Monthly Archives: August 2014

Egypt to build $8.4 billion channel parallel to Suez Canal

Egypt to dig parallel Suez Canal in one year: El-Sisi 

Egypt is planning to build a new Suez Canal alongside the existing waterway, as part of a multi-billion dollar project to invest in port and shipping infrastructure. This will be a vital source of hard currency to the Arab country.

The new canal will be part of a bigger project to expand Suez port and shipping facilities into a major global trade hub.

“This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel of a total length of 72 kilometers,” Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal authority, told a conference on the project in Ismailia, one of the port’s on the waterway.

Mamish said that the project would consist of 35 kilometers of “dry digging,” in other words a totally new canal, and a further 37 kilometers of “expansion and deepening” of the existing waterway, so that two large ships can pass each other.

Plans have existed for years to develop the 76,000 square kilometers of land along the canal to generate more income and expand the waterway to take bigger ships.

The cost of digging out the new channel has been put at a conservative $8.4 billion and will be finished in an ambitious five-year plan, but El-Sisi ambitiously announced that digging for the parallel canal will be finished by mid-2015 – far sooner than the three years previously announced for the project.

Egyptian President Adel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army general, said that the army would have control of the project, but that 14 consortia had been asked to bid for it in January. Among the bidders were a number of state-run Arab contractors as well the US based global management consulting firm, Mckinsey & Co, and the architects James Cubitt and partners.The Lebanese engineering firm Dar al-Handasah will also be involved in the project.

The army’s key involvement is not much of a surprise, following their role in the toppling of Mohamed Morsi and a huge crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

There has also been a surge in violence over the last year from Islamist militants on the Sinai Peninsula, not far from the Suez Canal, where the Egyptian military have been involved in a campaign which has seen hundreds killed on both sides.

“Sinai to a large degree has a sensitive status. The army is responsible to Egypt for this,” said Sisi.

Sisi has said he will support major projects, like Suez, to help revive Egypt’s troubled economy, which have led some people to say he is following in the footsteps of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led a coup against the monarchy in 1952 and then set up a military autocracy.

Nasser presided over several large scale projects during his 14 years as president, including the huge Aswan dam across the Nile.

In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which led to an international crisis and a failed military attempt by Britain, Israel and France to take it back.

Advertisements

Libya’s new parliament calls for unity as rival militias clash

Smoke filled the sky over Tripoli on Sunday after rockets fired by one of Libya’s militias struck a tank in the main fuel depot.

Smoke filled the sky over Tripoli on Sunday after rockets fired by one of Libya’s militias struck a tank in the main fuel depot.

(Reuters) – Libya’s new parliament appealed for national unity at its first formal session on Monday as rival armed factions battled for dominance of a country struggling to hold itself together three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Hours before parliament met in the eastern city of Tobruk, heavy artillery and rocket fire bombarded southern and western Tripoli, where Islamist-leaning Misrata brigades have fought for three weeks with rival militias allied with the town of Zintan.

Lawmakers gathered in a heavily guarded hotel in Tobruk because three weeks of fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi had made Libya’s two main cities unsafe for the parliamentary session.

Western nations, which have mostly pulled their diplomats out of the North African country due to the fighting, hope that the new assembly can nudge the warring factions toward a ceasefire and negotiations to end a political deadlock.

Elected in June, the House of Representatives replaces the General National Congress (GNC) after a vote which, analysts said, eroded the political dominance that Islamist factions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood had in the legislature.

In a sign of Libya’s deepening polarization, the Islamist former GNC president and a group of current and ex-GNC lawmakers rejected the Tobruk session as unconstitutional, setting the stage for more political infighting.

“A swift transition from the GNC to the new parliament is vital because the country is in turmoil,” Azzedine al-Awami, the former deputy GNC chief, said at the first session.

“We hope all Libyans stand together to put our country’s best interests first.”

Justice Minister Saleh al-Marghani, standing in for the prime minister, who was attending a summit of African and U.S. leaders in Washington urged lawmakers to form a unity government.

Out of 188 elected lawmakers, 158 were sworn in during the session in Tobruk. They then elected Aguila Saleh Iissa as the House’s president. Saleh is seen as a jurist and had occupied many judicial positions during the time of Gaddafi.

DIVISIONS

The United States, Britain, France, Italy and Germany quickly issued a joint call for parties to accept a ceasefire and a dialogue supported by the United Nations, and to recognize the authority of the parliament’s elected representatives.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni during the summit in Washington, said it was a “critical time” for Libya.

“Libya’s challenges can really only be solved by Libyans themselves, but we are committed to stand by them as they engage in the difficult work of doing so,” Kerry said.

He said the United States was committed to returning diplomats to its embassy in Tripoli “as soon as the security situation allows.”

But, underscoring the divisions over the legitimacy of the new assembly, in Tripoli outgoing GNC President Nouri Abusahmain, an Islamist leader, rejected the Tobruk meeting because of the way it had been held and the location of the session.

It was not immediately clear how much support his statement would generate or its impact on armed factions allied with the Islamist political leadership. Most Islamist-leaning lawmakers and ex-GNC members had stayed away from Tobruk.

More than 200 people have been killed in the recent fighting in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. Clashes have closed off most international flights, damaged Tripoli’s main airport and sent foreign diplomats and workers fleeing abroad.

The battle for the airport is part of a wider political struggle between two loose factions of ex-rebels and their political allies who once fought together against Gaddafi, but whose rivalries exploded over the spoils of postwar Libya.

On one side are the Zintan brigades – based in the city some 130 km (80 miles) southwest of Tripoli – with their anti-Islamist Qaaqaa and Al-Sawaiq fighters, including some ex-Gaddafi forces, and political allies who say they are a bulwark against Islamist extremists taking over Libya.

Against them are fighters loyal to the western port of Misrata who are allied with the Islamist Justice and Construction party, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, who say they are fighting to purge ex-Gaddafi elements.

OIL OUTPUT DROPS

In a worrying development for Libya’s budget, the country’s lifeline oil production has slipped to 450,000 barrels per day (bpd)from 500,000 bpd a week ago, the National Oil Corp said on Monday, without explaining why output had fallen.

Even the previous figure is well below the 1.4 million bpd Libya produced a year ago, before strikes and blockades cut output and exports from the OPEC state.

Britain was closing its embassy operations on Monday, one of the last foreign governments to pull out its diplomatic staff, following the evacuation of the United States and the United Nations after the fighting erupted in Tripoli.

A Royal Navy ship on Sunday evacuated more than 100 British citizens, Libyan families and some foreign nationals. Some diplomats crossed by road into neighboring Tunisia.

With its national army still in formation, Libya’s fragile government has long struggled against the power of the militias, which have skirmished in parts of the capital since 2011.

Many of the militia brigades are on the government payroll, approved by competing factions in ministries and the parliament, but are often more loyal to commanders, political allies or regions than to the Libyan state.

The General National Congress was stormed numerous times by different militia brigades trying to pressure lawmakers on political decisions or to demand that it dissolve.

Most of Tripoli has stayed largely calm, with fighting mainly restricted to the de facto front lines in the south and parts of the west of the city. Fuel prices have soared on the black market as fighting has caused shortages.

In Benghazi, an alliance of Islamist fighters and ex-rebels have joined together to battle Libyan armed forces, seizing a special forces military base last week and pushing the army outside the city.

Those Islamists, from the Ansar al-Sharia group, are branded a terrorist organization by Washington and have been blamed for a 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died.

Islamic State militants fight for Iraq’s two biggest dams

7900

Militants from the Islamic State are battling ferociously to control one of Iraq’s most vital resources: water.

Fighters with the group launched a three-pronged attack over the weekend in a drive to capture Haditha Dam, in western Iraq, a complex with six power generators located alongside Iraq’s second-largest reservoir. At the same time, they are fighting to capture Iraq’s largest dam, Mosul Dam, in the north of the country.

Seizing the dams and the large reservoirs they hold would give the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

They could also use the dams as a weapon of war by flooding terrain downstream to slow Iraq’s military or disrupt life. They have done that with a smaller dam they hold closer to Baghdad. But with the larger dams, there are limits on this tactic since it would also flood areas that the insurgents hold.

On Friday, the fighters unleashed a powerful attack from three sides on the town of Haditha in western Anbar province. Suicide attackers tried but failed to detonate an oil tanker and several trucks packed with explosives. The aim was to obliterate the final line of defense between the militants and Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River, Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, the commander of Anbar Operations Command, told The Associated Press.

For a brief moment, it seemed all was lost. The Sunni militants seized the army command headquarters in town, with very little stopping them from reaching the dam. But some local Sunni tribes who oppose the militants and feared for their livelihoods if the dam were captured sent fighters to reinforce the 2,000 soldiers guarding the town, allowing for a narrow victory. At least 35 militants and 10 soldiers were killed in clashes on Friday, Fleih said.

But the militants have been fighting every day since trying to take the town, according to four senior military sources in Anbar province. They spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with the media.

Only 10 kilometers (6 miles) remain between the militants and the dam.

The jihadis are also closing in on the Mosul Dam — or Saddam Dam as it was once known — located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants.

Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have managed to hold the fighters off for now, but the growing strength and savvy of these Islamic militants is raising grave concerns.

The peshmerga are “under a great deal of pressure now” as they defend a 150-kilometer (80-mile) frontline against the Islamic State group along the edges of the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north,” Maj. Gen. Jabar Yawer, the official spokesman of the Kurdistan Region Guard Forces, told The Associated Press.

He said late Sunday there were fierce battles ongoing in towns and villages near the dam on the Tigris River. Fearing the worst, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki commanded his air force to reinforce the peshmerga Monday in a rare show of cooperation despite deep political divisions between al-Maliki and the Kurds.

“God forbid, if something happens that results in the destruction of the dam, it will be very, very dangerous,” Yawer said.

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

Worst hit has been the area of Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad. In May, some 12,000 families lost crops and many fled their homes, worsening Iraq’s growing crisis of internal displacement. The Special Representative for the U.N. Secretary General in Iraq called the incident a “water war,” and called on Iraqi forces and local tribes to team up and take back Iraqi waterways.

Doing that with Hadith and Mosul Dams is more problematic, since militant-controlled lie downstream. But damage to either could be disastrous, particularly in the case of the Mosul Dam. It has millions of cubic meters of water pent up behind it on the Tigris River, which — some 370 kilometers (220 miles) downstream — runs through the heart of Baghdad.

“Everything under it will be under five to 10 meters (yards) of water… including Baghdad itself,” said Ali Khedery, head of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners and a longtime adviser to the U.S. military, government and companies in Iraq. “It would be catastrophic.”

Dams are critical in Iraq for generating electricity, regulating river flow and providing irrigation. Water is a precious commodity in this largely desert country of 32.5 million people. The decline of water levels in the Euphrates over recent years has led to electricity shortages in towns south of Baghdad, where steam-powered generators depend entirely on water levels.

Water has been used as a weapon in the past. After Shiite Muslims rose up against then-President Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, he retaliated by drying out parts of wetlands in the south of the country that had once generated farming revenues for its Shiite inhabitants.

Water is not the first resource the Islamic State group has narrowed in on as it swept over much of northern and western Iraq and parts of neighboring Syria the past months. The group has captured oilfields and pipelines in Syria and has sold off crude oil, helping fund its drive across both countries.

If it captures the dams, the militants are likely to try to use its electricity and water resources to build up support in nearby areas it controls, where residents often complain of shortages. Or it could try to snarl electricity service elsewhere.

Any disruption to the Mosul Dam “would destabilize the electricity system of northern Iraq,” added Paul Sullivan, an economist and Middle East expert at National Defense University in Washington. “This station is an integral part of the entire electricity grid of Iraq.”

If the Gaza Truce Holds, What Then? 5 Possible Outcomes

How Operation Protective Edge might end — or carry on interminably

Egypt announced that Palestinian factions declared a 72-hour cease-fire to begin on Tuesday at 8 a.m. Israel sat out of the Cairo talks that produced the humanitarian truce, but said it would hold by the cease-fire, a government spokesman told TIME.Whether or not the parties actually make it through a full three days with no airstrikes or rocket attacks remains to be seen. Every other cease-fire effort undertaken since the escalation in early July has failed. But there is a more pressing question: What now? Who and what can put an end to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza — with 1,865 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed so far – and also propose a longer-term solution?Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, on Monday offered a new idea for solving the Gaza problem: let the United Nations take control of the long-troubled territory. “Everyone is asking, what happens after the operation ends? Suppose Israel defeats Hamas. There are a few options. International control of Gaza, by the UN, should certainly be considered,” Lieberman said in a press conference. This has been tried in other war-torn locales, from Kosovo to East Timor. Why not Gaza?Well, for one thing, it would be an enormous and expensive undertaking for the international community to take responsibility for Gaza. It would also require Hamas and other militant groups to agree to participate in such a scheme, which is difficult to imagine given that they’ve built their entire identities around what they view as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation. Still, many of the key players here say that almost a month into the bloodiest phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the Second Intifada, some significant change must emerge at the end of it. TIME looks at five possibilities for how this could end:

  1. Send in the UN. This would involve what’s been referred to as mini-Marshall Plan, including a massive rebuilding program that would help Gaza pick up the pieces. The task would be huge: electricity and water supplies have been compromised, and an estimated 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli defense minister and IDF chief, has proposed some specifics. These include having the international community oversee the demilitarization of Gaza – a goal recently endorsed by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but opposed by Hamas – and approximately $50 billion dollars for rebuilding. EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement July 23 backing demilitarization.
  1. Bring the PA back to Gaza: Israel and Hamas will eventually be brought into some kind of proximity talks under an umbrella of Egyptian sponsorship, and the outcome of those discussions would likely involve the return of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to Gaza, casting them in a key role as guardians of the crossing points into Israel and Egypt – along with international help. The PA, run by the PLO’s secular Fatah faction, was forced out of Gaza in 2007 as part of a violent coup staged by Hamas, whose name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Bringing a PA political and security presence back to Gaza would help beef up the legitimacy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As part of such an arrangement, Israel would likely demand a joint patrolling mechanism on the Gaza perimeter to prevent infiltrations and renewed attempts to rebuild tunnels, more than 30 of which the IDF says it has destroyed. However, the rockets from Gaza did not start when Israel pulled its troops and 8,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but rather, Israel points out, in 2001. Therefore, Israel is likely to refuse any agreement that doesn’t include a mechanism for preventing Hamas from rebuilding its rocket arsenal. The fact that Hamas and Fatah joined in a “reconciliation” government in April makes this form of cooperation more feasible than it was even a year ago.
  1. A ten-year truce: Almost two weeks ago, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year hudna, or Arabic truce. Its terms include – but are not limited to – the following: (1) the release of approximately 50 Palestinian prisoners who, after being released as part of Gilad Shalit deal in late 2011, were re-arrested by the IDF in June following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank (2) the opening of the border crossings with both Israel and Egypt (3) international supervision of the Gazan seaport instead of the Israeli naval blockade, as well as extended fishing rights to 10 km off the coast of Gaza, (4) an international airport under UN supervision, and (5) International forces on the borders of Gaza. Even if Israeli officials were prepared to accept all of that — which would be unlikely — they have said that the very concept of a hudna, a concept rooted in Islamic history, is problematic because it suggests Hamas only believes in a limited period of calm with the Jewish state, but refuses a more permanent solution because it seeks its destruction.
  1. Possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip This is an option that is often mentioned by Israel’s far-right, including some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet. Coalition partner Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy, said last week that Israel should continue its military operating until Hamas is completely defeated. Lieberman, the foreign minister, had suggested in late June that Israel reoccupy Gaza, saying only that would stop the rockets. Ultimately, Netanyahu appears to have rejected these calls, realizing that such a move would likely cause far more bloodshed and further rattle Israel’s already compromised international legitimacy.
  1. Indefinite war In this scenario, Israel withdraws its troops and tanks from Gaza, but continues to use air and naval strikes as it sees fit. Hamas stays in power and launches rockets at Israel whenever it pleases, and essentially, nothing substantial changes from how things looked a month ago – other than a great number of destroyed buildings and upwards of 2,000 lives lost. If the parties cannot agree on a cease-fire deal that feels satisfactory, “Operation Protective Edge” could simmer down into a indeterminate cycle of occasional attacks, robbing both Israelis and Palestinians of a return to normal life. Some are hoping that the right cease-fire deal is just around the corner, and some are wishing their leaders will keep holding out for more. But the possibility of a low-level war of attrition, lasting years and costing yet more lives, is not remote.

 TIME.

On Centenary of World War I, Europe Sees Modern Parallels

Members of historical societies stood under a shower of a million poppies, representing those killed in World War I, at a ceremony Monday at the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.

Members of historical societies stood under a shower of a million poppies, representing those killed in World War I, at a ceremony Monday at the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.

LONDON — With a dimming of the lights and ceremonies across this country and in Belgium, monarchs, princes, presidents and citizens commemorated on Monday the day 100 years ago when Britain entered World War I at the start of four years of carnage once called the war to end all wars.

Some took the moment to recall more modern crises in the Middle East and Europe that are rooted in the fighting between 1914 and 1918 that toppled empires and redrew the world map. Some dwelled on a vision of reconciliation among former foes.

“We were enemies more than once in the last century, and today we are friends and allies,” Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, told a ceremony in Belgium, referring to Germany and its allies in two world wars. At Westminster Abbey, prayers were said in English and German.

But today’s myriad wars haunted the commemorations, too.

“How can we remain neutral today when a people not far from Europe is fighting for their rights?” President François Hollande of France said in Belgium. “How can we remain neutral when a civilian airliner is brought down, when there is conflict in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza?”

A century ago, as hostilities loomed, Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

To echo those words, Prime Minister David Cameron urged Britons to extinguish the lights in their homes at 10 p.m. on Monday to leave a lone light or candle burning by 11 p.m. — the precise moment of the declaration of war on Germany.

In London, the lights went off at such landmarks as the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge over the River Thames. At Westminster Abbey, at a late-night ceremony attended by political leaders, a lone oil lamp at the tomb of the unknown soldier was extinguished at 11 p.m. by the Duchess of Cornwall, the former Camilla Parker-Bowles and wife of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

The fighting a century ago erupted after a series of interlocked events beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914 — killings that set off a chain of events, driven by a complex web of alliances, that historians have described as Europe’s stumbling or sleepwalking into a cataclysmic conflict.

“Most were stumbling into the darkness, increasingly bound by the chains of their own and others’ making, their hope of avoiding war ever fading,” the Very Rev. Dr. John Hall, the dean of Westminster Abbey, said in a foreword to the order of service on Monday.

Many in Britain and elsewhere expected a quick end to the hostilities. But the war soon bogged down in trench warfare that consumed the energies and resources of nations at the cost of millions of lives.

Neutral at the beginning, the United States formally joined the war in 1917.

The writer H. G. Wells is often credited with coining the description of the conflict as “the war that will end war,” the title of an essay that became a jingoistic catchphrase, “the war to end all wars.”

As the conflict drew to a close, a more cynical view overtook that sentiment when David Lloyd George, the British prime minister at the time, is said to have remarked: “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.”

The approach of the conflict in 1914 was commemorated on Sunday when Mr. Hollande and President Joachim Gauck of Germany embraced at a war memorial in the eastern French province of Alsace, near the frequently contested frontier between their nations. The occasion commemorated Germany’s declaration of war on France on Aug. 3, 1914, as German troops massed to invade neutral Belgium — the incursion that drew Britain into the war a day later.

No formal ceremonies were planned in Berlin, with German commemorations focused on Mr. Gauck’s attendance at ceremonies in lands once conquered by German soldiers. In Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin inaugurated a memorial in Moscow last week, and a museum is to open in St. Petersburg.

The scale of commemoration in Russia was unusual. Moscow usually focuses most of its commemorative efforts on World War II.

 NYTimes.com.