Gulf crisis threatens East Africa peace efforts, EU warns

ENTEBBE: Diplomatic tensions between countries in the Gulf are threatening peace efforts in East Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa, the EU’s special envoy has warned.

The crisis, which erupted nearly a year ago, has pitted Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain against Qatar, with Riyadh and its allies accusing Doha of fostering close ties with Iran and backing Islamic extremists.

But the fallout has had direct repercussions in the Horn of Africa where it has exacerbated already-existing tensions, notably in Somalia, said Alexander Rondos, Europe’s special envoy to the region.

In particular, tensions have escalated steadily between Somalia and the United Arab Emirates, which has sought to extend its influence there as the war in Yemen rages on.

Although the two countries have been traditionally close, Mogadishu’s attempts to remain neutral over the Gulf divisions have not gone down well.

One of the EU’s “most important objectives” is to make sure that East Africa “is as well protected as it can be from what is a rapidly shifting geo-political environment” in the Gulf, he said on Friday following a two-day seminar of EU envoys to the region.

Political strife between Gulf states and their alliances with east African players was “the biggest strategic issue because it could easily undermine all of the efforts to overcome East Africa’s own particular crises, whether it’s South Sudan or Somalia,” Rondos said.

“We don’t need something aggravating these efforts,” he added, describing the geo-political challenge as the “biggest game in town”.

In Somalia, the conflict has raised tensions between the federal states and the central government, with many unhappy about President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s neutral stance.

For some, there would be many economic benefits to throwing Mogadishu’s support behind Saudi Arabia or the Emirates in a development which has put pressure on already fraught internal relationships in a country already fraught with violence.

Rondos also expressed concern that the Gulf crisis could exacerbate tensions between East African nations working together on efforts to solve regional crises, notably South Sudan and Burundi, as well as in Somalia. — AFP

Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

BEIRUT: Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday on one of their centres in the northern province of Aleppo, the White Helmets said.

The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader centre in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.

Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital, it wrote on Twitter.

Founded in 2013, the White Helmets are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.

The Al-Hader centre lies in a part of Aleppo province controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist organisation whose main component was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

“At around 2am, an armed group stormed the Al-Hader centre, blindfolded the staff members who were on the night shift, and killed five of them,” said Ahmad al-Hamish, who heads the centre.

“Two others were wounded and another two were able to flee. The attackers were masked and escaped after stealing some equipment and generators,” he said.

It was unclear whether the attack was a robbery-gone-wrong or if the centre and its crew had been specifically targeted.

More than 200 White Helmets rescuers have been killed in Syria’s seven-year war, usually in bombing raids or shelling on their centres.

While attacks like the one on Saturday are rare, they have happened before.

In August, seven White Helmets members were killed in a similar attack in the town of Sarmin, in neighbouring Idlib province.

Most of Idlib is held by HTS, as well as a part of Aleppo and the adjacent province of Hama.

Tensions are on the rise there, with a wave of intra-opposition assassinations and clashes leaving at least 20 rebels dead in 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“You cannot separate the Al-Hader incident from the assassinations and other killings that have been happening more and more in recent weeks in areas under HTS control,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The population of Idlib province has swelled to more than two million people as a result of massive transfers of rebels and civilians from onetime opposition zones elsewhere in the country.

The killings come as the White Helmets are facing a “freeze” on funding from the United States, which is still reviewing over US$200 million (RM796 million) earmarked for stabilisation in Syria. — AFP

EU’s Barnier urges UK to accept EU court deal for Brexit

BRUSSELS: EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Britain on Saturday that failing to agree a deal on the governance of a withdrawal treaty which preserves the primacy of the EU court would mean no treaty and no transition period.

Barnier also described British delays in spelling out what kind of trade relationship London wants as “a game of hide and seek” in remarks prepared for delivery to a gathering in Portugal of jurists specialised in EU law.

He chided British criticism of EU positions as a “blame game”, urging London to recognise that it could not retain many elements of EU membership after Brexit.

The sharp tone of the former French minister’s remarks follow several days of talks in Brussels between his team of EU negotiators and their British counterparts, after which a senior EU official dismissed as “fantasy” both London’s overall proposals for future close relations and an offer to avoid a disruptive “hard border” between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

British ministers said those remarks were not “helpful”.

Barnier said he was ready to have “political level” talks to try to advance in three key areas where uncertainty remains, 10 months before Britain is due to leave in March 2019 — how to rule on future disputes over the withdrawal treaty, a “backstop” solution for the Irish border and a framework for future ties.

Referring to discussions within Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on whether to drop an insistence on having no customs union, he said: “If the United Kingdom would like to change its own red lines, it must tell us. The sooner the better.”

“We are asking for clarity,” he added. “A negotiation cannot be a game of hide and seek.”

On the issue of the governance of a withdrawal treaty, which both sides hope to have ready around October, Barnier repeated the EU’s insistence that primacy of the European Court of Justice inside the Union be maintained in regulating any dispute that could not be resolved by a joint committee appointed by the political leadership of the two sides.

“We cannot accept that a jurisdiction other that the Court of Justice of the European Union determines the law and imposes its interpretation on the institutions of the Union,” he said.

The role of British judges would be respected, he added.

But without an agreement on this, the whole deal would collapse: “Without an agreement on governance, there will be no withdrawal agreement and so no transition period.”

Many businesses are counting on an interim accord to maintain a broad status quo between Britain and the EU after Brexit until the end of 2020.

Barnier, who has been hoping to making substantial progress on key issues before May meets fellow EU leaders at a Brussels summit in a month, also criticised what he called a “blame game”
in which British officials were accusing the EU of failing to show flexibility to allow continued close cooperation in areas such as security, the economy and research.

This, Barnier said, was to ignore the close legal framework within the EU which was the basis for trust and cooperation among its nation-state members. “We cannot share this decision-making autonomy with a third country,” he said.

“The United Kingdom must face up to the reality of the Union … It is one thing to be inside the Union and another to be on the outside.” — Reuters

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