Posts Tagged ‘Tunisia’

Hamas alleges Israeli spies used Bosnian passports for assassination

November 16, 2017


© AFP | Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial for Tunisian engineer Mohamed Zouari in the Gaza Strip on January 31, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Hamas on Thursday alleged Israeli spies used Bosnian passports to enter Tunisia and assassinate one of its drone experts as the Palestinian movement announced details of its probe into the December incident.

Tunisian engineer Mohamed Zaouari was shot dead in his car in December 2016 by unknown gunmen, with Hamas accusing Israel of responsibility at the time.

Senior Hamas figure Mohamed Nazzal made the allegations on Thursday in a statement and at a press conference in Beirut.

He said an investigation concluded a number of agents from Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had operated in Tunisia over several months, including pretending to be foreign journalists in order to get close to Zaouari.

The main two assassins who entered the country before the killing were using Bosnian passports, Nazzal said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon declined comment. Israel also had not previously commented on the killing.

Israel has previously faced criticism after its agents reportedly used British, Irish, Australian and other passports to assassinate a Hamas leader in the United Arab Emirates in 2010.

That led to Britain, Ireland and Australia expelling some Israeli diplomats in protest.

Zaouari, 49, was murdered at the wheel of his car outside his house in Tunisia’s second city Sfax on December 15 last year.

The engineer and drone expert had worked for a decade with Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, the group said at the time.


‘Belt and Road’ project: China’s new vision and Turkey

November 15, 2017


By  Emel Parlar Dal

Does the Belt and Road project really have the potential to introduce a Chinese alternative to the established world order?


U.S. President Donald Trump’s 13-day Asia tour, which began on Nov. 5 with Japan and includes, first and foremost, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, is already signaling that the U.S. is drawing up a new Asian strategy.

Although it is suggested that the visit is outwardly based on the goal of creating a coordination and business alliance to take tougher measures against North Korea, this 13-day diplomacy tour by Trump, the longest Asian tour ever taken by a U.S. president since George H. W. Bush’s 12-day visit in 1991, is dropping major hints about the discomfort the U.S. is feeling towards the recent transformation in power balances in Asia.

One such hint is that the region, defined to date by Washington as “Asia-Pacific”, began to be conceptualized as the “Indo-Pacific region” starting from before this visit. We may say that the most important reason for this visit as well as the conceptual transformation accompanying it — beyond the ostentatious North Korean threat — directly relates to containing or controlling the rise of China, which is now following a global trajectory after its spread over Asia.

The aspect of this Chinese rise that will pose the greatest challenge to the U.S.’ position as a superpower is the Belt and Road project, which is China’s global strategic partnership vision with pragmatic foundations and a win-win strategy as opposed to the security-related tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Does the Belt and Road project really have the potential to introduce a Chinese alternative to the established world order? What countries, multilateral structures and regions constitute the main partners of the project?

And how important are Turkey and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad project to this massive undertaking, considering that the current final destination of this project (Kars) is a Turkish province?

Image result for Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad project, photos

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad project

Is Belt and Road main pillar of China’s new world vision?

At a time when the basic paradigms of the international order are being questioned once again, China is the focal point of almost every other analysis because of its position in the international hierarchy and because it is seen as possessed of the greatest potential to develop new alternatives.

Indeed, it would not be wrong to argue that China has in recent years been transforming its infrastructure-based activities and foreign aid-based activities, which it has independently carried out for many years, especially in the neighboring regions, into a formula for a new vision of the world.

What is currently on display in the showcase of this vision, being advertised in an increasingly audible and visible fashion since the 2000s, is — as it is called now — “Belt and Road”, which was originally called “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he first announced it in 2013.

As was stressed by Xi Jinping during his long speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress held in October, China is now seeking to shape its global strategy in search of a “new” order in a “new” era.

In this context, while consolidating its new geo-economic and geo-strategic stance in its foreign policy, China, with its new pragmatic approach of regionalism and inter-regionalism, is offering an inclusive model based on a win-win mentality as opposed to the Western-origin conditional/normative integration projects that are becoming less appealing by the day in the international system; an inclusive model that the countries the model is being offered to can accept and adopt more easily.

Through this project, which is trying to connect Asia, Europe and Africa together with land and sea routes and economic corridors, China takes interest in not only the infrastructure projects that would provide the said connections; it also considers steps towards policy cooperation, the joining together of activities, unimpeded trade, financial integration and establishing ties between peoples among the project’s goals; steps that will hopefully facilitate the efforts to keep these connections smooth and operational.

The project, which will connect the Chinese hinterland to Europe by road via Central Asia, will also be connecting Chinese ports to Europe by sea, calling at ports in South East Asia and Africa.

In addition to these, the project will incorporate the economic corridors of China-Mongolia-Russia, New Eurasia, China-Central Asia-Western Asia, China-Pakistan, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar and China-the Indochina Peninsula.

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In addition to massive investment agreements signed to date, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, established by China to finance the project, provide significant clues about the holistic structure of the project.

Likewise, China’s emphasis on the safety of all roads and transit routes within the framework of the project is one of the important dimensions of this pragmatic approach regarding the sustainability of the project.

In fact, this project can be regarded as the locomotive of Xi Jinping’s vision of becoming an equal superpower alternative to the U.S.; a vision that took Jinping years to formulate; a vision that has been carrying China above and beyond being merely a regional hegemon in Asia.

One of the first balancing efforts of the U.S. under Trump in the face of such a possibility [of China becoming the new superpower] came in the form of steadily growing convergence with India and Japan.

By signaling that Australia could as well be invited to come onboard, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave the first signals of the steps they have planned to take against China’s grand vision or strategy.

Well, with this convergence taking place in Asia-Pacific through the American driving force, what countries and which multilateral groupings and regions does China prioritize?

Strategic partners of ‘Belt and Road’

China, as already mentioned, offers a global partnership strategy based on a win-win concept with the Belt and Road project, where each country can be a stakeholder regardless of normative conditions or loyalties.

The sheer number of the countries taking part in the project — 69 so far, including China — demonstrates the degree to which the Belt and Road project has been received favorably in such a short time in comparison to other infrastructure and strategic vision projects on the scene.

Another important point that needs to be emphasized here is that China has been trying to activate the Belt and Road project not only through the bilateral relations it has developed but through the regional and interregional multilateral structures, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ASEAN + China, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), the Asia-Europe Summit, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures, the Chinese-Arab Cooperation Forum, the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Strategic Dialogue, the Economic Partnership of Greater Mekong Sub-Region, and the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC).

The key strategic partners of the Belt and Road will be Central Asian countries through which the land links that will constitute the main pillar of the project pass, and of them, three countries stand out: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which were participants of the Belt and Road Forum last May.

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Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Project Important for Europe

In the discussions at the Forum, the railway link between China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan had come to the forefront as the most important infrastructure project that the project promises for the future of Central Asia.

Outside of China, Pakistan and Indonesia particularly stand out among those countries home to a number of projects already launched as part of China’s massive initiative. China signed agreements with Indonesia, already one of the economic corridors of the project, for the financing of over 50 projects, especially in 2015.

Africa is the most important region that stands out in terms of the sea routes of the project. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Egypt, Senegal, Tanzania, and Tunisia are among the areas where the project takes on the greatest intensity continent-wise.

In the African leg of the project, Egypt stands out particularly, because China sees the Suez Canal as one of the most important transit points of the project and is already one of the biggest investors in the development of the canal.

In short, with the Belt and Road project, China is creating strategic partnerships in Central Asia, South East Asia, and Africa as the basis for its new foreign policy vision.

Where does Turkey stand in this partnership vision and what are Turkey’s main concerns?

What is Turkey’s position with regard to ‘Belt and Road’?

The “Belt and Road International Cooperation” forum, also known as the “Modern Silk Road”, held on May 14-15, 2017 in Beijing with the participation of the heads of states and governments of 29 countries, including Turkey, is an important cornerstone to understand the project’s expectations from Turkey, Turkey’s actual capacity as well as the current difficulties it has.

Unlike most European states, Turkey has high expectations from this mega trade and transportation project, considered the most important project of this century.

More than anything else, this project seems to overlap with Turkey’s own development goals and the new role it has designed for itself as well as the ideological infrastructure of this role in the changing post-western international system, in which power and competition are gradually shifting from the Global North to the Global South.

It is undoubtedly not a surprising development that Turkey has been seeking new alternatives and partnerships in international politics in this new era marked by ups and downs in its relations with the West, and following a strategy of convergence with China, the most powerful state of the Global South, because of a dwindling capital flow owing to these ups and downs.

Beyond the economic and commercial expectations — they are surely of the main reasons behind Turkey’s interest in the Belt and Road project — the growing closeness between Turkey and China will create a geopolitical and strategic impact on a regional and global scale.

We can additionally mention the positive contributions that may arise from the project to Turkey’s regional and global leverage, the roles it plays, and its international image.

Indeed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement just before the Belt and Road Forum — “Our convergence with China will create a significant impact in the world” — illustrates the above observation.

In which leg of the project is Turkey situated and how does it contribute to it? We need to first mention the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, whose construction began in 2007. It was inaugurated at the Port of Baku in Alat two weeks ago and is situated at the middle belt of the Iron Silk Road, which aims to establish an uninterrupted link between Beijing and London.

Another initiative is also worth mentioning: a high-speed train project, planned between Edirne and Kars [the northwestern-most and northeastern-most provinces of Turkey, respectively] as an extension to the BTK line. It will cost a total of $30 billion.

Turkey is making an important contribution to the Iron Silk Road, having completed the middle belt of the Beijing-London line with the Marmaray [the world’s first undersea railway] and the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge — the third on the Bosporus Strait — both of which had been designed as part of the Iron Silk Road.

The BTK railway has a total length of 838 kilometers, 76 kilometers of which passes through Turkey, 259 through Georgia and the rest 503 through Azerbaijan. It is envisaged that this line will be initially carrying one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo annually.

It is planned that the BTK line, whose current capacity is expected to increase to 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of cargo annually, will be carrying Chinese merchandise to the Caspian Sea and Baku’s Alat Port by way of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and eventually to Europe through Georgia and Turkey.

Another feature of the BTK is that it will shorten the China-Europe route by about 7,000 kilometers, given that all railways from China to Europe currently go through Russia. Thus, bypassing Russia will reduce the overall duration of this long route to 15 days.

In the same manner, with this new project, it is estimated that a significant portion of the freight traffic between China and Europe will shift from Russia to this particular route.

Turkey’s reservations, and expectations from China

Turkey, on the other hand, does have its concerns about China’s historic project. Despite acting less warily of the project than its European allies, Turkey is focusing on the possibility that the project might further widen the already yawning gap in the import-export balance of its trade with China.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s (Turkstat) figures on 2016, Turkey’s imports from China stood at $25 billion whereas its exports to it were worth a mere $2.3 billion. What is striking here is, Turkey’s exports to China have gradually decreased since 2013 while its imports have remained around the same level.

Again, according to Turkstat data, Chinese exports have also seen a gradual decrease since 2013 whereas its imports have remained around the same levels. According to Turkish officials, this 10-fold difference between exports and imports is far from sustainable.

Therefore, Turkey must increase its exports to China to equal at least a half of its imports to strike a desirable balance, and the two countries must reach an agreement for China to offer Turkey greater access to its domestic market.

Likewise, we observe that Turkey, just like its European allies, is expecting China — an advocate of globalization and liberalization in economics — to lift the quotas and restrictions on foreign investors in its domestic market and to discard the rules that favor its own domestic companies with greater advantages.

All these concerns set aside, given the economic corridors in the Belt and Road project and the initiatives China has separately established with certain countries, it is clear that China is conferring an important role on Turkey, albeit not a primary or pivotal one.

In general, it can be assessed that Turkey’s role in the project is being shaped by how the Chinese-Russian competition is reflected on Central Asia, Caucasia and the Middle East, a region Turkey is a part of.

With this project, China is containing its two chief rivals Russia and India with secure alternative routes, through which it is creating itself new spheres of trade and security.

In the same way, it can be predicted that China will try and negate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (from which it has been excluded), whose infrastructure saw completion during the Obama era.

This partnership envisages that the U.S. can enjoy free trade with Southeast Asian and Oceania countries even though President Donald Trump claims that the U.S. will withdraw from it.

When assessing the Turkey leg of the project, we need to consider these geo-economic elements as well as all other dimensions, including security. Such a comprehensive assessment is very important if we do not wish for this win-win mentality — the primary reason for the project — to turn into a loss for Turkey.

Last but not least, the Belt and Road project might as well serve as an example of similar transportation and transit routes that Turkey may consider developing on its own initiative in the years to come and of the new initiatives of regionalism that it may help to shape.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

Tunisian Navy Rescues 78 Migrants Off Coast

September 22, 2017

TUNIS — Tunisia’s navy rescued 78 migrants including two girls after their vessel en route to Europe took on water off the coast of Chebba and was stranded for three days, the defense ministry said on Friday.

Human traffickers increasingly use Tunisia as a launch pad for migrants heading for Europe after Libya’s coastguard aided by armed groups tightened its controls.

“Naval forces rescued 78 illegal Tunisian migrants 70 kilometers east of the coast of Chebba on board a boat that was damaged and leaking water,” the ministry said in statement, adding that nobody died in the incident.

Tunisia has been praised for its democratic progress after a 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali but successive governments have failed to create jobs for young people, some of whom head to Europe to seek work.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Turkey Looking East For New Alliances, Money — Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position

September 16, 2017
 SEPTEMBER 16, 2017 09:57


Three factors underlie Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint news

Turkey this week announced its purchase of the S-400 antiaircraft missile system from Russia. The deal, according to Western media reports, is worth $2.5 billion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media that the first deposit on the system has already been paid.

The S-400, which has a range of 400 km. and can down 80 targets simultaneously, is widely considered to be the world’s most advanced air defense system at the present time. This surprise development is the latest milestone in Ankara’s ongoing drift in recent years away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

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The recent visit of Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri to Ankara, accompanied by a large military delegation, was an additional recent indicator of the direction of events. This was the first such visit since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Turkey’s close involvement in the Russian-brokered Astana diplomatic process regarding Syria reflects this trend, as does the signing in Moscow in mid-August of a contract between the Turkish Unit International company, Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and the Iranian Ghadir Investment Holding for the joint development of three oil fields and a large natural gas field in Iran.

© TURKISH PRESIDENT PRESS OFFICE/AFP | Iranian armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on August 16, 2017

So what are the factors underlying Turkey’s repositioning away from the West and toward its enemies and adversaries? The explanation lies in three areas: Turkey’s perceived immediate interests, the eclipse of its hopes for the region in recent years, and the long-term internal direction of Turkish society and politics.

Regarding the first issue, Turkish concerns at the growing Kurdish power in Syria and Iraq bring it closer to Iran’s agenda and further from that of the West. Ankara has anxiously watched the rise of the Syrian Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) in recent years in northern Syria. The party is an affiliate of the same Kurdish movement as the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), which has been engaged in an insurgency against Turkey and for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. The Syrian Kurds are now ruling over the greater part of the 911-km. border between Syria and Turkey. Only a Turkish military intervention in August 2016 prevented their probable acquisition of the entirety of the border.

Yet more disconcertingly from the Turkish point of view, the Syrian Kurds are today engaged in a flourishing military alliance with the United States and the Western coalition in the war against Islamic State in Syria. From tentative beginnings in the urgent days of late 2014, the Pentagon-organized cooperation between the Kurdish YPG and US air power and special forces has turned into a doggedly effective military blunt instrument, which is currently destroying ISIS in the capital of its dying “caliphate” in Raqqa city.

The Turks have looked on helplessly as this alliance has grown. Their own attempts in early 2017 to propose an alternative partnership between the US and Turkey’s Syrian rebel clients foundered on the low military abilities of the latter and the lack of a clear dividing line between the rebels and Sunni jihadi extremists in northern Syria.

So Turkish prioritization of the need to contain and turn back Kurdish achievements in Syria, as well as its staunch opposition to the emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, bring it into line with Iran’s agenda in these countries, and against that of the West. The West, too, does not support Iraqi Kurdish moves toward independence, but its level of hostility to this and its determination to prevent it fall short of those of Tehran.

In the past, Ankara and Tehran’s joint opposition to Kurdish aspirations did not lead to improved relations between them, because they found themselves on opposite sides of the war between the Assad regime and the Sunni Arab rebellion against it. Similarly, this placed Ankara at loggerheads with Moscow.

But this restraining factor no longer applies. The Sunni Islamist regional project that placed Turkey on a collision course with Iran and Russia has, for the moment at least, largely been eclipsed. Once, it was common among Israeli strategists to count among the region’s alliances a group of countries and movements broadly aligned with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam. This emergent power bloc was a product of the Arab Spring revolts of the post-2010 period. At its high point in 2012, the crystallizing alliance consisted of Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Ankara and the others hoped that the Sunni Arab rebels would swiftly destroy the Assad regime and create an additional conservative Sunni Islamist regime.

This didn’t happen. The Sunni Islamic revolutionary energies of 2010-2012 are now largely spent. There is little to show for them. Egypt is back in the hands of its army. Tunisia is ruled by a coalition government dominated by non-Islamists. Hamas is trying to rebuild its alliance with Iran. Qatar is facing a counterattack from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, because of its stances. And the Syrian Sunni Arab rebels have no further chance of victory and are currently fighting for survival.

Turkey emerges from all this as a major loser. It had hoped to ride the wave of Sunni grassroots revolt to a position of regional dominance. (It also, in the initial phase, flirted with the more radical jihadists of Nusra and ISIS in Syria.) But the wave has spent itself. There is nothing to be gained from further support for the destruction of Assad, which will not happen. This clears the way for rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Russia, through which Ankara will hope to thwart or contain Kurdish gains.

At the same time, the latest evidence suggests that Turkey will seek to use Russian mediation to prevent the total defeat and eclipse of the Sunni rebels. This is a matter both of Turkey’s Sunni identity and of a simple desire to avoid the humiliation of witnessing the destruction of its clients.

The final element underlying Turkey’s drift away from the West relates to internal matters. Erdogan is in the process of dismantling much of Turkey’s republican societal model, and is building in its place an Islamist society. Forty-thousand people have been jailed since the failed coup of July 15, 2016. A state of emergency remains in place. The free media has been silenced, legal immunity for members of parliament removed, journalists and academics arrested.

This new Islamic Turkey will not find its natural home in alliance with the United States and the West, still less with Israel, of course. So there should be no surprise at the sea changes under way in Ankara’s regional and global orientation.

Turkey is too big and too Sunni to ever become a charter member of the Iran-led regional bloc. There remain sharp differences with Tehran over the future of Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq. But all those still entertaining hopes for a return to Turkey’s status as a bulwark of Western security in the Middle East should revise their analysis. The emergent evidence points in a single direction. The Second Turkish Republic is on its way – and its face will be turned toward the East.


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Accused of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran, Qatar says it has done no wrong

August 28, 2017

The Los Angeles Times

The tiny gas-rich nation of Qatar has been ostracized by its regional Arab neighbors, which accuse it of funding terrorism and being too cozy with Iran.

In June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic and trade ties, closed their air routes to Qatari aircraft and served the government with a host of demands aimed at fighting terrorism and extremism. Mauritius, Mauritania, Yemen, the Maldives and one of Libya’s two warring governments also suspended diplomatic relations.

Qatar did little to quell the conflict last week when it announced it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran, more than a year after it pulled its ambassador in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, whose embassy and diplomatic missions in Iran were attacked.

Qatari officials say their country has done no wrong and that a statement by the country’s emir that became a pretext for the row — he was quoted on Qatar news sites as praising Iran and the fundamentalist group Hamas — was fabricated in a hacking attack. Qatar blamed the Emirates, which has denied it.

“Qatar does not fund terrorism whatsoever — no groups, no individuals. Not from afar or from a close distance,” Sheik Saif bin Ahmed al Thani, director of the government communications office, said in an interview with The Times’ editorial board and reporters.

His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

President Trump and Qatar's Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017.
President Trump and Qatar’s Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al Thani during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in May 2017. (Mandel Ngan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images)

Why do these countries want to pick a fight with Qatar and why now?

I can answer what we think it is. We have differences in opinion. That is the main issue. Differences of opinion. We do not support parties or individuals or get involved in [the] domestic affairs [of other countries].

So when we get involved in Tunisia, or Syria … or Libya, we do not go around and pick a party or [an] individual.… We usually focus our attention on the public and try our best not to pick sides.

They accuse us of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For example in Tunisia, after the Arab Spring, the government that came into office was from the Muslim Brotherhood. We worked with them once they became the government. We didn’t work with them as a party. We worked with them as a government, to support them.

After that, the opposition party won…. [And] we are the ones working with them. We did a conference last year in support of Tunisia, supporting investment. We established a fund for small and medium businesses.

How do you characterize your relationship with Hamas?

The Bush administration supported the elections in Palestine. They wanted to ensure the participation of all different entities in the election. And it was requested of us that Hamas participates.

Arab countries did not support the idea of elections. The U.S. wanted all Arabic countries to support the elections. So we took the lead on that. And other countries came in afterward.

So Hamas won the election. Hamas keeps a fraction of a political office in [the Qatari capital] Doha. Our funding to Palestine is all done through the United Nations and it is done for certain projects. [It’s] funding for building the infrastructure. We have a commitment of about $1.2 billion dollars for rebuilding Gaza. In a few cases we have given salaries to the government in Gaza. The few times that happened, it happened through the U.N. in coordination with Israel.

So whether it’s money, or whether it’s building materials, it all goes through the U.N. and through our governmental structure, except the three or four times when we paid salaries and that was paid through the Palestinian Authority with the U.N.

In June, Qatar's National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5.
In June, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee reported that it had been receiving a hundred complaints a day since the blockade by four Arab nations started June 5. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Does Qatar have any relationship now with the Muslim Brotherhood?

We don’t have a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these accusations came because of Egypt. You know, when the Arab Spring happened, when the military was in control, we started supporting Egypt economically.

We had cash placed in their central bank. We committed to five shipments of gas free of charge, and other things. These commitments started before [President Mohamed] Morsi came into power and they continued after he left. The last shipment of gas was at the end of 2016.

We didn’t stop [them] because these commitments were from us to the people of Egypt. So we don’t really care who’s in office. Other than that, we do not support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi lost power in a coup. So it sounds like your government doesn’t care how a government changes.

We deal with what the people choose.

A coup isn’t the people’s choice.

Yes, but we will not get involved internally.

But by dealing with an illegitimate government that came to power via coup aren’t you de facto getting involved?

I get your point. But in the end, we won’t deal with domestic matters. To us, what’s happening in Egypt is a domestic matter. The people chose not to do anything about it. So … we’ll go with their choice.

So if the Muslim Brotherhood rose and took power back your policies would be the same toward Egypt?


What about claims Qatar paid billions of dollars to Iran and Al Qaeda-linked affiliates to secure the release of Qatari hostages that were held in Iraq?

The money was not given to any terrorist groups. While we were trying to get [the hostages] out, we did approach Iran. We approached any government that could help influence these groups to get them out.

Everything was done with the knowledge, and in partnership with, the Iraqi government, with the Iraqi intelligence and security.

What’s it going to take to resolve the crisis?

What it’s going to take is first to remove the blockade. This is not a way of bullying a country into taking a certain position.

And secondly we’re willing to sit and negotiate and sit in a dialogue environment and discuss all these things. Of course anything that will affect our sovereignty and independence, we will not consider, even slightly. We will not sit at the table unless we have a sort of level playing field. But we’re willing to discuss. At the end of the day most of these things are differences of opinion and we can discuss them.

What’s Qatar’s relationship with the Trump administration?

Broadly, the relationship between the U.S. and Qatar is a very strategic, strong relationship. It has always been strong. After Sept. 11, the U.S. military left Saudi Arabia for domestic reasons. They just moved everything to Qatar and we gave them our main and only airport as a base, until the current base was ready.

So our relationship with the U.S. is very institutional. We have a good relationship with the Trump administration, as we did with the Obama administration, and the Bush administration, and so on.

So you don’t take offense that President Trump sometimes comes across as being anti-Muslim?

I do not know if it’s correct to put it that way. The U.S.-Riyadh summit [in Saudi Arabia last May] was indeed successful. It had all the Muslim Arab countries there. We are the only country that has taken further steps with the counter-terrorism [agreement] we signed. It’s the first of its kind for the region. So I don’t really agree with your point [that Trump is anti-Muslim].

FOR THE RECORD, Aug. 27 2 p.m: An earlier version of this article incorrectly phrased a question as saying that Mohamed Morsi gained power in a coup. He lost power in a coup.

For more on global development news, see our Global Development Watch page, and follow me @AMSimmons1 on Twitter

Popular sites targeted in string of Africa attacks

August 14, 2017

© AFP | Burkina Faso gendarmes and troops launch an operation after gunmen attacked a Turkish restaurant in the capital Ouagadougou

PARIS (AFP) – The attack on a Turkish restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital on Sunday was the latest in a series of assaults in Africa targeting spots popular with foreigners and locals alike.Here is an overview of the worst such attacks in recent years, most of which have been claimed by jihadist groups:

– 2017 –

– August 13: Three gunmen open fire at a Turkish restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens.

– June 18: At least two people are killed when suspected jihadists stormed the Kangaba tourist resort popular with foreigners on the edge of Mali’s capital Bamako. More than 30 hostages are freed.

– June 14: At least six people are killed when a suicide car bomber targets the popular Posh Treats restaurant in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab claims responsibility.

– 2016 –

– March 13: Fourteen civilians, including foreigners, and two special forces troops are killed when gunmen storm the Ivorian beach resort of Grand-Bassam. Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claims responsibility.

– January 15: Thirty people are killed, including many foreigners, in an attack on a top Burkina Faso hotel and a nearby restaurant in Ouagadougou. AQIM claims the assault, saying the gunmen were from the Al-Murabitoun group of Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

– 2015 –

– November 20: Gunmen take guests and staff hostage at the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in a siege that leaves at least 20 dead, including 14 foreigners. The attack is claimed by AQIM, which says it was a joint operation with the Al-Murabitoun group. Another jihadist group from central Mali, the Macina Liberation Front, also claims responsibility.

– October 31: A Russian passenger jet is downed en route from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort to Saint Petersburg, killing all 224 on board. The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group claims responsibility. Russia confirms the crash was caused by a bomb.

– August 8: Malian armed forces storm the Byblos hotel in the centre of the country, ending a hostage-taking by gunmen that leaves at least 12 people dead including four UN foreign contractors.

– June 26: Thirty Britons are among 38 foreign holidaymakers killed in a gun and grenade attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse. The attack is claimed by the Islamic State group.

– March 18: Gunmen kill 21 tourists and a policeman at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in another attack claimed by IS.

– March 7: A grenade and gun attack on the popular La Terrasse nightclub in Bamako kills five people — three Malians, a Belgian and a Frenchman. The attack is claimed by Al-Murabitoun.


Mediterranean Migrant Mess: Italy, Malta keep migrant vessel in limbo

August 8, 2017


© AFP | While a Spanish vessel with Libyan migrants aboard was denied entry to Italy or Malta, the C-Star chartered by far-right activists opposed to migrants was moored off Tunisia as fishermen and a powerful union prevented them from loading supplies

ROME (AFP) – A Spanish vessel with three Libyan migrants aboard was kept in international waters on Tuesday after Italy and Malta refused to let it to dock.

The three aboard the ship Golfo Azzurro, chartered by Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms NGO and rescued Sunday, were in limbo, illustrating policy confusion a week after Rome introduced a controversial code of conduct for charity boats rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

A Proactiva spokesman said the vessel was some 100 nautical miles (180 kilometres) off the Libyan coast as the NGO attempted a rescue operation normally coordinated with the Italian coast guard.

When the Golfo Azzurro approached the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest to the Libyan coast, Italian authorities denied it passage.

Proactiva’s mission head Gerard Canals told AFP that Malta had said Italy was responsible for the rescue and should take the migrants.

“The rescue on Sunday happened under the coordination of the Italian MRCC (coastguards headquarters) in Rome but in the Maltese SAR (search and rescue zone).

“We asked to disembark in Lampedusa because it was closer but the Italian authorities told us to see with Malta.

“We cannot take them back to Libya because it’s against maritime law” with Libya not considered as a safe port “so we have to take them to a European port.”

Proactiva is one of four NGOs which have signed up to the code — the group formally did so Tuesday at the Italian interior ministry — whereas five counterparts operating search-and-rescue activities off Libya have rejected the new rules.

Having been denied entry to Italy and Malta to change crew and load supplies, the Golfo Azzurro was stuck between Malta and Sicily midday Tuesday.

Italian authorities last Saturday did allow 127 migrants to disembark on Lampedusa after their rescue by Prudence, a vessel chartered by Doctors without Borders (MSF), which has not signed up to the new code.

Also Tuesday, C-Star, a vessel chartered by a group of European far-right activists opposed to migrants, was still moored off the Tunisian coast as fishermen and a powerful union prevented them from loading supplies.

Two weeks ago, Turkish Cypriot authorities released the C-Star’s captain and crew after detaining them over accusations of using false documentation.

The activists’ “Defend Europe” scheme was launched by anti-immigration campaigners from France, Italy and Germany who raised 170,000 euros ($200,000) via crowd-funding to hire the vessel.

In a separate development, UN’s new envoy to Libya on Tuesday endorsed an Italy drive to strengthen the Libyan coastguard to ensure boatloads of migrants are intercepted before reaching international waters.

Human rights campaigners fear the approach could place thousands of people with a right to asylum at serious risk.

But Ghassam Salame, a former Lebanese culture minister appointed in June to head UN operations in Libya, described the cooperation between Tripoli and Rome as a “very constructive” way of dealing with an acute problem.

“It would be absolutely unrealistic to ignore the seriousness of the challenge of irregular migration,” Salame said after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Angelo Alfano in Rome.

“There are hundreds of millions of them across the world. This is very serious problem.”

Muslim imams march against terrorism in Europe — “March of Muslims against Terrorism”

July 8, 2017

Around 60 imams from several European countries are on a bus tour of cities hit by Islamic terrorism in order to condemn extremism committed in the name of religion. Their message is that Islam is a religion of peace.

Imams from countries including France, Belgium, Britain and Tunisia were joined by representatives of other religious communities at the spot where French policeman Xavier Jugele was shot dead in April.

The “March of Muslims against Terrorism” kicked off on Saturday in Paris with a prayer at the site on the Champs-Elysees where a policeman was murdered by an Islamist militant in April.

It is about sending a “message of humanity and brotherhood against terrorism,” said Imam Houcine Drouiche from the French city of Nimes.

From Paris, some 60 imams will head by bus on Sunday to Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the scene of December’s terror ramming of a Christmas market that killed 12 people and wounded dozens more.

The imams, including six from Germany, will then travel by bus to other cities hit by major terror attacks over the past several years, including Brussels, Toulouse and Nice. The action will end in Paris on July 14 to mark Bastille Day.

Along the tour the imams want to pray for the victims of terrorism and show that Islam can co-exist with other religions and cultures. Organizers want to show that for the vast majority of believers Islam is a religion of peace.

At stops along the way, the imams are expected to be met by political, religious and civil society figures in communities touched by terrorism.

The organizers of the peace march are Imam Hassen Chalghoumi of the Parisian suburb of Drancy and the French Jewish writer Marek Halter.

Chalghoumi told French broadcaster France Inter on Sunday that violent groups like “Islamic State” are trying to take Islam “hostage.”

“It is important that Muslims can express themselves to say that my religion has nothing to do with these barbarians,” Chalghoumi said.
Muslim leaders launch European tour to protest against terror
© FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP | The Imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi (L), Lebanese Imam Mohammad Ali Al-Husseini (2L) Egyptian Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb (C) and writer Marek Halter (2R) at The Muslim March Against Terrorism in Paris


Latest update : 2017-07-08

Dozens of religious leaders boarded a bus on the Champs Élysées in Paris on Saturday to kick off a European tour of the sites of recent Islamist attacks to remember the victims and condemn violence.


Imams from countries including France, Belgium, Britain and Tunisia were joined by representatives of other religious communities at the spot where French policeman Xavier Jugele was shot dead in April.

Tour stops will include Berlin — where organisers say they hope to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel — Brussels and Nice, with a return to Paris for July 14, the first anniversary of the Nice truck attack.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Nice attack when a truck killed 86 people celebrating Bastille Day on the seafront and a truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin last December that killed 12.

The Imam of Drancy and French writer Marek Halter were behind the initiative of the current tour.

“We are here to say that our religion and the values of Islam are opposed to those assassins,” Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam de Drancy, told France Inter radio on Saturday.

Some 30 people boarded the bus on Saturday with more expected to join on the way, bringing the total number of participants to 60.



Tunisian protesters demanding jobs have closed down a second oil pumping station

May 21, 2017

TUNIS — Tunisian protesters demanding jobs have closed down a second oil pumping station in the south in defiance of government attempts to protect oil and gasfields with troops and negotiate an end to unrest, two local radios reported on Sunday.

Protesters peacefully shut a pumping station at Faouar in southern Kebili province, where French oil company Perenco operates, according to one local witness and Mosaique FM and Shems FM radio stations.

“We shut down the pumping station for Perenco, where we are carrying out our sit-in protest. We had no problem with the army. We are just demanding jobs,” said Faker Ajmi, one of the protesters told Reuters by telephone.

The energy ministry did not reply to a request for comment. A spokesman for Perenco also did not immediately reply to an email asking about the status of their operations. Officials said earlier this month Perenco’s production halted at Baguel and Tarfa fields, which are for gas and condensate output.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Patrick Markey)



Tunisia southern gas protests tense as negotiations falter

Reuters , Thursday 18 May 2017

A picture taken on May 16, 2017 shows a general view of tents at a sit-in outside el-Kamour petroleum pumping station in Tunisia’s southern state of Tatatouine (Photo: AFP)

Tunisian protesters threatening to blockade gas production in the south of the country on Thursday rejected a government offer of jobs and investment and moved their protest closer to a pipeline and pumping station.The protests in southern Tatatouine are testing Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s government and have already forced two foreign energy companies to halt production or remove staff as a precaution because of threats of disruption.

Six years after Tunisia’s revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to economic  opportunities to unemployed youths in marginalized regions like Tatatouine.

Around 1,000 protesters have been camped out for weeks in the Sahara near a gas pipeline in a region where Italy’s ENI and Austria’s OMV have operations. But government attempts to broker a deal with job offers have so far failed.

“We will not accept the offers of the government because these jobs are not immediate. These unemployed youths can not wait,” said Tarek Haddad, one of the protest leaders, in a video message on Facebook.

He said the protest would move to Vana, closer to a nearby pumping station, warning protesters would not retreat. Soldiers have recently moved into the area around the pumping station.

President Beji Caid Essebsi a week ago ordered the army into the area to protect strategic energy and phosphate production.

The government has already offered 1,500 jobs with energy companies, including 1,000 immediately and 500 next year. Officials have also offered 2,000 jobs in horticulture and environmental projects as well as $20 million to develop projects in the region.

“We want seriously to find solutions for the expectations of the protesters, but sometimes there are more demands than the possibilities,” said Marbouk Korchid a senior official in the government said. “There are some exaggerated demands.”

ENI says the protests have not affected production. But OMV has removed 700 non-essential staff as a precaution. Perenco halted production at its Targa and Baguel fields, while protests closed Canada-based Serinus Energy’s Chouech Essaida field.

The protests are another challenge for Chahed whose government is struggling to push through sensitive subsidy and public spending reforms demanded by the IMF and other lenders to help stabilize economic growth.

Tunisia is a small oil and gas player with production at around 44,000 barrels per day, but its economy is just recovering from 2015 Islamist militant attacks on foreign visitors that hit the vital tourist industry hard.

Tunisia Protesters Shut Oil Transport Pumping Station

May 20, 2017

TUNIS — Tunisian protesters on Saturday shut down an oil pumping station in southern Tatatouine province that feeds a coastal shipping terminal as part of their protests to demand jobs, local state radio and two witnesses said.

Image result for tunisia, Tataouine, map

The army has been protecting facilities in south Tunisia, but after troops twice fired in the air to disperse the crowd, a local engineer was allowed to close the Vana pumping station to avoid clashes with protesters, the witness said.

Tunisia is a small oil producer at around 44,000 barrels per day total. But weeks of protest in southern provinces already forced two foreign companies to stop production or close fields and another removed staff as a precaution.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Patrick Markey)