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Archive for October, 2017

Turkey OKs military intervention, warns Iraqi Kurds on vote

September 23, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish parliament on Saturday renewed a bill allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats — a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds to call off their Monday independence referendum.

The decree allows Turkey to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq or Syria are seen as national security threats. Turkish officials have repeatedly warned the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to abandon its plans for independence.

Kurds are dispersed across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and lack a nation state. Turkey itself has a large ethnic Kurdish population and is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory that it calls separatist.

The bill read in parliament Saturday listed combating Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq and the Islamic State group as national security requirements for Turkey. It also emphasized the importance of Iraq and Syria’s territorial integrity and said “separatism based on ethnicity” poses a threat to both Turkey and regional stability.

Speaking in parliament, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli likened Monday’s vote in northern Iraq to a brick that — if pulled out — could collapse an entire “structure built on sensitive and fragile balances.” The resulting conflict could be global, he warned.

Osman Baydemir, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — the third biggest group in parliament — called the bill “a war mandate” and “a proclamation of enmity towards 40 million Kurds.” A dozen parliamentarians from the party are behind bars for alleged links to terror groups.

The HDP voted against the mandate Saturday. All other parties, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party, voted for it. Earlier Saturday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the referendum “a mistake, an adventure.” He said Turkey would take diplomatic, political and economic measures according to “developments on the ground.” He added a cross-border military operation was also an option.

The renewed mandate is a combination of two previous bills that are based on a constitutional article on the “declaration of state of war and authorization to deploy the armed forces.” The Iraq Bill was passed in 2007 to combat outlawed Kurdish militants in northern Iraq to prevent attacks in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK has its headquarters in Iraq’s Qandil mountains. Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider it a terror organization.

The Syria Bill of 2012 was in response to mortar attacks by Syrian government forces on a Turkish border town. The combined bill was passed in 2014 as IS waged a deadly campaign in Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish town on the Turkish border. IS failed to take over the town and the victory strengthened Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG, who are now a key U.S. ally against IS in Syria. Turkey, however, considers them a terror group.

The mandate has allowed Turkey to launch a cross-border military operation into northern Syria with Syrian opposition forces in August 2016 to clear its border of IS and YPG. Turkey’s air force has also been bombing targets in northern Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish military, meanwhile, said additional units joined this week’s previously unannounced exercises near the Iraqi border. The chief of staff also met his Iraqi counterpart in Ankara to discuss the Kurdish referendum and border security.

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Turkey warns Kurdish leaders on vote as parliament convenes

September 23, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish officials are pressing Iraqi Kurdish leaders to call off an upcoming independence referendum as Turkey’s parliament convenes to renew a mandate for the country’s military to intervene in Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Saturday called the Monday referendum to create a Kurdish state in neighboring Iraq “a mistake, an adventure.” Yildirim says Turkey would take diplomatic, political and economic measures according to “developments on the ground.” He added that a cross-border operation also was an option.

The prime minister has said Saturday’s vote would allow the military to get involved in “all kinds of developments” that threatened Turkey’s security. Meanwhile, the Turkish military said additional units joined exercises near the Iraqi border as the chief of staff welcomed his Iraqi counterpart to the country.

Albania president rejects Kosovo passport request

October 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Albania’s president has turned down a request from his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci to issue Albanian passports for citizens in neighboring Kosovo, the only nation in Europe excluded from a visa-free European travel zone.

Ilir Meta, who is visiting Kosovo Wednesday, said the solution was “through dialogue.” The European Union insists Kosovo must approve a border demarcation deal with Montenegro before its citizens can enjoy visa-free travel within the so-called Schengen zone.

Opposition lawmakers in Kosovo have refused to ratify that deal, saying it meant Kosovo would lose land. Albania has enjoyed access to the visa-free regime since 2010. Kosovo’s 1.9 million population is mainly ethnic Albanian.

Rival Palestinians Strike Gaza Unity Deal After Cairo Talks

By Saud Abu Ramadan and Fadwa Hodali

October 12, 2017

Rival Palestinian groups agreed on Thursday to end their decade-old rift, signing an Egyptian-brokered deal that will allow a unity government to resume control of the Gaza Strip and deploy forces to the border with Egypt within weeks.

Hamas, an embattled Islamist movement which had controlled Gaza since 2007, last week handed over most government functions to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, in a first step toward ending divisions that have complicated the Palestinian bid for statehood.

Under the accord struck in Cairo, the consensus government will formally take full administrative control of Gaza by Dec. 1, according to a statement issued after the talks. The two sides have been invited to return to the Egyptian capital for more negotiations on Nov. 21. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all state agencies to “restore the unity of the Palestinian people and institutions.”

In a joint news conference, chief Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad said the deal crucially would see the Palestinian Authority’s presidential guards deploy along the border between Gaza and Egypt by Nov. 1. If that leads to greater security, Egypt might be willing to permanently reopen the Rafah border crossing, one of the isolated coastal enclave’s few outlets to the world.

After initially shunning Hamas, the Egyptian government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sought its help in controlling the movement of militants and weapons through cross-border tunnels between Gaza and Egypt’s northern Sinai, where an Islamic State affiliate is fighting the Egyptian government — a conflict that has battered the Red Sea tourist industry.

Armed Wing

“The consensus government has to take full control in the Gaza Strip and carry out all its duties and functions in all aspects of life, running the crossing points either with Israel or with Egypt,” Fatah’s Al-Ahmad said.

There was no indication from either side, however, that any understanding had been reached on the fate of Hamas’ armed wing, a sticking point which could yet scupper reconciliation efforts. Hamas leaders have said they would not disarm as long as Israel occupies Palestinian land. Abbas has said he wants weapons to be under unified control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned against any “bogus” unity bid that would threaten his country if Hamas is allowed to keep its guns. On Thursday, he said any Palestinian government must meet the conditions of the international Quartet behind peace efforts, including recognizing Israel and respecting past agreements. Israel will watch as the situation develops and will react accordingly, he said.

The willingness of Hamas to work with Fatah, which governs the Authority’s West Bank territories, comes amid desperation in Gaza, whose economy has been strangled for years by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, the destruction of its underground smuggling tunnels and wars with Israel. The destitution deepened earlier this year when Abbas engineered a power shortage to put further pressure on Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

Israeli Assertions

Gaza, which sits on the Mediterranean coast and is fenced in by heavily-patrolled barriers on three sides bordering Israel and Egypt, has been a frequent battleground over the past decade, during which Hamas has fought three wars with Israel. Abbas has tried numerous times without success to repair the rift, in part to counter Israeli assertions that peace negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that any treaty will also hold in Gaza.

Previous efforts to reconcile have failed due to disagreements over the fate of the weapons held by Hamas, as well as control of borders and other key institutions. This time, Hamas has gone further in offering concessions to heal the rift. As well as offering help to secure the border with Egypt, it has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which former military chief El-Sisi removed from power in mid-2013.

Internationally isolated and with the economy in shreds, Hamas said last month it was ready to dismantle the administrative committee it set up earlier this year to run Gaza. Abbas viewed the panel as a shadow government and evidence of bad faith in the talks.

“We, in Hamas, are determined, serious and faithful this time,” Hamas negotiator Saleh Al-Arouri said at the news conference in Cairo. “This time is different to the previous times.”

— With assistance by Ahmed Feteha, Tarek El-Tablawy, Lin Noueihed, and Michael Arnold

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-12/palestinians-strike-gaza-unity-deal-after-marathon-cairo-talks.

Fatah, Hamas reach agreement in Palestinian reconciliation talks

2017-10-12

GAZA CITY – Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement Thursday on ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with president Mahmud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.

Details of the agreement have not yet been released and a press conference was being planned for Thursday afternoon in the Egyptian capital, where talks have been taking place since Tuesday.

Abbas welcomed the deal and said he considered it a “final agreement to end the division” — though many details remain to be resolved and previous reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya’s office said in a statement, without giving further details, that “an agreement was reached today between Hamas and Fatah under Egyptian sponsorship.”

An official from Abbas’s Fatah movement said the Palestinian president was now planning to travel to the Gaza Strip within a month as part of the unity bid in what would be his first visit in a decade.

Sanctions taken by Abbas against Hamas-controlled Gaza will also soon be lifted, the Fatah official said.

The deal includes 3,000 members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s police force redeploying to Gaza, a member of the negotiating team said on condition of anonymity.

The figure is however a fraction of the more than 20,000 police officers employed separately by Hamas.

Another party to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agreement would see Palestinian Authority forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

He added that all Palestinian factions would begin wider negotiations on the formation of a unity government in the coming two weeks.

One of the key issues has been punitive measures taken by Abbas against Gaza in recent months, including reducing electricity payments that left the territory’s residents with only a few hours of power a day.

“All the measures taken recently will end very shortly,” Zakaria al-Agha, a senior Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip, said.

The two sides had been meeting in the Egyptian capital this week with the aim of ending the crippling decade-old split between the rival factions.

Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah in a near civil war in 2007 and the two factions have been at loggerheads ever since. Multiple previous reconciliation efforts have failed.

Egypt has been keen to improve security in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza and where jihadist rebels have fought a long-running insurgency.

An Egyptian source close to the talks said intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi had followed the talks closely.

– Fate of armed wing –

Last month, Hamas agreed to cede civil power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority but the fate of its vast military wing remains a significant issue for the two sides.

Islamist movement Hamas is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the blockaded Gaza Strip has seen deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Faced with increasing isolation and a severe electricity shortage, Hamas has reached out to Egypt for help, hoping to have the Rafah border opened.

The crossing has remained largely closed in recent years.

Egypt has also agreed to provide fuel to the Gaza Strip for electricity generation.

In return, Cairo pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

Last week, Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza for the first time since 2015 and his ministers took formal control of government departments in the territory.

But the move was seen as mainly symbolic, with Hamas still effectively in charge in the Palestinian enclave of two million people bordered by Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the key sticking points will be the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Reconciliation could also pose a dilemma for international efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal since Hamas has not recognized Israel, unlike the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85354.

Rabat restaurant champions mentally disabled workers

2017-10-11

RABAT – In a country where nearly half of people with mental disabilities are unemployed, one restaurant in the Moroccan capital is part of a pilot project tackling the problem.

When a customer enters the Hadaf restaurant in the capital’s business district, nothing indicates that many of the staff are disabled in any way.

Take Amr, an enthusiastic 28-year-old in a crisp white shirt and black trousers.

He scouts the street for prospective clients as front of house staff add vases as the finishing touches to tables.

“I first learnt in the canteen,” Amr said.

“Now I take orders from customers in the restaurant — I like the contact with them, getting to know each other,” he added.

The experiment was launched by a local association created by parents to shake up prejudices and serve as a springboard for young people with mental disabilities.

The jobless rate for such people is 47.65 percent, four times the average in a country which has 2.3 million disabled, according to a study published last year by the families ministry.

Soumia Amrani is on the board of a human rights group and the co-chair of a disability-focused collective.

She believes the battle to integrate must begin at an early age.

“You can’t prepare children to be sociable and learn to join society if they stay on the margins of that society,” she said.

“They must be inside society to learn with everyone else.”

– Constitutional rules –

In the kitchen at Hadaf, 28-year-old Moed, chef’s hat perched on his head, is delighted to have a trade after spending just three years in primary school.

“I’ve learnt a lot from my colleagues. I’m very happy and my family is proud of me,” he said.

Morocco’s 2011 constitution says those with disabilities should be able to “integrate and rehabilitate into civil life”.

But things are different in reality. Just 41.8 percent of disabled youngsters aged between six and 17 go to school, and in the six to 11 range that figure falls to 37.8 percent.

Another indicator that there is a problem is that a third of homeless people suffer from some form of disability.

“This restaurant? It’s a good thing for me and the customers,” said Moed as he chopped parsley for the salad of the day, all grown from the restaurant’s own organic garden.

Other young people busied themselves at the kitchen work surfaces as skewers of meat sizzled on the flames.

The restaurant is part of the Hadaf Center — Hadaf means “goal” in Arabic — that was established 20 years ago by a group of parents and friends of people dealing with mental disabilities.

Today, it looks after 90 young people in the greater Rabat area, with more on the waiting list.

In addition to the catering business, others undergo training in such diverse areas as gardening, jewelry-making, carpentry and sewing.

Their studies have to be paid for, unless families are too badly off to afford them.

– Strength in numbers –

Amina Mesfer is the driving force behind the project. She has an adult son of 38 with mental and sight disabilities.

“It became clear to me very quickly that I couldn’t do everything on my own, but that getting a group together meant we could work on solutions,” she said.

“There were care structures in place, but only until they were 21 — as if a mental disability miraculously evaporates at that age — and then our children were left to their own devices.”

In the dining room at Hadaf, business was brisk as Fati Badi polished off her creme caramel.

“It’s the first time I’ve been here, and I’m very pleasantly surprised,” she said, having come to dine with a friend.

“Nice surroundings, the quality of the service and the food — it’s all here.

“They’ve set an example — it’s a way of empowering people with disabilities in the best way possible.”

The Hadaf Center also has a guest house that provides some income and gives the young people the chance to socialise, said Mesfer.

Since 2016, a center funded by the Mohamed VI Foundation has provided training and diplomas.

Five students trained by Hadaf have already been able to obtain certification there — basically a passport to a job.

Which is exactly what Amr hopes will happen.

“When I’ve learnt my trade well, I’d like to work in a restaurant or hotel,” he said, a great big smile on his face.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85337.

Catalan leader urged to definitively declare independence

October 13, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Pressure is mounting from within the Catalan separatist movement on Friday for the regional president to declare independence from Spain once and for all, a move that could prompt the central government to take over the region’s powers of self-governance.

Two key allies in the secessionist bid are joining voices from within the ruling pro-independence coalition urging regional leader Carles Puigdemont to ignore Spain’s warnings and lift the suspension on his ambiguous secession proclamation earlier this week.

In a highly anticipated parliamentary speech, Puigdemont said that Catalonia was proceeding with a declaration of independence after an Oct. 1 referendum, but proposed freezing its implementation for a few weeks to allow for the possibility of negotiations with Spain.

Spain considers the referendum to be illegal and unconstitutional, and says its results are invalid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has rejected any possibility of dialogue unless Puigdemont backtracks and returns “to legality.” He has also said that Spain doesn’t need international mediators in the political deadlock.

Rajoy’s government gave Puigdemont a Monday deadline to clarify whether he really declared independence. If Puigdemont says he did, then he will have three more days to cancel any secession plans. If he refuses to, or doesn’t answer, Rajoy has threatened to trigger for the first time a constitutional article that could give central authorities power to intervene directly in Catalonia.

The far-left separatist Catalan party CUP said in a letter dated Friday that Puigdemont should ignore the Spanish government’s warning, lift the suspension and definitively proclaim independence. The Assemblea Nacional Catalana, or ANC, a civil society group that organized massive protests in support of secession, also issued a brief statement with a similar message.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep the suspension of the independence declaration” given Madrid’s rejection of any dialogue, ANC said in the statement. Some politicians of the two parties in the ruling coalition have also expressed similar views on social media, with only a few of them calling for calm. The Catalan government hasn’t given any signal of what it intends to do.

Years of growing separatist sentiment erupted on Oct. 1 when Catalan leaders held the banned referendum despite court rulings and a fierce opposition from Spain. About 2.3 million Catalans — or 43 percent of the region’s electorate — voted amid police violence to halt the referendum. Catalonia said 90 percent favored secession and it declared the results valid. Opponents boycotted the vote.

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