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Withdrawal of US forces in Syria likely to start in ‘weeks’ — US general

HASAKEH, Syria: A Canadian extremist detained in Syria told AFP on Sunday he has been “hung out to dry” by the Daesh group like other foreign fighters and appealed to his government for help.Mohammad Ali, 28, was captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) some nine months ago while trying to flee north into…

Withdrawal of US forces in Syria likely to start in ‘weeks’ — US general

HASAKEH, Syria: A Canadian extremist detained in Syria told AFP on Sunday he has been “hung out to dry” by the Daesh group like other foreign fighters and appealed to his government for help.Mohammad Ali, 28, was captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) some nine months ago while trying to flee north into Turkey with his Canadian wife and two children.He was interviewed at a detention center in the northeastern city of Hasakah in the presence of two members of the SDF, who are holding hundreds of foreign extremists.Ali, who joined Daesh in 2014 under the nom de guerre Abu Turab Al-Kanadi, said he had been interrogated by the American FBI, CIA and US defense officials, but never visited by a Canadian official.“Every time I get taken for an interrogation or an interview, I’m hoping it’s with someone from the Canadian government, someone that can clarify my situation and give me a bit of hope.”“Up until now, nothing,” he said. “I have nowhere else to go… How can they leave me sitting here like this in limbo?“The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria wants to send the prisoners back for trial, but governments in their countries of origin are often reluctant.Canada’s foreign ministry said it had opened a communication channel with Kurdish authorities but that there was no agreement on repatriation.The Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE) non-profit said it knew of 25 Canadians held by the SDF.Ali was dressed in a grey robe, matching cap and tattered black sandals.He repeatedly said he was “exhausted” and often paused for long periods before mumbling an answer.Like many other captured accused Daesh members, he said he joined the group to fight President Bashar Assad’s government.He first worked in Deash’s lucrative oil ministry for four months because of his previous experience in Canada as an oil worker.During that time, he used a prominent Twitter account to call on others to join the extremists, but said he was never part of Daesh’s formal media apparatus.He spent the following three years as a fighter and trainer, but said he always refused to shoot civilians.“That’s not why I came here,” he said.AFP could not immediately verify the details of the account he gave of his time in the “caliphate.”Ali said he began doubting his decision to join Daesh in late 2016, as the extremists began to lose territory and turn against foreigners, including a Dutch friend of his who was executed by the group.“The foreigners feel they were left out, hung out to dry, they’ve been used and abused,” he said.He paid a smuggler to take his Canadian wife, who he met under Daesh in Syria, and their two young girls north from Deir Ezzor province to the Turkish border.Ali said he was planning to go to the Canadian embassy in Ankara but was caught by the SDF before crossing into Turkey.He said he has been unable to speak to his wife or daughters, or his family in Canada, since being detained.“All I think about is my wife and kids,” he said.Hundreds of Daesh-affiliated men, women and children have streamed out of the group’s shrinking pocket in east Syria in the past two months, but journalists and advocates have limited access to them.Ali said he was not aware of any SDF legal proceedings against him.Asked what kind of future he was most afraid of, he said he feared being handed over to Syrian regime forces.He is resigned to serving jail time at home but insisted he should not be considered in the same category as accused British Daesh executioners Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, also held by the SDF.“Now the foreigners are trying to leave, trying to get back home,” Ali told AFP.“But a lot of the Syrians and the Iraqis, they’re just melting back into the population, holding down for a while, and when things start again, they will rise back up.“It doesn’t really take a genius to figure this out. They have pockets in the desert, they have people intermingling with the population, acting as civilians, just biding their time.”

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US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes…

US Mideast plan will not include land transfer from Egypt’s Sinai: envoy

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes in both — the Muslim Brotherhood.“Part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan is to control vital targets, and they have long eyed energy resources in this region, and attempted to take control,” said Hajjaj Bou Khaddour, a Kuwaiti energy expert.“Bouteflika is down, but the demonstrations persist. The plan is to cause a complete overhaul of the system and that means they want to change everything, not only in politics, but also in terms of vital departments in the government and its related entities, especially in the oil and gas sector.”Should that happen, it would destabilize the most profitable sector in the country.Algeria produces more than a million barrels of oil a day, making it the ninth-largest OPEC producer and the 17th worldwide. It is also a major gas producer, and exports over 50 percent of its crude (90 percent of it to Western Europe) and 60 percent of its gas. Hydrocarbons account for 60 percent of national revenue, 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of export earnings.What a prize — and all of it under threat. The International Energy Agency gave assurances last month that Algeria’s oil production was not affected by the political tension, but Bou Khaddour believes that could all quickly change. “The current situation in Algeria is vague and unclear. I do believe there may be further escalation,” he said.Meanwhile, it appears to be business as usual at the state-run oil and gas company Sonatrach, which last week signed two multimillion-dollar onshore contracts with a rig contractor. There are, however, signs that not all is well. Two major deals involving Sonatrach have recently fallen through, one of them a majority shareholding in Greece’s biggest refiner. The Greek government blamed “recent developments in the international environment” and reasons related to shortlisted parties, one of which was Sonatrach.The company is rarely far from controversy. It has been mired in a series of corruption scandals and prosecutions since 2010, and several of its former executives are serving prison sentences.And it is here, expert sources have told Arab News, that the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood may emanate. The group wants to use the current political upheaval to install its own affiliates as new leading figures in the oil and gas sector. Several names have been discussed in private.They include individuals involved in previous Sonatrach corruption cases, who managed to escape judicial penalty and have been living comfortable lives abroad until they are ready to make a comeback.One former Sonatrach executive in the crude-oil trading department, who was dismissed in 2018 in a post-corruption clearout, is thought to have ties with Lord Energy, a Swiss company closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood — and even, through its founder’s family, with Al-Qaeda.Algeria’s current political leadership understands the gravity of the situation very well, especially when it comes to supporting the stability of the lucrative oil and gas sector to ensure a smoothly run business locally and internationally.The interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, insisted last week that the government would “ensure the proper functioning of the administration and public services.”The new government also wants to reassure Algerians that public money is a better way to start than by fighting corruption, following the money trail; and naturally the oil and gas sector would be on the hit list.The military Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah has promised that the “judiciary will reopen all corruption cases,” targeting the “entire gang involved in the embezzlement and squandering of public funds.” These past cases, he said, will include Sonatrach.The accusations being reinvestigated date back to 2010 and reached as high as the energy minister at the time, Chakib Khelil. He was dismissed shortly after the scandal erupted, as were several others, until the case was dropped by the Algerian judiciary in 2016.Officials were accused of taking bribes from international energy companies, including SNC Lavalin of Canada and ENI of Italy, in return for access to Algeria’s oil and gas sector. A former vice president of Sonatrach, Chawki Rahal, whose son worked for ENI, was among those named in the case.Sources say other former officials from Sonatrach may well be summoned by the judiciary and interrogated, including former Chief Executive Amine Mazouzi. He was axed in 2017 and replaced by Abdulmomen Ould Kaddour, who then led a clean-up campaign within the company.Omar Maaliou, the former vice president of Sonatrach in charge of commercialization and trading, could also be summoned for questioning in the case should all files be opened, according to the sources.Maaliou was let go by Sonatrach in 2018, a year after Mazouzi was fired, and now lives in Canada.Should all the old files be opened by the judiciary, Algerian sources say this may constitute the largest corruption case in the history of Algeria in terms of the size of losses that Sonatrach had caused the country, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Leila Hatoum is a Lebanese journalist who has covered geopolitics and macroeconomics across the Middle East and North African regions for the past 18 years.

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In Algeria, the Brotherhood sets its sights on the country’s black gold

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes…

In Algeria, the Brotherhood sets its sights on the country’s black gold

DUBAI: Algeria is a land rich in natural resources, and where there is wealth, corruption and greed often follows.Amid the political uncertainty following the removal of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years as president, and the continuing protests demanding a change to the political system, analysts believe there is fertile ground for a group that specializes in both — the Muslim Brotherhood.“Part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan is to control vital targets, and they have long eyed energy resources in this region, and attempted to take control,” said Hajjaj Bou Khaddour, a Kuwaiti energy expert.“Bouteflika is down, but the demonstrations persist. The plan is to cause a complete overhaul of the system and that means they want to change everything, not only in politics, but also in terms of vital departments in the government and its related entities, especially in the oil and gas sector.”Should that happen, it would destabilize the most profitable sector in the country.Algeria produces more than a million barrels of oil a day, making it the ninth-largest OPEC producer and the 17th worldwide. It is also a major gas producer, and exports over 50 percent of its crude (90 percent of it to Western Europe) and 60 percent of its gas. Hydrocarbons account for 60 percent of national revenue, 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of export earnings.What a prize — and all of it under threat. The International Energy Agency gave assurances last month that Algeria’s oil production was not affected by the political tension, but Bou Khaddour believes that could all quickly change. “The current situation in Algeria is vague and unclear. I do believe there may be further escalation,” he said.Meanwhile, it appears to be business as usual at the state-run oil and gas company Sonatrach, which last week signed two multimillion-dollar onshore contracts with a rig contractor. There are, however, signs that not all is well. Two major deals involving Sonatrach have recently fallen through, one of them a majority shareholding in Greece’s biggest refiner. The Greek government blamed “recent developments in the international environment” and reasons related to shortlisted parties, one of which was Sonatrach.The company is rarely far from controversy. It has been mired in a series of corruption scandals and prosecutions since 2010, and several of its former executives are serving prison sentences.And it is here, expert sources have told Arab News, that the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood may emanate. The group wants to use the current political upheaval to install its own affiliates as new leading figures in the oil and gas sector. Several names have been discussed in private.They include individuals involved in previous Sonatrach corruption cases, who managed to escape judicial penalty and have been living comfortable lives abroad until they are ready to make a comeback.One former Sonatrach executive in the crude-oil trading department, who was dismissed in 2018 in a post-corruption clearout, is thought to have ties with Lord Energy, a Swiss company closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood — and even, through its founder’s family, with Al-Qaeda.Algeria’s current political leadership understands the gravity of the situation very well, especially when it comes to supporting the stability of the lucrative oil and gas sector to ensure a smoothly run business locally and internationally.The interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, insisted last week that the government would “ensure the proper functioning of the administration and public services.”The new government also wants to reassure Algerians that public money is a better way to start than by fighting corruption, following the money trail; and naturally the oil and gas sector would be on the hit list.The military Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah has promised that the “judiciary will reopen all corruption cases,” targeting the “entire gang involved in the embezzlement and squandering of public funds.” These past cases, he said, will include Sonatrach.The accusations being reinvestigated date back to 2010 and reached as high as the energy minister at the time, Chakib Khelil. He was dismissed shortly after the scandal erupted, as were several others, until the case was dropped by the Algerian judiciary in 2016.Officials were accused of taking bribes from international energy companies, including SNC Lavalin of Canada and ENI of Italy, in return for access to Algeria’s oil and gas sector. A former vice president of Sonatrach, Chawki Rahal, whose son worked for ENI, was among those named in the case.Sources say other former officials from Sonatrach may well be summoned by the judiciary and interrogated, including former Chief Executive Amine Mazouzi. He was axed in 2017 and replaced by Abdulmomen Ould Kaddour, who then led a clean-up campaign within the company.Omar Maaliou, the former vice president of Sonatrach in charge of commercialization and trading, could also be summoned for questioning in the case should all files be opened, according to the sources.Maaliou was let go by Sonatrach in 2018, a year after Mazouzi was fired, and now lives in Canada.Should all the old files be opened by the judiciary, Algerian sources say this may constitute the largest corruption case in the history of Algeria in terms of the size of losses that Sonatrach had caused the country, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Leila Hatoum is a Lebanese journalist who has covered geopolitics and macroeconomics across the Middle East and North African regions for the past 18 years.

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Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history. Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years. “The shape of the…

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”

 

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