Workers kidnapped by Daesh after Ericsson insisted they work in caliphate – Arab News

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LONDON: Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson put contractors’ lives in danger when it insisted they continue working in Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq, according to leaked documents seen by the BBC.
Contractors were kidnapped due to Ericsson’s insistence that they continue to work, the BBC reported.
In leaked documents obtained by the International Consortium of International Journalists and shared with 30 media partners, it was revealed that senior staff refused to shut down the Ericsson’s Mosul operations when Daesh seized the city in 2014.
Despite a lawyer’s recommendations that they cease activity, senior company managers said they felt such an action was “premature” and would “destroy” Ericsson’s business in Iraq, according to the documents. A number of those workers were later kidnapped by Daesh.
Last week, CEO Borje Ekholm admitted, in response to the leak, that Ericsson may have paid off Daesh to allow the company to continue operating in areas run by the terror group.
The company admitted to “serious breaches of compliance rules” and its code of business ethics regarding Ericsson employees, vendors and suppliers in Iraq between 2011 and 2019. 
The news immediately wiped 12 percent off Ericsson’s share price, which has dropped nearly 20 percent in the past month.
According to the leaked documents, one man, Affan, was among a group of engineers carrying out fieldwork for Ericsson when Daesh took Mosul.
He was sent with a letter on behalf of the company seeking permission from Daesh for them to continue working there.
But as soon as they arrived, they were met by a pickup truck full of gunmen who seized them, he told German public broadcaster NDR.
Then a Daesh fighter used his phone to call Ericsson managers and demanded that the company pay $2.4 million to work in the area, Affan said.
“He (the Daesh member) said that if you (Ericsson) do not pay, this person you sent and everyone else who works for you will be hunted down by us, we will bring them here. One by one.”
Affan was placed under house arrest and said an Ericsson manager then stopped answering his calls, adding: “He abandoned me, he turned off the phone and disappeared.” 
Affan was released after a month and maintains he was abandoned by Ericsson, but the leak said one of the company’s partners “made arrangements” with Daesh to secure his release and let the company continue its work in Mosul. 
In other interactions with the terror group, Ericsson’s transport contractor used a fast route to transit Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq to avoid government checkpoints. Bribes to militants were likely paid along the way.
A senior government telecoms official in Mosul, who chose not to be named for fear of losing his job, told one of ICIJ’s media partners: “Ericsson knew well what was going on. There is not a sane person who would deal directly with IS (Daesh), they all do it through the subcontractors.
“Militants would take a percentage from every cent paid in Mosul on any project or work. This is how (Daesh) accumulated millions.”
In 2019, Ericsson reached a $1 billion settlement with US authorities following allegations of widespread corruption in five countries. 
Ericsson has not revealed whether the new revelations were disclosed to the US Department of Justice at the time of the settlement.
RAMALLAH: Tensions are growing in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah despite the Israeli Supreme Court decision on March 1 to avoid evicting four Palestinian families from their homes.
Far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir remains in the neighborhood, rallying the hard-line settler community.
At the same time, Israeli police and border guards are still present, and regularly arrest or evacuate Palestinian activists who come to show solidarity with the Sheikh Jarrah families.
Dozens of settlers, led by Ben Gvir, carried out a provocative march in Sheikh Jarrah under the protection of Israeli security forces, a day after the court decision.
The settlers raised Israeli flags, angering residents.
The tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have become a global symbol of the Palestinian cause, sparking anger in Jerusalem last year and leading led to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Palestinian campaigns to support Sheikh Jarrah residents, led by the twins Mona and Mohammed Al-Kurd, who are among those facing eviction, are surging on social media platforms.
Abdel-Fattah Skafi, one of the most prominent members of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood committee, said that the area is “divided into two parts.”
The eastern part, Karam Al-Jaouni, contains 28 Palestinian residential units. It was safeguarded by the Supreme Court decision.
However, the western neighborhood of Qabbaniat Umm Haroun still houses families who are exempt from the decision, and are still at risk of eviction.
The tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have become a global symbol of the Palestinian cause, sparking anger in Jerusalem last year and leading led to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Skafi said the “decisive rejection” of settlers and right-wing activists in the March 1 court decision has generated anger among the settler community.
“The last rally by settlers to protest against the court’s decision called the judge who supported keeping families in their homes a traitor,” Skafi said.
“We succeeded in internationalizing our cause in Sheikh Jarrah, and there was no ambassador of a reputable country or a UN envoy who came to visit the neighborhood,” Skafi told Arab News.
“They have the right to protest, but that will not change anything from the court’s decision.”
Skafi added that tensions in the western neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah are “more violent” because three Israeli families live there alongside Palestinians.
Nevertheless, for Skafi and Sheikh Jarrah residents, the issue is “not over yet,” despite the court decision.
But they are seeking to reduce tensions as they try to prove ownership of land and homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
The court also decided to freeze the eviction of the Salem family from their home in the western neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
“After the court’s decision, we can say that the battle with the settlers and their supporters has moved from the eastern neighborhood to the western neighborhood, where there are 16 Palestinian families — a large number of whom are subject to eviction from their homes,” said Skafi.
Ben Gvir is stationed in front of the Salem family home, and police have cordoned off the area with checkpoints.
Israeli police are ramping up their presence in neighborhood, especially on Fridays, when prayers are held.
Aref Hammad, a resident of the eastern part of Sheikh Jarrah, told Arab News that he hopes residents in the western section of the neighborhood will also receive the same protections offered by the Supreme Court decision.
“We support every human, and we hope the Arab countries would support us to remain in our homes safely,” he said.
Palestinian legal sources who follow the Sheikh Jarrah issue told Arab News that the strategy of the Israeli government for the time being is to “avoid escalation.”
BEIRUT: Hour-long queues outside gas stations have returned to Lebanon, as supplies of cooking oil and flour in shops dwindle amid mounting fears of a food security crisis.
Citizens told Arab News: “We saw on social media that a new crisis is underway. We arrived at the supermarket to find people fighting over cooking oil and flour.
“We do not trust the promises made by the ruling authority and we have previously run out of basic foodstuffs and medicines,” they said.
“We fear this could happen again, especially since Ramadan is approaching,” they added.
Lebanon lost important wheat silos in the Beirut port blast in 2020. The facilities used to store about 120,000 tons of wheat.
Today, the country stores much of its wheat in warehouses in the north, which are stocked after supplies are unloaded in the port of Tripoli.
But Lebanon still lacks sufficient storage space, and is dependent on regular imports to secure its monthly demand for wheat, which is about 50,000 tons.
In 2020, Lebanon imported more than 630,000 tons from Ukraine, which represented 80 percent of its total imports. Russia supplied 15 percent of the remainder, while 5 percent came from other countries.
And in 2021, Lebanon imported 520,000 tons from Ukraine and the rest from Russia.
Lebanon’s remaining stockpile is estimated to last a little more than a month, especially if the Central Bank fails to transfer money for wheat shipments that Lebanese mills have ordered.
Economy Minister Amin Salam said the government is seeking to reach agreements with several countries to import wheat at reasonable prices and secure reserves of up to two months.
“But the problem remains in the source and price, in addition to the speed of delivery of supplies before our stock runs out,” he added.
As a result of the financial collapse and currency devaluation, Lebanon’s purchasing power has significantly declined, meaning its economy is almost entirely dependent on imports.
The prices of commodities, foodstuffs and services are now intertwined with global markets, and any international events, such as the Ukraine conflict, have direct effects on the Lebanese public.
Lebanon’s annual imports from Ukraine total about $500 million.
Head of the Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon Hani Bohsali said: “Lebanon imports 100,000 tons of oils per year, 90,000 tons of which are sunflower oils, and 60 percent of sunflower oil comes from Ukraine, 30 percent from Russia, and 10 percent from Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Ukraine is currently no longer exporting, while Russia may encounter problems with the SWIFT system, which will disrupt imports.”
While the government seeks alternative countries to supply wheat, Bohsali warned that there were no alternatives to source cooking oils or the raw materials needed to produce them.
On Sunday, members of the State Security Directorate carried out inspections on gas stations that closed on Saturday, claiming that they had run out of supplies. Authorities forced them to reopen if they had remaining stock.
Queues at gas stations returned on Saturday following rumors of a fuel crisis.
The official prices of fuel surged on Thursday, with a 20-liter canister of gasoline costing more than 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($20). A 20-liter canister of diesel reached 375,000 Lebanese pounds.
However, Energy Minister Walid Fayad denied that there was a crisis on Sunday.
Ships carrying gasoline supplies are at sea and will soon unload their cargo, he added. “It seems that fuel suppliers want to issue a daily price schedule to keep pace with the global markets,” Fayad said.
The General Directorate of Petroleum is expected to issue a new table of fuel prices to take into account surging global fuel prices.
Georges Brax, a member of the gas station owners’ syndicate, called on citizens to avoid panicking and stockpiling gasoline.
“It is true that the quantities arriving in Lebanon are now less than before due to the global crisis, but what we receive is sufficient for local needs,” he said.
Brax called on the Central Bank to speed up the prepayments for ships to unload their cargoes in order to avoid a crisis, especially since the situation could worsen in the future.
Acting Information Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said: “Lebanon is in communication with international companies to address the issue of food security.”
Many countries are experiencing difficulties in exports and imports amid concerns over the war in Ukraine, he added.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will soon prevent the export of foodstuffs produced in Lebanon until the crisis caused by the Ukraine crisis subsides, and afterward will limit the export of wheat and flour to maintain domestic bread supplies.
The Economy Ministry will also work to prevent monopolisation and price gouging.
During his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi called for an end to wars that “lure fighters to practice barbarism against one other.”
He said: “We pray that the war stops, as a mercy to the innocent. We pray for an end to the destruction, killing and displacement.
“We pray anger and hatred would subside. We pray that the parties to the conflict could sit down and resolve their conflict peacefully. We emphasize the need to adopt a neutrality policy.”
BEIRUT: Fifteen soldiers died Sunday in an Daesh group attack on an army bus in the central Syrian desert, a war monitor said, as state media reported a “terrorist attack.”
Despite the fall of Daesh’s “caliphate” in 2019, the group continues to launch deadly attacks from hideouts in the Syrian desert, which extends from the outskirts of the capital Damascus to the Iraqi border.
Daesh cells “attacked a military bus” in the Palmyra desert, “killing 15 soldiers and wounding 18 others,” the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State news agency SANA had reported 13 dead “including officers” and 18 wounded in a “terrorist attack” on a military bus on Sunday afternoon.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources across the country, said the death toll could rise as most of the soldiers were “seriously wounded.”
Deash did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.
Sunday’s violence came after three regime soldiers died Friday east of Palmyra when the vehicle they were traveling in came under attack, the Observatory added.
So far this year 61 pro-regime soldiers and Iran-affiliated militiamen had been killed in Daesh attacks in the desert of Syria, it said.
About half a million people have been killed and millions have been displaced since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, after nationwide protests against the government were met with a brutal crackdown.
It escalated into a devastating war that drew in regional and international powers.
Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi blew himself up in early February during a raid by US forces on his house in Syria’s northwest region of Idlib, Syria’s last major opposition bastion.
Qurashi had taken over with Daesh weakened by years of assaults by US-backed local forces and the loss of its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and northern Iraq.
Daesh ruled with brutality over the “caliphate” which it had proclaimed in 2014.
The majestic ancient city of Palmyra, a World Heritage site, became the scene of public executions, where Daesh also blew up ancient monuments and looted other treasures.
In January Daesh fighters launched their biggest assault in years, attacking a prison in the Kurdish-controlled northeast Syrian city of Hasakah, aiming to free fellow extremists.
Almost a week of intense fighting left more than 370 dead, according to the Observatory.
Earlier in January, nine Syrian soldiers and allied fighters were killed in an attack on a military convoy in Syria’s east, while in November last year, the Observatory said another eastern Syria attack left a general and four soldiers dead.
Two bombs planted on an army bus in central Damascus killed 14 people in October last year, SANA had reported.
That was the deadliest attack in the capital since a bombing claimed by Daesh targeted the Justice Palace in March 2017, killing at least 30 people.
AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have agreed to allow the UN to empty the rusting Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea which threatened to cause a major catastrophic disaster, a leader from the terrorist group said.
After years of reluctance and unfulfilled promises, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, head of the Houthi movement’s supreme revolutionary committee, said on Saturday that they signed an agreement with the UN that would allow the international body to offload the floating tanker.
“A memorandum of understanding has been signed with the United Nations for the Safer tanker,” the Houthi leader said on Twitter.
In New York, Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told Arab News that the UN’s official resident in Yemen, David Gressly, is currently discussing the deal with the Houthis in Sanaa: “Discussions continue on the SAFER. David Gressley is in Sana’a right now, discussing the matter with the authorities there.”
Anchoring with its cargo of over 1 million barrels of crude oil off Yemen’s western city of Hodeidah, the four-decades-old floating tanker has not undergone regular upkeep since early 2015 when the Houthis tightened their grip on the country’s western coasts, prompting international engineers to flee the country.
The rust has eaten out parts of the tanker, allowing seawater to leak into the ship’s sections. Local and international organizations have long warned of a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea if the tanker exploded or leaked oil.
“The abandoned tanker, with its toxic cargo of crude oil, poses a grave threat to the communities and environment of the Red Sea,” Ahmed El-Droubi, campaigns manager at Greenpeace MENA, said in January.
Yemeni government officials believe that the Houthis are using the tanker as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the Yemeni government and the international community. Local reports said that the Houthis are seeking to replace the decaying tanker with a new one and receive the cargo’s sales.
The internationally-recognized government of Yemen also demanded that the sales are used to pay government salaries in Houthi-controlled areas, warning that the Houthis would use the money to fund their deadly military operations across the country.
Separately, unidentified armed men kidnapped on Saturday two workers of the international medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres in the southeastern province of Hadramout, the organization and media reports said.
In a brief email sent to Arab News, the charity confirmed it had lost contact with some of its staff in Yemen, without giving more details.
“Out of concern for the safety of our colleagues we cannot share more details at this point,” the organization said.
Local media said that the armed men set up an ambush for the workers in a desert area called Khoushem Al-Ain between Seiyun city and Al-Aber.
The Aden-based Al-Ayyam daily newspaper reported on Sunday that the armed men wore a military uniform and set up a fake checkpoint and asked the Yemeni and foreign workers to leave their car.
At nearly 6 a.m. on Saturday, the workers were blindfolded and taken on a pickup truck to an unidentified location in the desert, the paper said, adding that the Yemeni workers were released six hours later.
Local government officials did not respond to Arab News requests for comment.
Last month, suspected Al-Qaeda militants kidnapped five UN workers in the province of Abyan and are still holding them in a mountainous area in the province’s Moudea district.
Local tribal leaders and social dignitaries have failed to convince the kidnappers to release the workers as they insist on swapping them with militant prisoners in Aden. They are also demanding a ransom of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A local official told Arab News last month that the militants threatened to execute the hostages if the army or security services attempted to use force to release them.
CAIRO: A new country cooperation strategy has been launched between the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Egypt for the period 2022 to 2027.
The minister of international cooperation in Egypt, Rania Al-Mashat, announced the launch in the presence of the EBRD’s deputy director Mark Bowman and government ministers during a conference in Cairo.
Al-Mashat said the new strategy was based on three main axes that were in line with the country’s priorities and plans to achieve sustainable development.
The first axis was to support Egypt’s efforts to achieve comprehensive economic and sustainable growth. The second was to accelerate the country’s green transformation, and the third was to enhance competitiveness, increase growth rates, and stimulate the role of the private sector in development.
Egypt’s total agreements with the bank during 2021 amounted to more than €1 billion ($1.17 billion) for the public and private sectors. 
They included funds for the implementation of an energy efficiency improvement program at the Suez Petroleum Manufacturing Company, supporting the first development phase of the first line of the metro, and a project developing the Abu Qir railway to convert it into an electric metro.
They also included the financing of the 6th of October Dry Port project, supporting startups to enhance Egypt’s entrepreneurial environment, and implementing solar power plants for the private sector.
Al-Mashat said the new EBRD partnership was based on the innovative foundations and rules established by the ministry to enhance development cooperation through transparency, inclusiveness and integration, with the aim of maximizing the benefits and results of development finance to serve the priorities of the Egyptian economy.
The EBRD has invested more than €8.7 billion in Egypt since 2012, supporting 145 projects. More than 76 percent of these projects were in the private sector.
Egypt topped the bank’s list as the largest country of operations in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region during 2020 and 2021. It was also the bank’s largest country of operations in 2018 and 2019.
The new cooperation strategy took into account the presidential initiative “A Decent Life,” the National Human Rights Strategy, the National Sustainable Energy Strategy 2035, and the National Strategy To Empower Egyptian Women, as well as the government’s actions and plans to enhance competitiveness and digital transformation.
During the past year, the ministry implemented a roadmap for preparing the new EBRD strategy with the participation of more than 20 national bodies as well as the private sector and civil society.

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