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  • International report - Climate change: The impact of intense winters on Gaza olive production
    In the Gaza Strip, farmers, customers, and traders of olives lament the sharp decline of olive production this season. The reason for the decline, according to experts, is climate change and high temperatures during the winter.  Less productivity across the coastal territory has impacted Gaza's economy, which has already gone through an Israel-imposed blockade for more than a decade, now. Olives and olive oil constitute an important form of nutrition for Gaza's 2.2 million residents. They have also made life a bit easier for many thousands of families in Gaza.
  • International report - Turkey steps up threats against Syrian Kurdish forces after car bombing
    Turkey is threatening to launch a military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces after a deadly attack in Syrian territory where Turkish forces are present. Last month's deadly car bombing in the Turkish-controlled Syrian Afrin region saw Ankara blaming the Syrian Kurdish group YPG. Turkish forces, along with Syrian rebels, ousted the YPG from the area three years ago. The Kurdish group has been waging a guerrilla campaign against the Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies.  But in an address to the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had reached his limit. "The latest attacks against our police and the aggressions against our country were the last drop. We will take the necessary measures to solve this issue as soon as possible," Erdogan said. Turkey accuses the YPG of having links to Kurdish separatists the PKK fighting in Turkish territory since the 1980s. But the YPG denies any links to the PKK.  Erdogan says Turkish forces and Syrian rebels backed by Turkey will seek to oust the YPG from the strategic town of Tell Rifaat. Ankara believes that is the launchpad of the Kurdish group's attacks against Turkish forces in Syria.  Russian presence But Russian forces control Tell Rifaat, along with the airspace. "If Tell Riffaat will be the focus of the operation, Russian cooperation, or let's say Russian facilitation, would be of utmost importance because Russia has air dominance in the area," said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, head of George Marshall Fund office in Ankara. "Because the area of Tell Rifaat is not close to the Turkish border, and any operation would be very difficult without Russian approval."  Ankara has long sought Tell Rifaat, as it would link the three areas of Syria under Turkish military control. But the Syrian town is a vital transportation hub and close to Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo.  Moscow is predicted to be wary of giving Ankara such a valuable prize.  "I think Russia is at least resisting it [Turkish military operation], but everything is possible," said Galip Dalay, associate fellow at Chatham House in London. "Russia will drive a hard bargain, and at the end of this hard bargain, this process will involve many give-and-takes," Dalay added. "If Russia thinks it will get something significant in return, then yes, it's a possibility; in the end, let's not forget, two out of three Turkish operations into Syria were facilitated by Russia."  Elections The United States backs the YPG in its war against the Islamic State group. Thus, any Turkish operation against the Kurdish group could further strain already complicated relations between Turkey and the US.  But Turkey is to hold presidential elections by 2023, and that could factor into Erdogan's calculations. "Erdogan is in an election year, and the central bank reserves are empty," said Aydin Selcen, a columnist for the Duvar News portal. "Either the diplomatic and the real cost of any move or any new military operation in Syria will be considered as exorbitant," added Selcen. "Or maybe such a story will be needed in this election year as a propaganda tool."  Erdogan rarely makes empty threats, given Turkish forces have already carried out three primary Syrian military operations. Still, this latest proposed operation could prove to be the Turkish president's biggest gamble.
  • International report - Turkey fears another Syrian refugee crisis as Damascus ramps up attacks against Idlib
    Turkey fears another exodus of Syrian refugees as Damascus, backed by Russia, is ramping up attacks against Idlib, the last Syrian rebel enclave. A Turkish military force stands in the way of Syrian troops that are poised to seize Idlib, a move Ankara fears could result in millions of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Russian-backed Syrian regime forces are stepping up their attacks on Idlib with artillery and airstrikes. Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is pledging to retake the rebel-controlled enclave, home to around four million people, many refugees from across Syria.  For now, Turkish armed forces in Idlib stand in the way of Assad's goal. But analysts warn they are in an increasingly precarious position.  Risk of conflict  "The Turkish government put itself and the Turkish government under this situation, a kind of horns of the dilemma," said Haldun Solmazturk, a retired Turkish army general, now an analyst with the 21st Century Turkey Institute.  "Now they are so closely engaged, they are many risks involved—the risk of direct conflict with Syrian forces, involving even Russian armed forces elements. Risk of conflict with those so-called Idlib emirates controlling the Idlib area," added Solmazturk.  Last year, 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib in an airstrike that Ankara blamed on the Syrian air force. However, many observers believe the sophisticated attack was carried out by Russian planes.  Turkey's military presence in Idlib is part of a deal struck between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. But Moscow accuses Ankara of failing to honor the agreement to purge Idlib of radical jihadist groups along with heavy weaponry.  Turkey and Idlib Turkey recently reinforced its military presence in Idlib. But the main Turkish opposition CHP Party is warning any Idlib attack threatens a humanitarian disaster.   "When the civilian population feels that such an attack is coming from the Syrian army, supported by the Russian air force. Then the civilians will probably try to find refuge moving towards the north," warned Unal Cevikoz, a CHP member of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee. "And that, of course, will cause a new migration wave, and it could place serious pressure on the Turkish border. That is the main security risk we are facing," Cevikoz added.   Turkey says it is already hosting nearly five million refugees who fled the Syrian civil war. However, the possibility of another wave of refugees is spurring the main opposition parties to call on Ankara to open talks with Damascus, a move Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out.  Instead, Erdogan is looking to his relationship with Putin. Analysts suggest Putin benefits from the current tensions over Idlib.  "After six years of interlude, Bashar Al Assad suddenly rushed to Moscow in the middle of the night like a month ago and had a one-on-one meeting with Putin,' observed Aydin Selcen is a columnist with the Duvar News portal.  "And right after that, Erdogan went to (meet Putin) at Sochi(Russian Sea resort)," Selcen continued, "So in a way, Putin shows that he is the kingmaker, that he can both push Erdogan and Basar Al Assad in the interests of Russia and Russia only."  For that reason, some experts predict Putin may broker another compromise over Idlib, ensuring Russia retains its leverage over both Ankara and Damascus.
  • International report - Why proposed legislation in Turkey aims to rein in social media
    Dokuz Sekiz news web portal is one of a myriad of independent Turkish outlets that's opened up on social media in recent years. Like many others, it receives international support. But Turkey's presidential head of communication, Fahrettin Altun, is accusing foreign-funded media organizations of acting as a "fifth column," undermining the government at the bidding of foreign powers.  But Dokuz Sekiz chief editor Gokhan Bicici dismisses the allegation, seeing the move as a sign of the government weakening media control.  "Ninety percent of mainstream media outlets are in control of the government. But they are facing the fact that these media outlets are no more effective to have control over the public opinion," said Bicici.   "They [government] are giving these media outlets hundreds of times more financial sources that we can even think about, that we can take from any foundation or foreign source. They want to make legislation that directly targets independent and critical media organizations. They defend these regulations with the thesis that those media outlets are supported by foreign governments."  Social media and news The proposed legislation comes after social media news portals, such as Dokuz Sekiz, exposed the government's failure to deal with devastating wildfires that wrought death and destruction across much of Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean regions.   Opposition mayors in the fire-stricken regions used the social media news platforms to call for assistance and expose the lack of support they were receiving, contradicting the government's narrative slavishly broadcast on mainstream media that everything was under control.  The government, anxious to avoid a repeat of such humiliation, is now introducing legislation to regulate and limit foreign funding of social media sites. Domestic and international rights groups have condemned the move. Turkey is already ranked 143 out of 180 countries for media freedom by the Paris-based Journalists Without Borders.   "I am concerned because it has always been very difficult in Turkey to develop a local system for funding independent journalism projects," said Erol Onderoglu, Journalists Without Borders, Turkey's representative.  Foreign funding Onderoglu says given the climate of government intimidation in Turkey, means most companies avoid advertising on social media platforms, so foreign funding plays a key role.  "Many of the serious news portals are so dynamic thanks to international donor contributions. I think the government knows very well where to target," added Onderoglu.  The proposed legislation includes a jail sentence of up to three years for disseminating fake news. The legislation, if passed, will likely be seized upon by the country's zealous prosecutors; Turkey is already, according to rights groups, among the world's worst jailers of journalists.   But the increasing pressure on independent Turkish news is a sign of its success, claims Atilla Yesilada. Yesilada is a political analyst for Global Source Partners.  "The main motivation is Erdogan's approval ratings are dropping as we speak. Erdogan understands one of the main pillars of his long reign is his ability to control the news flow to the public," said Yesilada.  'But social media, YouTube, and these alternative media have become the number one news source," he added. "And he is getting desperate; we have another Covid wave, I think it's started, and the economy is in a miserable condition."  Disenchanted by traditional outlets People are increasingly turning to social media for news, likely disenchanted by government-controlled TV stations' constant barrage of feel-good reporting. In addition, Turkey is scheduled for both presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023.  "They[government] have to act aggressively because the time of the government is over; they know that," said Dokuz Sekiz editor Bicici.   "Support of the oppositional parties is growing. They can see it in all the researches. They will try to destroy these social media outlets, But they will not be able to. The government is not as strong as they were in 2015 16 or 17. I think everything they can do against us maybe can even make us stronger."   The government insists the measures are simply aimed at protecting the integrity of the media. But given Erdogan's need to play catch up for the first time in his career, the pressure on independent social media is likely to grow.
  • International report - Afghan NATO forces flee to Istanbul to seek refuge
    Growing numbers of Afghans who fought alongside NATO forces are arriving in Istanbul looking for help from the countries they once worked with. Youssef, an Afghan helicopter pilot, shows photos of the NATO forces he fought alongside against the Taliban.  "Our advisors they were from British, they were from the U.S., they were from Germans," said Youssef, "We worked shoulder by shoulder in making some plans against the insurgents." But with the Taliban seizing power Youseff says he is a marked man. "Right now, we are in the situation we can't stay in Afghanistan because all our database info is in the hand of the Taliban." Youssef says she was lucky to get a seat on the last scheduled Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul as the Taliban entered Kabul. Now he's seeking a visa to one of the NATO country's he fought with.  Listening to Youssef is his friend, also a military pilot, who doesn't want to be identified. He came to Istanbul two months ago after receiving Taliban death threats. "I had some threats from Taliban; there were multiple threats. First, they were sending letters calling us at midnight. Then, they would call from a number they would call my father, they would call me, saying we will put a bomb right behind your door or under your car, and you wont to see your family again." The pilot is dismissive of Taliban promises not to seek retribution against those who fought against them. "I know the Taliban say they are not hurting anybody, but that is not true," he explains. "We are getting reports every day they are tracking people they are taking people from their homes, and the next day there is no news about them." Like Youseef, he has made numerous applications to NATO countries for a much-prized visa. "I tried Germany, then I tried Canada, I still have not got luck with any," the pilot says. "I have worked with Germans; I've worked with British we worked side by side, planning missions, doing missions. But when there is a bad time for you, if you don't get help from a friend or a colleague, it's very disappointing; and very frustrating," he added.  The two pilots live in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district, dubbed by locals "Afghanburnu," because of its large Afghan population. Many here fled the Afghan conflict years ago.  But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ruling out taking in any new wave of Afghans. He points out the country is already hosting nearly five million refugees, mainly from the Syrian civil war.  Refugee rights groups claim the government's hardline extends even to refusing to allow NATO countries to use Turkey to process Afghans seeking visas.  "The Turkish government is not registering them inside Turkey. So they can't apply for asylum inside Turkey," said Ali Hekmat of Turkey's Afghan Refugee Solidarity Association. "They are living as illegal refugees as illegal people. They cant travel easily from one city to another city; they can't go to the hospital, so they don't have any chance to stay in Turkey," he added. "Just maybe they are working three months one month, or if they have money, they are starting another trip to Europe."   The two pilots are on tourist visas which will soon expire. But Youssef's fellow pilot has received the good news that his wife and three children were evacuated from Kabul and that the United States is now looking into his case. But Youssef thinks about his wife and two kids still trapped in Kabul.  "I am just thinking of my family if they are safe. I am safe right now. First of all, I think about their lives and nothing else," said Youssef. Neither man knows when or if they'll leave Istanbul and be reunited with their families. But both say they're lucky to have escaped the Taliban.


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