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US puts sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran’s Quds Force

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(Last Updated On: December 9, 2022)

The Biden administration levied sanctions on Thursday on prominent Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan and his network of firms, accusing him of acting as a facilitator for oil sales and money laundering on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Reuters reported.

The US measures come at a time of strained ties between the two nations over a host of issues, including disagreement over Syria policy and Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defense systems.

According to Reuters Ayan’s companies have set up international sales contracts for Iranian oil, arranged shipments and helped launder the proceeds and obscured the origin of the Iranian oil on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, the Treasury said in a statement first reported by Reuters.

“Ayan has established business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers,” in China, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, it said, adding that he then funneled the proceeds back to the Quds Force.

Ayan’s son Bahaddin Ayan, his associate Kasim Oztas and two other Turkish citizens involved in his business network are also designated, along with 26 companies, including his ASB Group, a Gibraltar-based holding company and a vessel.

In an emailed response to a Reuters’ request for comment, Sitki Ayan said, “We will defend our legal rights against everyone.”

He had been involved in two business activities with Iran, he added. These were trade of oil and petroleum products ended by sanctions in 2010, and the sale of Iranian electricity to Turkey from 2009 to 2015, which he quit over payment problems.

“I have never worked with anyone other than Iranian official government institutions in any period of my life,” he said.

Ayan’s son Bahaddin and Oztas were not immediately available for comment. Ayan’s ASB Group and Turkey’s communications directorate did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.

The Treasury action freezes any US assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. People engaging in certain transactions with those designated also risk sanctions.

Washington had most recently warned Turkey to refrain from a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing a possible ground invasion against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia it views as terrorists but who form the bulk of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Washington maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran and has looked for ways to increase pressure as efforts to resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran have stalled.

President Joe Biden had sought to negotiate Iran’s return of to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump pulled out of it in 2018.

The 2015 pact limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms in return for lifting international sanctions. Iran denies wanting to acquire nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.

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Erdogan declares state of emergency for Turkey quake zone

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(Last Updated On: February 7, 2023)

President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday declared as a disaster zone the 10 provinces affected by the devastating earthquakes in southern Turkey, imposing a state of emergency in the region for three months.

In a speech, Erdogan said that 70 countries had offered help in search and rescue operations and that Turkey planned to open up hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya, to the west, to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes.

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Countries worldwide mobilize to help Turkey and Syria

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(Last Updated On: February 7, 2023)

Countries around the world are rushing to send rescue workers, equipment and aid after a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Turkey and Syria early Monday.

The initial earthquake was followed by a series of well over 50 aftershocks all measuring over 4.0 magnitude. An additional, 7.7 quake also struck central Turkey later Monday.

In a statement on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said that U.S. “teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake.”

Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences and said the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recovery, the White House said in a statement.

John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said the United States is deploying two 79-person urban search and rescue teams and that the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, are coordinating with their Turkish counterparts on additional assistance.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, to “pick up the phone and let us know” what the United States can do to help, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The European Union said it mobilized rescue teams with crews from countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania dispatched to the region. At least 13 member countries have offered assistance, VOA reported.

“Our thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones and the brave first responders working to save lives,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said in a joint statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said their governments were ready to help those affected by the earthquake.

Britain said it was sending a team of 76 search-and-rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.

“Greece is mobilizing its resources and will assist immediately,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said search and rescue teams, as well as medical aid, would be going to Turkey in response to a request from the Turkish government.

Israel also said it had received a request for humanitarian aid for Syria through a diplomatic official and would send assistance. The two historical adversaries have no diplomatic relations.

Russia also said it had rescue teams preparing to go to Turkey and Syria to help earthquake victims.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad and Turkey’s Erdogan to express his condolences over the death and destruction caused by the earthquake.

India also sent in its first of two C17 flights with more than 50 search and rescue personnel, specially trained dog squads, drilling machines, relief material, medicines and other necessary utilities and equipment, the Indian foreign ministry said Tuesday. This flight has already landed in Turkey.

In addition, Iraq said it would send civil defense teams to Turkey and Syria with relief supplies, including food and fuel, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered his government’s support as well.

“I am shocked to learn of deaths and injuries of hundreds of people as a result of the earthquake in Turkey,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “We send our condolences to the families of the victims and wish the injured a speedy recovery. At this time, we stand by the friendly Turkish people and are ready to provide the necessary assistance.”

Japan, another country often plagued by earthquakes, said it is sending a group of about 75 rescue workers to Turkey, VOA reported.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg expressed “full solidarity” with alliance member Turkey and said, “NATO allies are mobilizing support now.”

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Huge earthquake kills 2,400 in Turkey and Syria, bad weather worsens plight

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(Last Updated On: February 6, 2023)

A huge earthquake killed more than 2,400 people across a swathe of Turkey and northwest Syria on Monday, with freezing winter weather adding to the plight of the many thousands left injured or homeless and hampering efforts to find survivors.

The magnitude 7.8 quake brought down whole apartment blocks in Turkish cities and piled more devastation on millions of Syrians displaced by years of war.

The worst tremor to strike Turkey this century, it came before sunrise in harsh weather and was followed in the early afternoon by another large quake of magnitude 7.7.

“It was like the apocalypse,” said Abdul Salam al-Mahmoud, a Syrian in the northern town of Atareb. “It’s bitterly cold and there’s heavy rain, and people need saving.”

The second quake was big enough to bring down more buildings and, like the first, was felt across the region, endangering rescuers struggling to pull casualties from the rubble, Reuters reported.

In Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey, a woman speaking next to the wreckage of the seven-storey block where she lived said: “We were shaken like a cradle. There were nine of us at home. Two sons of mine are still in the rubble, I’m waiting for them.”

She was nursing a broken arm and had injuries to her face.

The earthquake was the biggest quake recorded worldwide by the U.S. Geological survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021.

In Turkey, the death toll stood at 1,541, Vice President Fuat Oktay said. At least 928 people were killed in Syria, according to figures from the Damascus government and rescue workers in the northwestern region controlled by insurgents.

Poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.

Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless. Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend, Reuters reported.

It is already the highest death toll from an earthquake in Turkey since 1999, when a tremor of similar magnitude devastated the heavily populated eastern Marmara Sea region near Istanbul, killing more than 17,000.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who is preparing for a tough election in May, called it a historic disaster and the worst earthquake to hit Turkey since 1939, but said authorities were doing all they could.

“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said.

Turkish state broadcaster TRT showed a building collapse in the southern province of Adana after the second quake. It was not immediately clear if it was evacuated.

In Syria, already wrecked by more than 11 years of civil war, the health ministry said 538 people had been killed and more than 1,326 injured. In the Syrian rebel-held northwest, emergency workers said 390 people had died.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said the earthquake would only add to the suffering of millions of Syrians already enduring a humanitarian crisis due to the civil war.

In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, Reuters journalists saw dozens of rescue workers searching through a mound of debris, all that was left of a big building, and hauling off bits of wreckage as they looked for survivors. Occasionally they raised their hands and called for quiet, listening for sounds of life.

Men carried a girl wrapped in blankets from a collapsed building in the city. In Izmir, drone footage showed rescue workers stood atop a hill of rubble where a building once stood, working to lift slabs of masonry.

Footage circulated on Twitter showed two neighbouring buildings collapsing one after the other in Syria’s Aleppo, filling the street with billowing dust.

Two residents of the city, which has been heavily damaged in the war, said the buildings had fallen in the hours after the quake, which was also felt in Cyprus and Lebanon.

In the Syrian rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-storey building once stood.

“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.

Raed al-Saleh of the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue service in rebel-held territory known for pulling people from the ruins of buildings destroyed by air strikes, said they were in “a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble”.

The casualty toll in northwestern Syria was expected to increase, a spokesperson for the U.N. office for coordinating humanitarian affairs in northwestern Syria said.

“It just adds on to all the layers of suffering,” said Madevi Sun-Suon, the spokesperson.

In the Syrian government-held city of Hama, a Reuters journalist saw an apparently lifeless child carried from the ruins of a building.

Syrian state television showed rescue teams searching for survivors in heavy rain and sleet. President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the next steps, his office said.

Erdogan said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts in Turkey.

In the Turkish city of Malatya, a rescue worker crawled into a collapsed building, trying to identify a survivor trapped under the wreckage, in footage released by Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).

“What colour are you wearing? Are you wearing pink? Please take care of yourself for the moment, I cannot see anything else,” the rescue worker could be heard saying.

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