Friday, July 31, 2015

For the second time in a month after a ceasefire was declared in Yemen, fighting has continued. Saudi bombing began just hours after the earlier ceasefire and allies of the exiled government launched an offensive in Aden.
In the earlier ceasefire, the Saudis claimed that they were not subject to it and had not agreed to it.
Just a day after this new ceasefire was announced by the Saudis and Mansour Hadi, the president of the Yemeni government-in-exile, the fighting on the ground at least is escalating. The Saudis blame the Houthis, which could very well be correct this time around, although the Houthis claim there was no communication with them as to when the ceasefire was to begin. The Houthis are wary of a ceasefire when the last time the Saudis not only continued bombing but were able to take over the port of Aden. However, the takeover of the port in a successful offensive may also be related to talks between the Houthi ally former president Saleh and western diplomats. The appended video reports Houthi leaders rejected the ceasefire claiming it would benefit Al Qaeda(AQAP) and the Islamic State. However, it would also allow humanitarian supplies that are desperately needed to be delivered if the fighting ceased.
There is a Saudi blockade of Yemen that has made it difficult for aid to be delivered, especially to areas controlled by the Houthis and their allies. The Saudi coalition announced the ceasefire would take place at one minute before midnight on Sunday local time. Just hours after the truce, Houthi forces shelled a northern region on the Saudi border and the Saudis immediately retaliated. Just after midnight several areas of Aden also reported that they were subject to Houthi artillery fire. A pro-Hadi news agency said that the Houthis had shelled parts of Dalea about 105 miles north of Aden. The Saudi state news agency also claimed that Houthis had launched attacks in the central city of Taiz.
Oxfam reports that fighting in Yemen along with the blockade has resulted in more than six million people being on the brink of starvation. The Saudi-led coalition began a bombing campaign on the 25th of March. Since that time Oxfam estimates that an extra 25,000 people each day are going without food and provisions. Oxfam claims that the conflict is threatening to produce the highest ever recorded number of people living in hunger.
Human Rights Watch(HRW) claims that recent airstrikes in the Houthi-controlled port city of Mokha on July 24 killed at least 65 civilians including 10 children. Coalition planes repeatedly struck two residential compounds of the Mokha Steam Power Plant which house workers and their families. The group described the attack as an apparent war crime. HRW said that the UN Human Rights Council should set up a committee to investigate allegations of war crimes by all parties to the conflict.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UK should be ready to intervene in Libya Prime Minister Cameron claims

London - British Prime Minister David Cameron claims the UK should be ready to fight terrorist groups anywhere in the world. He is drawing up plans for defeating Islamic State forces inside Libya..
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The Telegraph reports Cameron has ordered officials to plan for a new intervention in Libya, which he claims has become a haven for IS jihadists. The gunman who recently killed 30 tourists in Tunisia was trained by IS in Libya. Actually, the Islamic State lost control of its original stronghold the city of Derna in eastern Libya. It was driven out by an umbrella group of Islamists who now have control of the city. IS fighters have been driven out into the nearby mountains. The only significant area they control is the city of Sirte and surrounding area. However, they launch suicide attacks in many areas
Cameron is flying out of the UK today to a four-day trade mission to South East Asia. He will offer UK expertise to both Malaysia and Indonesia to help them fight terrorism. Cameron also wants to extend the UK bombing campaign into Syria to attack IS positions there, as the US is doing.
Cameron believes that the UK must be ready to return to Libya to confront what he calls the murderous "death cult" of the IS jihadists: “Isil is one of the biggest threats our world has faced. Britain can offer expertise on practical counter-terrorism work – dealing with the threat from foreign fighters and investigating potential terrorist plots. .We will only defeat these brutal terrorists if we take action at home, overseas and online and if we unite with countries around the world against this common enemy.”Britain could provide specialists to help authorities organize security, and military trainers to train local forces in combat techniques to confront the Islamic State.
At present there are two rival governments and main military forces in Libya. There is no sign yet of the proposed Government of National Accord. The present agreement has been signed only by one government, the internationally-recognized House of Representatives based in Tobruk. Neither the Libya Dawn forces of the Tripoli government nor the commander of the Tobruk forces, Khalifa Haftar, have accepted the agreement brokered by the UN. Both Haftar and the commander of the HoR air force have rejected the deal and refused to stop fighting even though both are named as subject to sanctions by the EU. Is the UK going to coordinate its actions with commanders under EU sanctions? A foreign office spokesperson said that the immediate priority was to support a "ceasefire and a stable political settlement". Neither side's military has agreed to a ceasefire or even to talk to one another. The existing political settlement is a recipe for disaster with only one of two rival governments agreeing to it. There is almost universal praise for the document that is almost bound to exacerbate the civil war if not amended. Yet the UK and no doubt other western countries are anxious to intervene again in Libya. The main IS positions remaining in Libya are in an area controlled by the Tripoli government.
Last time around, the UK spent 13 times more on bombing than on rebuilding the country afterwards. The eight-month intervention cost about 320 million pounds. To rebuild and stabilize the country after the campaign the UK spent only 25 million pounds. Now it is time to repeat the damage and leave the Libyans to pay for rebuilding their country.

Turkey attacks the Islamic State but also Kurds in northern Iraq

Washington has long urged Turkey to intervene against the Islamic State in Syria. After a suicide bombing that killed 32 people in Turkey, Turkish planes have targeted IS locations in Syria for two consecutive days now.
If the Turks had simply bombed IS positions the US would no doubt have been quite pleased but Turkish planes also targeted shelters and storage sites belonging to the Kurdistan Worker's Party in seven different locations in northern Iraq. While the US has yet to make a statement on the Iraq attacks the PKK has said that conditions for peace talks with the Turkish government are no longer in place. Turkey had embarked on peace talks with the PKK in 2012, and the PKK had declared a cease fire in 2013. The Kurds in northern Iraq including the PKK units have been instrumental in defending the area against the Islamic State and even retaking some territory. In attacking the PKK, Turkey is attacking an ally in the fight against the Islamic State as far as the US is concerned. Turkey is very concerned about Kurdish gains both in Iraq and in Syria. It worries that an independent Kurdistan might be formed in northern Syria and that the Kurdish area of Iraq also becomes independent. There would be pressure within Turkey to join these other Kurdish areas.
In recent elections in Turkey the Kurds gained considerable ground politically. While there is conflict between the PKK and less radical Kurdish groups, an attack on the PKK may actually help promote a unified position against President Erdogan. Turkish actions may result in many more attacks by the Islamic State and perhaps also attacks by the PKK within Turkey. While bombing Islamic State positions helps in the battle against IS, bombing the PKK in iraq does exactly the opposite.
Washington may have agreed not to object to Turkish bombing of the PKK in return for Turkey joining the war against the Islamic State. However, Turkey made another important concession to the US. For months, the Obama administration has been negotiating an agreement to use bombers and drones to operate from air bases at Incirlik and Diyarbakir. An administration official said that the deal was sealed by a phone call between Turkish president Recep Erdogan and US president Obama. No official announcement has yet been made but, John Kirby, a State Department spokesperson, said simply that the US and Turkey had "decided to further deepen our cooperation in the fight against ISIL". Fadi Hakura, a Turkey analyst in London said: "The use of the Turkish air base is extremely important. Before, the U.S. had to traverse 1,000 miles to target IS in Syria. Now it will be much less, so naturally the air campaign will be far more intense and far more effective."
Turkey is in the process of clamping down on IS suspects and PKK militants. Erdogan will use increased attacks in Turkey to impose even more draconian anti-terror measures. He may very well tar any significant opposition to his rule as related to terror threats as has been done In Egypt and elsewhere. President Assad of Syria has made no statement about the Turkish bombings inside Syria.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

UN head Christine Lagarde and Libyan Prime Minister Al-Thinni should be subject to sanctions

The UN has the power to sanction any group that interferes with or obstructs the peace process in Libya. The EU has already listed five individuals it intends to sanction.
The UN had previously tried to impose sanctions on two Libyans, one from each main party in the conflict but the sanctions failed to pass through the Security Council. The EU has recently named five people to be subject of sanctions, three from the Tripoli government side, and two from the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government in Tobruk. The Tripoli government has not even signed the UN plan, yet it is still called a peace agreement. In the bizarre world of international relations one can have a political settlement of a conflict with just one side signing on. As of now, the agreement is just initialled since most of the significant parts still need to be completed. Negotiators for the HoR Tobruk government of prime minister Abdullah Al-Thinni have approved the agreement yet the head of his air force and CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar commander-in-chief of his armed forces have rejected the document: Two military leaders in the east of Libya, who say their forces will not respect any peace accord, also face sanctions. They are General Khalifa Haftar, commander in chief of the eastern forces and air force head Fakir Jarroushi.Given that the two commanders are acting in a way that directly challenges government policy, one would think that the two military commanders would be immediately fired. That is not likely. Al-Thinni does not want to have another parliament burned down while he is prime minister. He was prime minister in the GNC government when Haftar burned down the Tripoli parliament buildings as part of Operation Dignity. A warrant was issued for Haftar's arrest but of course it was never carried out. A video of the event is appended. Now far from being a fugitive fleeing after a failed coup attempt, Haftar heads the armed forces of a government led by the same Abdullah alThinni.
The UN has warned the two rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk against doing anything that would interfere with the operation of the Libyan National Bank and the National Oil Company(NOC). Both institutions provide what little unity that is left in Libya. The Central Bank distributes government salaries and subsidies to both governments and the Oil Company also remains neutral depositing revenues in the National Bank. As the UN Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) said:In this regard, UNSMIL calls on the parties to safeguard the national institutions by refraining from taking any steps that could compromise the neutrality of these institutions that are crucial for Libya’s economic survival.The al-Thinni government did exactly the opposite of what the UN demanded.They set about attempting to take over the Central Bank by firing the existing head and then created their own bank in the east as a rival to the neutral bank in Tripoli. They also set up a rival oil company to the NOC in the east of the country:What the internationally-recognized al-Thinni government did was to try to bypass both institutions:The Al-Thinni government recently fired the head of the Central Bank of Libya that has remained neutral between the two governments. The headquarters of the bank is in Tripoli and it carried on as before. Even more serious is the setting up of a new oil company in the east. The existing National Oil Company has been neutral as well collecting receipts from oil exports from areas controlled by both governments and depositing the money in the Central Bank. Now the Tobruk government has set up a National Oil Company in the east. It is intending to open bank accounts and offices in other countries bypassing the National Oil Company.
There is no sign of any action by the UN to sanction Al-Thinni. Indeed, the UN has provided the al-Thinni government a draft peace plan that gives sole legislative powers to the HoR, the Tobruk parliament. The GNC government has no veto over legislation through a Council in which it had a majority in a previous draft. That power was removed. A previous fourth draft was approved by the GNC but not by the Tobruk government. Amendments were made in favour of the Tobruk government without consultation or the approval of the Tobruk government. The UN created a draft it must have known the Tripoli government could not sign without caving in completely to Tobruk demands. There is no peace agreement there is agreement to isolate the Tripoli government and punish it, if it does not sign on. Instead of the Al-Thinni government being sanctioned for its actions it is being supported and encouraged. Just recently the IMF has added to the complete contradiction of everything the peace process is supposed to achieve.
Today the IMF said that it recognizes the central bank governor named by Libya's internationally-recognized government as its sole contact and has ended any connection with the bank head in Tripoli. This will make it even more difficult to foster cooperation between the two rival administrations a report claims. Economic cooperation with the Tripoli regime and the Tobruk regime will now be virtually impossible. It will be interesting to see if there is now a swing to selling oil through the Tobruk created oil company. The aim of the move is not to foster cooperation between rival administrations it is meant to isolate the Tripoli regime and exert even more pressure to sign a peace agreement that gives it almost no power while empowering the HoR. It all makes sense if you assume the powers that count want the Tobruk government to win out in the power struggle while Tripoli will be forced to give up on its demands.
An IMF spokesperson said that the decision to recognize the Tobruk-appointed bank governor was based upon a request by the al-Thinni government and said:"The international community ... recognizes the HoR as the only legitimate authority in Libya," she said by email. In line with established Fund procedures, Mr al-Hibri was recognized as Libya's governor for the Fund."Not a word about the warning of the UN about doing anything that would detract from the neutrality of the Central Bank. Surely Christine Lagarde , the IMF head, should know that she is violating the UN demand through helping the Tobruk government undermine the existing neutral Central Bank. Will the EU or the UN now recommend that Al-Thinni and Christine Lagarde be subject to sanctions?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Former Yemeni president in talks with US, UK, and UAE diplomats

Representatives of Al Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen are talking with diplomats from the United States, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates in negotiations that may help end the war in Yemen, according to a member of Saleh's party.
Saleh himself along with his son are sanctioned by the UN so he will not personally be at the talks. Saleh and his son are still powerful in Yemen with many of the Yemeni armed forces loyal to Saleh. Saleh has allied his group with the Houthi rebels. Without his support the Houthis would likely not have advanced nearly as far as they have especially in the south of the country. Perhaps, Saleh is contemplating changing his allegiance again in order to have more power within any new government. While he was president, Saleh often fought with the Houthis whose stronghold is in the north of Yemen. The Houthis are Shia while the majority of Yemenis are Sunni Muslims.
The exiled president Mansour Hadi, was vice-president under Saleh and took power in a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) with the support of the US. Saleh and his cronies were shielded from prosecution for any crimes committed during the Arab Spring demonstrations in which many protesters were killed by Saleh's security forces. Later, Hadi was elected president but was the sole candidate. Saleh has continued to influence Yemeni politics and when the Houthi's occupied the capital, Saleh provided support with troops loyal to him. He has continued that support since the Houthis took power after failing to negotiate a new government acceptable to them. Hadi escaped from Sanaa to Aden where he tried to set up a government but was forced out of the city to exile in Ryadh Saudi Arabia. Recently some ministers have returned to Aden. The airport is now open again.
Adel Shuja, a leader of Saleh's Congress party said:"There are negotiations in Cairo between the leaders of the Congress party and diplomats from the United States, Britain and the UAE in order to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Yemen...These negotiations have made significant progress so far."
These negotiations are taking place just as local forces, loyal to the exiled government, have made gains in the south taking over the port city of Aden and reopening the airport at Aden. The loss of the port happened within just a few days suggesting that perhaps Saleh had ordered his forces to withdraw.
Saleh was able to rule Yemen for 33 years by playing off rival armed and tribal groups against one another. He may be at it again, even though before he relinquished power he was almost killed in an attack on the presidential palace and sought medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and the US. The Houthis will be unable to hold territory in the south without help from Saleh. However, they also had been in talks earlier in Oman with members of the Southern Movement who are active in the fight against them in Aden. Oman has been key to mediation between the warring groups. There may be a concerted effort on the part of both rebel groups to reach a political solution as they realize continued military actions are devastating the country without much hope of final military success for either side. There will probably be increased pressure to give the south more autonomy. The separatist Southern Movement that has been a key force opposed to the Houthis often clashed with the former Hadi government. They now have significant numbers of armed fighters who will demand some political power in any new government.

Libyan commander-in-chief Haftar dismisses sanctions against him as meaningless

he EU has drawn up a list of five Libyans it says will be sanctioned. The sanctions will include an asset freeze in all EU countries and a travel ban as well.
Included in the list of those to be sanctioned is CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar, head of the internationally-recognized government's armed forces. The Tobruk government or House of Representatives (HoR) controls the eastern part of LIbya. Most of the western part is controlled by the Tripoli or GNC government. The head of the HoR government's air force is also listed to be sanctioned.
There are three individuals from the Tripoli umbrella militia organization Libya Dawn also named. The militia group has rejected the last draft of a peace accord presented to dialogue participants. The General National Congress(GNC) government in Tripoli has also rejected the draft and refused to continue the peace dialogue until amendments it presented are considered. The UN envoy Bernardino Leon insists there can be no further amendments.
While the Tobruk government has signed the UN draft agreement, Haftar has insisted he will never negotiate with Libya Dawn, whom he calls terrorists, nor will he agree to a ceasefire. Even now, Haftar is engaged in an offensive in Benghazi against an umbrella group of Islamists, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. The group includes Ansar al-Sharia, who are accused of the attack on the U.S. Consul in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and several others. The UN has condemned the conflict that has devastated much of Benghazi. Haftar has retaken most of the city but at the cost of a great deal of damage and loss of life. Haftar is apparently being asked to step aside so that the Government of National Accord can be formed.That document would give a presidential council of the president and his two deputies the role of commander in chief of the armed forces presumably putting Haftar out of a job:2. Terms of Reference of the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers:
a. Assume the functions of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan army
Haftar maintains his legitimacy comes from his appointment by the HoR as commander-in-chief. The new agreement validates all previous legislation of the HoR, except when it conflicts with the new agreement. However, it is doubtful that the HoR would ever agree to firing Haftar. If they ever did, there would probably be a military coup in short order. Haftar has continually snubbed the UN and the international community with complete immunity. It may be that the EU has had enough and is finally forcing the issue of side-lining Haftar. The draft agreement was an anomaly from the first and a recipe for continued civil war given the circumstances. To talk about a peace agreement when one of two rival governments did not agree to it is ridiculous to begin with. The agreement is just an attempt to isolate the Tripoli government and its militia and try to force them to accept a deal that gives them very little power in the Government of National Accord. There would be more chance of the GNC and their militia signing on to the deal if they were assured that Haftar would go. He does not seem at all inclined to do so.
Haftar's spokesperson,Mohammed al-Hejazi, told the IB Times: "The sanctions are meaningless. At the moment we have only heard reports in the media and have had no formal message ...If the West calls us criminals it makes no difference to us because we are fighting terrorism and will continue."Both Haftar and the Libya air force commander say they cannot abide by the UN agreement even though their own government negotiators have agreed to it.
There is no word from the special UN envoy Bernardino Leon as to whether the process of forming the government has actually begun. The GNC is not participating whereas one of the bodies in the new government is a Council that has 90 of 120 members from the GNC:The State Council shall consist of one hundred and twenty (120) members. They shall be selected via consultation among the parties participating in the Libyan Political Dialogue, provided that ninety (90) members of them are selected from among the members of the General National Congress, who were elected in July 2012 through an agreed mechanism in Annex 3 of this Agreement.Leon says the agreement cannot be amended. Perhaps, Leon can find 90 members of the GNC who would serve on the Council, but that is doubtful given that the GNC rejects the agreement. The EU is apparently anxious to see the formation of a national unity government so that it can get formal approval for a naval mission designed to combat people-smugglers off the Libyan coast, resulting in a huge influx of migrants into Europe. It is not clear why the EU thinks that a unity government would help the situation, given that one of the rival governments is not a party to the agreement and both of the governments have objected to the mission as violating Libya's sovereignty.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margalio told reporters:"We can't just sit here while tragedies are happening. If dialogue is not bringing progress, it seems to me to be logical to impose sanctions,"
It is not clear how sanctions will help at all. The big powers always seem to think that sanctions will force parties to do what they want but often the sanctions make it more difficult to find a solution to conflicts. Reuters claims that a confidential discussion paper it saw included a range of sanctions including a full oil embargo.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) has no news about the process of implementing the UN peace agreement. There is supposed to be a parallel dialogue with the rival military forces of the Tripoli and Tobruk government. Some time ago the UN envoy Bernardino Leon met with commanders connected with the Tripoli government in Misrata but without informing the senior command of the Tripoli forces. He was also supposed to meet with representatives from the Tobruk forces loyal to Haftar in Cairo. He has never reported on that meeting even though it must have happened weeks ago now.
UNSMIL gives press reports that are mostly filled with elevated rhetoric about the promises of the peace dialogue and tongue-lashings to those who do not cooperate. In my opinion, Leon deliberately decided to draft an agreement he knew that the GNC would not sign. He is forging ahead with a hopelessly flawed agreement. It is not surprising that Leon is issuing no reports on progress. Even though the Tobruk government has initialled the agreement, its main armed forces commanders have pledged not to abide by it. This agreement is a disaster with widespread international support. Powerful foreign players seem to be committed to creating another disastrous civil war in Libya.

Tribal clashes hit southern Libyan city of Sabha

While much of Libya is divided up into areas controlled by the rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, some parts of the south are still controlled by tribal groups who often clash with each other.
In southern Libya, the largest city of Sabha has seen fighting break out between members of the Tuareg and Tebu tribes for control of the key city. According to the city's mayor, Hamed al-Khayali, the conflict began in a suburb four days ago after a member of the Tebu tribe was killed at a checkpoint. He said that in all around 29 members of the Tuareg tribe were killed and four more wounded in the clashes. A local Tebu official said eight Tebu were killed and 18 wounded. The mayor said attempts to negotiate a truce had failed. The Tuareg are also active in northern Mali.
While Sabha is nominally under the control of the Tripoli government, military officials in Tripoli did not respond to a request for help to restore order in the city. The Tuareg control much of south-western Libya. The Tuareg were supporters of Gadaffi when he was in power and there were clashes between the two groups then, but Gadaffi was able to keep a semblance of order in the area compared to the present situation. There have been shortages of many supplies developing in the south as the two rival governments compete with each other and fight with Islamic State militants as well. Flights from Tripoli have been cancelled.
Sabha is about 700 km south of Tripoli. The Tripoli government is not recognized internationally but controls the capital and much of western Libya.
There were also clashes near the city of Derna on the coast in eastern Libya. The Islamic State has been driven out of the city by an umbrella group of rival jihadists. However the Islamic State still occupies mountainous areas near the city. A spokesperson for the military of the Tobruk government that controls most of the surrounding area said that three IS fighters had been killed in clashes with its troops.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Greece and Israel sign status of forces agreement

Greece and Israel signed a status of forces agreement in Tel Aviv that offers legal defense to the forces of each country while training in the other's country.
The accord was signed by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and Moshe Ya'alon, his Israeli counterpart. The only other country with which Israel has signed such an accord is the U.S. The two also discussed continuing defense ties between Israel and Greece. Ya'alon said:“We very much appreciate your visit here during a difficult period for Greece. This underlines the importance of relations between the countries. We wish the Greek people and Greece itself success in its effort to overcome the economic challenge. We pray for that since we believe Greece is a very important country, with a history and a contribution to the history of humanity.”
Ya'alon also praised the joint training exercises between the Israel Defennse Force(IDF) and the Greek armed forces within Greece. The Israeli air force held joint military exercises with the Greek air force last April. The exercises took place in Greek airspace and lasted for several days.
Ya'alon also brought up the topic of the nuclear agreement with Iran: “We perceive Iran as a generator and central catalyst to regional insecurity through its support to terrorist elements in the Middle East, particularly Shi’ite terrorism, though not only Shi’ite. And of course, the Iranian ambition for regional hegemony leads the regime in Tehran to undermine the stability of [other] regimes, which creates a challenge for all of us."
Kammenos, a member of the Independent Greeks a right-wing nationalist party that is part of the Syrza-led coalition, said the “Greek people are very close to the people in Israel” and that military relations between the two countries are good. He also mentioned Iran as a threat: “If one Iranian missile makes its way to the Mediterranean, this could be the end of states in this region.". I am not aware that Iran has ever threatened Greece. That Syriza would appoint Kammenos rather than a leftist from Syriza as defense minister is rather surprising.
This close cooperation with Israel is not in keeping with parts of the Syriza platform which supports leaving NATO and not having any military relations with Israel:Disengagement from NATO, closure of NATO military bases, prevention of military cooperation with Israel, no Greek soldier in war fronts outside the country. SYRIZA Party Program Resolution, 2012.In 2012 part of Syriza's election program said the disengagement of Greece from NATO was a stable and unchanging position of the party. Yet Prime minister Tsipras said on May 15 2014: "I say, with all the strength of my voice, Greece is a country that belongs to the West, to the EU and to NATO. This is not under question."
Given actions such as these, it should not be surprising that Syriza signed a deal that went against everything that Syriza had ever stood for. There were other signs that Syriza was hardly the leftist party that it was portrayed as in the mass media, for example Syriza's attitude towards cuts in military spending: "One of the oddities of Greece’s bailout programme has been that, despite five years of punishing austerity, its military budget remains amongst the highest in the EU." Greek proposals to creditors suggested a military budget cut of 200 million euros. The creditors demanded a cut of double that but Syriza refused. What type of strange behaviour is this for a leftist party to be less willing to cut the military budget than its conservative creditors? Perhaps, Syriza wanted to defend Greece against Germany!

Internationally-recognized LIbyan government plane sinks ship near Benghazi port

On Sunday, July 19, a Libyan war plane from the forces of the internationally-recognized Tobruk government attack and sank a vessel near the port city of Benghazi according to a spokesperson for the air force.
While there were no eyewitness reports or any other independent confirmation of the sinking it was also reported on the Al-Arabiya TV network. According to the air force spokesperson, Nassera al-Hassi: "The vessel was sunk because it had loaded fighters, weapons and ammunition to support terrorism in the eastern region."
The forces of the Tobruk government under the command of CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar have been on an offensive in Benghazi to try and drive out forces of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, an umbrella group that includes Ansar al-Sharia, the group accused of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador, several CIA agents and staff. While Haftar has retaken much of the city, parts still remain in control of Islamists. Haftar launched his Operation Dignity in May of 2014 to purge Libya of islamists including the forces of the rival Tripoli government. Recently there are reports that the Islamic State(IS) is also fighting in Benghazi along with Ansar al-Sharia, a surprising situation if true since the two groups are bitter foes, as many IS fighters converted to IS from Ansar al-Sharia. In a recent clash, the key commander of Libyan Special Forces — who are loyal to Haftar — was killed by a sniper. This has resulted in fierce bombardment by air and artillery of residential areas held by the Islamists that has been condemned by the UN. The attack on the ship may be part of a new push to defeat the Islamists.
Globe and Mail report cites Mohamed El Hejazi a spokesperson for Khalifa Haftar as saying that a second ship which he claims was carrying weapons was attacked in the same area. A military official said the ships were small, about the size of fishing boats, and came from western Libya in areas controlled by the rival Tripoli government. The official said that one boat had been sunk and the other one was burning. The National Oil Company has accused the Tobruk government of bombing oil tankers based upon claims that they carried weapons and ammunition.
Not long ago, Tobruk planes bombed a ship unloading fuel for a power plant in Sirte. Although much of Sirte at the time was controlled by the Islamic State, the area where the boat was unloading the fuel was controlled by Tripoli forces as was the area with the power plant. The area has since been taken by IS. In January, a Greek-operated tanker unloading heavy fuel oil according to the National Oil Company was also attacked killing two seamen. The Tobruk government claimed the ship was carrying weapons for jihadists in Derna. A Turkish ship off the port of Tobruk was attacked after it was warned not to approach according to Tobruk authorities. One crew member was killed in the attack which was in international waters. Turkey described the event as a contemptible attack. The attack is described in the appended video.

Germany pledges flexibility on Greek debt restructuring but no write-down of debt

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said today that Germany would be flexible in negotiations on restructuring Greece's massive debt. However, she ruled out any write off as part of the restructuring.
Merkel said on German TV that "a classic haircut of 30, 40 percent of debt cannot happen in a currency union." Merkel said interest rates could be lowered, maturity of debt extended, as well as other relief. Another possibility would be to link payments on the loans to economic performance. Before any of this is discussed the creditors want to finalize the new bailout program. Merkel also said on TV:
“Greece has already been given relief. We had a voluntary haircut among the private creditors and we then extended maturities once and reduced interest rates...And we can now talk about such possibilities again ... Once the first successful review of the programme to be negotiated has been completed, then exactly this question will be discussed – not now, but then,”
Even though there was agreement on the broad outlines of the program last Monday by the 19 leaders in the zone, details still need to be worked out and the Greeks need to start implementation of policies passed through their parliament. The complete package will furnish Greece with 85 billion euros or $93 billion over three years.
Merkel insisted Schaeuble's idea of a five-year Grexit was no longer on the table. Some say that there is a split between Schaeuble and Merkel with Merkel disapproving of Schaeuble's even floating the idea of a temporary Grexit. Merkel claimed that Schaeuble's idea had been put on the table but the leaders of the euro zone rejected the idea: "Talking to Parliament on Friday, Merkel said the alternative to the new rescue package "would not be a time-out from the euro that would be orderly ... but predictable chaos."" The German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and economy minister went further and criticized Schaeuble for even introducing the idea of a Grexit as a German proposal claiming it was not prudent.
Greek banks are scheduled to re-open Monday. Limits on withdrawals will be slightly increased, but there will still be a ban on foreign transfers and other capital controls will also remain in place.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rebels in eastern Ukraine agree to move back smaller caliber weapons from most of front lines

- Rebels in the separatist eastern regions in Donetsk and Luhansk have agreed to move back smaller-caliber weapons from much of the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
The withdrawal of weapons from the front lines by each side has been required by the Minsk agreement. The process started back in late February. Violations of the agreement have been frequent ever since then and there have been heavy casualties at times on both sides. Ukrainian military spokesperson Col. Lysenkosaid that three civilians had been killed in the town of Avdivka. Digital Journal reports recent shelling with casualties in Donetsk.
Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk Republic rebels claimed his forces are willing to pull back tanks and armored vehicles with weapons under 100mm 3 kilometers or 1.9 miles from the front line except for what he called problem areas. Luhansk rebels are willing to make a similar move. A statement by rebel officials to a Russian news agency said: "To show our commitment to the Minsk agreements, we are ready to make the next step towards peace. For that, [we are ready] to pull back our units with tanks and armored vehicles, equipped with weapons under 100mm calibre, to at least three kilometres (1.9 miles) from the front line,” However, the statement also spoke of "problem areas" that would be exceptions to the policy. Since the conflict in the eastern regions broke out in April of 2014 an estimated 6,500 people have been killed. While a peace agreement was brokered in Minsk Belarus last February violations of the agreement have been continual.
As part of the Minsk agreement Ukraine agreed to constitutional changes that would grant autonomy to the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. There is considerable resistance to the legislation and the US and others are exerting pressure on Kiev. Serhiy Taruta, former governor of the Donetsk region complained: "With this constitutional reform we will legitimize the status of occupied territory, and I think that is a defeat for Ukraine." Bogdan Jarmenko claimed that considerable pressure is being exerted on the Ukraine to pass the legislation. President Petro Poroshenko denies he is under foreign pressure. However the US has an important official present:The presence of US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland at the parliamentary vote was evidence of just how important the reform is. Prior to the vote, Nuland met with legislators in Kyiv to convince them to vote in favor of the proposal.
While Ukrainian officials face objections that the legislation is a victory for the rebels, the rebels and Russians criticized the draft proposals.The Russian Foreign Ministry called the draft "an exercise in political demagoguery". Another official said the drafts had nothing to do with the Minsk agreement. The separatists were also critical and complained that the drafts had been prepared without any consultation with them.

IMF and EU at odds over need for debt relief in Greece

The rift between the IMF and the Euro zone countries became clear when the IMF insisted on releasing a document arguing that without substantial debt relief, Greece could not manage its debt repayments.
Euro zone countries tried to delay release of the document until the final negotiations for a bailout deal with Greece had finished but to no avail. The US virtually controls the IMF and no doubt demanded the release specifically to influence the outcome. The document also suggested that debt relief might require a substantial write off or "haircut" of loans.
As I see it, the plan of Finance Minister Woflgang Schaeuble of Germany was to present two options to Greece, a Grexit with some sweeteners or a completely humiliating, painful, bailout plan that originally required transferring over 50 billion in Greek assets to a Luxembourg firm to be privatized. Tsipras managed to transfer the fund to Athens with Greek control but under Troika supervision. This will achieve exactly the same result — privatization of any remaining Greek national assets at fire sale prices — but it looks better when Greeks help out the process. Greece was required to erase all its red lines and pass legislation immediately reducing pensions, retirement age, and increasing taxes often on those least able to pay. Schaeuble no doubt believes that the bailout terms will produce an unsustainable debt level resulting in default and a Grexit, what he has wanted all along. There was mention of discussion later on of debt restructuring in the bailout agreement, but specific warning that there would be no haircuts and that Greece must fulfill all its debt obligations.
Now the IMF has come out with an analysis of the EU offer to Greece that warns Eurogroup ministers that the Greek public debt is "highly unsustainable." It urged debt relief on a scale "well beyond what has been under consideration to date." Recognizing the Eurogroup reluctance to allow haircuts, the IMF suggests Greece should be given 30 years to repay all its European debts and extension of maturity of other debts.
The Eurozone governments will contribute between 40 and 50 billion euros to a new bailout, but the IMF is also expected to contribute another major amount. Funds will also be produced by sell-off of state assets. Greece will also have renewed access to borrowing from financial markets. The IMF said it will not participate unless there is a clear plan. No doubt this meant to refer in part to a clear plan for restructuring that will make debt sustainable. Greece already has missed two deadlines for paying 1.6 billion euros on IMF loans. According to BBC correspondent Chris Morris, the IMF report was written before the bailout agreement was reached in the early hours of Monday morning. The report was shared with Eurozone leaders in advance.
The changes recommended by the IMF might foil Schaeuble's plan for a bailout system that is unsustainable and force a Grexit. However, the IMF suggestions may not be accepted. Some countries, such as France, might support the IMF suggestions but Germany may by now be irritated at the IMF interference in the negotiations by the Eurogroup and see the whole affair as an attempt by the US to trim Germany's influence in the EU and also ensure there is no Grexit. The U.S. may not only see a Grexit as destabilizing but may also be concerned that a Grexit would draw Greece more into the Russian orbit and out of NATO. Within Germany, the Netherlands, and certainly Finland a Grexit plan would no doubt find majority support. Even should a restructuring of the debt be possible it will do little to lift the austerity measures, and nothing to prevent the alienation of Greek resources, and hence would do little or nothing to improve the life of the average Greek.

Yemen government-in-exile sends ministers to southern city of Aden

Several ministers of the government-in-exile of Mansour Hadi arrived by helicopter from Saudi Arabia in preparation for the revival of institutions of state in the city of Aden.
Al Jazeera reports several ministers, along with top intelligence officials of the Hadi government, arrived in Aden after forces loyal to Hadi recaptured Aden from the Houthis. The photo accompanying the Al Jazeera articles shows forces in Aden said to be loyal to Hadi. It is a loyalty of convenience. The flag these loyalists are flying is not that of Yemen but of the Republic of South Yemen. These are members of a Southern Movement militia who are separatists. They will use the situation to promote their own cause and not that of Hadi, whose proposal to divide Yemen into six federal regions they reject. Al Jazeera notes: On Wednesday, Popular Resistance fighters - a southern militia that has been the mainstay of support for Hadi - recaptured the provincial government headquarters in the Mualla district opposite Aden's main commercial port, Ali al-Ahmadi, a militia spokesman, told the AFP news agency.They also advanced in Aden's Crater district, where a presidential palace is located, he said.It is not clear whether reporters or analysts are stupid or deliberately fail to notice the irony that Aden is being liberated by separatists, the same group that Hadi repressed and whose government the group often clashed with. What is happening is a process of possible division of Yemen into a north controlled by Houthi and Saleh loyalists and Hadi in collaboration with the Southern Movement ruling the South. Such an alliance would be no stranger than that of Saleh loyalists with the Houthis. As the appended photo shows, the Houthis are still in parts of Aden and have set sections of the refinery on fire.
One of the arriving officials said: "[Exiled President] Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi delegated this group to return to Aden to work to prepare the security situation and ensure stability ahead of a revival of the institutions of state in Aden," .Hadi tried this before and was driven out. Hadi is being cautious this time and is not returning himself as yet. He will stay safe and sound in Ryadh, Saudi Arabia. Forces loyal to Hadi retook the airport recently and much of the nearby diplomatic district. However retreating rebels pounded the district with rocket fire. Rockets also set fire to an oil refinery.
Exiled vice-president said on Facebook that his government would try to restore life to Aden: "The government announces the liberation of the province of Aden on the first day of Eid al-Fitr which falls on July 17, We will work to restore life in Aden and all the liberated cities, to restore water and electricity." The Houthis claim that there are still clashes in several parts of Aden.
The offensive in Aden comes after a ceasefire declared by the UN failed to take effect. Saudi Arabia continued its bombing campaign just hours after the ceasefire was to come into force. UN special envoy Ismail Ahmed claimed he had assurances that both sides would agree to the "humanitarian pause" of about a week to last until the end of Ramadan. Saudi Arabian officials , nevertheless, said that they had never agreed to the ceasefire. While the UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment at the failure of the ceasefire, he did not suggest that Saudi Arabia should be punished or sanctioned. Saudi Arabia is one of the good guys so there is little international condemnation, even of the rhetorical type that involves no punishment.
The UN has declared a level-3 humanitarian emergency in Yemen, the highest possible. The UN estimates since late March more than 3,200 people have been killed since the Saudi-led airstrikes began against the Houthis who have taken over much of the west of Yemen. More than 21 million people, over 80 percent of the population are said to need aid. 13 million face food shortages, and access to water is difficult for 9.4 million people. The need for a ceasefire is urgent but apparently it is more important for Saudi Arabia to continue the battle. As the appended video from Sanaa the capital shows, there must still be some gas available there.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Commander of Libyan Special Forces loyal to Haftar killed in Benghazi by sniper

For months now the head of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives government in Tobruk has supported the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, in his Operation Dignity offensive intended to retake Benghazi and Tripoli.
He still has not completely recaptured Benghazi, which had been for some time under the control of an umbrella group of radical Islamists called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. The group includes Ansar al-Sharia, who are said to be linked to Al Qaeda, and of late there are reports that Daesh or the Islamic State are involved as well. However, Ansar al-Sharia is usually in conflict with the Islamic State as it is in competition with it and many of its fighters have joined the more radical group. In Derna, which for long was the main stronghold of IS in Libya, an umbrella group of jihadists drove out IS from the city, the first serious setback for the group in Libya. IS still holds the city of Sirte and the surrounding area.
A sniper killed Salem al-Naili and another member of LIbya's special forces unit that are loyal to Khalifa Haftar. Four other members were wounded in the same incident. IS claimed responsibility for the attack but there has been no independent confirmation of this. Al-Naili, called "the demon," was commander of the Saiqa 21st brigade, an elite special forces group. The killing happened as Haftar launched an offensive against Islamists who still control parts of the city. The fighting in Benghazi has been going on for more than a year now.
Critics claim artilley and air strikes have reduced much of Benghazi to rubble without gaining all that much ground. Haftar has announced several times that the army has almost cleared out the city of Islamists and he repeated this refrain after this attack. Even the UN is critical of Haftar's offensive especially when conflicting forces have been asked to refrain from attacks while peace talks are ongoing:The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Bernardino Leon, strongly condemns the escalating fighting in Benghazi and the heavy toll it is having on civilians, and reiterates the call for an immediate end to the hostilities. He particularly deplores the shelling of residential areas in the city, and the consequent loss of civilian lives as well as property. The Special Representative reiterates his belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Libya and that continuing hostilities will only bring more death and destruction, in addition to the untold suffering of the population.Haftar routinely thumbs his nose at the UN. Instead of being punished or threatened with sanctions, the UN isolates the rival government in Tripoli and gives support for the Tobruk government that supports his Operation Dignity. Notice that the release does not identify any party involved in the clashes.
When asked when the Benghazi battle would be over Haftar said: "I cannot give a date but it will be very soon." However, UN Special Envoy, Leon, reporting to the UN Security Council claimed: "In Benghazi, clashes ... continue with neither side making significant gains.". Haftar paid no attention to the UN warning. In revenge for the killing of his key commander he meted out collective punishment on everyone in the area controlled by militants: This evening salvoes from army howitzers and Grad missile batteries pounded areas occupied by Ansar and Daesh fighters in Benghazi’s Leithi district. This followed five raids by Mig-23s which missiled and bombed militant positions in Nubs Square and Hejaz Street.
I would caution those reading reports from the Libya Herald and the Libya Observer, though they remain key resources for information about the perspectives of the two rival governments. The Herald generally supports the Tobruk government. It is better written and somewhat more objective compared to the Libya Observer that supports the Tripoli government, but Herald reports too are often biased. In this case, the reports as to who the Islamists are who are being attacked by Haftar may be tailored to support the narrative that Haftar is attacking terrorists, whereas there could be a variety of Islamists involved. As with Syrian rebels against Assad, Islamists of all stripes tend to unite against Haftar and they care little that some of those they ally with are regarded as terrorists in the west. The Islamic State however also has become an enemy of all other Islamists radical or otherwise. It is surprising they would cooperate with other Islamists in Benghazi. However, in Libya anything is possible.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

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