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High stakes in gas standoff between Cyprus, Turkey

NICOSIA: Longtime adversaries Cyprus and Turkey are locked in a tense “game of chicken” over the prospect of a multibillion-dollar Mediterranean gas bonanza with neither side willing to capitulate, analysts say. Turkey vowed to escalate its activities in waters around the island after the EU on Monday agreed on measures to punish Ankara for pursuing “illegal”…

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High stakes in gas standoff between Cyprus, Turkey

NICOSIA: Longtime adversaries Cyprus and Turkey are locked in a tense “game of chicken” over the prospect of a multibillion-dollar Mediterranean gas bonanza with neither side willing to capitulate, analysts say.

Turkey vowed to escalate its activities in waters around the island after the EU on Monday agreed on measures to punish Ankara for pursuing “illegal” drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

“This is a tit-for-tat game where nobody is ready to back down, with Turkey willing to go one step further,” Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia, told AFP.

Turkey “will continue to drill, they may even decide to drill in blocks licensed by the Cypriot government … it’s a game of chicken,” he added.

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has stoked long-standing tensions between EU member Cyprus and Turkey.

The island is divided between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after a Turkish invasion launched on July 20, 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Turkey, the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has sent three ships to carry out drilling off the Cypriot coast despite EU condemnation and strong words from Washington.

In response EU foreign ministers agreed measures including cutting €145.8 million ($164 million) in pre-accession funds to Turkey allocated for 2020.

Turkey, which does not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign or EU member state, says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its continental shelf.

While negotiations to reunify the island remain on hold, Cyprus has moved to start gas and oil exploration by issuing licenses to international companies.

That has angered Ankara which argues that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural wealth.

“Turkey won’t step down and EU sanctions are mild, the sanctions are not painful, and Turkey knows there is no determination for a confrontation,” said Faustmann.

He argued that Cyprus needs to find more gas to make it commercially viable to extract.

“Unless there’s a big find, it might be a lot of noise over nothing, there isn’t enough extractable gas at the moment.”

Experts also argue that if the escalation continues it will be difficult for energy companies to explore off Cyprus due to the risk.

“Interest in operations is there, however tensions with Turkey are not helping. If tensions subside then there will be a lot of interest because there is support from the markets and the EU too,” said energy analyst Cyril Widdershoven, founder of the consultancy firm Verocy.

Cyprus on Tuesday rejected as “unacceptable” a Turkish Cypriot proposal on energy revenue sharing to help de-escalate tensions.

Nicosia argues that jointly managing the island’s untapped energy resources can only be workable once an elusive peace settlement has been agreed, while assuring Turkish Cypriots will get their equal share.

Atlantic Council senior associate Charles Ellinas said the rising tensions will make the waters choppier for energy companies when they resume drilling in blocks licensed by the Cyprus government, especially in areas disputed by Turkey.

“Turkey will not back off unless the EU and the US apply serious sanctions that hurt its economy. But I do not see that happening… NATO, trade and refugees are important to them,” he told AFP.

“Turkey will maintain aggression until Cyprus agrees to put hydrocarbons on the negotiating table.”

The waters off Cyprus have attracted international giants such as ExxonMobil of the United States, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni.

Sizeable natural gas deposits have been discovered in three areas but have yet to be extracted.

Last month Cyprus said it expected to earn $9.3 billion over 18 years from exploiting a gas field in the Aphrodite block under a renegotiated contract with Royal Dutch Shell, US-based Noble and Israel’s Delek.

In February US energy giant ExxonMobil announced the discovery of a huge natural gas reserve off the island’s coast which Cyprus hailed as one of the biggest worldwide in recent years.

Ellinas estimates Cyprus’s discovered reserves so far are around 10 trillion cubic feet and “there is probably as much still to be discovered and possibly more.”

He estimates total gas revenue could be about $160 billion, which could generate profits of $30 billion over 20 years, but finding buyers may be tough in a competitive international market.

“Cyprus’s share could be $17 billion. But first, sales need to be secured, and there lies the challenge, in a market inexorably moving toward renewables and clean energy. The longer it takes the more difficult it becomes.”

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.

Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
Palestinian cause
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
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Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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