Region

Turkey and the Levant

Stories under this heading cover Turkey as well as the Levant – a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia, consisting of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

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UN agency UNRWA urgently suspends aid to Rafah

UN agency UNRWA urgently suspends aid to Rafah

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has suspended its operations in Rafah. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the organisation that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, conveyed this information on Saturday evening (1 June) via X. 

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Gaza War: the first hundred days

Gaza War: the first hundred days

The world on Sunday marked the 100th day of the war in Gaza. Thousands took to the streets across the world, many supporting one side or the other in the conflict. For the Palestinian people in Gaza the anniversary is simply another opportunity to count the dead and injured, not to speak of other untold suffering that they have to endure. And there seems to be no end in sight. Also Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck targets in Lebanon following a Hezbollah missile attack that killed two Israeli civilians — an older woman and her adult son — in northern Israel. The exchange of fire underscored concerns that the Gaza violence could trigger wider fighting across the region. The war in Gaza, launched by Israel in response to the unprecedented 7 October attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on Israeli territory, has killed nearly 24,000 Palestinians, devastated vast swaths of Gaza, driven around 85 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million residents from their homes and pushed a quarter of the population into starvation. In a sign of widening rift in the positions of Israel and the US, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaking to the CBS TV channel on Sunday (14 January) said the US has been speaking to Israel “about a transition to low-intensity operations” in Gaza.“We believe it’s the right time for that transition. And we’re talking to them about doing that".
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More than twenty thousand Palestinians killed in Gaza in ten weeks

More than twenty thousand Palestinians killed in Gaza in ten weeks

Health officials in Gaza say more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war between Israel and Hamas. The figure, amounting to nearly one percent of the territory’s prewar population, is a new reflection of the staggering cost of the war, which in just over 10 weeks has displaced more than 80 percent of Gaza’s people and devastated wide swaths of the tiny coastal enclave. Gaza’s health ministry said Friday that it has documented 20,057 deaths in the fighting. It does not differentiate between combatant and civilian deaths. It has previously said that roughly two-thirds of the dead were women or children.
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Turkiye and UK sign landmark security and defence agreement

Turkiye and UK sign landmark security and defence agreement

The UK and Türkiye, on Friday (25 November) agreed to work more closely together to help bring greater stability, security and prosperity to both nations. UK Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, signed a Statement of Intent on defence co-operation, with his Turkish counterpart, Minister of National Defense, Yaşar Güler. This will provide the framework for closer working to deliver additional activities that will benefit the security and prosperity of both countries and, in so doing, enhancing national, regional and international security. Following the signing, activity will see closer collaboration between both countries’ defence industries, the identification of possible joint training exercises in the Mediterranean, and the exploration of security support around North Africa and the Middle East. As well as discussing the need for de-escalation in the Middle East, the British Defence Secretary thanked his counterpart for utilising Türkiye’s influence as the gatekeeper to the Black Sea to enable the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to nations who need it most. There was strong agreement on the need to keep focused on our collective support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s continuing aggression.
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Borrell briefs EU colleagues after damage limitation trip to Middle East

Borrell briefs EU colleagues after damage limitation trip to Middle East

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states held an informal video conference on Monday (20 January) to hear from the EU High Representative for foreign and security policy, Josep Borrell, the results of his recent visit to the Middle East. Borrell travelled to Israel, Palestine, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan from 16-20 November. A statement from his office in Brussels at the start of the visit said that “the visit will take place against the background of the war against Hamas and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, following the 7 October Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, and in the context of EU’s regional outreach, following-up to the latest European Council and Foreign Affairs Council.”Since the Gaza crisis erupted in October, the European Union has appeared to be confused and undecided.  Deep divisions in the position of many of the member states became evident in somewhat contradictory statements by leaders of the various EU institutions in the early days of the crisis, with some rushing to express solidarity with Israel, whilst others reminding of the long-suffering of the Palestinian people. The problem became more acute as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalated sharply following the launch of an Israeli military offensive. The divisions within the EU reached a climax at a vote at the UN General Assembly session on 28 October with some EU members voting for and others against a resolution on Gaza, whilst others simply abstained. Many saw this as a low point in the process of developing a “common foreign and security policy” for the EU, whilst others contemplated the damage that current EU positions were having on future relations with Arab and Muslim countries. The situation improved somehow following a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, where some sort of compromise position emerged. Borrell is constrained in having to reflect not only his position, and that of the European External Action Service, which he leads, but also the view of all the other European institutions and all the 27 member states. No mean task. None of them however appear to fully comprehend the sense of anger and frustration in the Arab and Muslim world at ongoing events in Gaza. As one young Arab commentator put it, the time the EU spoke from the moral high ground has gone, and will not come back. If the EU wants to communicate with the Arab and Muslim world in the future it has to find a new language. Borrell has taken a step in this direction through his visit and his op-eds, but it is just a small step in what promises to be a long and unpleasant journey.
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UN Security Council finally adopts resolution on Gaza

UN Security Council finally adopts resolution on Gaza

The UN security council on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and aid corridors throughout the Gaza Strip. They should remain in place for a sufficient number of days so that aid is able to reach civilians who need it, the council said, especially children, who are mentioned in almost every paragraph of the resolution. The vote marked the first time council members have managed to adopt a resolution related to the war in Gaza. The resolution also calls for the release of all hostages and for all sides to refrain from depriving Gazan civilians of the basic goods and services that are critical to their survival. It further demands the urgent implementation of recovery efforts to find those trapped under rubble of damaged and destroyed buildings. Throughout the resolution, the council also rejected the forced displacement of Palestinians. Twelve of the 15 council members voted in favor of the resolution, with US, UK and Russia abstaining. Before the vote, Russia’s representative, Vassily Nebenzia, proposed an amendment calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to the cessation of hostilities.” This was voted down by the council, with only five members voting for it, including the UAE. The US voted against it and the nine remaining members abstained. The US and Russia have both accused each other of blocking attempts to agree on action related to the conflict in Gaza. The council, the UN body responsible for maintaining international peace and security, failed to adopt four previous draft resolutions, exposing the bitter divisions between members. The US has been adamant about rejecting any language that calls for a ceasefire, does not assert what Washington describes as “Israel’s right to self-defense,” or fails to unequivocally condemn Hamas for its actions. The twelve members of the UN Security Council who voted for the resolution were: Albania, Brazil, China, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
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Arab and Muslim countries issue strongly worded statement calling for cease-fire in Gaza and return to Middle East peace talks

Arab and Muslim countries issue strongly worded statement calling for cease-fire in Gaza and return to Middle East peace talks

At the end of a rare joint summit, in the Saudi Capital, Riyadh, leaders of Arab and Muslim countries issued a strongly worded joint statement on Saturday (11 November) condemning Israel for its war in Gaza, calling for an immediate end to hostilities, and the launch of efforts towards a lasting peace in the region based on a two-state solution. In their statement, the Arab and Muslim leaders said: "a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, which is a strategic option, is the only way to establish security and stability for all peoples of the region and protect them from cycles of violence and wars. This, we stress, will not be achieved without ending the Israeli occupation and resolving the Palestinian cause on the basis of the two-state solution. We affirm that it is impossible to achieve regional peace while overlooking the Palestinian cause or attempting to ignore the rights of the Palestinian people. We stress that the Arab Peace Initiative, backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is an essential reference to this end." In their statement, the Arab and Muslim leaders said: "we hold Israel, the occupying force, responsible for the continuation and aggravation of the conflict, which is the result of its violation of the rights of the Palestinian people, and of the Islamic and Christian sanctities...... We condemn all forms of hatred and discrimination, and all acts that perpetuate hatred and extremism. We warn of the disastrous repercussions of the retaliatory aggression by Israel against the Gaza Strip, which amounts to a war crime, and the barbaric crimes committed also in the West Bank and Al-Quds Al-Sharif. " In their statement, the leaders announced  they were assigning the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as the presidency of the 32nd Arab and Islamic Summit, along with counterparts from Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Türkiye, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Palestine, and any other interested countries, and the Secretary-General of both organisations to initiate immediate international action on behalf of all member states of the OIC and the Arab League to formulate an international move to halt the war in Gaza and to pressure for a real and serious political process to achieve permanent and comprehensive peace in accordance with established international references.
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Commentary: Gaza casts a shadow on the entire Middle East, and on its relations with the world

Commentary: Gaza casts a shadow on the entire Middle East, and on its relations with the world

The ongoing conflict, and accompanying humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has cast a shadow over the entire Middle East. It is clear that no Arab country can now avoid being embroiled in one way or another. Pictures of the suffering that the Palestinian people in Gaza have to endure on a daily basis fill the screens of all news programmes, and on social media the situation is hotly debated. Arabs are overwhelmingly incensed that the world allows the suffering of the Palestinian people to continue. For the young generation, especially in the Gulf, this is the first exposure to a crisis of this kind. No doubt, the present atmosphere adds to the radicalisation of some among this generation. Those countries that only very recently took the bold step of establishing relations with Israel now face criticism which they cannot ignore. One of these countries, Bahrain, on Thursday (2 November) recalled its Ambassador to Israel and suspended economic ties. Earlier, Saudi Arabia stepped back from the process of normalising relations with Israel, and has become a very vocal critic of Israeli policy.
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In the absence of Georgia, the 3 + 3 meeting in Tehran was again incomplete

In the absence of Georgia, the 3 + 3 meeting in Tehran was again incomplete

The foreign ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Turkey, met in Tehran on Monday 23 October in the second meeting of the 3 + 3 format, which however is only 2 + 3 since the third South Caucasus country, Georgia, refuses to participate in the process because of its problems with Russia. Recently, Turkey and Iran have made statements that they prefer this format of interaction with the South Caucasus countries since it excludes external players. Some Azerbaijani officials have expressed similar views. At the end of their meeting in Tehran, the foreign ministers issued a nine-point statement, in which amongst other things, they said that "expressing their positions on various international issues, they discussed the most important issues in the region and emphasized the importance of such platforms as the regional consultative "3+3" platform to provide opportunities for constructive dialogue and establish mutually beneficial cooperation between the countries of the region". commonspace.eu political editor said that the absence of Georgia in the 3 + 3 format hugely reduces the significance of the initiative since it is difficult to discuss regional issues without that country being present. However, the format is important, particularly for Iran, which has been desperately trying to have a role in the region. For the Turks, this is an opportunity to share a platform with Armenia, even as discussions on the normalisation of relations continue. The meeting between the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers, on the margins of the main event, was perhaps the most significant event in the one-day diplomatic extravaganza in Tehran. For the Russians, such a meeting has limited use. They would prefer to deal with the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis on their own, separately or together. But given that their monopoly over dealings with the two countries, especially on the issue of normalisation of relations, has now been lost, Moscow wants to make sure it is present whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.