Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Three UNHCR Employees Kidnapped in West Darfur

The government of the state of West Darfur said that efforts to free employees of the United Nations Refugee Agency are being made. It also promised to announce the fruits of its efforts to release the three UNHCR staff that were kidnapped by an unidentified group whilst returning from a mission outside the town of Geneina.

The government spokesman Abdallah Mustafa Jarelnabi who is also the Minister of Culture and Media told Asharq Al-Awsat that the security authorities are diligently following the case of the kidnapped employees, and promised to announce the efforts that are being made by the authorities and the state’s government to release the abductees.

An unknown group kidnapped the three staff employed by the UNHCR’s offices in Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. The abductees included two foreigners and they were abducted from an area near the UNHCR offices whilst returning from a mission outside Geneina on Sunday afternoon.

In a statement that he made, a spokesman for the state’s government revealed the identities of the abductees and said that two of them were foreign and one of them was Sudanese. He said that they were abducted by an unidentified group after they got out of a car and that the group drove them to a place that remains unknown.

According to Jarelnabi, the government has made the necessary security arrangements to track down and find the kidnappers and set the hostages free as soon as possible. He told the newspaper “We will reveal new information within hours” and indicated that they were close to identifying the kidnappers, based on his government’s experience of dealing with such incidents.

Three UNHCR Employees Kidnapped in West Darfur

Opinion: The ‘New World Dis-Order’

Rumors were rife during the past few days about Moscow’s attempts to influence the outcome of the forthcoming German elections. Marine LePen, the leader of France’s extremist anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ‘National Front’ was ecstatic in commenting that now, following the UK’s exit from the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in America, her ‘alt-Right’ lot are on their way up. True to form, Bernard-Henri Levy, widely regarded in the Arab world as the ‘Arab Spring philosopher’ expressed his belief that given recent developments in Europe and globally, there was now a good chance that Ms LePen would win the French presidential race!

Contrary to many self-proclaimed ‘Leftists’ and ‘Revolutionaries’, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a right-wing nationalist who has nothing to do with Soviet legacy except his links with the KGB (the salient symbol of the USSR’s police state) and Moscow’s everlasting ‘Superpower’ ambitions. The latter simply metamorphosed in tactics but not in substance from ‘Tzarist Imperialism’ to the Bolsheviks’ ‘International Scientific Socialism’ and ‘Anti-Colonial Emancipation’.

Technically, Putin is a 2016 model ‘Tzar’! He is a KGB-trained and German-fluent ‘Tzar’ who completed his apprenticeship in the German theatre of intelligence operations; and like many of his generation, is a firm believer that Germany is the source of existential threat to Russia from the west. He also knows that Germany is the pulsating ‘heart’ of Europe, its most populous nation, and the cradle of its notion of ‘unity’. Thus, disrupting Germany from within, after achieving a similar goal in the USA through his unreserved support of Trump’s campaign, will go a long way in strengthening his ‘escape forward’ strategy, which includes exporting Russia’s severe domestic economic, demographic and social problems.

However, what is noteworthy today too is that Putin’s disruptive – indeed, destructive – attempts are not limited to the USA and Germany, but extend to various parts of Europe, including France, where the countdown of its own presidential elections has started.

As for the Muslim world, there isn’t much to say actually, in the light of Russia’s direct involvement, with American acquiescence. Moscow is currently a ‘partner’ with Barack Obama’s administration, and is expected to be even closer to the future Trump administration, in the global fight against Sunni political Islam.

Therefore, Putin’s attempts to weaken and blackmail Western democracies through supporting its most extreme and racist political forces, and joining Moscow and western capitals with ‘security pacts’ against ‘political Sunni Islam’ as a common enemy, would achieve several goals in one go.

The first goal is weakening liberal, democratic and progressive groups in the West against the onslaught of the extreme Right, which would exacerbate internal instability, frighten immigrant communities, alienate minorities, and encourage secessionist movements as we see today in Scotland and Catalonia.

The second is eliminating the issue of ‘human rights’ as a political tool often used by the West against the excesses of the Kremlin, whether inside Russia or in the former satellites of the defunct USSR; since the ‘new’ Western extremist political elites are as intolerant and as abusive. In other words, those who persecute minorities and immigrants, bar asylum seekers, build walls, and discriminate against people based on color, religion and language, are not entitled to lecture others about tolerance.

The third, in connection with two above, leave Moscow to do as it pleases in regions where it claims to have ‘inherited’ or legitimate rights, or strategic core interests. This is exactly what we witness today in the Arab east, the Black Sea region including the Caucasus and the Balkans where two pro-Moscow presidential candidates won in Bulgaria and Moldova.

The fourth and last, is making Russia a full political and security partner in drawing the future Euro-American strategy in a world going through rapid political and demographic changes, to the extent that the White, Christian, European powers (be they Germanic, Latin or Slavic) are not guaranteed future world supremacy. This is the case given the economic, population and educational growth in many parts of the world, especially, in Asia. Another thing, worth mentioning in this context is that the world is returning unannounced to the idea of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ against ‘Islam’; as the major non-Christian religion in Europe’s neighboring regions, without forgetting the presence of Muslim communities in Western Europe, the USA, and Russia.

The four aforementioned goals, and there may be many others, tell us that that all that was said about since the fall of the ‘Berlin Wall’ in 1989, and the emergence of the ‘New World Order’ under America’s unipolar dominance, may have either been premature or incomplete.

Those who have hailed the great victory of Western Liberalism over Socialism – although, some softened their stances – it looks now that there was indeed some kind of a ‘New World Order’ born after the collapse of the USSR, in 1991, but has not been solid and well-defined. Within less than two decades the ‘victorious’ Liberal capitalist West was shaken and devastated by the financial crisis of 2008, which was a proof that if Soviet-style Socialism had failed, capitalism was not doing well either. In fact it has been suffering from debilitating structural problems no denial or political obstinacy can hide.

Furthermore, in addition to denial and obstinacy, and in vain attempts to defend their own ‘legitimacy’, American and European capitalisms, began to look for scapegoats which were soon found to be the following:

1.Globalization, i.e. the freedom of movement of people, goods and services, and the resulting racist and xenophobic hostility towards migrant workers willing to accept lower wages, and less secure working conditions.

2. Technology, whereby technological advances in the fields of computer science, communications and robotics have made several manual jobs redundant and old techniques obsolete.

As a result, it may time we talked about the ‘New World Dis-Order’.

Opinion: The ‘New World Dis-Order’

Opinion: Iran’s Project – Becoming a Big Naval Police Force

After having fought multiple wars in Iraq and Syria directly, and ones in Yemen and Lebanon indirectly, it seems that the Iranian leadership has discovered the magic of military influence and its importance in imposing its foreign policy, both regionally and internationally. This is what has been indicated by recent statements made by Iranian officials. The most recent of these statements was made by the Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of Iran Mohammad Bagheri.

He said: “We have relinquished our nuclear power and we are making up for this by building a naval power that will give us greater value. We will have a military fleet in the Sea of Oman and another in the Indian Ocean, and we will build naval bases on coasts or islands in Yemen and Syria. We will also develop our military intelligence capabilities through drones in our naval extensions”.

Although I do not believe that Iran possesses the military power for such a costly expansion, it is clear that Iran has taken two strategic decisions; to increase its foreign military capability and revive the Shah’s old dream to be the police force of the Gulf. Currently, Iran wants to become the police force of the area from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This orientation will create more tension in our already troubled region and lead to parties resorting to using military power as a political tool.

The Iranian Chief of Staff’s statement does not correlate with his justification that the objective of the military naval project is to combat piracy in these seas because Iran’s maritime trade is very limited compared to other countries such as India, the Gulf, Egypt and other countries that use these naval corridors outside Gulf waters.

In addition to this, piracy does not exist in the Sea of Oman and in the Mediterranean. Whether this statement is intended to intimidate or reflect the new strategy that Iran is pursuing as an alternative to the nuclear project after it bowed to western pressure and abandoned it in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, the new Iranian way of thinking which followed the signing of the nuclear deal revolves around military superiority and not the opening up of the economy like the American administration thought. This is what the administration marketed when it listed the benefits of the nuclear deal.

Talk of an Iranian military base in the Mediterranean is an exaggeration and I rule out that European powers will allow such a presence in their waters, particularly the presence of a state whose activities they are suspicious of. I would also imagine that Israel would not allow this, and it recently sent back an Iranian ship loaded with Iranian weapons that tried to pass through Bab Al-Mandab. The Israeli navy has also pursued Iranian ships heading to Sudan in the past and bombed one of them.

In the case that Iran succeeded in re-establishing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it will no longer need to build military naval bases there because it would then be in control of the regime in Damascus as part of an alliance which will not be easy for Assad to get rid of.

Although Iran gave two reasons for its involvement in the war in Syria; to protect Shiite shrines and repay the Assad regime for standing by it in the war against Iraq in the eighties, these two reasons are not convincing in the calculations of political relations. Tehran considers controlling Syria a necessity to control Iraq so that it can secure its presence, influence and interests in this strategic Arab country.

Iran’s wide – ranging military operations in Iraq and Syria confirm that fighting wars has become Iran’s new policy and that strengthening its military capabilities is a key pillar of its foreign policy. Since breaking free from the western siege, becoming capable of taking part in international trade and using the dollar, Iran has been trying to become a dominating power by expanding geographically, on land and by sea. This may mean that we are facing a decade of a regional arms race and more military adventures in the region.

Opinion: Iran’s Project – Becoming a Big Naval Police Force

U.N.: Mosul's Poor Struggling to Get food, ISIS Killing Civilians who Don't Cooperate

The United Nations said on Tuesday there were indications that poorer families in Mosul are struggling to feed themselves as a result of rising food prices amid disturbing claims that ISIS is killing civilians for refusing to cooperate with the jihadists in the northern Iraqi city.

“Key informants are telling us that poor families are struggling to put sufficient food on their tables,” U.N Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, told Reuters. “This is very worrying.”

“In a worst case, we envision that families who are already in trouble in Mosul will find themselves in even more acute need.” Grande said. “The longer it takes to liberate Mosul, the harder conditions become for families.”

Six weeks after the launch of the offensive on Mosul, Iraqi forces moving from the east have captured about a quarter of the city, trying to advance to the Tigris river that runs through its center. A U.S.-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the operation that started on Oct. 17.

A U.N. human rights spokeswoman also said on Tuesday that ISIS militants have killed civilians who refuse to allow rockets and snipers to be sited in their houses or whom they suspect of leaking information or trying to flee.

“On Nov. 11, ISIS reportedly shot and killed 12 civilians in Bakir neighborhood of eastern Mosul city for allegedly refusing to let it install rockets on the rooftops of their houses,” Ravina Shamdasani told a regular U.N. briefing.

Information received by the U.N. also showed that militants publicly shot to death 27 civilians in Muhandiseen Park in northern Mosul on Nov. 25, and on Nov. 22 an ISIS sniper killed a seven-year-old running towards the Iraqi Security Forces in Adan neighborhood in eastern Mosul.

U.N.: Mosul's Poor Struggling to Get food, ISIS Killing Civilians who Don't Cooperate

Samsung Electronics Eyes Separation as Investor Pressure Builds

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, under pressure from shareholders to improve investor returns, said on Tuesday it was considering splitting the tech giant into two in what would be the biggest shake-up in its 47-year history.

The move and a plan to raise dividends come after U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management in October called for the South Korean firm to split itself into a holding vehicle and an operating company.

However, the world’s top maker of smartphones, memory chips and televisions, said it was “absolutely neutral” about whether to proceed and provided little detail on the potential restructuring, underwhelming investors.

“The review does not indicate the management or the board’s intention one way or another,” the company said in a statement, adding it had hired external advisers for a review expected to take at least six months.

Shares in Samsung, worth $224 billion combined, finished unchanged on the day at 1.677 million won ($1,434) each. The 2016 dividend boost fell short of some expectations, while uncertainty over the restructuring kept investors at bay, analysts said.

“There is some disappointment that the dividend wasn’t even higher or possibly a special dividend and this is the reason for a flat share price today,” said Sat Duhra, asset manager at Henderson Global Investors.

Samsung did not directly mention Elliott in its statement, but the South Korean firm promised to respond to the fund’s ideas by the end of November.

Samsung pledged to return 50 percent of free cash flow to shareholders for 2016 and 2017, falling short of Elliott’s call for 75 percent to be returned and to pay a $26 billion special dividend.

Samsung rejected another Elliott proposal by saying that even if it adopts a holding company, it has no plans at present to merge that with Samsung C&T Corp, the group’s current de facto holding company.

“I don’t think Samsung said much that was surprising or beyond what investors already had in mind,” said HDC Asset Management fund manager Park Jung-hoon.

Tuesday’s announcement came as the electronics giant is seeking to ensure a smooth succession to Lee Jae-Yong, the firm’s vice chairman and scion of the parent Samsung group’s founding Lee family.

It is also struggling to contain the fallout from a global recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone caused by exploding batteries as well as a snowballing political scandal in South Korea.

Samsung Electronics Eyes Separation as Investor Pressure Builds

Ohio Campus Attacker Identified, 11 Injured

A car and knife attack by an Ohio State University student of Somali origin is being investigated as a possible terror attack, a U.S. congressman and another government source said.

The suspect, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was shot and killed by a police officer with less than two years on the force after driving into a group of people and then jumping out of the vehicle and stabbing people with a butcher knife at the school’s Columbus campus, said Monica Moll, director of public safety for Ohio State University.

The assailant injured 11 people.

He was an 18-year-old immigrant from Somalia and a lawful permanent resident of the United States, two U.S. government sources said. Ohio State University Police Chief Craig Stone told a news conference that Artan might have been as old as 20.

Officials in the northern U.S. state said he appeared to have acted alone.

He also appears to have made an anti-U.S. posting on Facebook minutes before the attack, on a page that was quickly disabled or taken down by authorities, U.S. media said.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said intelligence agencies were assisting in the investigation.

“It bears all of the hallmarks of a terror attack carried out by someone who may have been self-radicalized,” Schiff said in a statement.

Another U.S. official, who asked not to be named because of the ongoing investigation, told Reuters that U.S. agencies are investigating the Columbus attacker’s background and motivations, but cannot clearly say yet whether he had any ties to suspected militant cells or groups.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the incident by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

A spokesman for Columbus’ Somali community spoke out against the attack.

“I want everyone to know that we the Somali-American community stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow Americans in condemning the sickening violence that took place in our city earlier today,” Abdi Dini, a member of the Somali community, said at a news conference in Ohio.

Officials said 11 people were being treated at local hospitals for stabbing wounds and injuries from the motor vehicle. None of their injuries were life-threatening.

The rampage comes two months after a Somali immigrant stabbed 10 people at a mall in Minnesota, before he was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer.

The Minnesota assailant, 20-year-old Dahir Ahmed Adan, was described as “radicalized” and ISIS claimed the attack as the work of an ISIS “soldier.”

Ohio Campus Attacker Identified, 11 Injured

Monday, 28 November 2016

Regime Advances in Aleppo, Kurds Expand at Opposition's Expense

Beirut, Ankara: The Syrian regime and its allies have gained a significant ground in their offensive on Monday in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, with reports saying they had controlled its northern part including al-Sakhour area.

However, the opposition denied that Assad’s forces had completely controlled al-Sakhour, saying the regime “would not make any additional advance in the area.”

Amid conflicting reports listing the reasons that allowed the regime to advance in Aleppo, the opposition said there is exaggeration when speaking about “a victory of Assad forces and their allied militias there.”

The opposition also said that the battles were now centered in the Douar district with a new frontline that stretches from the Scientific Research Faculty in al-Sakhour to Karm al-Jabal.

Reports about the size of the advance made by Syrian forces in eastern Aleppo remained unclear.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the northern portion of eastern Aleppo lost by the rebels amounted to more than a third of the territory they had held, calling it the biggest defeat for the opposition in Aleppo since 2012.

Zakaria Malahifji, a politburo member of the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Reports about a big and strategic military advance made by the regime in the eastern parts of Aleppo that could lead to the fall of the city are exaggerated.”

Malahifji said that after the regime controlled the Hanano housing complex area, rebels decided to hand over the Halak and Haydariya neighborhoods to Kurdish fighters already present in the Sheikh Saeed to save civilians from the shelling of regime forces.

The Syrian Observatory reported that Kurdish fighters benefited from the ongoing battles between the regime and opposition factions to attack the neighborhoods of rebel-held Bustan al-Basha, Halak al-Tahtani and Sheikh Fares.

But, a Kurdish official denied that Kurdish forces had participated in the attack on the eastern neighborhoods. The official told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have never been allied with the regime. We took from the opposition factions the areas close to the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood to protect the civilians there.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the fighting has forced thousands of residents of eastern Aleppo to flee. It said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent registered 4,000 people in the regime-held Jibreen district of western Aleppo after they fled the rebel-held east in recent days

In Ankara, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Russia and President Vladimir Putin have confirmed that there were no Russian aircraft involved in an airstrike on Turkish army positions near Syria’s Al Bab, which killed three Turkish soldiers last week.

“Recordings and testimony are being studied attentively. As soon as all data relating to the incident are examined, a relevant response will be given,” Kurtulmus said on Monday.

Regime Advances in Aleppo, Kurds Expand at Opposition's Expense