Contains selective news articles I select

February 25, 2018

A Turkish foundation provided aid to 200 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on Saturday.

Enes Erbas, board member of Sadakatasi, said the aid included electric blankets and winter clothing.

The distribution was organized by the Jerusalem Zakat Committee.

“We have been working in Palestine for the last eight years and strive to heal the wounds of our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” he said.

Hamza Kasisi, an official from Jerusalem Zakat Committee, thanked the Turkish people and the foundation for its support.

The foundation has previously helped several families living under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Source: Middle East Monitor.



February 13, 2018

Turkish naval vessels have intercepted the route of a ship belonging to the Italian oil exploration company Eni, which was on its way to explore the recently discovered gas reserves in Cypriot waters.

On Sunday, Cypriot media reported that Turkish warships were conducting maneuvers in the region, and pointed out that the incident occurred last Friday.

The Turkish military warned the ship’s crew of continuing the journey, because the region will witness military maneuvers, according to what a spokesman of the Italian company told to the Associated Press news agency, which confirmed that the ships will remain in place.

Cyprus said the drillship Saipem 12000 was on its way from a south-south-west location of Cyprus towards an area in the southeast of the island when it was stopped by Turkish warships.

In a news conference in Nicosia, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that Cyprus is taking the necessary steps regarding the matter, adding that the Cypriot authorities’ actions reflect the exhortation to avoid anything that could lead to an escalation of the situation without, of course, ignoring Turkey’s violation of international law.

For his turn, Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis stated that his country is conducting excessive contacts with the company and the Italian government regarding the ship’s matter.

In the same context, the Cypriot ambassador in Cairo expressed his concern about the Turkish escalation in the Mediterranean Sea and stressed on the Turkish government’s inability to threaten the Egyptian-Cypriot interests in the Mediterranean Sea, especially that the agreement between Egypt and Cyprus had been concluded years ago, the gas had been already explored and production was done. Thus, they cannot threaten our “interests.”

The Cypriot ambassador expressed his country’s intention to establish an Egyptian-Cyprus Parliamentary Friendship Association.

On January 28, Turkish Coast Guard forces prevented Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos from approaching a military boat from the Turkish Çardakrocky islands in the Aegean Sea.

Last week, Egypt warned Turkey against trying to undermine its sovereignty over its economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean after Ankara announced it had not endorsed the 2013 agreement of demarcation of the maritime Egyptian-Cypriot borders.

The official website of the Egyptian Ministry of Defense broadcasted a documentary showing the protection of the Mistral helicopter carrier of the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields.

Entitled Amaliqat Al-Bahr (Sea Giants), the documentary showed the Egyptian marine protecting the natural gas field of the Mediterranean Sea, using modern naval vessels of Mistral.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Osama Al Sharif

February 27, 2018

Jordan and Turkey are bolstering ties in a bid to unify positions toward regional challenges where the two countries share mutual interests, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis. King Abdullah II hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Gen. Hulusi Akar, the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces, on separate visits to Amman over the course of two days, Feb. 19 and 20, respectively.

Cavusoglu met with the Jordanian monarch to review bilateral relations and the latest regional developments, according to a Royal Court statement. The king stressed his “keenness to continue coordination on issues of concern to the Islamic nation and enhance security and stability of the region.” Moreover, the two sides discussed economic cooperation and bilateral trade. Cavusoglu announced that his government “would revise the Jordanian-Turkish free trade agreement to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports to Turkey.” He also said Turkey was looking into using the “Aqaba port as a regional hub for Turkish exports to various markets, including Africa,” the Jordan Times reported. A day later, Abdullah and Akar discussed bilateral military cooperation and the fight against terrorism, according to the Royal Court.

During a meeting with Turkish nationals in Amman on Feb. 18, Cavusoglu said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to visit Jordan in the near future. Erdogan last visited the kingdom in August 2017, and Abdullah had traveled to Ankara on Dec. 6, the day US President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Erdogan shares Abdullah’s opposition to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. On Dec. 13 in Istanbul, the king attended a special session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where they rejected Trump’s proclamation.

The promotion of Jordanian-Turkish bilateral ties comes at a time when Amman and Ankara are recalibrating their positions in the wake of recent regional developments and in anticipation of the possible fallout of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The two countries are yet to react to the news that the US State Department had sped up moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, now scheduled for May 2018.

Abdullah is a strong supporter of the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he is committed to his role as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem. Both issues could be affected by Trump’s peace plan and Israel’s far right coalition government.

Abdullah’s pivot toward Turkey comes at a time when Jordan is worried that some key Arab states might be ready to embrace Trump’s plan even if it rejects the two-state option. There is a belief in Jordan, supported by anti-Iran statements from the Saudis, that Riyadh considers the issue of Iran as a regional threat to be more important and pressing than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt’s position is unclear but will be crucial in determining the fate of the US peace plan.

It is no secret that relations between Amman and Riyadh have further cooled since Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. According to local analysts, the Saudis resisted calls by Amman to hold an emergency Arab summit on Jerusalem after the US announcement. In addition, Saudi Arabia was not satisfied with Jordan’s reaction to its moves beginning last June to pressure and isolate Qatar.

Amman did not cut ties with Doha, choosing instead to only downgrade diplomatic relations and close Al Jazeera offices. Other reasons for the cooling in bilateral relations concerns Amman’s position on the war in Yemen — Jordan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition was symbolic and short-lived — and courting of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has representation in the Jordanian parliament.

Jordan is keen to avoid being seen as joining regional blocs or coalitions. Despite Amman’s historically close relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has always followed an independent policy that shuns polarization. This is demonstrated in Amman maintaining low-key diplomatic relations with Tehran, despite its rejection of Iran’s controversial role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Abdullah was the first Arab leader to warn of a Shiite crescent, going back to 2004.

Given Abdullah’s approach to foreign policy, Jordan’s growing closeness to Turkey, which has sided with Qatar in the Gulf dispute, will be carefully managed. The two sides have shared interests in the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and they both back Palestinian rights and the two-state solution. Turkey’s strong support for the Hashemite’s role in East Jerusalem is of important moral value.

Yet according to Jordanian political analyst Amer al-Sabaileh, both Jordan and Turkey are affected by “the damaging US regional policies.” In this regard, he told Al-Monitor, “[For] Jordan, it is the peace process and Trump’s derailing of the two-state solution, and for Turkey, it is the US backing of Syria’s Kurds and the uncertainty over the latest Turkish incursion into northern Syria.”

In addition to deeper political coordination, Jordan, which has suffered economically as a result of the crises in Syria and Iraq in the past few years, stands to benefit from better commercial ties with Turkey. Former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani told Al-Monitor that the Turkish economy is around the 15th largest, and Turkey’s political and economic standing in the region is beyond dispute.

“The boosting of ties comes at a crucial time for Jordan, since Turkey represents a huge market for Jordanian goods, as well as a source of incoming tourists,” Anani said. “After Cavusoglu’s visit, Turkey exempted over 500 Jordanian goods from customs duties, which is a major opportunity for local industries.” He added that Turkish products and TV dramas are popular in Jordan, and Turkey is the No. 1 tourist destination for Jordanians.

Erdogan, however, remains a contentious figure among Jordanians. Many admire him for standing up to Israel and the United States, and for dialing back Turkey’s secular culture, but others view him as a demagogue and a political opportunist. Ironically, Abdullah’s view of Erdogan has not always been positive. In April 2003, The Atlantic reported the king as perceiving the then-Turkish prime minister as “merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism” and saying that Erdogan had told him that democracy is like “a bus ride” — “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” Since that time, the two leaders appear to have realized that they are better off working together to offset common challenges in their troubled region.

Source: al-Monitor.


By Daniel Gutman

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 1 2018 (IPS) – A project to install a huge deposit of oil field waste pits has triggered a crisis in the north of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, and brought the debate on the environmental impact of extractive industries back to the forefront in this Southern Cone country.

Catriel, in the province of Río Negro, about 1,000 km southwest of Buenos Aires, was a small town untilan oil deposit was discovered there in 1959. Since then, the population has boomed, with the town drawing people from all over the country, driving the total up to around 30,000 today.

The conflict broke out in 2016, when the city government announced a plan to set up a “special waste deposit” on 300 hectares of land, for the final disposal of waste from oil industry activity in the area.

This generated social division and resistance that ended last November, when opponents of the project were successful in their bid to obtain an amendment to the Municipal Charter – the supreme law at a local level – which declared Catriel a “protected area”, and prohibited such facilities due to the pollution.

Mayor Carlos Johnston described the modification of the charter as “shameful” and asked the courts to overrule the amendment, arguing that those who drafted the new text overstepped their authority.

The court decision is still pending.

“At all times it was practically impossible to access information. When we went to ask, the city government gave us a document that had a map of where they want to install the plant and practically nothing else,” said Natalia Castillo, an administrative employee who is part of the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly, a community group that emerged to fight the project.

“We are very worried about the possible impact of the plant and we are trying to raise public awareness. The problem is that many people around here work in the oil industry and prefer not to meddle with this issue,”Castillo told IPS.

Mayor Johnston confirmed his position to IPS: “We have had environmental liabilities since 1959. It is our obligation, as the State, to address them. It would be much worse not to do it.”

“The environmental authorization came from the provincial authorities. It may be that we have so far failed to provide enough information to society. But we value the work of environmental organizations and are ready for dialogue because this project is necessary,” he added.

Johnston said the waste that will be accepted at the plant will come from Catriel and other municipalities in the province of Río Negro.

However, environmental organizations suspect, due to the large size that is projected for the deposit, that it could receive waste from oil industry activity in the entire area and not just from the municipality.

Catriel happens to be located in the so-called Neuquén Basin, the main source of oil and gas in the country, and is very close to VacaMuerta, the unconventional oil and gas deposit in the neighboring province of Neuquén, which fuels Argentina’s dreams of becoming a major fossil fuel producer.

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated the recoverable reserves in the 30,000-square-km Vaca Muerta at no less than 27 billion barrels of oil and 802 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The Argentine government also places its hopes in this field to bolster its hydrocarbon production, which has been declining for 20 years, and has forced the country to import fuel to make up for the deficit.

“The problem is that ‘fracking’, which is used to extract unconventional hydrocarbons, generates waste on a much larger scale than conventional exploitation,” said Martín Álvarez, a researcher at the non-governmental interdisciplinary Oil Observatory of the South (OPSur).

He explained that with this technology, which drills rocks at great depths through large injections of water and additives, “not only do the chemicals used to carry out the drilling and hydraulic fracturing come back to the surface, but also radioactive materials of natural origin that are in the subsoil.”

“There is a saturation of oil waste in the Neuquén Basin from fracking, which is a dirty technique. Then came this new business, waste disposal, which has a huge environmental impact because contaminants can seep into the groundwater,” added the expert.

Together with the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation and Greenpeace Argentina, two of the most influential environmental organizations in the country, OPSur requested access to information from different provincial bodies in Río Negro.

In addition, it issued a critical report, drawing attention to the size of the project. Covering 300 hectares, it would be almost 10 times larger than what is currently the biggest South American plant of its type, with an area of 34 hectares.

The document refers to Comarsa, an oil waste deposit that is only 135 km from Catriel, in the province of Neuquén, near the provincial capital. The installation has been questioned for years by residents, forcing the local authorities to promise to close it once and for all last November, although it has not yet happened.

The environmental organizations also complained that during the Mar. 31, 2017 public hearing where the project was discussed, many questions and objections raised by the participants were not answered.

They also questioned the approval of the environmental impact assessment conducted by the Rìo Negro Secretariat of Environment, “despite the rejection by different sectors in the community of Catriel.”

In the middle of this conflict, Catriel had to reform its Organic Charter, a task that is to be carried out every 25 years.

With the issue of the plant at the center of the debate, the local ruling party, Juntos Somos Rio Negro (Together We Are Río Negro) won the elections with 35 percent of the vote and obtained six seats on the reform committee. But the other nine seats went to different opposition parties, which joined forces against the waste pit project.

“The establishment or installation of nuclear power plants, reservoirs, landfills, repositories of final or transitory disposal of contaminated material from the nuclear, chemical or oil industry, or any other polluting activity, is prohibited,” says Article 94 of the new Charter, which came into force on Jan. 1.

But the mayor argues that it must be revised because “it is not feasible.”

Johnston also rejected the possibility of calling a referendum on the authorization to install the plant, as requested by the Catriel Socio-Environmental Assembly.

In a communiqué, the assembly asked: “What will happen when diseases become visible in the people who live in Catriel, due to the environmental contamination caused by the oil waste deposit?”

A fact that has not gone unnoticed is that the company that is to install the treatment plant is Crexell Environmental Solutions, which has strong political connections, to the point that its president, Nicolás Crexell, is the brother of a national senator for Neuquén, and nephew of the person who governed that province until 2015.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS News).


March 09, 2018

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new king cheese has been crowned in Wisconsin. The winner of the 2018 World Championship Cheese Contest is a hard sheep’s milk cheese called Esquirrou. The announcement was made Thursday night in Madison.

Esquirrou is made in France at Mauleon Fromagerie by Michel Touyarou and imported by Savencia Cheese USA of New Holland, Pennsylvania. Twenty cheeses out of a record 3,402 entries were finalists for the top prize. The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which hosts the contest , said five of those cheeses were from Wisconsin.

The contest began Tuesday. Judges had to sniff, taste and inspect 121 classes of dairy products, with entries from 26 nations. Two years ago a smear-ripened hard cheese called Grand Cru Surchoix made by Fitchburg, Wisconsin-based Emmi Roth USA won the biennial contest. The cheese is made in Monroe, Wisconsin. The company is a subsidiary of Switzerland-based Emmi Group.

Paris (ESA)

Mar 02, 2018

New images and video from ESA’s Mars Express show Phobos and Deimos drifting in front of Saturn and background stars, revealing more about the positioning and surfaces of the Red Planet’s mysterious moons.

Mars’ two small moons are intriguing objects. While we know something of their size, appearance and position thanks to spacecraft such as ESA’s Mars Express, much remains unknown. How and where did they form? What are they made of? What exactly is on their surfaces – and could we send a lander to find out?

Mars Express has been studying Mars and its moons for many years. The satellite recently observed both Phobos, Mars’ innermost and largest moon at up to 26 km in diameter, and Deimos, Phobos’ smaller sibling at 6.2 km in diameter, to produce this new video and series of images.

The video combines 30 images as individual frames and shows Phobos passing through the frame with the gas giant planet Saturn, which sits roughly a billion kilometers away, visible as a small ringed dot in the background.

Precise positioning

Mars Express has been working for more than 14 years at the Red Planet. While several other spacecraft are currently at Mars, including ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express’ near-polar elliptical orbit gives it some advantages for certain observations.

In particular, its path takes it closer to Phobos than any other spacecraft, and allows it to periodically observe the moon close up from within 150 km – in the summer of 2017, it came as close as 115 km.

The images of Phobos and Saturn comprising the video were taken on 26 November 2016 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera. Mars Express was travelling at about 3 km/s when it obtained these views, highlighting the importance of knowing Phobos’ exact position: the spacecraft had just seconds to image the rocky body as it passed by.

Scientists repeatedly refine our knowledge of the moons’ positioning in the sky and ensure it is up-to-date by observing each moon against background reference stars and other Solar System bodies. These calculated positions are incredibly precise, and can be accurate to just a couple of kilometers.

Studying the surface

These images are also key to understanding the surface and structure of the moons. Alongside the view of Phobos set against Saturn, Mars Express also obtained images of Phobos against a reference star on 8 January 2018 (star circled in red), close-up images of Phobos’ pockmarked surface on 12 September 2017, and images of Deimos with Saturn on 15 January 2018.

The frames of Phobos’ surface were taken during close flybys, and show the bumpy, irregular and dimpled surface in detail. Phobos has one of the largest impact craters relative to body size in the Solar System: Stickney crater’s 9 km diameter is around a third of the moon’s diameter. It is visible as the largest crater in these frames.

The same side of the moon always faces the planet, which means multiple flybys are needed to build up a full map of its surface.

Deimos is visible as an irregular and partially shadowed body in the foreground of one of the new Mars Express images, with the delicate rings of Saturn just about visible encircling the small dot in the background.

Deimos is significantly further away from Mars than its bigger sibling: while Phobos sits at just 6000 km from the surface, Deimos orbits at nearly 23 500 km. For comparison, our own satellite is around 16 times further from Earth than Deimos is from Mars.

Future missions to Mars

There is much we still wish to know about the Mars system. The moons remain particularly mysterious, with open questions about their origins, formation and composition. As a result, combined with their proximity to the Red Planet, the little moons have generated a lot of interest as a target for future missions.

Phobos in particular has been considered for a possible landing and sample-return mission. Owing to its nearness to Mars and one side always facing its parent, the moon could also be a possible location for a more permanent observation post. This would enable long-term monitoring and study of the martian surface and atmosphere, and communications relay for other spacecraft.

Understanding more about the positioning, surface, composition and terrain of both Phobos and Deimos from Mars Express observations is important for preparing for future missions.

Source: Mars Daily.


by Ann Jenkins for STSI News

Baltimore MD (SPX)

Mar 02, 2018

Much like detectives study fingerprints to identify the culprit, scientists used NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to identify the “fingerprints” of water in the atmosphere of a hot, bloated, Saturn-mass exoplanet some 700 light-years away. And, they found a lot of water. In fact, the planet, known as WASP-39b, has three times as much water as Saturn does.

Though no planet like this resides in our solar system, WASP-39b can provide new insights into how and where planets form around a star, say researchers. This exoplanet is so unique, it underscores the fact that the more astronomers learn about the complexity of other worlds, the more there is to learn about their origins. This latest observation is a significant step toward characterizing these worlds.

Although the researchers predicted they’d see water, they were surprised by how much water they found in this “hot Saturn.” Because WASP-39b has so much more water than our famously ringed neighbor, it must have formed differently. The amount of water suggests that the planet actually developed far away from the star, where it was bombarded by a lot of icy material. WASP-39b likely had an interesting evolutionary history as it migrated in, taking an epic journey across its planetary system and perhaps obliterating planetary objects in its path.

“We need to look outward so we can understand our own solar system,” explained lead investigator Hannah Wakeford of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the University of Exeter in Devon, United Kingdom. “But exoplanets are showing us that planet formation is more complicated and more confusing than we thought it was. And that’s fantastic!”

Wakeford and her team were able to analyze the atmospheric components of this exoplanet, which is similar in mass to Saturn but profoundly different in many other ways. By dissecting starlight filtering through the planet’s atmosphere into its component colors, the team found clear evidence for water. This water is detected as vapor in the atmosphere.

Using Hubble and Spitzer, the team has captured the most complete spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere possible with present-day technology. “This spectrum is thus far the most beautiful example we have of what a clear exoplanet atmosphere looks like,” said Wakeford.

“WASP-39b shows exoplanets can have much different compositions than those of our solar system,” said co-author David Sing of the University of Exeter in Devon, United Kingdom. “Hopefully this diversity we see in exoplanets will give us clues in figuring out all the different ways a planet can form and evolve.”

Located in the constellation Virgo, WASP-39b whips around a quiet, Sun-like star, called WASP-39, once every four days. The exoplanet is currently positioned more than 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. It is tidally locked, meaning it always shows the same face to its star.

Its day-side temperature is a scorching 1,430 degrees Fahrenheit (776.7 degrees Celsius). Powerful winds transport heat from the day-side around the planet, keeping the permanent night-side almost as hot. Although it is called a “hot Saturn,” WASP-39b is not known to have rings. Instead, it has a puffy atmosphere that is free of high-altitude clouds, allowing Wakeford and her team to peer down into its depths.

Looking ahead, Wakeford hopes to use the James Webb Space Telescope – scheduled to launch in 2019 – to get an even more complete spectrum of the exoplanet. Webb will be able to give information about the planet’s atmospheric carbon, which absorbs light at longer, infrared wavelengths than Hubble can see. By understanding the amount of carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere, scientists can learn even more about where and how this planet formed.

Source: Space Daily.


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