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Brexit: Revised withdrawal agreement in full

Britain voted to leave the 28-member EU during a June 2016 referendum [File: Francisco Seco/Reuters]

Britain and the European Union have struck a Brexit deal after days of intense see-saw negotiations – though it must still be formally approved by the bloc and ratified by the European and UK Parliaments.

EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the revised withdrawal agreement answered the questions thrown up by the island of Ireland – home to Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU-member state.

Speaking at a news conference, Barnier said: “Throughout these negotiations the EU and UK were fully committed to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland. Discussions over the past days have at times been difficult, but have delivered and we have delivered together.”

Here is the revised withdrawal agreement in full. 

Source: Aljazeera

Environmental groups warn banks over Saudi Aramco: Report

Saudi Aramco plans to float around five percent of the state-owned company in 2020 or 2021 [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

At least eight environmental groups have warned banks that are connected to Saudi Aramco’s planned market float that they run the risk of financing the destruction of the planet by supporting the public listing of the world’s biggest oil producer, a report in the Guardian revealed.

The green groups, which include Friends of the Earth and Oil Change International, sent a letter to the chief executives of banks that the listing would undercut efforts to decrease emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The groups warned that the stock market launch would be “the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry” since the agreement was signed.

The letter from the green groups also criticised the banks’ willingness to help raise billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia “given the horrendous human rights record of the Saudi regime”.

“Recent examples of this include the role of Saudi agents in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, and the involvement of Saudi forces in indiscriminate air strikes on civilians in Yemen,” the letter said.

Aramco has said it plans to float around five percent of the state-owned company in 2020 or 2021 in what could potentially be the world’s biggest stock sale.

The mammoth initial public offering (IPO) forms the cornerstone of a reform programme envisaged by the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to wean the Saudi economy off its reliance on oil.

Source: Aljazeera

Trump says Kurds 'not angels', dubs PKK 'worse than ISIL'

The US House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria [Alex Brandon/AP]

US President Donald Trump has hailed his surprise decision to withdraw US troops from Syria as “strategically brilliant”, declaring that the Kurds were “not angels”.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed campaign against Ankara, were “probably” a bigger “terrorist threat” than the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) armed group.

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“Now the PKK, which is part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror, and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS,” he said referring to the group which has been designated a terrorist group by the US, EU and Turkey.

“I’m not going to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria, especially when, if you look at the Kurds, and again I say this with great respect, they’re no angels,” he added.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), was founded in 2015 and has helped the United States in its fight against ISIL.

Ankara says its military operation is against the YPG, which it considers a “terrorist” group.

Bizarre letter to Erdogan

The president’s remarks contradicted his own statements made last week as well as the official assessment of his administration that criticised the Turkish military offensive.

In a bizarrely worded letter published by Fox Business, Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “don’t be a fool”, saying that he risked being branded a “devil” due to the Turkish-led offensive into northeast Syria.

In the letter – dated October 9, the day the offensive was launched – Trump called on Erdogan “to make a good deal”, warning him of the possible “destruction” of Turkey’s economy if the offensive continued.

“You don’t want to be responsible for the slaughtering of thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy,” he wrote. 

“History will look on your favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote in the letter which the White House confirmed was real.

“It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

The US House of Representatives voted 354-60 on Wednesday to condemn Trump’s decision to withdraw some 1,000 US special forces from northeast Syria, effectively clearing the way for Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces there.

The bipartisan vote was a stark warning to the president that Congress did not support his abrupt decision, which left Kurdish fighters to fend for themselves. They later joined hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Turkey.

Source: Aljazeera

Syrians using smugglers to seek refuge in Iraq

The Turkish operation in northeastern Syria has forced more than a thousand Syrian refugees to cross the border into Iraq in the past three days.

But tightly secured borders mean many are being smuggled in to the country.

There are also security concerns about ISIL fighters slipping through.

Source: Aljazeera

Turkey's military operation in Syria: All the latest updates

Heavy fighting continues as Turkey presses on with its military operation, now in its ninth day, against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military action aims to remove the Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to which millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.

The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the area, leaving the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group, without US military support.

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Here are the latest updates:

Thursday, October 17

Turkey could boost 2020 spending for Syria ‘safe zone’ housing

Turkey could allocate funds in its 2020 budget for building housing for refugees in a “safe zone” it wants to set up in northern Syria after a military incursion there, the head of the presidency’s budget directorate said.

Ankara wants to clear the Kurdish YPG militia from the length of its border with Syria and establish a zone that will extend some 20 miles (32 km) south. It says it will settle in that area up to 2 million of the 3.6 million refugees that Turkey currently hosts.

There are no funds allocated in the 2020 budget for the housing projects but it could be done if needed, Naci Agbal, the head of the Strategy and Budget Directorate said.

“The government budget is strong, flexible. The necessary initiative will be taken,” he said, adding that Turkey could also boost spending on military operations.

Report: Trump letter ‘dumped in trash’ in Turkey

Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the London-based Middle East Eye news website that they responded Trump’s letter in kind and with stronger language.

“We just dumped his letter to the trash,” one of them said. 

“The date on the letter is 9 October, the same day we began Operation Peace Spring. Our president gave the best response by launching the operation on the same day at 4pm,” the official told MEE. 

The leak came a day before US Vice President Mike Pence is set arrive in Ankara seeking a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish-led SDF.

Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said all meetings with US officials should be cancelled.

“The Turkish nation and state were offended,” he tweeted.

Clashes between SDF and Turkey-backed froces continue in Ras al-Ain

Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters continue to battle in the border town of Ras al-Ain,  considered a strategic point for both.

Syrian forces moving north have become a major obstacle for Turkey which launched its offensive into northeast Syria a week ago in attempt to create its so-called “safe-zone” in the area.

Russia which backs Syria has called Turkey’s incursion “unacceptable”.

Aid groups scramble to reach Syrians as battle lines shift              

Humanitarian groups in northeastern Syria are scrambling to provide aid to hundreds of thousands of people as rapidly shifting battle lines make it increasingly difficult to reach them.

Nearly all foreign aid workers have been evacuated because of security concerns, and there are fears that local staff could face reprisals, either at the hands of Turkish-led forces pushing in from the north or Syrian troops fanning out across territory held by the embattled Kurds.

Doctors Without Borders, which operates in war zones around the globe and is known by its French acronym MSF, said Tuesday it had decided to suspend most of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeastern Syria.

The International Rescue Committee also said it has suspended its health operations in the northeast because of “hostilities and uncertainty.”

Hungary fearful of new of wave of Syria migrants

Hungary would have to “use force” at its southern border with Serbia to protect the European Union’s frontier if Turkey delivers on a threat to open the gates for refugees through the Balkans towards Europe, Hungary’s prime minister said.

“If Turkey sets off further hundreds of thousands on top of (existing migrant flows), then we will need to use force to protect the Hungarian border and the Serbian-Hungarian frontier and I do not wish for anyone that we should need to resort to that,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

Erdogan to meet US delegation in Ankara

Turkish President Erdogan is expected to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara to discuss the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria.

“At this point, the vice president and I are planning to take off later this afternoon,” Pompeo told US media on Wednesday. “And we have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdogan.”

Erdogan told Sky News earlier on Wednesday that he would not meet with the US delegation led by Pence before reversing his position in comments to the Turkish press.

Wednesday, October 16

Trump sent threatening letter to Erdogan

On the day Turkey launched its offensive in northeast Syria, Trump wrote to Erdogan saying the Turkish president would be remembered as a “devil” if he moved ahead with the military action. 

Trump started his October 9 letter suggesting they could “work out a good deal”.

“You don’t want to be responsible for the slaughtering of thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy,” he wrote. 

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump continued. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.”

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” he said, adding that the SDF‘s commander was willing to negotiate.

The authenticity of the letter was confirmed by the White House.

Pompeo to visit Jerusalem and Brussels after Turkey

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Jerusalem and Brussels after his visit to Turkey on Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Pompeo will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday and then travel later that day to Brussels for a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the statement said.

Pence and Pompeo are going to Turkey’s capital Ankara to urge Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to stop his invasion of Syria.

Democrats walk out of briefing with Trump on Turkey

Trump met members of Congress at the White House on Wednesday to discuss Turkey and Syria.

Democrats say Trump insulted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her a “third-rate politician.” Democratic leaders left shortly afterwards.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to pin the blame on Pelosi, saying she stormed out of the meeting. 

Read more here

Senate Republicans defend US alliance with Syrian Kurds

Senate Republicans are sticking up for the US-allied Syrian Kurds after Trump defended his pullout of US troops on Wednesday. 

GOP Leader Mitch McConnell called the partnership “a terrific alliance” that set the ISIL group back and says he is “sorry we are where we are”.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has not been a reliable ally. The Kurds have been a reliable ally.”

Source: Aljazeera

Hong Kong pro-democracy leader 'stable' after hammer attack

In August, Jimmy Sham was also attacked by two suspects with a baseball bat and knife [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

A leading Hong Kong pro-democracy figure who has been involved in the city’s ongoing protests, is “stable and taking rest in hospital”, after a hammer attack overnight left him bleeding and collapsed on a pavement.

The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) denounced on Thursday the “unacceptable acts of violence” against its leader, Jimmy Sham, and other prominent activists and politicians, who have been calling for more freedom in the autonomous Chinese city. 

“It is not hard to link this incident to a spreading political terror in order to threaten and inhibit the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights,” the CHRF said.

In a separate statement posted earlier on social media, the group said it “strongly condemns” the incident on Wednesday night, and urged police to conduct an investigation “to bring the perpetrators to justice”.

Images posted on social media on Wednesday showed Sham collapsed in a pavement next to a vehicle with blood all over his face and body.

According to the front, between four to five people with hammers attacked Sham about 7:30pm local time on Wednesday (11:30 GMT).

Several people nearby reportedly tried to intervene and stop the attack, but were “threatened at knifepoint”.

“The perpetrators then boarded a seven-seater car after the attack and fled,” the statement said.

It was the second attack on Sham in three months. In August he was also attacked by at least two people with a baseball bat and knife.

‘Horrifying attack’

Police later showed up at the scene of the attack on Arran Lane, a few blocks from Mong Kok.

The opposition Demosisto party, however, denounced the officers for failing to “set up any blockade at the crime scene”.

A video posted by Demosisto also showed one police officer stepping on bloodstains at the spot where Sham was attacked.

In a statement, Joshua Rosenzweig of Amnesty International urged authorities to “promptly conduct an investigation into this horrifying attack”.

“Anything less would send a chilling signal that such attacks are tolerated by the authorities,” he said.

Sham, who is running for a seat in the district council election in November, has been at the forefront in the campaign for the Hong Kong government to deliver the so-called “five demands”, including the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent investigation into alleged police brutality and universal suffrage for the Hong Kong Legislative Council and Chief Executive.

On Thursday, the CHRF urged people to come out and join the protest on Sunday “to stand their ground and show the perpetrators and this regime that we will not stand down”.

Protests in Hong Kong began in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to China for trial, but have broadened into a pro-democracy movement amid fears that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s freedoms. The bill is due to be formally withdrawn this week.

The unrest has plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since Britain handed it back to China in 1997 and poses the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Source: Aljazeera