Category: Middle East

Islamic State Captures Palmyra on Sunday Despite Heavy Russian Fortifications

Islamic State forces have systematically captured the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria last Sunday. Russian airstrikes did not deter the efforts of the Islamic militants. This is the second time the group has secured the ancient city — whose destruction of historic landmarks are attributed to.

According to reports, the city’s defences had collapsed due to heavy Russian bombing and Syrian regime force ground assaults. An Islamic State reinforcement call to Raqqa had helped the Islamic State secure the city once again.

According to Syrian Rebels, the Islamic State is preying on the thinned forces of the Syrian Regime to recapture lost cities in earlier battles. Syria has concentrated its attacks against Syrian opposition rebels to reclaim the capital Aleppo diverting resources and manpower from other regions into the key area.

Russia’s air strikes only helped to force militants out of the city centre overnight. The following day, militants have captured the ancient Crusader Castle and they have wrested control from the Syrian regime in Palmyra once again. Russian forces report that they have killed more than 300 militants from their 64 air strikes throughout the day.

It was in March when regime forces first captured the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. It was seen as the biggest reversal of the conflict against the Islamic State.

Iran-Saudi Rivalry Concerns OPEC

Tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia is likely to hold OPEC back from achieving maximum oil production — which may indicate a rise in oil production for the oil organisation.

Analysts said that geopolitical complexities within the group could mean an immense rise in oil prices in the region. The rise is unlikely to affect major countries as the price of oil had turned down in the last few years due to excess supply from traditional producers and shale oil producers in the United States.

“The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are just so, so poor I can’t see any scenario under which Saudi Arabia would cut without Iran freezing and Iran has said so consistently that they just will not freeze until they reach pre-sanctions levels,” BMI Research ‘s oil and gas analyst, Emma Richards, told CNBC recently.

Fitch Group’s research arm BMI Research was not expecting an agreement on the production freeze at the informal meeting on the back of the conflicts within OPEC, with tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran the “main impediment” to a deal, the house said in a recent report.

“We’re talking about a long-term i.e. 1,400-year chasm between the Sunni side and the Shia side. OPEC has only been around for 60 years so what we’re looking at now is the greatest chasm between the Sunni side of OPEC and the Shia side of OPEC,” Stephen Schork, Editor of the Schork report.

Hunt for EgyptAir MS804 Begins in Mediterranean

A joint task force between France, Greece, Turkey and the United States are searching for the remains of EgyptAir’s flight MS804 following its distress signal and sudden disappearance from radar.

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The passenger airbus carried 66 people from Paris to Cairo. It had issued a distress signal shortly after it disappeared from tower radar.

According to EgyptAir, it had found part of the wreckage and life jackets near the Island of Karpathos in Crete, Greece.

However, Ahmed Adel, Vice President of EgyptAir said it wasn’t their aircraft.

Egypt is currently searching all the waters in the area the aircraft was last spotted on radar.

The United States have dispatched a p-3 Orion Maritime Surveillance aircraft from its Sicilian base.

Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi said he didn’t wish to draw conclusions. But he said

“The possibility of having a different action or a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure.”

Meanhwile, French authorities said their information confirms the plane has crashed and immediately disappeared. French President Francois Hollande said “we have a duty to know everything about the cause and what has happened.

About 30 Egyptians were on board the plane. France said it had 15 nationals on board.

Other passengers were two Iraqis and one national per country from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Kuwait, Sudan, Chad, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Canada and Algeria.

Egyptian Official Blames Tom And Jerry For Violence in the Region

Violent video games along with western cartoon violence urge young men to become ‘happy’ to kill, according to Egyptian Head of State Information Service Abdel Sadeq.

The official said:

“[The cartoon] portrays violence in a funny manner, and gives the impression that, yes, I can hit him, and I can blow him up with explosives,” Salan Abdel Sadeq told the audience at a conference titled “The Media and the Culture of Violence” at Cairo University.

“Video games are spreading…it has become normal for a young man to sit for long hours playing video games, killing and spilling blood. He is happy and content with that.”

Egypt’s own internal media production did not escape the official’s criticism. However, Sadeq has not confirmed whether to urge censorship.

Many criticised Sadeq’s implication of Tom and Jerry along with videogames as a major factor in urging violence.

One Egyptian Twitter user said:

“Good, so Tom and Jerry are terrorists – my niece loves watching it and if we stopped her we’d have to call the police”

Some had said Sadeq had failed to include the previous Muslim Brotherhood, the party list of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and is labelled as a terrorist group.

“Not the Muslim Brotherhood then?! Egyptian official holds Tom and Jerry responsible for violence in the Middle

Europe Still Divided On Refugee Crisis Before Summit

A great number of European countries are sealing its borders, indicating that Europe’s unification on the refugee crisis is  significantly fragmented.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to salvage its open door-policy as Balkan routes see closed doors from growing numbers of EU countries.

Four anti-immigration eastern European countries demanded for new EU policies by the following month. Hungary’s zero-immigration might be imported to the Balkans to seal Macedonia’s border. This would clog refugee numbers in Greece until they are deported back to Turkey.

The planned bottleneck could cause a security and humanitarian emergency within days from Greece. It would be cut off from the Schengen free-travel zone due to the bottleneck. Greece’s failure to secure the maritime border for Turkish immigrants may have it face temporary eviction from Schengen.

Support for Merkel’s policy is fading. Austria announced stiffer border controls this February. It said it would limit migrant entry to 3,200 daily from Friday.

According to a European Commissioner, “you can’t have 20 EU countries refusing to take in refugees.”

Merkel’s policies are also under fire from Germans despite many voicing out providing support for refugees affected by war, terror and prosecution.

Middle East Tensions Spark Sunni-Shia Historic Conflict in Region

For thousands of years, Sunni and Shia Muslims have failed to find a compromise between their beliefs. Most forces behind the Arab Spring have stemmed from oppressed Sunni or Shia Muslims ruled by opposing parties. The revolutions have swiftly returned to a certain normalcy, only replaced by the majority party that won during the Arab Spring.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a driving force behind the Arab Spring of 2011, was executed by Saudi Arabian Authorities. The Sheikh was a Shia Muslim, which Iran strongly upholds. Iran had condemned the execution. Meanwhile, Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia support its decision to execute the Sheikh.

The sectarian division has the same single God named Allah. Both use the Quran and have similar verbal records of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. however, due to believers’ disagreements to the successor of Prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century, conflict broke out between the two Muslim parties.

Shia Muslims are only 10 per cent in the Middle East and are about 100-250 million in the world. Shia came from the shi’atu Ali, who believed Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law is eligible for leadership.

Sunni Muslims believe that Ahl al-Sunnah belive the caliphate should succeed Muhammad’s bloodline. Sunni Muslims have a bigger population in the world with 1.5 billion, making up 90 per cent of the religion.

Religious belief and sectarian divide is stronger than a country’s borders in the Middle Eastern region. This was proven by sectarian tension in the 70s with the Iranian revolution and the Afghan War.

The sectarianism, according to analysts would only worsen in the coming years.

Bomb The Possible Culprit Of A321M Crash

US and UK intelligence both point to a bomb on board the MetroJet flight A321M that exploded before it was sent hurtling down the province of Sinai in Egypt. The suspicion had seen the ban of flights from the US and UK to the Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

Egyptian officials said the cockpit voice recorder of the MetroJet was badly damaged in the crash. Investigators are currently analysing the flight’s black box.

The flight came from St. Petersburg to the province after taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday. Most pilots were Russian.

No passenger survived the Sinai crash

Stuck

About 3,500 Britons in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort rescue planes from EasyJet would return to the United Kingdom. However, Egyptian authorities barred the exit for reasons security checks are to be made.

The UK government first announced that Britons would all be returned to the UK by the end of Friday while their heavier luggage stayed for more than seven to 10 days for intensive security checks.

The plane would only allow hand-carried or laptop-sized luggage to be carried with the holidaymakers.

Terrorism Unlikely

While an ISIS representative said the A321 “bombing” was their work, Egyptian authorities were highly sceptical.

The US and the UK suspect the use of a bomb.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the UK’s response to the crisis was premature and unwarranted. Egypt said the airport security had enhanced new measures to handle the situation more effectively.

EU Leaders Agree On Plan To Share 120,000 Refugees

EU leaders approve plan to take in 120,000 refugees from Syria. However, this isn’t enough as the OECD predicts about one million refugees from Syria, Africa and Asia fleeing from war and persecution.

In a majority vote, EU leaders have agreed European countries would share portions of the refugee numbers.

According to EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, it was about time EU showed what it meant with responsibility and solidarity.

The decision comes at a crucial time where the refugee crisis revealed deep cracks in the European bloc with plenty of countries disagreeing with each other, particularly with refugee quotas and safeguarding borders.

The 120,000 refugee numbers are dwarfed by Germany’s own efforts to safeguard about 800,000 refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it a point to exclude those seeking asylum for their country’s poor economic performance.

The OECD predicts about one million refugees. However, estimates show about 350,000 to 450,000 guaranteed to reach Europe in the coming months.

The spur of refugee efforts come after the photo of a dead Syrian toddler washed up on the beaches of a Turkish resort became viral and struck the ire of plenty of individuals in the Internet.

Power struggles at the top of the LIA

The Libyan Investment Authority has had a turbulent recent history that is a mirror of the wider unrest and civil war within the nation as a whole. No event more publically illustrated this than the sudden replacement back in October of its Chairman Abdulrahman Benyezza. A fierce battle over the $67 billion sovereign wealth fund is being fought between the internationally recognised government and Islamists who have seized control of Tripoli, the nation’s capital.

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Mr Benyezza, a former minister, was replaced as chairman of the board of the LIA on October 27th 2014 by Hassan Ahmed Bouhadi, who promptly appointed Ahmed Ali Attiga, a former World Bank official as the LIA’s new chief executive.

The change in leadership came as the LIA began court proceedings against Goldman Sachs. The fund, which was the main investment body for Muammar Gaddafi’s government claims that the Wall Street giant misled LIA employees into making $1.2 billion worth of trades in high risk investments that the LIA employees did not understand. The LIA is seeking damages in a strongly contested court battle.

The LIA has found itself caught up in the battle between the Islamist militias and the official government that is currently operating out of Tobruk. Benyezza’s replacement was seen as a consolidation of power by the Tobruk government following the Islamists’ occupation of the LIA’s office in Tripoli. The fund is currently being forced to run its business from Malta while political stability is achieved.

ISIS Uses Violence And Persuasion For Political Gains

The Islamic State militants continue to advance despite the increased threat of US and Arab airstrikes in key territories by using a mix of persuasion and violence. The Islamic State’s agenda has appealed to many Sunni Muslims who find an absence of leadership in their order. Despite eliminating other Sunni Muslim groups in opposition, majority of Sunnis still believe in the Islamic State.

According to Syrian Province Journalist and Political Analyst Ibrahim Hamidi, the Islamic State is hijacking legitimate demands. Without international action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a solidified Sunni union alternative to the IS, the extremists will still continue to gain support.

According to Hamidi, this was what makes the Sunni Muslims dangerous. He described that defeating the IS needs a comprehensive approach.

Assad still remains in power in Syria and is backed by Iran and Hezbollah. The US finds half-hearted allies in the Iraqi Shiite-led government and Iranian-backed militias.

Hamidi said that for every Sunni Muslim now affected by the sectarian polarisation, there is a little Islamic State militant believing in the group.

The US is targeting rival Sunni insurgent groups and the Iraqi leadership as the ones who could combat the Islamic State in Syria. The US steers clear from the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, who openly condemned the Islamic State.