Ammon News, Editor's Choice

Jordan drops 3 places on press freedom index

[4/29/2017 4:37:17 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan’s press freedom ranking dropped by three places in 2016 compared to 2015, according to the World Press Freedom Index The index, published by Reporters Without Borders, indicated that Jordan’s ranking in 2016 dropped to 138th place compared to 135th place in 2015. “Jordan’s media take care to observe the limitations set by the authorities. The authorities have stepped up control, especially over the Internet, since 2012, when the press and publications law was overhauled,” the index indicated. Hundreds of websites have been blocked since 2013 because they do not have a license, while security grounds are often used to justify the prosecution and sometimes imprisonment of journalists under an extremely vague terrorism law, the index said. Gag orders issued by the Media Commission restrict public debate and limit journalists’ access to information on sensitive issues, according to the report. Jordan was ahead of Egypt, which came in the 161st place, Saudi Arabia in 168th place, while the UAE came in 119th place. A recent report by the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists showed that the issuance of gag orders was seen by journalist as “pre-censorship”. According to the CDFJ survey, 79.3 per cent of journalists sampled believed that gag orders issued by the Media Commission or other parties prohibiting publication represented “prior censorship” and “harassment” against media freedom. Such decisions and gag orders banning publishing reinforce self-censorship among journalists and media outlets, in turn curtailing society’s right to information, the CDFJ report said. Results from the CDFJ report indicated that 63.5 per cent of respondents considered these gag orders as measures to reduce the spreading of rumours and false news, while 35 per cent disagreed. While 62.4 per cent described these circulars as measures that reduce hate speech, 36.5 per cent disagreed.

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Jordanian in Ohio accused of trying to join terrorist group

[4/29/2017 5:44:55 AM]

AMMONNEWS - A Jordanian citizen who appeared Thursday in a United States court on charges he attempted to travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group has been watched by federal investigators since January when he tried to get into the Turkish embassy in Washington, court records show. Laith Waleed Alebbini, 26, appeared in federal court in Dayton a day after he was arrested at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky. Prosecutors said he was trying to fly to Turkey or Jordan before joining up with the militant organization. Alebbini is in the U.S. legally on permanent resident status, and most recently had been living in Dayton. He remained in custody Thursday on charges he attempted to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and his case was scheduled for a preliminary hearing May 11. Court documents did not show whether he has an attorney. According to the criminal complaint, the government began investigating Alebbini after he was arrested Jan. 10 on a charge of unlawful entry of the Turkish embassy in Washington. That charge was later dropped. Alebbini said at the time he was being removed from the embassy that “you are going to regret this,” the complaint said. Two days afterward, he traveled to Turkey but was denied entry because his passport had expired. About two weeks later, the FBI interviewed him and, during that conversation, he said he agreed with the Islamic State’s goal of a united Middle East but disagreed with their violence, and went on to say “I am the perfect recruit for ISIS,” according to the complaint. Alebbini also said in that conversation that he went to the embassy because he wanted to speak with the ambassador about the conflict in the Middle East. Prosecutors said in their complaint that Alebbini spoke often with a confidential informant over the last two months about the Islamic State and began talking in late March about plans to travel to the Middle East to fight with the group. An FBI agent said he learned that Alebbini planned to travel to Turkey this week and authorities then moved to arrest him. *AP

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Ivanka Trump draws line with father on Syrian refugees

[4/26/2017 4:27:40 PM]

AMMONNEWS - First Daughter Ivanka Trump is contradicting her father, the US president, insisting that allowing Syrian refugees to immigrate to the United States “has to be part of the discussion” over ending Syria’s years old civil war. “I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that’s happening, and we have to come together, and we have to solve it,” she told NBC News in an interview aired Wednesday. President Donald Trump has signed executive orders banning Syrian refugees from entering US territory, saying that they present a national security threat. Federal courts have ruled against the ban, placing it indefinitely on hold. Opening America’s borders to the refugees “has to be part of the discussion, but that’s not going to be enough in and of itself.” Trump has suggested creating “safe zones” for refugees and displaced people in the Middle Eastern country, and launched a cruise missile strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s military in response to an apparent chemical weapons attack. The Syrian war has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, with more than 320,000 people killed and millions displaced. More than five million people -- about a quarter of the population -- have fled the country. *AFP

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Jordan pipeline route back on the table, but issues remain

[4/25/2017 11:11:51 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Iraq has returned to long-mooted plans to build an oil export pipeline from Basra to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Despite Daesh’s foothold having diminished, obstacles remain. Callum Cyrus investigates Baghdad is pushing ahead with infrastructure investments to lift its crude export capacity, having stemmed the advances made by Daesh in the north and west of the country. The government wants to raise crude output to 6 million bpd by 2020, from around 4.4 million bpd in February, to help fund Iraq’s economic recovery from the impact of war. However, Baghdad has struggled to lift crude exports via Al-Basrah Oil Terminal (ABOT) in Basra and through the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north. Disputes about production shares with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) suspended liftings from key northern fields, while Daesh’s foothold made it impossible to construct cross-country pipeline routes. Over the last year, however, Iraqi forces have pushed back the Daesh tide, with IHS’ Conflict Monitor projecting that the militant group will retreat from Mosul before the second half of this year. As such, attention is now returning to the expedition of infrastructure projects to bolster Iraq’s oil export capabilities. Preliminary bids have been invited for a route into Jordan, and Baghdad says exports are already benefiting from upgraded facilities at ABOT. But these plans could still be thwarted should the security situation deteriorate, and Baghdad has been forced to change the route of a planned pipeline to Jordan to avoid disruption by insurgent forces in Anbar Province. Hemmed in In 2013, Iraq shortlisted 12 contractors to build the US$18 billion Basra-Hadith-Aqaba pipeline. The 1 million bpd project will help tap the Jordanian market for Iraq’s crude production, by directly piping 150,000 bpd of oil to Jordan’s Zarqa refinery, with the remainder re-exported further afield via the port of Aqaba. The struggle against Daesh slowed these plans, though, as militants were entrenched throughout western Iraqi territory along the route of the conduit. However, on April 11, Baghdad announced that Daesh now held less than 30,000 square km of Iraqi territory, a major reduction from the 40% the group controlled at the height of its influence in 2014. Jordan route resurfaces With the security situation becoming more stable, Baghdad has again been able to pursue upgrade projects that would help ramp up business for Iraqi crude once OPEC’s supply cap lapses. The link to Jordan resurfaced in December 2016, when the State Company for Oil Projects (SGOP) announced it had again invited preliminary bids. Work on the first phase is now scheduled to begin in 2018, with launch slated for 2020. The initial phase will include engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) and financing of pipelines linking the Basra fields to a connection near Najaf in central Iraq. On April 2, Iraq announced an agreement with Jordan on the pipeline project after talks held in Amman. Iraqi officials said they anticipated all the formalities for the development would be completed within two months. But the spectre of Daesh still threatens Baghdad’s plans, and the government is continuing to try to mitigate the risk of extremist attacks. As such, SGOP has announced that the Basra-Aqaba will no longer pass via the Haditha pumping station in Anbar Province, to avoid Daesh-held areas in the western desert region. It will still run through the province, but terminating the initial phase at Najaf will delay construction to the west in the apparent hope that Daesh is pushed back further in the meantime. Other projects Other upgrade projects are being rolled out to support exports, underscoring growing confidence in light of Daesh’s diminished presence. Earlier this month, Jordanian maritime experts were quoted by Iraq TradeLink as saying that the port of Aqaba had been fitted with piers that can handle oil and LNG exports. On the Iraqi side, Minister of Oil Jabbar al-Luaibi has been cited as saying upgrades at Basra would support an “unprecedented increase of oil production”. In February, Baghdad announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tehran to consider a new pipeline connecting the northern Kirkuk oilfield with Iran. Talks also resulted in an undertaking to establish joint commissions over disputes concerning shared oilfields, and to consider possible shipments of Iraqi crude to Iran’s Abadan refinery in Khuzestan Province. What next? In NBI’s view, recent developments show momentum is returning to Baghdad’s infrastructure push, which is seen racking up a bill of US$50 billion for all planned upgrades. Starting work on the Jordanian pipeline route would provide a major confidence boost for Baghdad and prove that Iraq is capable of arranging export expansions after years of militant disruption. Once completed, pipelines to Jordan and Iran would provide new outposts for crude produced in both the Kurdistan region and elsewhere in Iraq. This may help the Iraqi sector ramp up output in the years ahead, once global oil markets recover and OPEC ends its cap on production. Baghdad must still exercise caution over the Basra route, however, to ensure that the link does not fall prey to Daesh militants further down the line. Averting serious interruptions will be crucial. *MEOG

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Al-Qaeda leader tells fighters to ‘prepare for long Syria war’

[4/24/2017 4:09:10 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Al-Qaeda’s leader has urged his followers and all militants in Syria to unite ranks and prepare for protracted jihad, or holy war. Ayman al-Zawahri tells the militants to remain steadfast and change tactics to a guerrilla war. His remarks came in an audio message released on Monday by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab. Al-Zawahri says an "international satanic alliance" will never accept Islam’s rule in Syria. He says the war isn’t an exclusively nationalist Syrian cause but a campaign by the entire Muslim nation that seeks to establish divine rule. Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch - formerly the Nusra Front but now known as the Fatah al-Sham Front - has come under increasing attack from the US-led coalition in recent months and some of its most senior leaders have been killed in airstrikes. *AP

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Jordan's envoy to UN: Arab summit sent a message of peace, urges Israel to reciprocate

[4/22/2017 12:41:00 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sima Bahouth said that the Arab summit held last month in Jordan had sent a message of peace that underlined that the Aras wanted progress towards resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She said the Arab countries opted for a solution in line with the Arab Peace Initiative, which was adopted at the 2002 Arab summit in Beirut and backed by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Bahouth was delivering a speech at a UN Security Council session on the Middle East and the Palestinian issue on behalf of the Arab group, as Jordan is the current President of the Arab Summit. The Arab peace plan, the envoy pointed out, is still the most comprehensive and potent formula to achieve a historic reconciliation based on an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Palestinian and Arab lands to the June 4, 1967, lines, and guarantee that all final status issues will be addressed as it provides acceptance and peace for Israel from all it Arab neighbours. She said the summit's peace message is a further indication that Arabs had adopted comprehensive and permanent peace as a strategic choice, which requires reciprocation and a real desire for peace on the part of Israel, the occupying power. Bahouth also stressed Arab support of a Middle East peace conference held in Paris on January 15, which reiterated the world community's commitment to the two-state solution as the sole means to bring about durable peace in the region. The envoy also stressed that Jordan and the Arab countries totally and categorically reject all unilateral Israeli moves to change facts on the ground and undermine the two-state solution, calling on Israel to carry out international legitimacy resolutions, the latest of which was UN Security Council resolution 2334, which calls for a cessation of settlement activities and achieving Palestinian-Israeli peace. She said the world community is called upon to recognise that the Middle East would not see peace and stability without ending the occupation and achieving the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for an independent, sovereign and viable state on national Palestinian soil along June, 4,1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinian issue, she said, is the key to regional stability and that lifting the injustice on the Palestinians has been a global moral obligation, reiterating the Arabs' rejection of Israeli violations to change the legal and historic status quo in East Jerusalem and breaches against Islamic and Christian holy sites in the occupied city. On Syria, Bahouth said that Arab countries reiterated their firm position in support of a political solution to the crisis that safeguards Syria's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity as the only solution that guarantees a stable future for the Syrian people, calling for continuation of the Geneva talks and international aid to share the burden with countries hosting Syrian refugees. The UN envoy also voiced Arab support of Iraq in the fight against terrorist organisations and the liberation of Mosul from Daesh, and the Saudi-led Arab coalition's efforts to restore the legitimacy in Yemen and end the crisis in the country. She also called for achieving security and stability in Libya and Somalia.

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US Lawmakers Pushing for Drone Sales to Jordan

[4/18/2017 10:35:54 AM]

AMMONNEWS - A bipartisan group of US House members is urging President Donald Trump to green-light sales of high-tech armed drones to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, a sale that was turned down by the Obama Administration. The drones are the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgraded version of the US Predator drone. The previous administration opposed the sale, saying that technology should not be shared beyond close allies under the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which aims to limit the spread of missile technologies and drones. But now the lawmakers are arguing that Jordan is a close ally in the war on drones, and that if Jordan does not buy them from a US company, it will go looking in China. Jordan is part of the US-backed coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “I met the commander of the Jordanian Royal Air Force and he told me that Jordan needs drones for the protection of its border with Syria,” Mohammed Naguib, a Palestinian military expert told The Media Line. “They are using helicopters right now but it is not enough. This is a real security challenge for Jordan.” In 2015, Islamic State captured and burnt to death a Jordanian air force pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, after his F-16 crashed over Syria. His killing provoked widespread outrage in Jordan. “After that, Jordan suspended its operations with the coalition against ISIS,” Naguib said. “They cannot bear another crash like this one and another pilot taken hostage. The best thing for them is to use drones like the Israelis do in the Gaza Strip.” The border between Jordan and Syria is more than 500 miles long. Along with terrorists, drugs are also being smuggled from Syria to Jordan. Jordan receives $800 million in US military aid. Since the election of President Trump, Jordan’s King Abdullah has flown to Washington twice to meet the US President and lobby against any cuts in aid. The Trump Administration has already shown that it might be more open to these types of weapons sales than the Obama administration. For example, Trump announced it would remove the human rights conditions it had attached to selling F-16s to Bahrain. It also said it wants to move forward with the sale of fighter jets to Nigeria. The proposed sale comes as Jordan is facing growing economic pressure due to less foreign aid from the Gulf, and growing unemployment. “Jordan does not have a productive economy,” Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Center for Middle East Peace told The Media Line. “More than 40 percent of Jordan’s workers are state employment, meaning they work in the public sector.” The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently agreed to lend Jordan more than $700 million on the condition that Jordan trim its state employment rolls, as well as cut subsidies on basic goods such as bread. Whenever Jordan tried to do that in the past it led to riots, and the subsidies were quickly returned. Jordan is also strained by the flood of Syrian refugees – 700,000 according to the UN and up to 1.5 million by the Jordanian government. The government has been struggling to feed and clothe the refugees, as well as provide education. At the same time, Yahya says, Jordan remains stable and King Abdullah firmly in place. “When you talk to Jordanians they may be angry, but they always say, “We don’t want to be like Syria,” she said. “They want reform, not to get rid of the King.” *Agencies

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