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Updated: 5 months 16 min ago

Syria: Canada repatriates five people from northwestern camps

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 11:13
Syria: Canada repatriates five people from northwestern camps
The two women and three teens are among 19 people Ottawa agreed to bring back earlier this year
MEE staff Fri, 07/07/2023 - 12:13
A member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard during an inspection of tents at al-Hol camp, 28 August 2022 (AFP)

Canada has repatriated five citizens from camps in northeast Syria that host a large number of people and relatives of suspected members of the Islamic State (IS) group.

The two women and three children flew back on Thursday, according to a statement by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and Public Safety Canada (PSC), two government bodies involved in diplomacy and emergency rescue.

“Today, Canada has again taken extraordinary steps to repatriate the remaining two Canadian women and three children identified in the Bring Our Loved Ones Home litigation," GAC and PSC said in the statement.

Earlier this year, Canada agreed to repatriate 19 citizens held in northeast Syria. Only 14 of them made their way back in April, while the remaining five, who were set to join them, were held back and mistreated by guards. 

Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria accommodates approximately 55,000 individuals, among them are widows, wives, and children of suspected IS fighters, with Iraqis making up nearly half of the inhabitants.

The US-backed Kurdish-led administration that currently runs it controls large swaths of northeastern Syria.

The camp's annex section hosts around 8,000 women and children, considered the most devoted supporters of the IS group among the camp's residents. Critics have warned of the dire living conditions in Al-Hol, the poor health services, and the lack of proper education for children.

Canada thanked the Kurdish-led administration and the US for efforts in helping repatriate the Canadians.

Criminal offence

“We reiterate that it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to leave Canada to knowingly support a terrorist group and those who engage in these activities will face the full force of Canadian law," the statement said.

Canadian authorities did not release the age or names of the individuals who were repatriated, citing privacy considerations and security reasons.

Last month, the Canadian government was accused of "unyielding cruelty" when it asked mothers who did not hold Canadian citizenship to give up their children for repatriation.

Those children were born to Canadian nationals, either in Canada or abroad, and were held in northeastern Syrian camps.

Repatriation of western nationals from northern Syria has been politically contentious in countries such as France, Canada, Australia, and the UK, where officials have cited national security concerns when arguing against the returns.

On Tuesday, French authorities repatriated 35 people from Al-Hol camp, including ten women and 25 children.

The French anti-terrorism prosecutor's office said that ten women, aged between 23 and 40 years old, and a 17-year-old girl, were either detained upon arrival to France or were scheduled to appear before a judge, and the remaining children would be placed under the custody of the state.

During the peak of the IS's control of parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, French citizens formed the largest European group to join the ranks of IS fighters.

Canada repatriates five people from northeastern Syria camps

Israeli activist arrested for wearing hat depicting Palestinian killed by soldiers

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 09:38
Israeli activist arrested for wearing hat depicting Palestinian killed by soldiers
Gil Hamerschlag was detained and asked to sign terms of release as well as pay hefty fines
Lubna Masarwa Fri, 07/07/2023 - 10:38
Israeli police stand in Jerusalem's Old City in February 2023 (AFP)

A Jerusalem-based Israeli activist has been arrested and detained for wearing a cap depicting a Palestinian who was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2021. 

The activist, identified as Gil Hammerschlag, was arrested on Tuesday, after being accused of "behaving in a way that may disturb public peace" and "spotted wearing a hat and behaving suspiciously".

The hat worn by Hammerschlag had the image of Atef Hanaysha on it. The 47-year-old farmer from the village of Beit Dajan in the occupied West Bank was shot in the head and killed in March 2021 during a protest against the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the area.

Footage taken from the scene at the time showed fellow protesters carrying Hanaysha away to a Nablus hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. 

Noa Noy, an Israeli activist and friend of Hammerschlag said that his arrest was "crazy".

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"I think this marks a new shift in the way that police treat Israeli leftist activists," she told Middle East Eye.

"I don't remember a similar case in the past where someone was arrested with the claim that their hat is an incitement for violence, it's crazy."

The case has reached Jerusalem’s District Court where the judge maintained that the evidence presented "reasonable suspicion of the crimes attributed to him".

“His presence within the Old City near the Temple Mount while wearing the aforementioned hat apparently has the potential to disturb public peace,” Judge Michal Sharvit stated. 

Release under certain conditions

Israeli police have offered to release Hammerschlag, but only if he signs restrictive terms of release.

These conditions state that he would not be able to enter Jerusalem’s Old City for 15 days, must pay a fine of 2,000 shekels ($538), and find a guarantor for an additional 10,000 shekels ($2,690).

Israeli forces killed Palestinian protester Atef Hanaysha while he was participating in a protest against settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian health ministry said the 45-year-old was shot in the head with live ammunition. pic.twitter.com/gfc2XOOWGJ

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) March 19, 2021

Hammerschlag has refused to sign either the full terms or a set of reduced terms that would lessen the duration of his expulsion from the Old City to one week.

“I will not sign this condition, it is an act of violence. There is no basis for suspicion, and I am not willing to be excluded, even for a shorter period of time,” he told Judge Anat Greenbaum Shimon.

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The activist remains in custody and is expected to appear before the Jerusalem District Court again later on Friday. 

Police brutality

Activists have condemned the targeting of peaceful protesters by Israeli police using what they call "intense violence". 

Noy says that there has been a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters in recent days.

"When we protested for Iyad Hallaq, the Magav brutality against us was very extreme, they pushed me and others to the floor, and they were very violent and aggressive," she said, referring to the Israeli border police.

'The Magav brutality against us was very extreme, they pushed me and others to the floor, and they were very violent and aggressive'

- Noa Noy, Israeli activist

Protests were held in Jerusalem this week after an Israeli court acquitted the border police officer who was charged with manslaughter after he shot dead autistic Palestinian man Iyad al-Hallaq in May 2020. 

According to Noy, arrested protesters are often given heavy fines and restrictions that are often disproportionate and do not make sense. 

"We had another protest a few days ago, and more activists were arrested. The release conditions were not logical, and more severe than they used to be," she explained.

Some of the conditions of release included the prohibition of participating in any political activity for six months.

"The crackdown on Israeli activists is getting worse, they [Israeli police] are arresting and targeting us," says Noy.

Protesting against forced evictions 

Hammerschlag has previously protested against forced evictions in Jerusalem. 

In May 2021, he took part in demonstrations against Israel’s forced evictions in the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

According to Amnesty USA, he was shoved and kicked by Israeli forces, who also threw sound grenades at peaceful demonstrators from less than 10 metres away. 

Palestinians were left injured following the attack on the demonstrators, with a photographer at the scene also describing how police on horseback charged towards crowds of people who were chanting peacefully. 

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This is not the first time Hammerschlag has been detained by Israeli police. 

Videos shared online in September 2020 also show what appears to be Hammerschlag being arrested by Israeli police for not wearing a mask.

According to the video, he spent one night in the Darim prison after being detained. 

Jerusalem

Iraqi government announces investigation into kidnapped Israeli researcher

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 09:12
Iraqi government announces investigation into kidnapped Israeli researcher
An 'official investigation' is being conducted into disappearence of Elizabeth Tsurkov as suspected kidnappers appear to deny responsibility
Alex MacDonald Fri, 07/07/2023 - 10:12
A photo of Elizabeth Tsurkov from her personal website (Elizabeth Tsurkov.net)

The Iraqi government has announced it is conducting a formal investigation into the apparent kidnapping of Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov, as the armed group that was previously believed to be responsible indicated it did not have her.

Tsurkov, a fellow at New Lines Institute and a doctoral student at Princeton University's Department of Politics, disappeared in March after last being seen in the Karrada region of Baghdad.

Tsurkov frequently made contact with local Arab sources, journalists and researchers across Iraq and Syria and was part of a group promoting female journalists and analysts and their work in the region.

Government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi said on Thursday that "the Iraqi government is indeed conducting an official investigation" into her disappearance.

There are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Iraq, whose government is close to Israel's arch-rival Iran, and Israelis are not allowed to visit the country.

A law passed last year stepped up the penalties for Iraqis making contact with Israelis, with punishment potentially amounting to life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Iraq: Sudani shakes up intelligence and security services in political power move
Read More »

CCTV footage released by Iraqi TV channel Al-Rabiaa appeared to show Tsurkov - who came to Iraq on her Russian passport - entering a cafe in the Karrada region, apparently the popular Ridha Alwan coffee shop from where she was abducted by Kataeb Hezbollah, according to the New York Times.

However, a spokesperson for Kataeb Hezbollah on Thursday appeared to imply that they were not responsible for her kidnapping.

In a statement, Abu Ali al-Askari said his organisation was working to uncover the whereabouts of a "Zionist hostage or hostages" in the country, following comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The admission by the prime minister of the Zionist entity concerning the presence of an Israeli security agent hostage in Iraq is a very dangerous indicator," it said, using a commonly used term for Israel.

"The security organisations concerned should expose networks linked to this entity and bring them to justice."

Iraq: Sudani shakes up intelligence and security services in political power move

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 08:23
Iraq: Sudani shakes up intelligence and security services in political power move
Sweeping reshuffle sees return of spymaster Abu Ali al-Basri as head of national security agency
Suadad al-Salhy Fri, 07/07/2023 - 09:23
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani at the Arab League summit in Jeddah, May 2023 (Reuters)

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has announced a major shakeup of the country’s security and intelligence services, appointing an influential spymaster ostracised by his predecessor as the head of national security.

Officials in Baghdad told Middle East Eye that the changes unveiled on Wednesday were intended to consolidate Sudani’s grip on power and to exclude a number of officials and employees suspected of involvement in corruption under the previous government.

One of the main – and most prominent - beneficiaries of the reshuffle is Abdul Karim Abd Fadhil, also known as Abu Ali al-Basri, who was named by Sudani to lead the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS).

Basri replaces Hamid al-Shatri, who was appointed by Sudani’s predecessor as prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Basri is the former head of the Falcon Cell, an elite and secretive intelligence unit, and has been nicknamed “the master of spies” by former colleagues.

He was dismissed from that role in January 2021 by Kadhimi on charges of “dealing with foreign intelligence”.

Basri denied those charges in comments to MEE at the time. Sources within the Ministerial Council for National Security told MEE then that he had been excluded by Kadhimi because of his closeness to the leaders of Iranian-backed armed factions.

'Most of the appointees are either close to Maliki, Halbousi, or the prime minister. No one in Iraq is named to occupy these positions solely for his competence'

- senior INSS official

In a statement announcing the new appointments, Major General Yahya Rasool, Sudani’s spokesperson, said: “This step [was taken] after an extensive study to enhance security and stability in various regions of the country and for the requirements of the public interest."

The shakeup "aims to inject new blood and give an opportunity to other leaders to manage the security file to raise the efficiency of the security institutions' performance," Rasool added.

But the return of Basri, and other senior appointments, suggest additional factors are also in play, according to MEE’s sources.

In addition to Basri, changes within the INSS included the appointment of new security and administrative directors, and new director generals of the Baghdad security department and governorates security department.

In another prominent appointment, Sudani named Waqqas Muhammad Hussein al-Hadithi as deputy head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS). Hadithi is considered to be an associate of the parliamentary speaker, Muhammad al-Halbousi, sources told MEE.

Another senior appointee, Ali Shamran Khazal, the new director general of the INSS’s Governorates Security Department, is seen as an ally of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, sources said.

'Partisan quotas'

Both appointments appear in line with the requirements of Iraq’s power-sharing political system, in which positions in state departments, ministries, and independent bodies are shared between parties based on the number of parliamentary seats they hold - unless they choose to go into opposition.

Security officials told MEE that most of the appointees were chosen on the basis of "partisan quotas".

"Some of those assigned are qualified and have been promoted. This cannot be denied, but the selection of all was subject to political quotas," a senior INSS official told MEE.

“Most of the appointees are either close to Maliki, Halbousi, or the prime minister. No one in Iraq is named to occupy these positions solely for his competence or for career progression.”

On the other hand, one of the most prominent figures removed from his role is Majid Ali Hussein, the former deputy head of the intelligence service who was moved to the National Security Advisory, a body that advises the Ministerial Council for National Security and coordinates national security policies.

Hussein, like Shatri and some others removed from their positions, had been appointed under Kadhimi.

The sweeping security and intelligence shakeup was preceded by administrative changes affecting several high-ranking officials in independent public bodies.

Iraq's 'theft of the century': How $2.5bn in public money 'evaporated'
Read More »

On Tuesday, Sudani issued an order to remove Rafel Yassin as head of the Federal Board of Supreme Audit (FBSA), Iraq’s public spending watchdog. Yassin was replaced by Ammar Subhi al-Mashhadani.

No reason was given for Yassin’s dismissal.

Last year, the FBSA came under scrutiny over the so-called "theft of the century" plot, in which billions of dollars in tax deposit funds were stolen via dozens of fake cheques cashed by a state-owned bank. 

According to a report by the Iraqi finance ministry seen by MEE, the thefts occurred after the FBSA had been removed from a key role in auditing tax refund requests.

Sources familiar with the investigations told MEE that Yassin is suspected of involvement in that theft.

Yassin has not commented on the matter. MEE contacted the FBSA after details of the plot were exposed, but sources told MEE that no one would comment while investigations were ongoing.

Yassin’s replacement by Mashhadani fits with the pattern of appointments according to political quotas, because Yassin is associated with Maliki while Mashhadani is allied to Halbousi. 

Replaced or dismissed

One of Sudani’s advisors confirmed to MEE that most of the changes are politically motivated, but said that some are punitive.

“Some of the changes aim to achieve political balance, and they are part of the political agreements that produced the current government," the advisor said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Some are punitively motivated. As long as we cannot hold some of the senior officials accountable because of their political affiliations, then at least we will get rid of them."

'The biggest challenge Sudani faces is how to dismantle the deep state'

- advisor to prime minister

Sudani's allies and critics agree that he is in the process of building his own governmental power base.

To his supporters, he has worked shrewdly and quietly, taking advantage of circumstances and opportunities as they arise to strengthen his control over various ministries and departments without arousing the wrath of his partners or opponents.

"The biggest challenge Sudani faces is how to dismantle the deep state. We have thousands of senior officials and officers who are associated with political parties. This is a serious problem that we have been dealing with calmly,” the advisor said.

“Hundreds of directors, deputy ministers, and security commanders have to be replaced or dismissed, either for their incompetence or for their involvement in corruption cases.

“[There are] those that are well protected by their political and armed factions associations, and this is what we call the deep state.

“This state has to be undermined. This is what Sudani has been doing for a while, and it will last for a while to come.”

Iraq's Sudani shakes up intelligence and security services

Two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank

Fri, 07/07/2023 - 07:32
Two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank
The number of Palestinians killed this week by Israel, rises to 15, making it one of the deadliest weeks in months for Palestinians in the West Bank
MEE staff Fri, 07/07/2023 - 08:32
People check damage in a house where two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during a raid in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank 7 July 2023 (Reuters)

Israeli forces killed two Palestinians on Friday morning and three others were wounded in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. 

The Palestinian Red Crescent confirmed that the two Palestinians killed were 34-year-old Khairy Shaheen, and 32-year-old Hamza Moayed Muhammad Maqboul. 

The Palestinian news agency Wafa said Israeli troops had cordoned off a house where the two Palestinians were and that they had been "executed". It reported that clashes with residents later broke out.

Israeli forces raided the old city of Nablus surrounding a house, following which armed clashes broke out. 

The latest killings brings the number of Palestinians killed this week to 15, following a large-scale Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank.  

On Thursday an Israeli soldier was killed in the West Bank near the illegal settlement of Kedumim, making him the second soldier killed this week. 

The shooter was a 19-year-old Palestinian who opened fire and fled on foot. Israeli forces later gave chase and shot him dead.

Initially, Israel claimed that the soldier was a settler before later revealing his identity.

Jenin devastation

The latest Palestinian deaths come days after Israel’s large-scale military raid on Jenin, which resulted in the killing of 12 Palestinians and displaced over 4,000 people from their homes. 

Hundreds of armed Israeli soldiers and military vehicles stormed the camp and adjacent areas in the early hours of Monday this week, under heavy cover from helicopters.
 
The Jenin refugee camp was left in ruins following the offensive, with infrastructure and buildings heavily damaged, leaving thousands of people without access to basic services. 

More than 800 homes have been damaged or destroyed in the two-day Israeli assault 

Many parts of the Jenin camp have been reduced to rubble, with hospitals and places of worship also damaged in the attacks. 

Eyewitnesses told Middle East Eye that the attacks resembled the aftermath of an earthquake. 

Following the Israeli assault on the camp, a Palestinian drove a pickup truck into pedestrians in Tel Aviv before carrying out a stabbing attack, wounding eight people.

The Jenin camp is home to almost 14,000 refugees, including many who were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and their descendants.

Widow of late Saudi king in legal fight for mansion on London's 'billionaires row'

Thu, 07/06/2023 - 18:32
Widow of late Saudi king in legal fight for mansion on London's 'billionaires row'
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's focus on the $650bn sovereign wealth fund has created a new guard of rich and powerful Saudis
MEE staff Thu, 07/06/2023 - 19:32
A statue of a dragon marks the boundary of the City of London, the British capital's financial hub (Reuters)

The widow of deceased Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz is enmeshed in a simmering legal battle over a multimillion-dollar house on one of London's most expensive streets.

Aljawharah Alibrahim is being sued by a Liechtenstein-based foundation that was set up to manage the property portfolio of the late king.

The Asturion Foundation says that in 2011 one of the members of its board transferred Kenstead Hall, a 10-bedroom mansion on London's "billionaires' row," to Alibrahim without the approval of other board members.

"Until October 2011, the foundation held Kenstead Hall for the benefit of the heirs of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia," the foundation's legal team told the judge in a case outline.

The case outline named "specifically the defendant, his widow, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, his son with the defendant, and eight other children from prior marriages".

Rupert Reed KC, who represents Alibrahim, said the board member had the "necessary authority" to make the transfer and that the case should be dismissed.

"The princess had no reason to suspect any want of authority," he said. "The transfer was valid and binding."

Saudi Arabia's new guard 

King Fahd ruled Saudi Arabia from 1982 until 2005. His reign was dominated by major events including Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the September 11 attacks which strained relations between Riyadh and Washington.

The battle over the London property, a mock Tudor mansion valued at £28 million ($35m), in many ways is a throwback to a time when Saudi royals splashed on high-end real estate in London.

Mega-yachts versus sailboats: Saudi Arabia's quest to conquer Red Sea tourism
Read More »

Saudi Arabia's new day-to-day ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has tightened the purse strings on many royal family members. Meanwhile, his focus on the country's $650bn sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, has created a new guard of powerful, and rich, businesspeople.

One of the main faces of Saudi Arabia's new business class is Yasir al-Rumayyan, the 53-year-old PIF chief. A golf aficionado with a taste for tailoured suits, Rumayyan's profile rose after a deal between the PGA and Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

Rumayyan also sits at the helm of Newcastle Football Club and the kingdom's new airline, Riyadh Air. 

Companies like Nesma & Partners Contracting Company and El Seif Engineering Contracting Company have risen to new prominence with lucrative state contracts. Saleh Al-Turki, the founder of Nesma was appointed mayor of Jeddah in 2018. Meanwhile, established firms like Saudi Binladin Group have been targeted in the crown prince's anti-corruption drive.

While London is still the preferred haunt for rich Saudis, the kingdom is trying to retain its wealth at home, partially by building new developments in Riyadh and along its Red Sea coast.

A younger generation of tech- and finance-minded Saudis have also scooped up properties in New York City.

Turkey courted to approve Sweden's Nato bid ahead of summit

Thu, 07/06/2023 - 17:36
Turkey courted to approve Sweden's Nato bid ahead of summit
Talks between Turkish and Swedish foreign ministers fail to yield breakthrough, but Nato chief says ascension possible next week
MEE staff Thu, 07/06/2023 - 18:36
Turkey's newly appointed foreign affairs minister Hakan Fidan delivers a speech during a handover ceremony in Ankara on 5 June 2023 (AFP)

Sweden failed on Thursday to convince Turkey to lift its veto on the Nordic country's Nato membership bid, but the head of the alliance said it was still possible to reach a breakthrough ahead of a summit next week.

On Thursday, the Turkish and Swedish foreign ministers met at the security alliance's headquarters in Brussels in an attempt to bridge differences.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Sweden had taken some steps to address Ankara's concerns over its alleged support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a designated terrorist entity according to Turkey, the US and the European Union.

"Sweden took some steps regarding legal changes, removed defence industry restrictions against Turkey... The legal changes should be put into practice now," Fidan said.

Sweden also said it had taken steps to address Turkey's concerns, with Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom saying: "We believe from our point of view we have fulfilled all our commitments... It remains a Turkish decision."

On 1 June, Stockholm rolled out an updated anti-terrorism law that Turkey pushed for. It approved the extradition to Turkey of a self-declared supporter of the PKK over drug offences.

On Thursday, the new legislation was put into practice when a Swedish court convicted a citizen of Turkey for "attempted terrorist financing" of the PKK.

'PKK and Putin welcome delay' 

Thursday's meeting however was overshadowed by comments Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made last month stating that Sweden would not be joining Nato at next week's summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The Turkish leader pointed to PKK supporters who waved flags and demonstrated against Turkey in Sweden last month.

"While Stoltenberg was expressing these views to us, unfortunately, at that time, terrorists were demonstrating in the streets again in Sweden," Erdogan said. "Now we cannot approach this work positively within this table."

A Quran burning by a man in Sweden during the festival of Eid al-Adha last month has also soured relations. The act was widely condemned within the Muslim-majority world. 

Turkey: Erdogan says PKK protests threaten Sweden's Nato aspirations
Read More »

Senior western diplomats who spoke with Middle East Eye previously were hopeful that the completion of Turkey's hotly contested May elections and the new Swedish counterterrorism law would be enough for Erdogan to approve the Nordic country's bid.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has been shuttling between the Swedish and Turkish sides to try to broker an agreement with the hope that Sweden's entry would demonstrate Nato unity as Ukraine presses ahead with a counteroffensive and Russia deals with the fallout of an insurrection by Wagner mercenaries.

"Any further delay in Sweden's membership would be welcomed by the PKK and [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin," Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

Stoltenberg said he would convene a meeting between Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius on Monday, on the eve of the summit.

"My main ambition is now to get this agreed by the summit," Stoltenberg said, adding that there had been "good progress" at Thursday's meeting between the countries' diplomats. "It is absolutely possible to have a positive decision at the summit next week."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel to Turkey on Friday for the first time since Russia's invasion for talks with Erdogan.

The meeting is due to focus on an expiring deal to ship Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea as well as next week's Nato summit. Zelensky is expected to push Erdogan to approve Sweden's Nato ascension.

F-16's within reach?

Another factor in Turkey's calculus is whether the US will approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets in return for agreeing to Sweden's ascension. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators told US President Joe Biden that Congress shouldn't consider the sale until Turkey ratifies Sweden's membership.

While the Biden administration has indicated it supports the sale, it faces an uphill battle in Congress. Any one of the four Republican and Democratic lawmakers who sit on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees can block the sale.

'Totally transactional': US-Turkey ties unlikely to reset after election
Read More »

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said in May that Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured him the White House would not override his veto on the deal. 

Menendez's disapproval of the sale, along with Democratic Congressman, and ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Gregory Meeks, is tied to concerns over Turkey's military incursions into northern Syria against Kurdish fighters and its military overflights across islands Greece claims as its own territory.

Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he is open to the sale, with the expectation of an approval of a sale of more advanced F-35 fighter jets to Greece and Turkey allowing Sweden into Nato.

James Risch, the Republican ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been less directly outspoken on the F-16 sale but has said that "irritants" in Ankara's relationship with Washington must be resolved before the sale goes forward.

Arabic press review: Concerns over deteriorating health of Palestinian president

Tue, 06/13/2023 - 08:38
Arabic press review: Concerns over deteriorating health of Palestinian president
Meanwhile, Tunisian political prisoners go on hunger strike and Sudanese women face rising sexual violence
Mohammad Ayesh Tue, 06/13/2023 - 09:38
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba at the UN headquarters, New York, 15 May 2023 (AFP)

Mahmoud Abbas' poor health raises concern

Doctors flocked to the residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last week as he underwent extensive medical examinations, according to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

Sources told the daily that "doctors were summoned several times to conduct tests for President Abbas, and in addition, [doctors] carried out urgent examinations in Jordan in secret, before he went to the United Nations".

The 87-year-old's poor health has again raised questions within the Fatah movement about who will succeed him.

Sources in Fatah said many in the leadership of the second generation and the popular base of the movement in the West Bank view Marwan Barghouti - currently jailed in an Israeli prison - as Abbas's successor, but the leadership rejects this.

The sources added that Fatah leaders had recently been investigating medical reports about Abbas's health status, and have started preparing for the post-Abbas era.

"Israel wants Fatah leader Hussein al-Sheikh or intelligence chief Majid Faraj to assume the position of president after Abbas's death, because they categorically reject armed resistance," according to Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Tunisian political prisoners on hunger strike

Five political detainees in Tunisia have announced they are going on hunger strike to protest against their detention without trial, according to the Arabi 21 website.

Among them is Ahmed al-Mashreqi, chief of staff of Ennahda Movement leader Rashid Ghannouchi, who went on a hunger strike in protest at his detention without charge.

Ennahda said in a statement that Al-Mashreqi had "entered a hunger strike in protest at his detention since 18 April".

Tunisia: Health of jailed Ennahda leader rapidly deteriorating, wife says
Read More »

Al-Mashraqi is the second Ennahda leader to go on hunger strike. Al-Subhi Ateeq has already been on strike for 31 days "in protest against his malicious arrest".

The Ennahda statement added that "the activist Youssef al-Nouri is also being held without interrogation or without charge," and said: "We condemn these practices that do not respect human dignity or the country's laws and customs, and we strongly condemn the abuse of political detainees."

Lawyer Mahdi Zaqrouba also went on hunger strike after he was imprisoned for revealing the involvement of Minister of Justice Leila Jaffal in corruption and conflict of interest cases, but he ended his hunger strike last Wednesday.

Muhammad Rayan al-Hamzawi, a former mayor who has been detained since last May on charges of "conspiracy against state security", continues his hunger strike after a court last Friday rejected a request for his release.

Since February, a campaign of arrests has swept Tunisia, taking in politicians, media professionals, activists, judges and businessmen.

Earlier, Tunisian President Kais Saied accused some of those arrested of "conspiring against state security and being behind the crises of goods distribution and price hikes".

Rise in sexual violence against women in Sudan

A Sudanese human rights group has warned of an increase in sexual violence related to the armed conflict in Khartoum and in Darfur, according to a report published by the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper.

Egypt demands visas for all Sudanese after detecting 'unlawful activities'
Read More »

The Unit for Combating Violence against Women and Children in Sudan revealed 14 new cases of sexual assault in Khartoum, bringing the cases of sexual violence documented by the unit to 36 in the capital alone.

However, cases reported and documented by the unit are thought to represent only around two percent of actual cases of sexual violence in Khartoum, based on eyewitness accounts and the cases monitored by the unit on social media.

The unit also said that although it had not received any direct updates from Darfur due to difficulties communicating with local authorities, the situation for women there is deteriorating.

The homes of refugee women from Eritrea and Ethiopia were also said to have been targeted in the Bahri and Omdurman regions and they had been subjected to sexual violence by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), according to eyewitnesses.

The unit called on all parties in the conflict to give priority to the interests of citizens, end the war, and protect civilians.

The director of the unit, Salimi Ishaq, said: "Obtaining important documented figures seems almost impossible... especially in societies that always criminalise victims and give perpetrators excuses and justifications at the expense of the dignity and psychological resilience of women and girl survivors."

Egypt recovers two artifacts from France

An Egyptian judicial delegation including Public Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy has arrived in Paris in order to retrieve two stolen artifacts, according to the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.

El-Sawy will attend a ceremony organised by the Egyptian embassy and recover artifacts that a French court has ruled should be returned to Egypt after it was proven that they were looted and smuggled from the country.

The case is just one of a series of transnational organised crimes related to the looting and smuggling of antiquities that Egypt is helping investigate alongside other countries.

According to the Public Prosecutor's Office: "The visit came to enhance cooperation between the Egyptian Public Prosecution and the French investigation authorities."

*Arabic press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

Sweden set to extradite PKK supporter convicted of drug offences

Tue, 06/13/2023 - 07:39
Sweden set to extradite PKK supporter convicted of drug offences
Move follows Swedish Supreme Court ruling allowing Mehmet Kokolu's extradition despite claims he will face prosecution for political activities in Turkey
Alex MacDonald Tue, 06/13/2023 - 08:39
A banner reading 'No to NATO' during a demonstration by the Kurdish Democratic Society Centre against Sweden's Nato bid in Stockholm on 21 January 2023 (AFP)

Sweden's government is set to extradite a Turkish citizen and self-declared supporter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who was convicted of drugs offences in Turkey.

The Swedish justice ministry told the Associated Press that Stockholm had made the decision on Monday following a Swedish Supreme Court ruling last month allowing the extradition.

Mehmet Kokolu was convicted in 2014 in Adana, Turkey, over possession of 1.8kg of cannabis and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison, as well as a fine.

He said he was released from prison on parole in Turkey and, because he committed no crimes in the subsequent years, he legally travelled to Sweden in 2018.

However, according to a Swedish Supreme Court decision published on 30 May, the extradition is to permit him to serve the remainder of his sentence, which Turkey says consists of two years and seven months.

Kokolu said in court that his extradition was being requested due to his pro-Kurdish activities and support for the PKK, as well as the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) in Turkey.

He said that between 2009 and 2012 he was active as a vice-chairman of an HDP youth section and participated in several demonstrations organised by the party. He added that he had been shot in the arm during the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey and had suffered abuse at the hands of police.

Kokolu said he was under investigation for "propagandising for a terrorist organisation" and "insulting the Turkish president" over posts made on social media between 2019 and 2020 that were critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His Turkish lawyer Abdurrahman Karabulut also told the court that he had received information from a prosecutor's office in Konya that Kokulu was being investigated for these crimes.

However, the court said evidence of his political activities was "poor in detail" and the investigation "does not provide sufficient support to assume that Mehmet Kokulu, if extradited, will face persecution" on the basis of his "lineage or due to his stated political activity".

Nato accession

Turkey has refused to ratify Sweden's accession to Nato, citing the presence there of people accused of links to the PKK, an armed group that has waged a decades-long conflict against the Turkish state.

Ankara told the Swedish government it will veto Stockholm's membership unless it agrees to extradite alleged PKK supporters and other political dissidents.

Fulfilling a key demand from Ankara, Sweden's parliament passed a new law that came into effect earlier this month, which bans activities linked to outlawed groups.

Is Hungary holding up Sweden's Nato bid in coordination with Turkey?
Read More »

According to the Supreme Court decision, Turkey had said there were no plans to charge Kokolu with any terror-related crimes and had merely requested that he return to serve the remainder of his sentence.

In December, Sweden extradited Mahmut Tat, who was convicted as a member of the PKK by a Turkish court, to Turkey.

However, Tat's family denied he was a supporter of the group and said his family had in fact been targeted by the PKK in the past.

Sweden's traditional stance of neutrality saw it become a hub for political dissidents from a range of countries during the 20th century.

However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year raised fears in Stockholm about the country's security and led to the government applying for Nato membership.

Ragip Zarakolu, a writer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was among those Turkey requested for extradition, told Middle East Eye last year that he was being targeted for "purely ideological" reasons.

"I am a journalist who has completed 50 years in the profession, based on human rights and minority rights. I am a journalist who was the first to discuss the Kurdish question, the Armenian genocide, and was prosecuted for this," he said.

"The National Security Council in Turkey perceives the theme of genocide and minority rights as a threat. By [referring to] these, it is thought that I threaten the national security of Turkey."

Sweden set to extradite PKK supporter convicted of drug offences

US Senate opens probe into LIV-PGA golf partnership

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 19:00
US Senate opens probe into LIV-PGA golf partnership
Senator Richard Blumenthal sends letter to PGA and LIV demanding documents related to agreement announced last week
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 20:00
The PGA Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit announced a landmark deal last week to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf.
PGA Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf announced landmark deal last week to merge and form commercial entity to unify golf (Reuters/File photo)

The US Senate on Monday opened an inquiry into the stunning deal last week that saw the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf join together in a partnership after the two were previously embroiled in a multifront legal battle.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, opened the probe and demanded from the PGA and LIV Golf tours a range of documents and communications related to the agreement.

Blumenthal sent separate letters requesting the documents to PGA commissioner Jay Monahan and LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman, including any that relate to "PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status or eligibility".

In the letters, the senator demanded the documents be delivered by 26 June.

"PGA Tour’s agreement with PIF regarding LIV Golf raises concerns about the Saudi government’s role in influencing this effort and the risks posed by a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution," Blumenthal said in the letters.

The LIV Golf series is financed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to gloss over its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.

Saudi-backed LIV and PGA Tour announce golf merger deal
Read More »

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties.

The rival LIV Golf circuit launched in 2022 and lured some big-name players away from the rival circuits with staggering sums of money.

Congress does not have the authority to simply block the agreement, and passing any legislation to stymie the deal would likely result in a legal battle.

And while the deal was met last week with shock and antitrust concerns, Congress has not shown vigorous interest in scrutinising the deal. The Biden administration has so far said the deal, which would see Saudi Arabia have a major stake in the future of golf, does not have any national security concerns.

The merger also prompted a cheerful statement on the Truth Social platform from former US President Donald Trump, who owns several golf courses. Trump said it was "a big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf".

Qatar's investments in Asia to increase as wealth fund gears up for deals

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 18:19
Qatar's investments in Asia to increase as wealth fund gears up for deals
Qatari sovereign wealth fund bankers say global economy is becoming more investor friendly as they signal US, Asian expansion
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 19:19
Mansoor bin Ebrahim al-Mahmoud, CEO of Qatar Investment Authority, attends Doha Forum 2019 at Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel in Doha, Qatar, on 15 December 2019 (AFP)

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is preparing for a new investment blitz in Asia and the US, as it rides a windfall in fossil fuel revenue and joins Gulf neighbours looking to spend cash abroad.

“There is a clear mandate to prepare the institution to handle more inflows in the coming years,” Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) chief executive officer Mansoor Ebrahim al-Mahmoud told Bloomberg.

“We will continue to deploy in the continent, but a larger share of our investments will be going to the other two regions, given the opportunities we see in the US and in places like China and India,” said Mahmoud, signaling a pivot away from QIA’s traditional hunting ground in Europe to new markets.

Qatar, a tiny-Gulf monarchy of 300,000 nationals, is one of the world's largest producers of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Its fortunes have been buoyed by the war in Ukraine, as western countries look to phase out Russian supplies. Last year, it received an added boost on the global stage as the host of the 2022 World Cup.

Like its Gulf neighbours, Qatar established its sovereign wealth fund to invest revenue from energy sales. The QIA was founded in 2005 and now ranks as the world’s 10th-largest wealth fund, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The fund has played an outsized role in Europe where it has stakes in companies from carmaker, Volkswagen, to global miner, Glencore. Qatar was left reeling earlier this year after the collapse of Credit Suisse. The QIA had a 6.8 percent stake in the Swiss bank and was its largest shareholder after the Saudi National Bank.

QIA’s push into the US and Asia comes as its larger neighbour, Saudi Arabia, ramps up investments abroad.

By the year 2030, Riyadh’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is currently on track to be the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

Although the bulk of Saudi cash is deployed at home in mega projects like Neom, a new airline, and Red Sea island resorts, it has scooped up US tech stocks. Its holdings also include Cruise line operator, Carnival, and electric vehicle manufacturer, Lucid Motors.

The PIF roiled the world of sports last week when LIV Golf, an upstart league the Saudi Fund bankrolls, announced a partnership with its rival, the PGA Tour.

Qataris eye deals in Asia

Mahmoud said QIA is looking to deploy more cash in tech, noting recent investments in Indian food-delivery platform, Swiggy, and US genomic medicine group, Ensoma. He said it is actively searching for deals in the semiconductor sector and software.

“We are now finding a higher number of interesting investment opportunities given that terms are starting to become more investor friendly,” Mohammed al-Hardan, head of technology, media and telecom investments at QIA, said.

“Although there are a lot of investors chasing opportunities in tech, there are fewer players who can deploy serious capital consistently across the cycle and we are among the few in that group," he added. 

Western bankers and startup founders have been flocking to the Gulf region in search of capital amid waning investor risk appetite in the West.

QIA executives said the US will remain the main market for investments in software, but the fund is also planning more deals in Asia. In 2021, the QIA opened an office in Singapore and plans to boost hiring in the region.

“For QIA, the capital that goes to Asia is only going to increase going forward,” Abdulla al-Kuwari, head of advisory for Asia Pacific at QIA, said.

Explorers embark on voyage to determine if Amazon is longer than Nile River

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 17:14
Explorers embark on voyage to determine if Amazon is longer than Nile River
While the Nile River is currently considered longest in world, some researchers argue it could have been mismeasured
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 18:14
A man rides a boat on waters of White Nile River in Sudan's Jabal al-Awliya area, on 11 March 2023 (AFP)

A team of international explorers will be voyaging the length of the Amazon River to map and measure its entire course and see if it’s longer than the Nile River, which is said to be the longest river in the world. 

For the next seven months, researchers will map the Amazon River from its starting point in the Peruvian Andes to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean. If the voyage goes well, they will then measure the Nile, which researchers argue could also be mismeasured. 

According to the Washington Post, there is currently a dispute as to which river is longer, the Amazon or the Nile. The difference in the lengths is just 212km, the US Geological Survey and Brittanica reported.

Some researchers argue that because the difference is so small, it is possible that both rivers have to be remeasured to get accurate measurements. There is also the question of where the rivers actually begin and where they end. 

“Any deviation in measurement, any change in the river’s course, natural or otherwise, can yield different lengths - and reshuffle the ranking,” the Washington Post reported. 

The Post reported that in 1846, according to the atlas “Maps of Useful Knowledge,” the Amazon was the world’s longest river, at 5,150km; the Nile came in at 4,426km.

The Nile versus Amazon

The Nile River is found in northeast Africa and has long been recognised as the longest river in the world, stretching 6,695km, the US Geological Survey and Brittanica reported. The river is most heavily associated with Egypt and it flows through eleven countries, which include Tanzania; Uganda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Rwanda; Burundi; Ethiopia; Kenya; Eritrea; South Sudan; and Sudan.

The river serves as a source of irrigation, as well as being an important transportation and trade route.

Egypt: Authorities remove all of Cairo's iconic Nile houseboats
Read More »

In 2022, Egyptian authorities removed an entire community of houseboats in Cairo that floated near the banks of the Nile. 

Some residents had lived in their houseboats for dozens of years, tending their front gardens and seeing their children and grandchildren grow up on the river.

The 32 houseboats sat on a narrow section of the Nile bank, which stretched nearly one kilometre up to the Imbaba Bridge.

The Amazon River is found in the northern portion of South America, flowing from west to east. It originates in the Andes Mountains of Peru and travels through Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil, before ending in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Amazon River is the largest river by volume in the world. It discharges an average of 209,000 cubic metres per second, which is more than the next seven largest rivers combined.

Saudi Arabia's oil policy hits fears of global economic slowdown

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 16:07
Saudi Arabia's oil policy hits fears of global economic slowdown
Oil price slide of 40 percent could frustrate Saudi Arabia's efforts to plough ahead with mega projects
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 17:07
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy Abdulaziz bin Salman at annual Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi capital of Riyadh, on 25 October 2022 (AFP)

Oil prices came under fresh pressure Monday, underscoring how Saudi Arabia’s efforts to prop up crude face an uphill battle in the face of higher-than-expected Russian production and fears about the health of the global economy.

“We are working against something called uncertainties and sentiments," Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Sunday, at an Arab-China business conference in Riyadh.

The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 2.77 percent Monday morning EST to $72.72 per barrel, amid worries about a possible recession in the United States and China's weaker-than-expected post-Covid economic recovery. 

The drop came even after Saudi Arabia's surprise decision in June to cut output by one million barrels a day next month, in a bid to lift prices that Abdulaziz called a “Saudi lollipop”.

But bets against the price of oil are proving resistant to the Saudi cuts. On Sunday, Goldman Sachs made its third downward revision for Brent in six months, bringing its forecast for December prices down to $86 a barrel from $95. Goldman analysts have been more bullish on oil prices.

Abdulaziz has gained a reputation for lashing out against traders betting on a decline in oil prices. He warned speculators they would be “ouching like hell” if they doubted his willingness to support prices and in June told them to “watch out” ahead of an Opec+ meeting.

Saudi Arabia has been at the forefront of pushing members of Opec+, a group of oil producers led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to cut production. Despite two production cuts in eight months, oil prices have sunk 40 percent from May 2022 highs of $125 a barrel to around $75.

Saudi Arabia has used the recent windfall in oil revenue to plough ahead with megaprojects designed to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from fossil fuels.

According to the IMF, Saudi Arabia needs an oil price above $80 a barrel to balance its budget and see through projects like the $500bn megacity Neom and a new airline. Analysts believe Abdulaziz is under pressure from his half-brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to raise prices.

Putin and crown prince talk

The downward trend in prices comes as The International Energy Agency warns that the Saudi-led cuts could worsen a global oil deficit, driving inflation higher. But Saudi Arabia is walking a fine line. Cutting too much could lead to higher prices when the global economy is weak, creating a downward spiral in demand. 

At the same time, Saudi Arabia gave up market share in June when it slashed 10 percent of its total oil output. But the drop in crude prices means the kingdom hasn't been able to make up for the loss in revenue. Soaring production in Russia is also complicating Saudi Arabia's efforts to maintain tight supply. 

Saudi Arabia's new airline will shake up Gulf competition
Read More »

Because of western sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Russia is selling crude at a steep discount. To compensate for below-market prices, Moscow is flooding the market. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Russia’s crude exports were within 100,000 barrels a day of a record in the four weeks to 4 June.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a phone call praising their cooperation in Opec+ amid reports of fissures between Riyadh and Moscow over oil production.

According to the Kremlin, the two leaders discussed “in detail” how to ensure stability in world energy markets.

"Both sides praised cooperation within the framework of Opec+ allowing for the adoption of timely and effective steps to ensure balance between supply and demand for oil,” the Kremlin statement added.

Iranian president's visit to Latin America aims to counter western 'domination'

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 15:14
Iranian president's visit to Latin America aims to counter western 'domination'
Ebrahim Raisi says ties with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba work to 'confront unilateralism'
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 16:14
The trip marks Ebrahim Raisi's 13th visit abroad since taking office.
The trip marks Ebrahim Raisi's 13th visit abroad since taking office (AFP/File photo)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has set off on a tour of Latin America this week where he plans to visit Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, in a visit he described as standing against the "domination system" of western countries.

The visit began with a meeting in Venezuela with its president, Nicolas Maduro. Raisi is travelling with his ministers of foreign affairs, petroleum, defence, and health.

“The common position of Iran and the three countries is to stand against the domination system and confront unilateralism,” Raisi said before his trip, as reported by Iranian news outlets.

“In addition to friendly political ties with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, Iran has also had good cooperation with these countries in the field of energy, industry, agriculture, science and technology, and medicine and treatment,” said Raisi.

The trip marks Raisi's 13th visit abroad since taking the presidential office. Iran is one of Venezuela's main allies, alongside Russia, China, Cuba, and Turkey. And like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, Tehran is subject to tough US sanctions.

Last month, a Cuban delegation visited Iran and signed more than a dozen agreements spanning cooperation in healthcare, trade, agriculture, and sports.

Tehran and Havana have worked together on a number of projects, including a joint programme to produce a vaccine against the Covid-19 virus.

“The US government thinks only about its own interests and does not care about others. We have paid a heavy price for our political independence and we will safeguard it,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said during the meeting last month, according to Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Iran's ties with Latin America

The closest ties Iran has in South America are with Venezuela.

Last year, Maduro travelled to Iran and signed a 20-year deal regarding the two countries' energy and financial sectors, and also pledged to work together on defence-related projects.

Venezuela and Iran are two major oil-producing countries and are both members of the oil cartel Opec, the former of which is home to the world's largest proven reserves of crude oil. However, US sanctions have crippled their economies and stymied much of their ability to export crude.

Isolated by the global financial system, they have engaged in their own oil deals. In 2021, they struck an agreement to swap Iranian condensate - an extremely light oil - for Venezuelan heavy crude.

In 2022, the countries also established a deal to operate direct flights between Caracas and Tehran "in order to promote tourism and the union between our countries", with Maduro saying that "Venezuela is open to receive tourists from Iran".

Iran's ties with Nicaragua originate in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra affair, when then-US President Ronald Reagan's administration secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran - which was under an arms embargo - in order to fund right-wing rebels in Nicaragua attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.

The scandal took place at a time of US interventionism in Latin America against leftist groups, and Iran developed ties with Ortega's government.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Nicaragua and met with Ortega in 2007, and the two leaders said they shared common interests and enemies.

Saudi-Iran rapprochement

Raisi's visit to Latin America and meeting with Maduro also comes a week after the Venezuelan leader himself travelled to Saudi Arabia, one of Tehran's adversaries and a close ally of the US.

Maduro's meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took place a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Riyadh for a three-day visit.

Iran and US near interim deal on nuclear enrichment and oil exports
Read More »

The kingdom has in recent years worked to pursue its own national interests at the expense of aligning with US positions, as Riyadh's ties with Washington have strained.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of severed relations after a deal that was brokered by China, another adversary of the US.

In another sign of pushing out of alignment with Washington, Saudi Arabia welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his first trip to the kingdom since the two countries severed ties in 2012.

Assad was suspended from the Arab League after he launched a violent crackdown on street protests by government forces in the wake of the pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab-speaking world.

The crackdown led to a devastating civil war that killed more than a half million Syrians and displaced millions more.

Gaza children's mental health goes from bad to worse

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 14:50
Gaza children's mental health goes from bad to worse
As Israeli attacks increase in frequency and intensity, a growing number of Palestinian children suffer 'ongoing trauma' with no end in sight
Maha Hussaini Mon, 06/12/2023 - 15:50
A Palestinian boy peeks out from a hole in a fence near al-Bureij in the Gaza Strip on 7 April 2022 (AFP)
A Palestinian boy peeks out from a hole in a fence near al-Bureij in the Gaza Strip on 7 April 2022 (AFP)

On the fourth day of Israel's 2021 assault on Palestinians in Gaza, the bombardment was intense.

Hoping to distract her children from the constant sound of shelling, Sarah Ali* put them to bed early. But for seven-year-old Samer*, the damage was already done.

"Two hours later, he woke up and came to me crying," Sarah told Middle East Eye. "He had wet his bed."

Born in 2016, Samer's short life has been shaped by the Israeli blockade and repeated bombing.

But the 11-day assault in May 2021 by far had the most profound effect on his psychological well-being. 

//--> //--> //--> //--> //-->

For two years, he has been regularly bedwetting due to anxiety and fear of loss.

And just as his mother thought they were making progress in helping him overcome his anxiety, Israel launched another bombing campaign last month.

'What children in Gaza are suffering from exceeds PTSD'

- Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Defence for Children International

"We had managed to tackle the issue a bit before the latest offensive, but during this attack, the problem recurred," said Sarah, adding that his condition has exacerbated following the six-day attack.

Samer is one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza who suffer "ongoing trauma," according to health officials. 

The strip, which has been under an Israeli-led blockade since 2006, is home to more than two million people, half of whom are children.

In less than 18 years, Israel has launched some 15 military operations in the enclave, killing thousands of people. 

The blockade and the attacks devastated infrastructure and the economy, leading to an "acute mental health crisis," which is affecting the overwhelming majority of children.

Recurring trauma

Sarah says her son has lost confidence after he started bedwetting in 2021, which has caused him to feel shame and guilt every time the issue recurs. 

"I always try to reassure and comfort him saying that this is completely normal and that I am not upset with him, [yet] he still feels sad and apologises repeatedly, as if it was his fault," she told MEE.

"I know it is not his fault, and I am aware that this is a result of the trauma he suffers."

Samer's parents took him to a psychologist a few months following the 2021 attack, and are considering revisiting him soon.

Nearly 80 percent of caregivers in Gaza reported an increase in bedwetting among their children, according to research by Save the Children published in 2022. 

A further 78 percent reported that their children rarely completed tasks, and 59 percent said their children faced difficulties in speech, language, and communication.

Palestinian child reacts after an Israeli air strike in Gaza in May 2023 (MEE/Mohammed al-Hajjar)
Palestinian child reacts after an Israeli air strike in Gaza in May 2023 (MEE/Mohammed al-Hajjar)

//--> //--> //--> //--> //-->

The NGO interviewed 488 children and 168 parents and caregivers for the study, to update similar research in 2018. 

It found that the mental health of children, young people, and caregivers deteriorated dramatically, with the number of children reporting emotional distress rising from 55 percent to 80 percent.

"What children in Gaza are suffering from exceeds PTSD," Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability programme director at Defence for Children International, told MEE, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.

'Princess of the class': Killing of Gaza children leaves classmates in shock
Read More »

He added that children's ability to enjoy life has been affected by the repeated Israeli attacks, the blockade, and the violent crackdown on the peaceful 2018 "march of return" protests.

"It affects their right to health, education, adequate standard of living and most importantly their right to be free from fear." 

During the 2021 assault, Israel killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children. Palestinian rockets killed 13 people in Israel, including two children. 

Among the Palestinians killed were 11 children aged between five and 15 who were receiving treatment for trauma from the Norwegian Refugee Council before the military campaign.

Another round bombing in August 2022 left 49 Palestinians killed, including 17 children, the youngest being a four-year-old. 

About eight months later, another offensive was launched, killing 33 Palestinians, including seven children. Palestinian rockets killed one Israeli.

//--> //--> //--> //--> //-->

During the 2021 attack, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described life for Palestinian children in Gaza as "hell on earth".

'I don't want to hear the word war'

Fifth-grader Joudi al-Samna, who suffers from PTSD, manages her emotions well until she hears the word "war". 

When it's uttered around her by a parent or an uncle discussing the news, she immediately stops listening.

"I cover my ears with my hands and beg them to stop talking," said the 11-year-old resident of Gaza City.

"I say 'please change the topic, please, mum make them change the topic, there is no war," she added.

'It does not matter if it is during the war or following it, I do not want to hear the word war, I hate it'

- Joudi al-Samna, Palestinian child

"It does not matter if it is during the war or following it, I do not want to hear the word war, I hate it."

Samna panics when she hears loud bangs, and consistently makes sure to stay close to her parents and siblings.

"During the last war on Gaza, I stayed beside my mum and dad almost all the time. My two siblings and cousins went to play in our garden every day, but I refused to go with them," she told MEE.

"But when my parents went downstairs, I went with them. I am always afraid bombing would occur while I am away from them."

During Israel's 51-day attack on Gaza in July and August 2014, Samna was two years old. 

But her mother, Wejdan Ghannam, says her daughter's trauma started during the 2021 attack.

Although she was only nine years old at the time, Ghannam said she was well aware of what was happening and "profoundly" feared for her life and her family. 

"I do my best during offensives to distract my children's attention to the sounds of the bombing. Whenever an attack begins, I bring them colouring books and toys. I almost do whatever they want to keep them busy," Ghannam explained.

"But when the bombing is near, this does not work. They just leave everything and come crying. Joudi sometimes curls up in my lap until she sleeps.

"In all times, whatever happens, the rule in our home is to never mention the words war, aggression, or bombing."

Safety 'nonexistent'

The extent of the mental toll Gaza's children feel is felt most during Israeli attacks.

During the assault last month, parents and teachers in Gaza shared drawings and conversations with their children and students expressing their shock and distress as the Israeli bombs were raining down. 

Maram Azzam posted a drawing by her daughter Sham on a chalkboard, featuring a girl with scribbles over her head.

شام رسمت هالرسمة وحكتلي هيك راسي من صوت الطيران … pic.twitter.com/yCPnBVecWt

— مۭـڔٰا̍مۭ (@MaramAzzam) May 13, 2023

"Sham drew this and told me: 'This is how my head [feels like] due to the sounds of aircraft," Azzam captioned the photo on Twitter.

Eman Basher, an English teacher at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Gaza, shared screenshots of conversations with her students expressing their fear of the bombing.

"We do not sleep at night because of fear, and if we sleep, there is a possibility that we do not wake up again," one student wrote. "[I am] not ok. The bombing was near our home. We could not flee," another said.

In a different conversation, Basher asks her student: "Who is bleeding?", the girl answers: "The brother of Malak, my classmate. Their home is filled with smoke due to the missile."

'We have continuous shocks that exhaust the defensive capabilities of any human being'

- Sami Oweida, Gaza-based psychiatrist 

Another tweet by Yaser Abu Odeh on the first day of the May attack, read: "My ten-year-old child is wearing Eid clothes and repeating 'let's enjoy them before we are martyred'. My daughter who is twelve years old is trying to spend all her money, she says 'we will be martyred, to whom should we leave them?'"

According to Gaza psychiatrist Sami Oweida, trauma is caused by an unexpected event that is beyond the person's experience and that threatens one's life.

Once caused, it can lead to emotional, cognitive, and behavioural imbalances. 

But for children in Gaza, what they suffer "is not PTSD, but an ongoing trauma," he said.

"We have continuous shocks that exhaust the defensive capabilities of any human being."

Most child patients that come to his clinic visit after the Israeli attacks, Oweida told MEE, with some coming months later and others waiting as long as two years.

The time frame depends on each child's ability to adapt and resist the symptoms in the aftermath of each attack

"Those who fail at the end, visit us," the consultant on child and adolescent psychiatry said.

"Most children start showing abnormal reactions, including bedwetting, phonophobia [fear of sound], fear of darkness, fear of loss, isolation, insomnia, anorexia, crying during sleep, among others," he added. 

"Such shocks can affect children emotionally, psychologically, and biologically, and hinder their natural development."

Oweida said that there is no specific age range of children who visit his clinic as a result of war-related traumas, but schoolchildren in general are more likely to suffer from trauma due to their awareness of the concept of bombing and death.

"The basic need for any child after food and water is to feel safe," he explained. "Safety in Gaza is nonexistent." 

*Names changed to protect the privacy of the families

Gaza, occupied Palestine
'I'm not okay': Gaza children's mental health goes from bad to worse

Turkey: How Mehmet Simsek convinced Erdogan to drop his low interest rate policy

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 14:34
Turkey: How Mehmet Simsek convinced Erdogan to drop his low interest rate policy
Over several meetings, the two men with vastly contrasting views came to an agreement. An exhaustive presentation and encouragement from the Bayraktar family paved the way
Ragip Soylu Mon, 06/12/2023 - 15:34
Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek looks on during a news conference where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the new cabinet, in Ankara, 3 June (Reuters)
Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek looks on during a news conference where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the new cabinet, in Ankara, 3 June (Reuters)

When Mehmet Simsek met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, he didn’t come armed with words alone to defend his case.

During the meeting, which lasted for two and a half hours, the economist and former finance minister laid out all the data he had on the Turkish economy.

Moving from one point to another, Simsek gave the president an exhaustive picture of the state of the nation. 

The presentation made Erdogan feel uncomfortable, three sources familiar with the meeting told Middle East Eye. They said the president insisted Simsek’s words alone were enough.

“You have to see all the data and understand what is going on yourself,” Simsek retorted, continuing his presentation.

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This was one of many meetings they had between April and the Turkish elections on 14 May, where Erdogan attempted to convince Simsek to become his new finance and treasury minister.

But Simsek wasn’t budging. The veteran of earlier AKP governments, who served as deputy prime minister for economic and financial affairs from 2015 to 2018, demanded a broad overhaul in the Turkish economic structure, one that would directly contradict Erdogan’s core unorthodox monetary policy.

Erdogan’s obsession with low interest rates and an economic policy that depends on credit growth, wage increases, tax forgiveness and free gas partly handed him another term during last month’s elections, despite runaway inflation.

Yet it remains problematic. The government used backdoor methods to stabilise the lira ahead of the polls, and burned through all the central bank’s reserves.

Since 2021, Erdogan has also propped up his economic programme through a series of currency swap or deposit deals with regional neighbours such as Qatar, the UAE, Russia and Azerbaijan.

But even after a recent $5bn deposit by an unknown foreign country, the central bank’s reserves, which include domestic borrowing from local banks, now stand at minus $5bn, a historic low as of 2 June. Experts are fearful of a balance of payments crisis if Ankara continues to follow the same route.

Standing their ground

Erdogan and his allies have been defending their policy for months, insisting that it will produce growth and employment and shrink the trade deficit. Its defenders note unemployment dropped to 10 percent from 12 percent last year, and gross domestic product posted 5 percent growth in 2022.

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However, inflation is still near 40 percent as of May and the trade deficit hit $57.8bn in the first five months of 2023, jumping nearly 30 percent year on year. Meanwhile, Turkish exporters say they have lost their competitive edge, with many already seeking alternative bases of production in places like Egypt, where employment costs are much lower.

Simsek, during the meeting last month, said over and over that Erdogan’s foreign-funded monetary policy was unsustainable. “You cannot work this mill by carrying water,” Simsek said, using an idiom that implies the economy cannot be managed using a little help from outsiders. 

Nonetheless, Erdogan tried to stand his ground on interest rates, which he believes are un-Islamic, something that goes against the core message of the Quran. Simsek then tried to convince the president that there was no ignoring the world we live in.

A spokesperson for Simsek declined to comment. The Turkish presidency also has a longstanding policy of not commenting on Erdogan’s personal exchanges.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with the new Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek on 3 June (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with the new Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek on 3 June (Reuters)

“There was an avalanche of phone calls from current and former ministers, MPs and everyone you could think of to Simsek to accept Erdogan’s offer and come in as the economy minister,” one source familiar with Simsek’s negotiations with the president told Middle East Eye. “They were telling him that he has to save the Turkish economy.”

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The source said in the end Simsek had to accept the offer: you can only say no to Erdogan so many times.

But Simsek wasn’t alone in trying to convince Erdogan that his monetary policy wouldn’t land the benefits he seeks. 

A second source said Erdogan’s son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar and his older brother Haluk, who jointly run the renowned drone-making firm Baykar, also tried to persuade the president that he was wrong on low interest rates and he needed Simsek. “They clearly succeeded,” the source added.

Haluk Bayraktar, in particular, was outspoken on Twitter following Simsek's appointment, loudly and clearly congratulating him and his new choice of central bank governor, Hafize Gaye Erkan.

“It might not be really surprising for Haluk Bayraktar, whose Baykar continuously deals with exports and imports to maintain production, to speak with Erdogan on the state of the economy as an exporter,” a third source told MEE, noting that he is the head of the Saha Istanbul association, which represents 960 defence firms and industrialists.

A spokesperson for Baykar declined to comment.

A rival in the team

Sources told MEE earlier this month that Simsek proposed to Erdogan an 18-month time frame where he would gradually increase benchmark interest rates from 8.5 percent to as high as 25 percent.

A separate source familiar with Erdogan’s conversations with Simsek said the president agreed to give him whatever he required to fix the economy. “Simsek told him that he would work with people that the government blacklisted in recent years,” the source said. “And Erdogan said it wouldn’t be a problem.”

There are concerns among international investors and local economists that Erdogan could fire Simsek in the near future if an aggressive interest rate hike slows growth and costs jobs ahead of next year’s municipal elections. Erdogan is determined to recapture Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya from the opposition.

'Simsek sees that Erdogan isn’t letting go of control and it might agitate him in the long run'

- Source familiar with talks

That’s why everyone was quite worried when Erdogan decided to move controversial central bank governor Sahap Kavcioglu to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA), a key institution that deals with credit flow.

The source said Simsek presented three recommendations for the BRSA role to Erdogan, who then picked Kavcioglu but insisted he would do whatever Simsek requires.

Erdogan is known for appointing rivals into key positions to use them as checks on each other.

“Simsek sees that Erdogan isn’t letting go of control and it might agitate him in the long run,” the source added.

People close to Simsek also told MEE that soon after taking office, the new finance minister told his circle that the economic situation was worse than he had imagined.

Yet another person close to Simsek said no one should focus on small details when the new finance minister has “crossed an ocean” by convincing Erdogan to follow his lead on interest rates and the choice of a new central bank governor

“Kavcioglu the next day visited Simsek and offered his full support,” the person said. “After all, Kavcioglu has a 30-year banking career.”

Ankara
How Simsek convinced Erdogan to drop his infamous interest rates policy

Silvio Berlusconi and the Middle East: Gaddafi, Iraq war and Israel

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 14:25
Silvio Berlusconi and the Middle East: Gaddafi, Iraq war and Israel
From close relations with Libya's Gaddafi to a sex scandal with an underage Moroccan dancer, the Italian leader had a controversial history with the region
Rayhan Uddin Mon, 06/12/2023 - 15:25
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi greets Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during a meeting in Sirte, Libya on 10 February 2004 (AFP)
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi greets Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during a meeting in Sirte, Libya, on 10 February 2004 (AFP)

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister, died on Monday aged 86.

The billionaire media mogul, and the country's longest-serving premier, built up a huge empire in media, real estate and football, before launching a political career in 1994. 

He was prime minister across three different terms between 1994 and 2011, totalling nine years in charge.

His time in office was characterised by populist policies and rhetoric, frequent gaffes and outbursts, and a number of sex scandals and allegations of wrongdoing, many of which resulted in legal proceedings.

He died in Milan after being treated in April for a lung infection linked to chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia. 

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From cancelling a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan to "attend a party with Vladimir Putin", to kissing the hand of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Berlusconi had a colourful and controversial relationship with the Middle East and North Africa during his terms in office.

He vocally supported the US-led invasion of Iraq, which he later claimed to have opposed.

He also had a notoriously close relationship with Gaddafi, but would later be part of the coalition of forces that helped to bring down the government of the late Libyan autocrat.

By far his biggest controversy related to the region involved a sex scandal with an underage Moroccan dancer who Berlusconi falsely claimed was the granddaughter of Egypt's then-president. 

Middle East Eye takes a look at some of the key moments in Berlusconi's dealings with the region.

Gaddafi

After Gaddafi took power in a 1969 coup, he repeatedly took aim at Italy over its 1911-43 repressive colonial rule of Libya. 

So when he stepped off the plane in Rome in 2009 to be greeted by Berlusconi, it was a historic visit on many levels.

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For one, Gaddafi was accompanied by the son of Omar al-Mukhtar, a Libyan revolutionary hero who had been executed by Italian authorities in 1931 for leading the resistance movement against Italian colonial forces. 

“For us, that image is like the cross some of you wear,” Gaddafi told reporters while wearing a picture of Mukhtar being captured by Italian fascist soldiers. 

The epic Gaddafi-funded film Lion of the Desert, about Mukhtar’s life, was screened on Italian television upon the Libyan leader's visit, after having been banned since 1982 for “damaging the honour” of the Italian army.

Gaddafi also brought an entourage of 300 with him, pitching a Bedouin-style tent in a 17th-century palace in the Italian capital. 

The trip - Gaddafi's first to Rome - typified the close relationship between Berlusconi and the Libyan ruler, who had long been maligned in the West over allegations of directly and indirectly supporting terrorism. 

A year earlier, the two had agreed to a deal in which Italy would compensate Libya for the hardships of colonialism to the tune of $5bn in infrastructure projects, in return for Tripoli intercepting those trying to cross the border to Italy. 

gaddafi berlusconi airport image
Gaddafi wears a historic picture of Omar al-Muktar, the "Lion of the desert", being captured by Italian soldiers, after the North African leader's arrival at Ciampino airport in Rome, Italy, on 10 June 2009 (AFP)

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During one meeting at the Arab League summit, Berlusconi even kissed his Libyan counterpart's hand - a gesture which sparked backlash in Italy. 

The relationship was more than just symbolic: in 2004 the two leaders inaugurated the Greenstream gas pipeline, which runs from Wafa in Libya to Sicily in Italy. It remains the longest underwater pipeline in the Mediterranean. 

At the height of the leaders' close ties, Libya’s government owned shares in Italy’s stock market and several major companies, and even owned part of the Juventus football club. Meanwhile, Libya was Italy's largest oil supplier. 

Those close ties came crashing down during the Libyan uprising of 2011 which toppled Gaddafi. 

'I have been surprised by the attitude of a friend with whom I have sealed a treaty of friendship that benefits both our nations'

- Gaddafi in a letter to Berlusconi

At first, Berlusconi claimed he could “convince him to go into exile” and negotiate “an honourable exit from the scene” for the man who ruled Libya for 42 years. 

"I'm saddened for Gaddafi and I'm sorry," Berlusconi said in March 2011. "What's happening in Libya hits me personally."

Despite his sorrow and regret, the no-fly zone imposed over Libya in 2011 was launched from Italian soil at a Nato base in Naples. It was only months earlier that Berlusconi was kissing Gaddafi’s hand. 

According to reports, Gaddafi sent a letter to Berlusconi pleading for Italy’s help in his last months. 

“I have been surprised by the attitude of a friend with whom I have sealed a treaty of friendship that benefits both our nations,” the letter read. 

“I would have hoped that at least you would have been concerned at the facts and would have attempted a mediation before adding your support to this war.”

After Gaddafi was eventually captured, killed and dragged through the streets, Berlusconi commented with the Latin phrase: "Sic transit gloria mundi" (thus passes the glory of the world). 

Support for Iraq war

Berlusconi backed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, despite the majority of Italians being against it. 

He lent support to his American and British counterparts George Bush and Tony Blair, stating: “Today the West is the only military power, and within the West, there is the incomparable super military power of the United States”. 

“And today we ask if it should be possible, looking to the future, to intervene as exporters of democracy and freedom in the whole world.”

Two years earlier, he had caused international outrage among Muslim countries, following the 11 September New York attacks, when he described western civilisation as "superior".

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“We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilisation, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion," he said. "This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries.”

Despite domestic criticism, Berlusconi impassionately defended US actions in Iraq, even citing the American defence of Europe during World War II. 

He used that defence to state that it was “unthinkable” for him to reject Bush’s request for an Italian military presence in Iraq. 

''Everyone should have the awareness of owing gratitude to the great American democracy,” he said. 

Italy did not supply troops for the initial invasion in March 2003 but sent 3,000 soldiers after the fall of Baghdad weeks later. 

In 2005, however, Berlusconi claimed that he repeatedly tried to talk Bush out of the invasion. 

"I have never been convinced war was the best way to succeed in making a country democratic and extract it from an albeit bloody dictatorship," he said. "I tried on several occasions to convince the American president not to wage war."

The remarks were ridiculed by Italy's then opposition, who saw it as a cynical re-election tactic amid poor economic conditions and backlash over his foreign policy. 

Pro-Israel stance

Berlusconi was one of the most pro-Israeli leaders in Europe during his tenure, even touting Israeli membership of the EU.

In the 1980s, the Italian government had been relatively pro-Palestinian.

Former President Sando Pertini used his end-of-year address in 1982 to talk about the murders of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanese civil war, while former socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi defended the Palestinian armed struggle in 1985. 

But Berlusconi staunchly supported Israel, describing it as “not only the biggest example of democracy and liberty in the Middle East, but the only example”.

In 2010 he said that he considered Israel to be a European country, and "dreamed" of its membership in the EU.

“As long as I am one of the shapers of politics, my greatest dream is to include Israel among the European Union countries,” he said. 

He opposed attempts for “unilateral recognition of Palestine” unless a unified Palestinian government denounced terrorism and accepted Israel’s right to exist, and vowed to fight against any such attempts in Europe.

netanyahu berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi and his then-Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu during an Italy-Israel summit at Villa Madama in Rome, on 13 June 2011 (AFP)

He has occasionally come under criticism from some Israeli quarters too, particularly over comments related to fascism in the 1930s. 

In the European Parliament in 2003, he told a German politician that he would be “perfect” for the role of a concentration camp guard. 

He also offered praise towards fascist leader Benito Mussolini, who he once claimed “did not kill anyone”. 

Thousands of Italian Jews were deported during the Holocaust, according to data compiled by historian Liliana Picciotto Fargion, many of whom were killed in concentration camps. 

'Ruby-gate'

One of the biggest scandals during Berlusconi’s time in charge involved Moroccan dancer, Karima el-Mahroug.

Berlusconi was accused of paying to have sex with Mahroug, known by the nickname "Ruby the heartstealer", in early 2010 when she was 17 years old.

Mahroug told reporters at the time that she had been given 7,000 euros and jewellery during a dinner held by the then-prime minister at his mansion near Milan. Both Mahroug and Berlusconi denied having had sex. 

The Moroccan was later arrested at a police station in Milan after being accused of theft. 

The police officer in charge of the inquiry said that he received a call from Berlusconi, who had falsely claimed that Mahroug was the granddaughter of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 

The mogul was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from public office after being charged with paying for sex with an underage woman. But the conviction was overturned upon appeal a year later, and he once again became eligible to run for office. 

So-called "bunga bunga parties", in which young dancers and models were invited to Berlusconi’s residence in Milan for wild gatherings reportedly resembling orgies, were a feature of the Italian prime minister’s personal life. 

He faced several legal cases involving the parties, on charges ranging from corruption to tax fraud and underage prostitution, but they were all either dismissed or overturned on appeal. 

Canada and Netherlands take Syria to UN's top court over torture claims

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 14:16
Canada and Netherlands take Syria to UN's top court over torture claims
The two countries accuse Syrian government of violating international law
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 15:16
The Syrian opposition still controls some of northern Syria, areas which have been pummelled by the government (AFP)
The Syrian opposition still controls some of northern Syria, areas which have been pummelled by the government (AFP)

Canada and the Netherlands are taking Syria to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over claims that the government of President Bashar al-Assad engaged in torture against its people.

In their application to the court, the two countries accused Syria of having committed "countless violations of international law".

"These violations include the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment… including through abhorrent treatment of detainees, inhumane conditions in places of detention, enforced disappearances, the use of sexual and gender-based violence, and violence against children," they said in a statement released by the ICJ.

The use of chemical weapons in the war in Syria, which began after an uprising in 2011, was also specifically mentioned in the application, described as a "particularly abhorrent practice to intimidate and punish the civilian population".

While the Syrian government has denied the use of chemical weapons, and claimed that the country's opposition used them, the government has been blamed for the use of such internationally banned weapons on several occasions, including in January by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 

Canada, the Netherlands and Syria are all parties to the UN Convention Against Torture. 

The ICJ will now determine whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the case. If it does decide to proceed, it is unclear when the ICJ would deliver its verdict, as the court can take years to process cases. 

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In a statement, the Dutch foreign ministry said that there was "ample evidence" that Syria had committed "serious human rights violations against Syrian citizens on a grand scale".

Along with Canada, it decided to approach the ICJ after efforts were frustrated at the UN Security Council, where Syrian ally Russia - which has been actively involved in the war - has a veto. 

The ongoing conflict has caused mass devastation to Syria and involves forces from several countries, including Turkey and Iran.

Hundreds of thousands have been killed, many of them civilians, and millions have been both internally and externally displaced, with many becoming refugees, predominantly in the Middle East and Europe. 

After opposition gains in the early years of the war, the government was able to turn the tide with Russian and Iranian backing, and opposition forces are now only in control of portions of the northern part of the country.

Israel: Opposition leader testifies at Netanyahu corruption trial

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 10:18
Israel: Opposition leader testifies at Netanyahu corruption trial
Lapid appears as prosecution's witness in 'Case 1000' in which the prime minister is accused of fraud and breach of trust
MEE staff Mon, 06/12/2023 - 11:18
Leader of Israel's Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid (File photo/AFP)

Israel's opposition leader testified on Monday in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which would see him removed from office if found guilty. 

Yair Lapid appeared in court as a prosecution witness in "Case 1000", in which Netanyahu is accused of granting Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan a tax break in return for lavish gifts. 

The Yesh Atid party chief spoke about his interactions with Netanyahu in 2013 when he served as his finance minister. 

He said he discussed the situation with the premier on two occasions.  

"The first time [we met] Netanyahu said to me, 'Did Milchan speak with you about the law?' I told him yes, and he asked, 'What do you think?' I told him, 'I'm not so sure about it,' and he said, [that it's a] 'Good law.'

"The second time was the same when Netanyahu asked what was going on [with it], and I said that it's not going to happen, and he again repeated that [it's a] 'good law'," Lapid said.

Netanyahu was charged in 2019 with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases dubbed Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. He denies all wrongdoing. 

In Case 1000, he is accused of allegedly receiving 700,000 shekels ($195,000) worth of gifts given to his wife Sara from Milchan, a famed Israeli Hollywood producer and Academy Award nominee, and Australian businessman James Packer. 

Netanyahu, who is Israel's longest-serving leader, says the exchanges of gifts were friendly gestures. 

Since returning as prime minister late last year, Netanyahu's new government - described as the most right wing in the country's history - has embarked on a judicial reform programme which critics say could help him evade conviction or see his case dismissed. The prime minister dismissed such suggestions and said he would not intervene in legal proceedings. 

The 2019 corruption charges have overshadowed the Israeli political scene and sent the country to the polls five times in less than four years. Each vote has become a de-facto referendum on Netanyahu's fitness to rule. 

After losing to a coalition of opponents in 2021, Netanyahu returned to office in December. 

Under Israeli law, the prime minister has no obligation to step aside while on trial.

The trial, which has been ongoing since May 2020, has featured more than 40 prosecution witnesses, including some of Netanyahu's closest former confidants who turned against him. Witness accounts have shed light not only on the three cases, but also revealed sensational details about Netanyahu's character and his family's reputation for living off the largesse of taxpayers and wealthy supporters.

According to the current court schedule, the trial is expected to last for another five years.

Israeli opposition leader testifies at Netanyahu corruption trial

Turkey: Istanbul animal welfare chief jailed for running cock-fighting ring

Mon, 06/12/2023 - 08:56
Turkey: Istanbul animal welfare chief jailed for running cock-fighting ring
Head of Istanbul Association for the Protection of Animals, the Environment and Nature imprisoned for three years despite claiming there was no mistreatment in his garage
Alex MacDonald Mon, 06/12/2023 - 09:56
Turkish police reportedly received a tip off about an illegal cock-fighting ring (AFP/file photo)
Turkish police reportedly received a tip off about an illegal cock-fighting ring (AFP/file photo)

The man appointed to oversee the welfare of animals in Istanbul has reportedly been imprisoned for overseeing a cock-fighting ring.

Turkish police received a tip-off about an illegal cock-fighting ring in a garage in Istanbul's Sancaktepe district, local media said.

After raiding it on 24 January, they found a ring made for roosters with seating around it. On the floor were animal hair, traces of blood and bottles of alcohol.

According to the Sabah newspaper, the owner of the garage was Ufuk Inanc, head of the Istanbul Association for the Protection of Animals, the Environment and Nature.

Inanc has denied that the garage was being used for cock-fighting and instead said it was used for the activities of his association.

"As the president of the association, I would not allow such a thing, it is against our founding purpose," he said.

Another suspect present at the scene was quoted by Sabah as saying the caged roosters found in the garage were being auctioned and had not been injured. However, investigators reportedly found blood stains and rooster feathers within the ring.

Despite his protestations, Inanc has been sentenced to three years in prison for "providing a place and opportunity for gambling", while three other suspects were sentenced to up to two years in prison for "violating the Law on the Protection of Animals".

Law against animal abuse

The raid reportedly came a few days after another on a branch of the association in the western city of Manisa, also connected with cock fighting.

The Sozcu newspaper said police had raided the Manisa Animals, Environment and Nature Protection Association on 22 January and found 21 injured roosters and a specially prepared area for fighting

Turkey's parliament passed a law in 2021 that made animal abuse punishable by between six months and four years in prison.

However, animal rights campaigners have criticised the law as insufficient, noting that judges usually defer prison sentences less than two years, meaning few convicted of animal abuse would actually face jail time.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Istanbul animal welfare chief jailed for running cock-fighting ring

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