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Keeping up connect with Arab world, Sushma to visit Egypt

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New Delhi: India is readying for a major foray into the Arab world as part of its ‘Link West’ policy. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates in his maiden visit to the Arab world, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will go to Egypt on August 23.

Thereafter, she will proceed to Germany.

Terrorism and trade are likely to be top on the agenda of Sushma’s talks in Egypt as President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has approved stringent new counter-terrorism laws to fight growing jihadist insurgency in his country.

Jihadist groups have stepped up attacks in Egypt after the overthrow of then president Mohammed Morsi two years ago, and the government has launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt is also taking ambitious steps towards boosting its economy. Sisi earlier this month inaugurated $8 billion New Suez Canal, a waterway running parallel to a part of the 19th century Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea – the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

A 460 sq km economic zone is also being set up around the New Suez Canal which will be used to develop an international industrial and logistics hub to attract foreign investment.

Egypt is keen that India invest in the New Suez Canal industrial economic zone.

In the UAE, Prime Minister Modi has made a pitch for attracting big time investment to India and for boosting trade.

Addressing an investors meet in Masdar City, Modi on Monday wooed top UAE businesses, saying India had a potential of $1 trillion investment and also promised to address the concerns of business persons.

Sushma_Swaraj_in_2014On Sunday night, he held talks with the leadership of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), the $800 billion sovereign wealth fund said to be the world`s second largest.

Modi, who is visiting the UAE 34 years after the last prime ministerial visit by Indira Gandhi, was received by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the airport and accorded a ceremonial welcome.

In a significant gesture, the five brothers of the Crown Prince were also present at the Abu Dhabi Presidential Airport to receive Modi on Sunday.

Modi also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the biggest mosque in Abu Dhabi.

He wrote in the visitor’s book: “I am confident that it will be a symbol of peace, piety, harmony and inclusiveness that are inherent to the faith of Islam.”

After Modi landed in Abu Dhabi, the UAE decided to allot land for building a temple in Abu Dhabi for the Indian community, fulfilling a longstanding demand of the community which numbers 2.6 million.

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was in the capital to brief the Indian government on the nuclear deal.

Zarif met Modi, Sushma and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari to give a forward push to the Chahbahar port agreement. Modi had met Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia, last month.

Sushma has been keeping up India’s engagement with the Middle East. She visited the UAE last November, Bahrain in September and Oman in February this year. She is also slated to visit Jordan, Palestine and Israel later this year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Saudi Arabia later this year.

The Emir of Qatar was in India in March this year, while the foreign affairs minister of Oman visited in June last year, within days of the new government taking over.

India’s talks on terrorism with the leadership in the Arab world comes even as two Indians kidnapped early this month in Libya remain in captivity of the Islamic State. The two were part of four Indian professors kidnapped in Sirte in Libya. While two have been released, two continue to be in captivity.

Thirty-nine Indians kidnapped in June last year in Mosul, Iraq, by the Islamic State, are still in captivity. The government insists the men are still alive.

The UAE and Egypt are concerned over Islamist militancy creeping into their respective countries. While Egypt has cracked down with a heavy hand on the Islamist party, Muslim Brotherhood, in an effort to keep the secular fabric alive in the country, the UAE has also taken stringent steps against suspected terrorists.

(IANS)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)