Thursday, July 30, 2015

Israel threatens to attack militants in Sinai if needed

A senior Israeli army officer has threatened to attack the Islamic State affiliate, Sinai Province, if they were to attack Israeli citizens and soldiers.
"If the Sinai Province tried to target our citizens and soldiers, we will make sure we hit them forcefully and decisively," said Brigadier General Royi Elcabets.
The commander was quoted on Wednesday by Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee, who posted the remarks on his Facebook page. The statement was made during a military ceremony marking the transfer of command from Elcabets to Rafi Miloa, the new head of the southern Adom formation.
"There have been significant changes on the other side of the border that require us to be ready for any scenario or downslide, and to continue securing our southern area," the new commander added.
Based in the Sinai Peninsula, the Sinai Province (Waliyat Sinai) pledged allegiance to the Islamist State group in November 2014.
The group is known for claiming responsibility for Egypt's deadliest and bloodiest attacks in Sinai last July.
Earlier this month, 21 soldiers were killed during simultaneous militant assaults on army checkpoints in the North Sinai towns of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, an attack that prompted days-long fighting between troops and insurgents and left over 200 militants dead.
The group also claimed responsibility in July for a rocket attack launched from the Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel.

Diplomatic efforts being made to release fishermen: Egypt's envoy to Sudan

Diplomatic efforts are being made between Egypt and Sudan in order to release 101 Egyptian fisherman detained in Sudan for territorial breaches, Egypt's ambassador to Sudan, Osama Shaltout, confirmed to state news agency MENA on Thursday.
The fishermen were supposed to be released following their acquittal last week, but the Sudanese authorities reversed their decision and ordered that they be detained and retried, MENA reported.
“We trust the integrity of the Sudanese judiciary, and we are sure that the fishermen will be acquitted by the judiciary just like they were acquitted the first time,” Shaltout said.
The fishermen were bound for Eritrea, had the necessary permits and never intended to fish in Sudanese waters, according to Shaltout.  
The 101 fishermen were arrested on 7 April and detained in the coastal city of Port Sudan.
Shaltout said that the embassy in Sudan has made significant attempts since the first day of the fisherman's arrest to have them released. It has also worked with the consulate in Port Sudan to follow closely on the litigation process, along with providing care for the fishermen and helped them communicate with their relatives in Egypt.
Earlier in July, families of the detained fishermen, mainly from the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahliya, staged protests to demand the authorities press for the fishermen’s release. Many of the men are the main providers for their families.
Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Aty told MENA that the foreign ministry has been working in collaboration with the ministry of insurance and social affairs in order to distribute urgent aid for family members of the detained fishermen.
However, the head of an Egyptian fisherman's syndicate Nessim Badr El-Deen told Ahram Online on Monday that the arrests were made for political reasons and that he blames Egyptian authorities for not taking the case seriously.
"The families of the detained and I spoke several times with Sameh Shoukry and the answer is always 'we are following up on the matter,' and, as usual, nothing happened," he said.
This is not the first time that Sudan has arrested Egyptian fishermen for territorial breaches.
In September 2012, Sudan released a number of Egyptian fishermen in exchange for Sudanese miners held in Egyptian jails.
The foreign ministry issued several statements in 2015 warning fishermen against illegal trespassing in foreign waters and called on them to respect other states’ sovereignty. 

Egypt and Saudi Arabia lead Arab security: El-Sisi

Challenges in the Arab region can only be overcome with Egypt and Saudi Arabia cooperating hand-in-hand, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said Thursday.
El-Sisi told graduating students of the Egyptian Military Academy at a ceremony also attended by Saudi Defence Minister Mohammed Bin Salman, who is visiting Cairo, that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the "wings of Arab national security."
He described Bin Salman's presence at the ceremony as a "strong message" to Egypt and Saudi Arabia's respective peoples, and to Gulf countries, that both governments enjoy close cooperation.  
"You will not see us but together," he said.
El-Sisi commented on "highly difficult regional circumstances," saying they require "security vigilance and extra effort."
Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince and second deputy prime minister, is expected to sit with El-Sisi and Egyptian top officials to discuss bilateral and regional relations.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been close allies since the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have denied reports of tensions between Cairo and Riyadh after the new Saudi monarch, King Salman Ibn Abdel Aziz, came to power. After the chief of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshal, visited the kingdom last week and met with King Salman, reports about rising tension between Cairo and Riyadh again surfaced. Relations between Cairo and Hamas soured following Morsi's ouster.
The oil-rich Saudi kingdom is allegedly making efforts to reduce tensions with Muslim Brotherhood allies. These efforts are reportedly being made to counter the influence of Iran, the kingdom's arch rival in the region.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri met with his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh last week where both officials asserted continued cooperation between their governments.
Next week, US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Egyptian and Gulf leaders for talks on the recent nuclear deal with Iran in addition to developments in confronting Islamic State (IS) group militants in the region.  
Kerry will visit Cairo Sunday before he heads the following day to Doha to meet with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders.
Local affairs
El-Sisi also addressed local affairs in his speech to graduating military students.
He announced that the long-delayed Egyptian parliament will be elected before the end of 2015.
In March, the High Constitutional Court ruled that some articles in Egyptian elections legislation were unconstitutional, delaying the scheduled elections process.
The government has been delegated with amending the law in question and resubmitting it for approval.
Egypt has been without parliament since 2012. The president holds legislative powers until the election of a new House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, El-Sisi also congratulated the students on graduation and joining Egypt's police and military forces.
He added that the role of military graduates is not more important than graduates of civil studies, adding that "true development" requires science, technology and intellectual movements.

Erdogan says Kurdish peace talks impossible to continue

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says it is impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish fighters and that politicians with links to "terrorist groups" should be stripped of their immunity from prosecution.
After months of reluctance, Turkey last week started military operations on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria.

The operations came after a bombing last week blamed on ISIL that killed 32 mostly young Kurdish students in the Turkish town of Suruc on the border with Syria.
Simultaneously, Turkey started conducting air strikes on Iraqi positions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The PKK fought the Turkish state for over 30 years until a 2013 ceasefire was declared as the two sides were engaged in talks.
Throughout last week, PKK was stepping up its attacks as Turkey keeps on with its air strikes against the group.
"It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood," Erdogan said on Tuesday before departing for an official visit to China.
Erdogan also said a "secure zone" in northern Syria, which Turkey and the US are in talks about establishing, would pave the way for the return of 1.7 million Syria refugees currently being sheltered in Turkey.
The US and Turkey discussed on Monday plans for a military campaign to push ISIL out of such a zone.
NATO's support
Erdogan's statement came after  NATO offered political support for Turkey's military campaign at a rare meeting in Brussels, with the Turkish government saying the alliance may have a "duty" to become more involved.
The extraordinary meeting at the NATO headquarters on Tuesday was the fifth in the organisation's 66-year history.
'ISIL-free zone' planned for Syria's border with Turkey
The session was requested by Turkey under Article 4 of the treaty that founded the US-led alliance, which empowers its 28 member states to seek such consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy.
"We stand in strong solidarity with our ally Turkey," Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, told alliance ambassadors at the start of a meeting he called right and timely "to address instability on Turkey's doorstep and on NATO's border".
In the run-up, both NATO and Turkey played down any idea that the military alliance might provide air or ground support for Turkey's dramatic change in strategy.
Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, said Turkey got what it wanted from the NATO meeting.
"NATO expressed solidarity and political support for both PKK and ISIL campaigns," he said.
"Turkey has been careful in expressing that they were not targeting Kurdish fighters in Syria, who also fight against the ISIL."

The NATO meeting also came shortly after PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) said that Turkish tanks shelled Kurdish-held villages on Sunday night.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Ankara, Osman Sert, media adviser to Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish prime minister, said: "As long as YPG or other groups fight ISIL and the Syrian regime, we have no problem with them.
"Turkey's borders are also NATO borders. Whenever we need support, we will appeal to the alliance."
Turkey last week entered a long-awaited agreement which allows the US to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik airbase.

Turkey and PKK 'back to square one'

Erbil, Iraq - As Turkey plunges into a two-front war, pounding Kurdish armed groups in Iraq and Syria as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, it has effectively ended its fragile peace process with the Kurds.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish fighters and that politicians with links to "terrorist groups" should be stripped of their immunity from prosecution.
Launched in the final days of 2012, this peace process was one of Erdogan's signature achievements, ending decades of violence that had left thousands of people dead.
Turkey's air strikes on Kurdish and ISIL positions came after rising violence inside its own territory, including a series of attacks by ISIL and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on civilian and state targets.
Turkish police have also rounded up more than 1,000 suspects across the country. These include some suspected of being leftist fighters or ISIL members, but many of those arrested were also alleged to be affiliated with the PKK or its allies.  
On Wednesday, a Turkish government spokesperson said that in Turkey's "full-fledged battle against terrorist groups", 847 are accused of links to the PKK and just 137 to ISIL.

Turkey has also permitted the United States to use its Incirlik airbase near Diyarbakir to launch air attacks against ISIL in Syria.
Ashraf Mehmood, a fighter with the People's Defence Units (YPG), a Kurdish armed group, told Al Jazeera that Turkish tanks had attacked YPG soldiers fighting ISIL in villages near the border city of Kobane.
Kurdish activists say Turkey's action against the PKK has ended any possibility for the peace process to continue.
"By carrying out the recent attacks, Turkey has practically and unilaterally ended the state of non-conflict and the peace process," said Zagros Hiwa, the spokesperson for the Kurdish Communities Union, the PKK's political wing, from Iraq's Qandil Mountains, where Turkish bombing raids continue.
"These attacks on the PKK will have no success. By giving an implicit approval, the US has damaged its image among the Kurds," Hiwa continued. "The best option is a democratic solution to the Kurdish question."
These attacks on the PKK will have no success. By giving an implicit approval, the US has damaged its image among the Kurds.
Zagros Hiwa, spokesperson, Kurdish Communities Union, PKK’s political wing
Some Turkish and Kurdish analysts see Turkey's move as a strategy to intensify its rivalry with the PKK and influence a potential call for new elections in the near future, while using the war against ISIL as a means to advance its military attack on the PKK.
"In the election rallies of HDP [the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party] in Istanbul, there were quite a lot of Turkish flags," noted Ilya U Topper, an Istanbul-based analyst on foreign affairs and democracy for the M'Sur, a Spanish media outlet.
Topper said Kurds in Turkey generally support the peace process, adding that the PKK is no longer fighting for independence.
As for the HDP, he noted: "No one in the party has used the word independence for many years, and being part of Turkey is always an element in their arguments."
"When AK party lost [its] absolute majority [in parliament] on June 7, while HDP won, getting over the 10 percent barrier, the results showed how people started seeing that not every Kurd is a terrorist," Topper added.
He noted that HDP was able to perform so well in June's elections because there was peace.
"Two years of peace make people forget bloodshed and give them hope. Now we are back to square one. Kurds are 'terrorists' again," he said. "If elections are repeated, HDP might fall under the barrier and AK party will achieve [an] absolute majority in the elections. The big question is why the PKK accepted that game."
In May, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Yalçin Akdogan criticised the HDP for what he claimed were its strong links with the PKK, and urged the party to abandon these ties lest they weaken the peace process. Topper believes that if violence escalates, it will harm neither the PKK nor the AK party.
Kurdish activists say Turkey's actions have ended any possibility for the peace process to continue [EPA]
Turkey still designates PKK as a "terrorist group", which allows it to justify its attacks.
"It's time to reconsider the terrorist status which was given to PKK long time ago," said Mutlu Civiroglu, an independent Kurdish analyst based in Washington, DC. "When you talk about radicalism and terrorist groups at the calibre of ISIL, many people within Turkey and other parts of the world don't find PKK a terrorist group." 
Civiroglu added that PKK's designation as a "terrorist group" causes NATO, the US, and the international coalition against ISIL, to support Turkey in its actions against PKK, which may, as a result, destabilise the Kurdish peace process.
On Al Jazeera: Turkey's precarious peace with the Kurds
Soli Özel, a professor of international relations and political science at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said that after the general elections in June, the AK party has used language that questions the HDP's legitimacy.
"The government should go back to the peace process with the Kurds," Özel added. "And for that, Turkey must at all costs block attempts to ... [hold] snap elections."
The recent PKK attacks in Turkey have undermined both the HDP's electoral gains and the military success of the armed branch of their Syrian affiliates, the YPG, which is fighting ISIL in Syria.
Lara Fatah, a Kurdish affairs specialist and co-founder of Zanraw Consulting based in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, said any further military response by the PKK would play into the hands of the Turkish government and give Erdogan a justification to act against them.
"The Kurds may have so far been the most effective forces against ISIL on the ground, but as non-state actors they are not on a level footing with other coalition members," she said. "And as such, their actions are judged differently."
But one Peshmerga leader, affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP in Iraq who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said Turkey's concerns over the PKK were "reasonable". "I can't agree more [that] they [PKK] are no different from ISIL. They attack and kill innocent people in Turkey, and it's a shame for Kurds," he said. 
Analysts argue that Selahattin Demirtas, head of HDP, should publicly distance himself from the PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. "The majority of people in Turkey, including many Kurds, find PKK extremely provocative and violent," said Fikret Gulcer, an Istanbul-based specialist on the banned group.
"The fundamental problem with HDP, in the eyes of many voters, has been its association with the terrorist group."
"While many liberal and left-wing Turks have given a chance to HDP, it should stand up to their expectations and assure its supporters that HDP will not back a group that hurts the peace in this country."
Source: Al Jazeera

Taliban elects new leader after Mullah Omar's death

The Taliban has elected Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as its new leader, Taliban sources have told Al Jazeera, as the group confirmed the death of Mullah Omar.
The election, which was reported on Thursday, however, was not officially confirmed by the group.  
The Afghan government said on Wednesday that Omar died more than two years ago, in a hospital in Karachi.
Following the announcement, a second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have been postponed.

Egypt court adjourns Al Jazeera retrial for ninth time

An Egyptian court has adjourned the long-running retrial of three Al Jazeera journalists for the ninth time, with the next hearing scheduled for August 2.
Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian Baher Mohamed, and Canadian Mohamed Fahmy were found guilty in June 2014 of aiding a terrorist organisation, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt after the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Greste and Fahmy received seven years, while Mohamed was given 10 years.
In January, an appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the initial verdict lacked evidence against the three journalists working for the Doha-based network's English channel.
The journalists and Al Jazeera have vigorously denied the accusations.

Following Thursday's adjournment, Dr Mostefa Souag, Al Jazeera Media Network's Acting Director General, said: "We are outraged that the verdict has been adjourned as today was meant to be the final court hearing for our colleagues.
"We, along with others, expected a swift end to the ordeal for Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste.
"All three men have been under immense stress and pressure for the past nineteen months and delaying the final verdict has just continued the strain on them and their families.

"We demand the Egyptian authorities bring an end to the charges against Baher, Peter and Mohamed which should be dropped immediately. Journalism is not a crime."
Greste has already been deported to his native Australia under a law allowing the transfer of foreigners on trial to their home countries but he is still being retried in absentia.
'Really difficult'
"It is really difficult for us, we all thought this was going to be the day. We have seen so many unexpected twists and turns in this trial," Greste said from Sydney after Thursday's announcement.
"The only thing that any of us is concerned about is this verdict. It is the thing that will define our lives. We cannot make any plans or even think of travelling."
Fahmy and Mohamed had been on bail ahead of the retrial after spending more than 400 days in detention.
Fahmy renounced his Egyptian nationality hoping he too would be deported like Greste.
The three men have received support from governments, media organisations and rights groups from around the world.
The European People's Party (EPP) issued a letter of support earlier this month signed by members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum and countries.
Source: Al Jazeera