Posts Tagged ‘UAE’

New evidence of Qatar’s $1 billion ransom that funds terror

July 18, 2018

Damning new evidence has emerged to suggest that a $1 billion ransom paid by Qatar for the release of 28 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq has been used to fund terror.

Text messages and voicemails obtained by the BBC reveal communications between Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Qatar’s newly appointed foreign minister, and Zayed Al-Khayareen, its ambassador to Iraq, as talks to release the hostages dragged on for 16 months.

In this April 21, 2017 file photo, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, second left in front row, welcomes released kidnapped members of Qatar’s ruling family at the Doha airport, Qatar. (AP)

In the end Qatar paid the biggest ransom in history: $1 billion plus $125 million in “side payments,” all paid to groups such as Al Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah.

The ransom payment was a key factor in driving the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — to close borders and sever diplomatic ties with Qatar.

The 28 Qataris were taken hostage on Dec 16, 2015, while hunting with falcons in southern Iraq, having ignored all warnings about not traveling to the area. The party included members of the ruling family.

The kidnappers were identified as members of Kataib Hezbollah but nothing was heard from them until three months later, when they offered to release three hostages in return for “a gesture of goodwill”  — money.

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Ambassador Al-Khayareen wrote in a text to the foreign minister: “This is a good sign for us, which indicates that they are in a hurry and want to end everything soon.”

As the months passed, however, the kidnappers kept upping their demands. As well as money they wanted Qatar to leave the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, and demanded the release of Iranian soldiers held in Syria.

One Kataib Hezbollah negotiator, Abu Mohammed, wanted $10 million for himself. “All of them are thieves,” the ambassador wrote to the minister.

Two Iraqi mediators recruited by the ambassador asked in advance for $150,000 in cash and five Rolex watches when they visited Sheikh Mohammed. Who the “gifts” were for was not clear. Qatari officials admit the texts and voicemails are genuine but say they have been edited in a misleading fashion.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1340821/middle-east

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Iraqis demand change as protests run into second week

July 16, 2018

Protests in Iraq continued into their second week Monday following days of clashes that left six people dead, with demonstrators rallying to put social problems in the spotlight.

Months after Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group, attention has turned from the military battle to the fight for jobs and public services.

Thousands of people rallied in fresh protests Monday in the eastern province of Diyala and the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to AFP correspondents.

© AFP | A protest sign held during demonstrations in the southern city of Basra on July 15, 2018, reads “Basra’s oil belongs to Basra”

Iraqis already made their dissatisfaction with their leaders known through massive abstentions in May’s national elections, and now citizens are taking to the streets to demand they see benefits from the country’s vast oil reserves.

“These oil fields belong to us, yet we get nothing,” said Hussein Ghazi, a 34-year-old protester in the port city of Basra.

The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.

Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high, in a country where 60 percent of the population is aged under 24.

For the demonstrators, who have taken their campaign to the headquarters of political parties across the southern provinces, setting some on fire and ripping down political posters, corruption is central to their plight.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s new leaders and public servants reaped the benefits of public funds and natural resources, leaving citizens with only basic infrastructure, according to protesters.

“We hear a lot of grand words, but we don’t see anything coming,” said Basra demonstrator Aqil Kazem, an unemployed 27-year-old.

Chronic electricity cuts continue to leave Iraqis without respite from summer temperatures, which during the protests have reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Iraqis have also suffered from water shortages this year from drought and dams built by neighbouring countries.

– Promise of state cash –

Since the daily protests began on July 8 in Basra, six people have been killed.

Those who died during demonstrations were shot, one by security forces at the start of the protests and five by unknown shooters.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew into the city on Friday in an effort to restore calm, a day later announcing investment worth $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province.

He also pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services in the oil-rich but neglected region.

As demonstrations continued, Abadi on Sunday met with security and intelligence chiefs in Baghdad and warned them to be on alert “because terrorists want to exploit any event or dispute”.

The prime minister also ordered security services not to use live fire against unarmed civilians.

The unrest first erupted when security forces opened fire, killing one person, as youths demonstrated in Basra demanding jobs and accusing the government of failing to provide basic services including electricity.

Since then the protest movement has spread to provinces across the south: Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Muthana and Najaf.

On Saturday the internet was cut across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread. Authorities said the shutdown was owing to maintenance work and Iraq was back online Monday.

Despite the internet blackout, hundreds of protesters in Baghdad closed a highway on Sunday as they chanted slogans such as: “The people want to overthrow the regime”.

The demonstrators have won the backing of Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has also called on them to refrain from violence.

The latest rallies follow a 2015 protest movement against corruption and the absence of public services, led mainly by nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who won this year’s elections on an anti-graft ticket.

AFP

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Iraqi police arresting protesters in the south

July 16, 2018

Iraqi security forces in the southern oil-rich province of Basra have started arresting protesters who took part in the week-long demonstrations there to demand more jobs and better services, activists said Monday.

Protests in the city of Basra, the provincial capital and Iraq’s second-largest city, are not unusual in scorching summer weather but they boiled over last Tuesday, when security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding five.

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Above, members of the Iraqi security forces detain a protester on July 14 who took part in the week-long demonstrations to demand more jobs and better services. (AFP)

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Within days the rallies spread to other provinces. In some places, protesters broke into local government buildings and burned the offices of some political parties.

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The government rushed to contain the protests with promises of thousands of jobs, mainly in the oil sector, and an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion) for electricity and water projects. It blamed “infiltrators” for the damages.

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The arrests started on Sunday night, with police chasing protesters down main roads and alleys following demonstrations in the city of Basra, and also in the countryside and around oil fields, two activists told The Associated Press.

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The activists could not give a specific number for those arrested, saying only “hundreds.” They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Officials were not immediately available to comment.

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The activists said Internet was back on after a two-day shutdown, but a heavy deployment of security forces outside the local government building in Basra prevented protesters from gathering there Monday.
Police also closed off surrounding streets with barbed wire.

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Meanwhile, authorities reopened the country’s second-busiest airport, in the city of Najaf, following a two-day shutdown after a mob broke into the facility on Friday, damaging the passenger terminal and vandalizing equipment.

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Transportation Minister Kadhim Finjan Al-Hamai was at the Najaf airport to announce the reopening on the Iraqi state TV as an Iraqi Airways plane landed behind him. He said 18 local and international flights were to land on Monday.

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The shutdown had caused “heavy losses” to the government, the airport and airline companies, he said without elaborating.

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Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran’s Aviation Authority suspended their flights to Najaf on Sunday, citing security concerns. The United Arab Emirates’ FlyDubai canceled Saturday’s flights to Najaf and said it was suspending its flights until July 22.

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Iraq’s vital Um Qasr port on the Arabian Gulf, and two main border crossings — Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran — were closed to both passengers and goods as protesters had blocked the main roads leading to the sites.

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Basra is home to about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Arabian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq’s only hub these days for all oil exports to the international market.

AP

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1339741/middle-east

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Bahrain, UAE slam Qatar for attempts to defame Saudi Arabia

July 15, 2018

Bahrain’s Ministry of Information Affairs has announced full support for the Saudi Media Ministry’s statement rejecting Qatar’s irresponsible and false allegations linking Saudi Arabia with the pirate TV channel beoutQ.

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The Bahraini ministry also rejected the allegation of political intent connected to the anti-terror Arab quartet’s dispute with Qatar.

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The ministry asserted its understanding of the reasons behind the Saudi ban on BeIN Sport, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera Media Network, owing to the involvement of the Qatari channels in supporting terrorism and extremism, as well as promoting sedition, hatred and extremism in the region.

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Moreover, the Bahraini ministry condemned the propaganda campaign against Saudi Arabia and the deviation of BeIN Sport from its discourse during the broadcasting of football’s 2018 World Cup with the aim of defaming Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

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The ministry called for a review of the legal status of BeIN Sport channels in all countries, and stressed its backing of the Saudi measures taken in this regard.

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The National Media Council (NMC) in the UAE has also commended the frequent and effective measures taken by Saudi Arabia to fight piracy and protect intellectual property (IP) rights.

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“The NMC appreciates relentless efforts being exerted by the Saudi Ministry of Media in fighting media piracy by a pirate entity named ‘beoutQ,’ as part of the Saudi government’s commitment to protecting IP rights,” said the NMC in a statement.

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“Qatar is trying to cover up its clear technical failure to protect its sports channels against piracy,” the statement noted.

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The NMC also condemned Qatar’s attempts to involve BeIN Sports in politics, which have been closely monitored and observed through its programs, which targeted not only the Saudi Arabia, but also a number of Arab countries.

Concluding its statement, the NMC called for reviewing the legal status of BeIN Sports in each country in light of these repeated involvements of sports in politics, especially during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1339056/saudi-arabia

Yemeni diplomat: Houthis targeted international maritime routes through Hodeidah port

July 14, 2018

The Houthi militia turned the port of Hodeidah into a military operations platform and a focal point for smuggling weapons, Yemen’s ambassador to Moscow said on Saturday, according to Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya.

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Newly recruited Houthi militants chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. (File Photo: AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

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Ambassador Ahmad Al-Wahishi said that the base targeted international shipping routes and humanitarian aid ships.

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During a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bejdanov, the ambassador said that the Yemeni government is keen to end civilian suffering in Hodeidah, adding that “the government and the Arab coalition are abiding international law while the militia keep planting land and sea mines.”

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According to the Yemeni news agency, Al-Wahishi reiterated the Yemeni government’s support for the UN peace efforts.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1338661/middle-east

Rein in Hezbollah, Yemeni foreign minister tells Lebanon

July 12, 2018

Yemen’s foreign minister has called on Lebanon’s caretaker government to “rein in” Hezbollah and its aggressive tactics in support of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.

“The Republic of Yemen reserves the right to present the matter to the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Security Council,” Khalid Hussein Al-Yamani said in a letter to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. The contents of the letter were aired by Sky News.

Al-Yamani said that Hezbollah’s support for the Houthis was evident in a recent televised address by its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who called on the Houthis to fight the Yemeni government forces, and expressed “his party’s ambition to fight in Yemen against the internationally recognized legitimate authority.”

Al-Yamani said that Hezbollah’s support for the Houthis was evident. (Reuters/File)

The foreign minister described the address as “blatant interference in the internal affairs of my country, which would seriously damage Yemen’s national security and fuel the flames of war.”

“The Yemeni government condemns Hezbollah’s statements and practices, including participation in training, planning and incitement and supporting the coup movements,” he said.

The Arab coalition said on Monday that it had evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in training Houthi militias.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry did not comment on the Yemeni demand.

However, Mustafa Alloush, of the Future Movement, told Arab News: “The meaning of this message is that Hezbollah’s damage to Lebanon continues.

“The Lebanese government will not respond to this message, not because it supports Hezbollah but because it is unable to restrain the party,” he said.

The situation in Yemen was the focus of a recent meeting between UAE Ambassador to Lebanon Hamad Said Al-Shamsi and the UN Coordinator in Lebanon, Bernell Dahler Cardel.

Al-Yamani said that talks focused on “the integrated humanitarian plan that is being implemented to ensure easy access and provision of aid, as well as the protection of unarmed civilians through close coordination between the legitimate forces and international humanitarian organizations.”

He highlighted support for the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, confirming that Houthi militias should withdraw from territories they occupied illegally as a prerequisite for accelerating peace negotiations.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1337356/middle-east

Amnesty fears ‘war crimes’ in Yemeni prisons run by UAE

July 12, 2018

Human rights violations in a string of Yemeni prisons run by the United Arab Emirates could amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said Thursday.

It called for investigations by the UAE and allies including the United States into a network of unofficial prisons across southern Yemen where it said “egregious violations” have been committed, including enforced disappearances and torture.

© Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP | Security forces in Taez, southern Yemen, on July 2, 2018.

“Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director.

“The UAE’s counter-terrorism partners, including the USA, must also take a stand against allegations of torture, including by investigating the role of US personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen, and by refusing to use information that was likely obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.”

The UAE has denied involvement in prisons across southern Yemen.

The Gulf state has played a key role in a Saudi-led military intervention since 2015 to bolster Yemen’s President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Both loyalist and rebel forces stand accused of failing to protect civilians in a war that has killed nearly 10,000 people, 2,200 of them children, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Amnesty International said it had investigated 51 cases of enforced disappearance at the hands of UAE-backed forces between March 2016 and May 2018.

Nineteen of the men remain missing, it said.

Amnesty said it had collected testimonies from released detainees and relatives of the missing across Yemen.

One former detainee told Amnesty that “UAE soldiers at a coalition base in Aden repeatedly inserted an object into his anus until he bled” and that he was “kept in a hole in the ground with only his head above the surface and left to defecate and urinate on himself in that position”.

Since joining the Yemen war in 2015, the UAE has trained, equipped and funded Yemeni security forces known as the Security Belt and Elite Forces.

The UAE has also “built alliances” with Yemeni security officials, bypassing the government, according to Amnesty.

On Monday the UAE minister for international cooperation, Reem al-Hashimi, met with Yemen’s president and interior minister, who “insisted on the need to close the prisons and place them under judicial control”, according to Yemeni state media.

(AFP)

Hezbollah accused of training, providing equipment to Houthi militia in Yemen

July 9, 2018

Arab Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Maliki said in a press conference on Monday that the coalition recently destroyed a Houthi communications system that had been provided to them by Hezbollah.

Al-Maliki said coalition forces destroyed targets in five locations, in the mountains of Musbah, Maran, Razah, Al-Maqal and Al-Noa.

Al-Maliki said the coalition also had evidence to suggest “foreign experts” had been carrying out training operations in caves with the Iranian-backed Houthis. He also said the coalition had evidence suggesting Hezbollah had been training elements of the Houthi militia.

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Houthi militia

Al-Maliki reiterated the fact that relief efforts inside Yemen continue after continued efforts by Houthis to prevent humanitarian aid reaching different cities and governorates of Yemen.

The Saudi press agency also reported on Monday Yemen’s National Army took control of a vital road in western province of Taiz, south-west of Yemen.

“Units of the brigade took control of the road leading to the area of Waza’iyah west of Taiz across the Wadi Al-Aqah area after a successful military operation,” Field commander of Bab Al-Mandab Abu Osama Al-Salhi said, adding that Houthis militias suffered heavy losses.

He said in a statement, quoted by the official Yemeni news agency, that the army forces on the fronts launched an attack on militias positions on the road and were able to liberate the sites in which they were stationed.

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He pointed out that forces were in the process of combing through the liberated areas to secure them.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1335821/middle-east

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Yemen PM: We are going to regain full control of the state

July 6, 2018

Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr said his government is moving towards regaining control of the state and extending its influence over all regions, Saudi state-owned news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported on Friday.

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr attends a celebration marking the 26th anniversary of Yemen’s reunification in the southern port city of Aden on September 28, 2016. (File photo: AFP)

During his meeting with the Governor of Hajjah, Abdulkarim Al-Sinayy, the prime minster affirmed “the determination of the political leadership – supported the Saudi-led Arab coalition – to move forward in a steady and steadfast way towards restoring the state and extending state control over all provinces.”

The meeting discussed, according to Yemen News Agency, military and economic developments and all matters related to the affairs of the areas under the control of Iran-backed Houthi militias.

Earlier this week, the UN envoy for Yemen arrived in Sanaa for talks aimed at persuading Iran-backed Houthi militias to quit the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the Yemeni capital and the cities of Aden and Muscat in Oman in efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched a military offensive last month to capture Hodeidah from the Houthis. They quickly seized the city’s airport and drove the Houthis out, but halted the offensive last week to avoid civilian casualties in reasidential areas of the city and to make UN-brokered peace talks easier.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1334156/middle-east

Trump renews Opec threat in July 4 tweet

July 5, 2018
President demands lower oil prices in return for security ties
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© AFP

David Sheppard in London


US President Donald Trump tweeted about Opec on Wednesday amid Independence Day celebrations, to repeat a threat that lower oil prices should be the quid pro quo for the security ties some members of the group enjoy with the US.

Mr Trump has been pushing Saudi Arabia, Opec’s de facto leader, to raise oil output by as much as 2m barrels a day, partly as the US is reimposing sanctions on its chief regional rival Iran. That is expected to cut Iran’s oil exports later this year.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it will raise oil output by approximately 1m b/d from the level it produced in May, which should take its output to the highest level on record later this summer.

It has also said it has spare capacity to help meet any additional demand in the market, but has stopped short of saying it will immediately start adding the full 2m b/d.

Traders and analysts say adding the full 2m b/d requested by Trump would stretch the kingdom to its limit and leave global spare capacity close to zero, with little buffer should there be further supply outages.

Oil prices have been supported above $75 a barrel despite Saudi Arabia saying it will raise output due, in part, to severe supply outages in Venezuela and Libya.

The US has also said it wants to push Iran’s oil exports — which stand around 2.5m b/d — close to zero, taking a more aggressive stance than first anticipated by the market.

Traders fear that if the US is even halfway successful in that aim that, combined with other supply outages, the market could be left short even if Saudi Arabia did decide to push output close to its maximum levels.

The kingdom has said it could produce 12m b/d if necessary but it would require at least six months, with additional drilling and investment required.

Saudi Arabia has pushed the US to take a tough line with Iran, including supporting its withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Other Opec members with spare capacity, including the UAE, are also moving to raise output while Russia — the largest exporter outside the group that has struck a close oil-based alliance with Riyadh — is also raising output.

https://www.ft.com/content/6168aae0-7fd2-11e8-8e67-1e1a0846c475