Tunisia says major migrant trafficker arrested

Tunisia says major migrant trafficker arrested
A file of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are rescued by the Tunisian National Guard off their makeshift boats which were used to make their way to the Italian coast, about 50 nautical miles in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of the central Tunisian city of Sfax (AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2023

Tunisia says major migrant trafficker arrested

Tunisia says major migrant trafficker arrested
  • The Tunisian national guard alleged the man was responsible for the deaths of 20 Tunisians
  • He has been sentenced to 79 years in prison

TUNIS: Tunisia has arrested a man suspected being the organizer of a ring that smuggled migrants across the Mediterranean, including an attempted crossing in which 20 people drowned, authorities said.
The North African country, which lies just 130 kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa, has long been a favored steppingstone for migrants attempting the perilous sea journey to Europe.
Investigators in Tunisia’s second city of Sfax had “arrested the organizer of clandestine crossings, who was wanted in 24 cases and had been sentenced to 79 years in prison”, the national guard said Thursday on Facebook.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi commended the arrest “of a man suspected of being one of the main traffickers involved in departures from Sfax”, the launchpad for many Europe-bound migrants.
The Tunisian national guard alleged the man was responsible for the deaths of 20 Tunisians who in September embarked on a boat from Chebba, a coastal city north of Sfax, and drowned.
In the first four months of 2023, the numbers of irregular crossings to Europe through the central Mediterranean soared almost 300 percent compared with the same period last year, with almost 42,200 entries detected, according to the European Union’s border agency Frontex.
It noted “a rise of 1,100 percent compared to last year” in sea journeys from Tunisia alone.
In recent weeks however the flow of migrants from Tunisia has diminished due to weather conditions in the Mediterranean.
The national guard said it had intercepted or rescued 14,406 migrants in the first three months of 2023, with just over 1,200 of them Tunisians and the rest from other parts of Africa.
Attempted crossings particularly by migrants from sub-Saharan African countries have intensified since President Kais Saied made a fiery speech on February 21 claiming illegal immigration was a demographic threat to Tunisia.
Tunisia itself is in the throes of a long-running socio-economic crisis, with spiraling inflation and persistently high joblessness, pushing some of its citizens to seek a better life abroad.

Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism

Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism
Updated 14 sec ago

Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism

Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism
  • Militia ‘imposed own prices, stole and let goods rot’
  • Iran group accused of wanting their own firms to benefit

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have dismissed the leaders of Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, days after the chamber issued a strongly worded statement condemning the militia’s harsh measures against the private sector in areas under their control.

Yemeni government officials and local activists said that armed Houthis stormed the chamber building in Sanaa and replaced the chamber’s chief and his deputy with allies.

In a rare recent statement, the Federation of Yemeni Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Sanaa Chamber of Commerce and Industry accused the Houthis of imposing a price list without their consent, preventing traders’ goods from entering the militia’s territories, allowing those goods to rot, and selling them without telling traders.

The two merchant unions also stated that the Houthis shut down businesses without providing any justification and delayed for months the issuance of new business licenses or the renewal of existing licenses.

Some Yemenis claim that the Houthis have never tolerated criticism, and punished the Sanaa chamber leader and his deputy by replacing them with “inexperienced” loyalists. They also assert that chambers of commerce executives are elected by members and not appointed by the state.

The Houthis’ severe policies, according to many Yemenis, are aimed at favoring the militia’s parallel business and trade sectors, warning that a collapse of the private sector in densely populated areas under its control would exacerbate the humanitarian situation and result in people starving.

“This perilous step confirms the Houthi militia’s continued implementation of its plan to destroy the private sector and eliminate commercial houses in areas under its control in favor of companies and investors loyal to it,” Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said in a tweet.

At the same time, Yemen’s Interior Ministry said the Houthis demolished a house belonging to Maj. Gen. Abdullah Yahyia Jaber, the deputy interior minister, in Sanaa’s Geraf neighborhood, the latest in a series of such actions.

Jaber is one of hundreds of Yemeni politicians, officials, military and security officers, journalists, and others who fled Sanaa following the Houthi military takeover in late 2014. The Houthis condemned them in absentia and confiscated their homes and other properties, turning a few into detention facilities, handing some to supporters, and selling others.

The Houthis also blew up the home of Ali Ahmed Al-Hejazi, a pro-government tribal leader in Marib’s Serwah area, over the weekend.

“The group has a lengthy history of murdering, kidnapping, displacing, bombing homes, recruiting children, and kidnapping women, among other crimes,” the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms said in a statement, adding that the Houthis have blown up more than 700 of their opponents’ homes since early 2015.

Erdogan has eye on local, global challenges with new Cabinet

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands with the new cabinet members during the inauguration ceremony in Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands with the new cabinet members during the inauguration ceremony in Ankara.
Updated 04 June 2023

Erdogan has eye on local, global challenges with new Cabinet

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands with the new cabinet members during the inauguration ceremony in Ankara.
  • President’s picks focus on economy, foreign policy, says expert
  • ‘Friendly to West, less antagonistic toward region’s nations’

ANKARA: Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unveiled his new Cabinet on Saturday night during his inauguration ceremony, with the appointments providing some indication on the direction the new government is heading on the economy and foreign policy.

The fact that the new vice-president, Cevdet Yilmaz, has a background in economic governance may be an indication that the economy will be a priority as Erdogan embarks on his third decade at the helm of the nation.

Mehmet Simsek, an advocate of investor-friendly and orthodox economic policies, and viewed positively by the financial markets, was named as treasury and finance minister.

Simsek, a former economy chief and deputy prime minister between 2009 and 2018, will be responsible for restoring the confidence of the markets post-elections.

In his previous post, he urged for tighter monetary policy but was replaced by Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Whether his presence in the cabinet will see a departure from the current unorthodox economic policies, with its low interest rates, remains to be seen.  But his appointment is already an important signal to the markets that there will be some changes.

Rather than an abrupt shift in economic policy, gradual steps are expected to be taken in an environment where the lira is sliding to record lows against the dollar.

In his post-election speech, Erdogan said: “We are designing an economy focused on investment and employment, with a finance management team that has a global reputation.”

Turkiye’s economy expanded 4 percent in the first quarter of the year, remaining just above expectations.

Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at The Washington Institute, told Arab News: “If he is also given some independence to adjust ultra-low interest rates, the Turkish economy can make a comeback. But I expect first a devaluation of the lira, which will make Turkiye very cheap for the tourists and affordable for the exports.”

“If Simsek is given enough flexibility, the markets will believe that he has the mandate to (do) what he has to do for restoring the Turkish economy,” said Cagaptay.

With reserves diminishing, some changes in economic governance in the short term are inevitable.

But how substantial and sustainable these changes will be in a centralized decision-making structure remain uncertain and depends on the new roadmap announced.

Experts believe that if Erdogan insists on keeping interest rates low rather than taking austerity measures ahead of local elections that are 10 months away, Simsek’s appointment would not result in much change to economic policy.

According to Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo Intelligence, Simsek’s return would result in a partial re-adjustment of Turkiye’s current economic policy, while a dramatic U-turn embracing an outright conventional monetary policy approach remains unlikely.

“It is also unclear for how long Erdogan may tolerate a more pragmatic stance on the economic front, given the priority he assigns to the March 2024 local elections,” said Piccoli.

In the meantime, former intelligence chief Hakan Fidan joined the cabinet as the new foreign minister. Fidan is known for initiating rapprochement with multiple countries, especially Egypt and those in the Gulf.

“He is highly respected in Washington and he is seen as a reliable counterpart,” said Cagaptay.

“He had been also handling key international portfolios, especially Syria and Russia policies. His appointment is really significant. He is now in the driver’s seat.”

Cagaptay expects the new cabinet to be friendlier toward Western nations and less antagonistic with regional countries.

In late April, Fidan attended a meeting with his Russian, Iranian and Syrian counterparts in Moscow as part of a rapprochement process with the Bashar Assad regime.

Last year, the handshake between Erdogan and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar, was also believed to be the result of meetings between the two sides’ intelligence organizations and foreign ministries.

According to Cagaptay, Erdogan wants top-notch experts on economic and foreign policy, so that he can focus on domestic areas which require almost daily macro-management, including social issues and drafting a new charter.

“That he has saved parliamentary seats while forming his cabinet tells us he wants to quickly get to a referendum-triggering legislative majority,” he added.

Meanwhile, although Turkiye has already started the process of normalizing ties with Syria and the Assad regime through several high-level meetings under Russian mediation, the Turkish military presence in northern Syria is not expected to end soon.

But new moves for facilitating the safe return of Syrian refugees to their homeland might be taken to fulfil the pledges made by Erdogan during his reelection campaign.

The counterterrorism campaigns in northern Iraq and Syria are also set to continue in the light of the composition of the new cabinet.

Dalia Ziada, director of the Cairo-based MEEM Center for Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, believes that Fidan is the right man for the job at this particular time with Turkiye rising as a key regional player.

“He holds all the important cards and knows by practice the behind-the-scenes issues in Turkiye’s foreign policy,” she told Arab News.

“Fidan enjoys a deep understanding of the situation in the hotspots of the Middle East, ranging from Libya to Sudan and Syria, and he is the only Turkish official to continue to be part of the four-way meetings in Moscow that brought together senior officials from Turkiye, Syria, Russia and Iran in the past few months,” Ziada said.

According to Ziada, tangible progress on Turkiye’s foreign policy in Syria and the mediating role of Turkiye in the Russia-Ukraine conflict can be expected in the short run with Fidan’s active role in the foreign policy apparatus.

As Fidan has been the “behind-the-curtains” architect of the rapprochement in the past two years to fix broken ties with Egypt and Arab Gulf countries, Ziada thinks that his appointment may accelerate the reconciliation process between Turkiye and the North African country.

“This will consequently lead to mitigating the civil conflicts in Libya, facilitating the political solution process, and may eventually bring Libya to elections sooner than we think,” she said.

El-Sisi and Erdogan have agreed on “the immediate start of upgrading diplomatic relations, exchanging ambassadors,” Egypt’s presidency said in a statement last Monday.

Ziada added that Fidan’s background could enhance Turkiye’s relationship with the Arab Gulf countries.

“I won’t be surprised to see Fidan being involved in talks between Arab Gulf countries and Iran in the near future. In reverse, this will be reflected positively on Turkiye by increasing Gulf countries’ investments and thus enhancing the struggling Turkish economy,” she said.

“Fidan is expected to be Turkiye’s winning horse on the chessboards of the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Black Sea.”

Yasar Guler, the country’s chief of general staff, was appointed as the defense minister in the renewed cabinet.

Although not announced yet, presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin is expected to be named as the new intelligence chief.

The governor of the central bank has not been announced yet but the name of Hafize Gaye Erkan has come up.

Erkan holds a doctorate from Princeton University, worked for many financial institutions in the US, including Goldman Sachs as a financial services executive, and is the former president of First Republic Bank.

Over the past four years, Turkiye has seen four governors at the helm of the central bank.

Israel prepares funerals for soldiers killed near Egyptian border

Israel prepares funerals for soldiers killed near Egyptian border
Updated 04 June 2023

Israel prepares funerals for soldiers killed near Egyptian border

Israel prepares funerals for soldiers killed near Egyptian border

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday it would investigate the shooting deaths of three soldiers at its border with Egypt, as it prepared to hold funerals for the slain trio.
On Saturday, three Israeli soldiers were killed by an “Egyptian policeman” who had entered the country and was shot dead in a rare cross-border incident, the army said.
Israel had sent Egypt a “clear message,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the opening of a cabinet meeting.
“We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough. This is part of the important security cooperation between us, which has benefitted both countries over the years,” he said.
Egypt’s army said a member of its security forces had crossed the border “chasing drug traffickers” before he was killed in an “exchange of fire which left three dead on the Israeli side.”
Two of the Israeli soldiers’ bodies were found at the border Saturday morning at a guard post close to the Harif military base, near the town of Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev desert, the army said.
They were identified as Lia Ben Nun, 19, and Ori Izhak Iluz, 20.
The discovery of their bodies triggered a manhunt during which the third soldier, 20-year-old Ohad Dahan, and the Egyptian identified by the army as a policeman, were killed.
A fourth Israeli soldier, a non-commissioned officer, was lightly wounded and evacuated to hospital, the military added.
The three soldiers will be buried Sunday afternoon in their hometowns, the army said.
On Sunday, Israeli media raised questions over the shootings, particularly how the assailant managed to cross the several-meters-high barrier running along the border.
Netanyahu on Saturday promised a “full investigation” into the deaths and senior government figures stressed the importance of cooperation with Egypt.
The army is conducting “a thorough investigation... in collaboration with the Egyptian armed forces,” Netanyahu’s chief of staff Herzl Halevi said.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant highlighted “the importance of the ties between the two countries” following a telephone call with his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Zaki.
Zaki meanwhile underlined “the joint coordination to take the necessary measures to avoid the repetition of incidents of this kind in the future,” according to a spokesman for the Egyptian army.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel following the Camp David accords of 1978, though there remains widespread popular opposition toward normalization in Egypt.
The border between the two countries is generally calm but is the scene of regular smuggling attempts.
In recent years, there have been exchanges of fire between smugglers and Israeli soldiers stationed along the border.
In 2014, two Israeli soldiers on patrol were wounded by unidentified men who fired an anti-tank weapon from the Sinai during an attempt to smuggle drugs.

Syrian top diplomat discusses aid on visit to key ally Iraq

Syrian top diplomat discusses aid on visit to key ally Iraq
Updated 04 June 2023

Syrian top diplomat discusses aid on visit to key ally Iraq

Syrian top diplomat discusses aid on visit to key ally Iraq

BAGHDAD: Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday discussed humanitarian aid and combating the illegal drugs trade with key ally Iraq during a visit to Baghdad as Damascus emerges from years of diplomatic isolation.
The visit by Faisal Mekdad comes weeks after the Arab League agreed to end Syria’s suspension from the 22-member bloc, bringing President Bashar Assad’s regime back into the regional fold after years of civil war.
Iraq remained an ally of Damascus throughout the wider Arab boycott, never severing relations and maintaining close cooperation during Syria’s civil war, particularly over the fight against the Daesh group.
Baghdad was “one of the initiators” of Syria’s return to the Arab League, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Mekdad.
The two also discussed the issue of Syrian refugees who fled the country after war erupted, many of whom now live in Iraq as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkiye.
“We received about 250,000 refugees,” said Hussein, who added that the majority of them live in camps in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.
He said the next step would be getting humanitarian aid into Syria, which has been devastated by the war and by a February 6 earthquake that also hit Turkiye and killed tens of thousands in both countries.
The quake triggered a flurry of aid efforts and diplomatic moves that help spur Syria’s reintegration back into the wider Arab region.
Mekdad on Sunday thanked Iraq for its “solidarity” after the quake, also hailing the “progression” of bilateral relations.
“We will continue to cooperate to combat terrorism and eliminate the danger posed by drugs,” he added in a reference to the illegal trade in the stimulant captagon.
Mekdad was also expected to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani and President Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Al-Sahaf told the state news agency.

The Arab League voted on May 7 to readmit Syria after its suspension in 2011 over Assad’s brutal repression of pro-democracy protests that later devolved into an all-out war.
At the time, Iraq had abstained from the vote that resulted in Damascus’ suspension.
The two countries share a 600-kilometer porous desert border that has continued to see militant activity even years after the defeat of Daesh.
The militant group took over large swathes of both countries in 2014, declaring its “caliphate” before it was defeated in 2017 in Iraq and in 2019 in Syria.
Drug trafficking has also proliferated in past years, with the trade of the amphetamine-like drug captagon exploding in the region, much of it across the Syria-Iraq border.
Iraqi guards in March seized over three million captagon pills at the border with Syria.
In addition to security coordination, Baghdad and Damascus continue to coordinate on other key issues including water as both countries face dangerous shortages.
Dam-building in neighboring countries and climate change impacts have dramatically reduced water flows in both countries, disrupting agriculture and threatening livelihoods amid persistent economic challenges.


Oil tanker breaks down in Egypt's Suez Canal, briefly disrupting traffic in the global waterway

Oil tanker breaks down in Egypt's Suez Canal, briefly disrupting traffic in the global waterway
Updated 04 June 2023

Oil tanker breaks down in Egypt's Suez Canal, briefly disrupting traffic in the global waterway

Oil tanker breaks down in Egypt's Suez Canal, briefly disrupting traffic in the global waterway
  • Tanker broke down in a single-lane part of the waterway, disrupting the transit of eight other vessels behind it.

CAIRO: n oil tanker that suffered engine failure in Egypt's Suez Canal, briefly disrupting traffic in the vital waterway, has been towed away, the canal's authority said on Sunday.

A tanker transporting curd oil broke down in a single-lane part of Egypt’s Suez Canal on Sunday, briefly disrupting traffic in the global waterway.
The Malta-flagged Seavigour suffered a mechanical malfunction at the 12 kilometers mark of the canal, said George Safwat, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority. The tanker was part of the north convoy, which transits the canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, he said.
In a phone interview with a local television station, Adm. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said the tanker broke down in a single-lane part of the waterway, disrupting the transit of eight other vessels behind it.
Hours later, Rabei said in a statement that navigation at the canal had returned to normal after three tugboats towed the tanker to a double-lane part at the 17 kilometers mark. He said that the Seavigour ‘s crew was working on repairing the malfunction but did not share further details.
The Seavigour was built in 2016, and is 274 meters long and 48.63 meters wide, according to MarineTraffic, a vessel tracking service provider
Sunday’s incident was the latest case of a vessel reported stuck in the vital waterway. A flurry of ships ran aground or broke down in the Suez Canal over the past few years.
On May 25, a Hong Kong-flagged ship briefly blocked the canal. On March 5, a Liberia-flagged ship ran aground in the two-lane part of the waterway. Both vessels were refloated hours later.
In March 2021, the Panama-flagged Ever Given, a colossal container ship, crashed into a bank on a single-lane stretch of the canal, blocking the waterway for six days and disrupting global trade.
The canal, which opened in 1869, provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. About 10 percent of world trade flows through the canal, a major source of foreign currency for the Egyptian government.
According to the Suez Canal Authority, last year, 23,851 vessels passed through the waterway, compared to 20,649 vessels in 2021. The revenue from the canal in 2022 reached $8 billion, the highest in its history.