Turkiye has sought the extradition of dozens of Kurdish and other suspects it accuses of ties to outlawed militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan’s demands became more urgent as he neared a May election in which he will need a strong turnout from nationalist supporters to extend his two-decade rule.
The Turkish leader voiced particular displeasure with Sweden — a country with a larger Kurdish diaspora and a longer history of disputes with Ankara.
Finland and Sweden had initially resisted the idea of breaking up their bids.
But Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson — who made NATO membership a priority after assuming office in October — acknowledged on Tuesday that the likelihood of Finland joining the bloc on its own had “increased.”
The Finnish president called Erdogan’s decision “very important for the whole of Finland.”
But he added: “Finland’s application is not complete without Sweden.”
Sweden expressed disappointment at being excluded from this round of NATO expansion.
“This is a development that we did not want, but that we were prepared for,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters in Stockholm.
The talks in Ankara put more pressure on Hungary’s parliament to end its own ratification delays.
Israeli soldiers to join Moroccan war games for first time
Morocco and Israel have been working to boost cooperation in the military, security, trade and tourism fields since they normalized ties in December 2020
Updated 06 June 2023
RABAT: Israeli soldiers will for the first time take part in military exercises in Morocco when the biggest war games event in Africa kicks off Tuesday, the Israeli army said.
“This is the first time that the IDF is taking an active part in the ‘African Lion’ international exercise,” said a statement from the Israeli army late Monday.
“A delegation of 12 soldiers and commanders from the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion” — an elite infantry unit — has been sent to participate alongside some 8,000 soldiers from 18 countries.
The event — now in its 19th edition — is organized by Morocco and the United States.
“During the next two weeks, the soldiers will focus on training in various combat challenges that combine urban warfare and underground warfare, in which they will conclude in a common exercise for all participating armies,” read the Israeli statement.
Israel participated in the event last year, however only as international military observers, without soldiers taking part on the ground.
According to the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR), the war games include exercises in operational planning and fighting weapons of mass destruction, tactical land, sea, air and special forces training, as well as airborne operations.
Morocco and Israel have been working to boost cooperation in the military, security, trade and tourism fields since they normalized ties in December 2020.
How conflict is jeopardizing Sudan’s museums and cultural heritage
Priceless archives have already been ravaged by fire and looting since the conflict began on April 15
Experts fear artifacts spanning Sudan’s 6,000-year history could face similar fate to Syria’s antiquities
Updated 06 June 2023
JUBA, South Sudan: Sudan’s rich cultural heritage is at risk of irreparable damage from the conflict raging for more than a month now as museums lack adequate protection from looters and vandalism.
The clashes have caused widespread suffering and misery, destroyed infrastructure and property, and sparked a humanitarian emergency. However, the two feuding factions, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), continue to ignore international calls for dialogue.
In the latest troubling development, RSF fighters seized control of the Sudan National Museum in the capital, Khartoum, on Friday. Although they assured that no harm had been done and steps had been taken to protect the artifacts, including ancient mummies, there is no way to verify those claims.
The museum houses a diverse collection of statues, pottery, ancient murals, and artifacts dating from the Stone Age as well as the Christian and Islamic periods.
The conflict initially erupted in Khartoum but quickly spread to other states and cities, causing significant casualties. Multiple ceasefire deals have been announced and quickly broken. Nearly one million people have been displaced.
As diplomats scramble to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table and aid agencies deploy assistance to help those in need, Sudan’s heritage sites and ancient collections have little protection from theft and destruction.
“The Sudan National Museum has become a battleground,” Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist and civil rights activist, told Arab News.
The location of the museum — in close proximity to the SAF’s Khartoum headquarters — made it at once vulnerable to accidental damage and difficult for officials to guard its collections.
“This further exacerbated the danger, as anyone found near the premises risked immediate harm, as tragically witnessed when a university student was fatally shot,” said Albaih.
Established in 1971, the museum is the largest in Sudan, housing an extensive collection of Nubian artifacts spanning thousands of years. It offers a comprehensive account of Sudan’s captivating history from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, Kerma culture, and medieval Makuria.
Kerma ancient city:
Kerma (also known as Dukki Gel, Arabic: كرمة/دوكي قيل)
Was the capital city of the Kerma Culture, which was located in present-day Sudan at least 5500 years ago, Kerma is one of the largest archaeological sites in ancient Nubia#SudaneseCulture#ثقافة_سودانيةpic.twitter.com/99oGZX294F
Besides the national museum, the Presidential Palace Museum, chronicling Sudan’s modern history, the Ethnographic Museum, established in 1956 to celebrate the nation’s ethnic diversity, and the Sudan Natural History Museum are also at risk.
Sara A. K. Saeed, director of the Natural History Museum, recently drew the world’s attention via Twitter to the fact that Sudan’s “museums are now without guards to protect them from looting and vandalism.”
She raised particular concern about the welfare of the live animals held within the museum’s collections, which include several species of reptiles, birds, mammals, snakes and scorpions for research purposes, and which now face neglect and starvation.
Using high-resolution satellite imagery CHML @VMNH, @GVPTUMD, and SCRI have confirmed significant damage to the Sudan Natural History Museum in Khartoum. Read the Cultural Heritage Rapid Report here: https://t.co/vO0sb4EbNV
The entry of SAF fighters into the Sudan National Museum happened just days after a building in Omdurman, northwest of Khartoum, housing archives that included priceless documents chronicling Sudan’s colonial past, was ravaged by fire and looters.
Home to some 200 pyramids — almost twice the number in Egypt — and the legendary Kingdom of Kush, Sudan is one of the world’s most precious reservoirs of human culture and civilization.
Without pressure from the international community on the warring parties to guarantee the preservation of historical artifacts, experts fear the unchecked conflict could erase 6,000 years of Sudanese history, in echoes of the destruction visited upon Syria over the past decade.
The civil war and concurrent Daesh insurgency devastated ancient heritage sites across Syria, including the monumental ruins of Palmyra and much of the historic center of Aleppo. Many objects looted by militants found their way onto the black market.
Christopher A. Marinello, a renowned lawyer known for his tireless work recovering looted artworks, told Arab News that “looters will dig up objects to sell quickly for survival, often at a fraction of their true value.
“These objects find their way to countries such as Libya and Turkiye before reaching the West,” he said, adding that this illicit trade could exacerbate security problems, as the proceeds from such sales could end up funding international terrorism.
International agencies have several mechanisms in place designed to prevent the destruction of heritage in wartime.
“Prior to any conflict, it is crucial to conduct documentation and cataloging of cultural sites, ensuring that proper records are maintained,” Bastien Varoutsikos, director of strategic development at the Aliph Foundation, a network dedicated to protecting cultural heritage in conflict areas, told Arab News.
The Aliph Foundation has been actively involved in various projects in Sudan since 2020, protecting, among others, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Meroe against the threat of Nile flooding and human activities.
Museums in Sudan are at risk of irreparable harm, officials warn.
Archives in Omdurman have already been ravaged by fire and looting.
Experts say collective memory, identity and history must be safeguarded.
Meanwhile, the Western Sudan Community Museums project, funded by Aliph, focuses on community engagement and the establishment of museums celebrating the region’s unique heritage.
The agency has also implemented capacity-building programs across Sudan to provide professional training in heritage protection, including the utilization of digital preservation methods to help safeguard sites.
Anwar Sabik, field projects manager at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, emphasized the need “to keep experienced professionals working on cultural heritage close to these invaluable treasures, not only to prevent material damage but also to preserve Sudan’s knowledge and expertise.”
Since 2018, the agency has gone beyond the traditional role of museums by providing a community dimension.
“The aim has been to transform museums into vibrant hubs where people can gather, celebrate their intangible cultural heritage, and foster a sense of community,” Sabik told Arab News.
Now, with the violence in Sudan showing no sign of abating, all of this work could now be at risk.
Without proper protection and preservation, the conflict threatens to erase not only tangible artifacts but also the intangible fabric of Sudanese society. Traditional practices, customs, and oral histories that have been passed down through generations could disappear forever.
“The disappearance of these invaluable resources would inflict an irreparable loss upon Sudan and the world,” said Sabik. “Perhaps, Sudan has already lost a part of it as a result of the mass displacement.”
According to Varoutsikos, although reports of unprotected museums and archaeological sites have surfaced, documented instances of actual looting remain, mercifully, limited.
“In times of conflict, it is challenging to confirm looting occurrences without concrete evidence,” he told Arab News.
To combat the illicit market for cultural goods, Varoutsikos says, governments must implement stringent measures that make it difficult for these illegally acquired items to find a market.
“Decision-makers in each country play a crucial role in enacting and enforcing such measures,” he said. Heightened vigilance among customs and law-enforcement agencies worldwide is one such measure.
However, “determining the demand on the black market, particularly in the Middle East, is challenging due to the abundance of valuable items that attract interest,” Varoutsikos said.
Matters are complicated further, as looted artifacts are often stored for extended periods before being sold to avoid attracting attention. Caution is also essential in the market due to the prevalence of fake items, which impacts sellers and buyers alike.
How the warring parties and the international community choose to respond to these calls for action could determine what sort of society emerges when peace finally returns — one that is united by its shared heritage, or one that is torn asunder.
“Sudan’s museums and the invaluable artifacts they house are not just a reflection of the past,” Varoutsikos said. “They have the power to shape the future.”
Kuwait’s foreign minister and US Navy chief discuss security cooperation
Sheikh Salem emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways in the Gulf region
Updated 05 June 2023
KUWAIT: Kuwaiti Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, met on Monday to discuss the relationship between their countries in the realm of naval security, and ways in which cooperation might be enhanced.
The minister emphasized the importance of strengthening the security of waterways and ensuring the freedom and safety of movement of vessels in the Gulf region.
Cooper praised the bilateral ties between the nations and thanked the leadership, government and people of Kuwait for hosting US armed forces.
Yemen’s Lahj security forces seize drone parts bound for Houthis
Rights groups call for impartial investigation of prisoner’s death within militia-run jail in Ibb province
Updated 05 June 2023
AL-MUKALLA: Security forces in Yemen’s Lahj province on Sunday intercepted a shipment of drone components headed for the Houthis, the latest in a series of similar interceptions of weapons and explosives bound for Houthi-controlled areas.
The Giants Brigade’s 2nd Brigade in Lahj halted a van transporting sealed boxes from Aden, and after opening the boxes, soldiers discovered motors, batteries, cameras, and other drone parts, and the shipment was buried within toys and covered with motorcycles.
Despite scrutiny at Aden port or other government-controlled entrance points, many local officials and journalists believe the Houthis were able to transport weapons into Yemen through government-controlled areas.
“The event (in Lahj) demonstrates that the Houthi militia is still preparing for war rather than peace,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, told Arab News, adding that if multiple military and security forces cooperate, the shipment would not have had to travel through dozens of checkpoints in government-controlled areas.
“If we presume that the shipment left the port of Aden or another province, it must have passed through dozens of security checkpoints. As a result, it throws light on the fact that the Houthi(s are) still transporting … weaponry through legitimate government channels, owing to a lack of cooperation among security services.”
It comes as security officials at Yemen’s Shehin Border Crossing with Oman revealed the seizure of 355 kg of potassium permanganate, an ingredient that can be used in the manufacturing of cocaine, which was hidden among cargo on two vehicles bound for Houthi-controlled Sanaa.
During the past eight years, many supplies of weapons or drugs meant for the Houthis have been intercepted in government-controlled areas such as Marib, Hadramout and Mahra.
Separately, human rights groups have called for an impartial investigation into a prisoner’s death within a Houthi-run jail in the province of Ibb, accusing the Houthis of deliberately neglecting captives until they died.
Yemenis say that Faisal Al-Sabri, a prisoner in Ibb City’s Central Prison, was transferred to a city hospital after suffering a stroke and was left handcuffed in the hospital’s corridor due to a “lack of empty beds.”
The Houthis later returned him to the prison, where he died.
Yemeni activists shared a photo of a handcuffed man wearing a blue prison uniform with an intravenous drip in his arm and lying on the ground, in what appeared to be the hospital in Ibb.
Human rights group Rights Radar said in a statement: “Rights Radar demands a probe into the circumstances behind the death of prisoner Faisal Al-Sabri, who died at the Central Prison in Ibb Governorate, central Yemen, just days after suffering a stroke and not receiving the proper treatment.”
Dozens of former detainees in Houthi jails have died soon after their release from illnesses contracted while in prison.
Many more Yemenis have perished in Houthi detention centers, either as a consequence of torture or because the Houthis denied them life-saving medicine.
Abu Dhabi civil defense dealing with fire in Mussafah Industrial area: Police
‘Relevant authorities have begun work’: ADCD statement
Updated 05 June 2023
ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi police and civil defense are dealing with a fire that broke out at a warehouse in the Mussafah industrial area, Abu Dhabi Police said on Twitter late on Monday.
“The relevant authorities have begun work and emphasize the importance of seeking information from official sources,” the police said.
No further details were available.
Abu Dhabi Police and Abu Dhabi Civil Defence Authority teams are dealing with a fire that broke out this evening at a warehouse in Mussafah industrial area. The relevant authorities have begun work and emphasise the importance of seeking information from official sources.