United States to provide $100 million more for Turkey, Syria quake aid
The United States will provide an additional $100 million dollars for earthquake response in Turkey and Syria, the US State Department said on Sunday, adding to the $85 million previously approved.
President Joe Biden intends to authorize $50 million for refugee and migration assistance and $50 million in humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the devastating earthquake that hit the two countries on Feb. 6, the State Department said.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s southeast and neighbouring Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 45,000 people and leaving a million-plus homeless, with the economic cost of the disaster expected to run into billions of dollars, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived at Incirlik Air Force Base on Sunday for an official visit and discussions on how Washington can further assist.
From Incirlik, he took a helicopter ride with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to observe from above the devastation caused by the earthquake in the southern Hatay province, one of the hardest hit, read the report.
165 injured in magnitude-5.6 quake in NW Iran
The number of people injured in a magnitude-5.6 earthquake that jolted northwestern Iran on Friday morning rose to 165, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.
The quake occurred near Khoy County in the province of West Azarbaijan at 6:46 a.m. local time (0316 GMT) at a depth of 8 kilometers, according to the Iranian Seismological Center.
Of the 165 injured, 139 were released from medical centers after receiving first aid, while the rest were being treated, IRNA quoted Provincial Governor of West Azarbaijan Mohammad-Sadeq Motamedian as saying.
Director General of West Azarbaijan’s Housing Foundation Jafar Barzegar told IRNA that 80 residential units in 10 villages in Salmas and Khoy counties were damaged in the quake.
In late January, a magnitude-5.9 earthquake jolted Khoy County, killing three people and injuring over 800 others.
Islamabad open to ‘non-transactional dialogue’ with Imran Khan’s party
Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Friday Islamabad was ready to hold comprehensive dialogue with former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party “for the sake of the country’s prosperity and national interest”.
Addressing a press conference, Asif said however that Pakistan’s government would not oblige by entering into any “transactional dialogue with the opposition”.
Asif said a lot has happened in the year since Imran Khan received a vote of no confidence. He also referred to the court saga in the past few weeks where Imran Khan has failed to appear before a judge on various charges relating to the sale of gifts to him during his tenure as prime minister.
Asif said: “Imran Khan refused to appear in the courts on different pretexts and security reasons or reasons of being victimized.
“And then his appearance is accepted in the court while he still sits in the car and he actually attacks the courts or the courts are mocked by his supporters,” he added.
Khawaja Asif said that when police went to Imran Khan’s house to arrest him, “the police were attacked as a result at least 70 to 80 police officers, including senior officers, were injured trying to arrest him. They pitched battle outside his (Imran Khan’s) house. This has never happened in Pakistan.”
According to Pakistan’s APP, during his (Imran Khan) regime, opposition workers and leaders were arrested. “They never contested their arrest physically, never abused and maligned the courts,” he said.
“During the last four years of his (Imran Khan) rule as Prime Minister, almost the whole of the top leadership of PML-N was arrested,” he added.
“Our leader Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif got arrested when he came back from the UK to surrender, his daughter, sons and nephews were arrested. But they never resisted their arrest.”
Asif stated that he was “picked up from Embassy Road and remained in jail for almost six months”.
He also noted that victimization of the opposition was unprecedented in Khan’s era.
Asif noted that the coalition government was governing the country under difficult circumstances – administratively and financially and politically.
“This is the backdrop in which we are at the moment governing the country and trying to give the best. We do realise that the political capital we had when we took over or when moved the vote of no confidence has depleted. We paid a cost for it,” he added.
He said the coalition government was trying to manage the crisis but that every day there was a crisis precipitated by Imran Khan, APP reported.
Meanwhile, Pakistan media reported Saturday that shipping containers have been placed at various locations in Lahore ahead of the PTI’s rally at the Minar-i-Pakistan on Saturday night, where party chairman Imran Khan intends to outline his “vision of Haqeeqi Azadi”.
Dawn news reported that containers were being placed at entry and exit routes around the city in what appeared to be an attempt to block routes leading to the PTI’s rally.
Earlier Saturday, Imran Khan called on his supporters to “assert their right as people of a free nation” by attending the rally.
He added that the PTI would be holding its sixth public gathering at Minar-i-Pakistan, which he felt would “break all records”.
“My heart tells me it will break all records. I am inviting everyone in Lahore to attend after Tarawih prayers. I will give my vision of Haqeeqi Azadi and how we will pull Pakistan out of the mess cabal of crooks have put our country in,” Imran said.
Dawn News reported that while expressing concerns that the government may erect obstacles to prevent party supporters from reaching the venue, Imran Khan asserted that it was the fundamental right of the people to participate in a political gathering.
“Everyone must assert their right as people of a free nation that won its independence and come to Minar-i-Pakistan,” he told his supporters.
After Iran, Saudi Arabia to re-establish ties with Syria, sources say
Syria and Saudi Arabia have agreed to reopen their embassies after cutting diplomatic ties more than a decade ago, three sources with knowledge of the matter said, a step that would mark a leap forward in Damascus’s return to the Arab fold, Reuters reported.
Contacts between Riyadh and Damascus had gathered momentum following a landmark agreement to re-establish ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, a regional source aligned with Damascus said.
The re-establishment of ties between Riyadh and Damascus would mark the most significant development yet in moves by Arab states to normalize ties with Assad, who was shunned by many Western and Arab states after Syria’s civil war began in 2011, Reuters reported.
The two governments were “preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr”, a Muslim holiday in the second half of April, a second regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters.
The decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official, according to one of the regional sources and a diplomat in the Gulf.
The Saudi government’s communication office, the kingdom’s foreign ministry and the Syrian government did not respond to requests for comment.
Saudi state television later confirmed that talks were ongoing with the Syrian foreign ministry to resume consular services, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, read the report.
The apparently sudden breakthrough could indicate how the deal between Tehran and Riyadh may play into other crises in the region, where their rivalry has fuelled conflicts including the war in Syria.
The United States and several of its regional allies, including Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had backed some of the Syrian rebels. Assad was able to defeat the insurgency across most of Syria thanks largely to Shi’ite Iran and Russia.
The United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has opposed moves by regional countries to normalise ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution, Reuters reported.
When asked about the rapprochement, a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. “stance on normalisation remains unchanged” and that it would not encourage other countries to normalise ties with Assad.
The United Arab Emirates, another strategic U.S. partner, has led the way in normalising contacts with Assad, recently receiving him in Abu Dhabi with his wife.
But Saudi Arabia has been moving far more cautiously.
The Gulf diplomat said the high-ranking Syrian intelligence official “stayed for days” in Riyadh and an agreement was struck to reopen embassies “very soon”.
One of the regional sources identified the official as Hussam Louqa, who heads Syria’s intelligence committee, and said talks included security on Syria’s border with Jordan and the smuggling of captagon, an amphetamine for which there is a thriving market in the Arab Gulf, from Syria.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 in response to Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests, Reuters reported.
Saudi’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud earlier this month said engagement with Assad could lead to Syria’s return to the Arab League, but it was currently too early to discuss such a step.
The diplomat said the Syrian-Saudi talks could pave the way for a vote to lift Syria’s suspension during the next Arab summit, expected to be held in Saudi Arabia in April.
The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, arguing Arab countries needed more of a presence in resolving the Syrian conflict, read the report.
While Assad has basked in renewed contacts with Arab states that once shunned him, U.S. sanctions remain a major complicating factor for countries seeking to expand commercial ties.
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