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Iraqi PM orders air force to help Kurds fight Islamic State

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Iraqi PM orders air force to help Kurds fight Islamic State
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered his air force for the first time to back Kurdish forces against Islamic State fighters after the Sunni militants made another dramatic push through the north, state television reported on Monday.

Tens of thousands of people have fled one of the districts seized by Islamic State fighters in the offensive and are now surrounded, the United Nations said on Monday. The Sunni militants often execute people in areas they have captured.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters, who gained experience fighting Saddam Hussein’s troops, were regarded as one of the few forces capable of standing up to the Sunni insurgents, who faced almost no opposition from Maliki’s U.S.-trained army during their lightning advance through the north in June.

Then on Sunday the Islamic State inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Kurds with a rapid advance through three towns to reach the Mosul Dam, acquiring a fifth oil field to fund its operations along the way.

State television and witnesses said the Islamic State had seized Iraq’s biggest dam. Kurdish peshmerga officials said they had pushed militants from the dam area and were in control of it. This could not be immediately confirmed.

Despite predictions from Kurdish commanders that their forces would launch a successful counter-offensive, one senior Kurdish official urged the United States to step in and provide weapons “for the sake of fighting terrorism”.

Kurdish commanders whose units came under attack from Islamic State fighters told Reuters they faced overwhelming firepower, were taken by surprise, and that militants had in many cases started shooting from villages where they had formed alliances with residents.

The areas that the Kurds lost were not part of their semi-autonomous region, but had been seized in the north after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Maliki has been at odds with the Kurds over budgets, oil and land, and tensions deepened after the Islamic State seized control of large swathes of land in the north and west of OPEC member Iraq.

HOSTILITY

In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended all participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Maliki’s accusation that Kurds were allowing terrorists to stay in Arbil, the capital of their semi-autonomous region known as Kurdistan.

Opponents accuse Maliki of being an authoritarian ruler with a sectarian agenda whose alienation of Sunnis fuelled the insurgency. Currently ruling in a caretaker capacity after an inconclusive election in April, he has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds and even some fellow Shi’ites to step aside to make room for a less polarising figure.

The Kurdish region is pressing the Obama administration for sophisticated weapons it says Kurdish fighters need to push back the Islamic State fighters threatening their region. The requested supplies include tanks, sniper equipment, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and ammunition.

The move is likely to further anger Maliki, who may see it as an attempt to circumvent the Baghdad government in a long-standing drive for independence.

For now, however, Maliki seems to have put aside his hostility with the Kurds to try to prevent further gains by the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls and threatened to march on Baghdad.

“The general commander of the armed forces has ordered the air force command to provide backup for the Kurdish peshmerga forces against the terrorist gangs of the Islamic State,” state television quoted Maliki’s military spokesman Qassim Atta as saying.

OVERSTRETCHED

Tens of thousands of residents of Sinjar fled the district after it was taken over by Islamic State fighters.

Previously, an estimated 308,000 people lived in the district of Sinjar. As the insurgents advanced, many fled to Sinjar mountain, or Jebel Sinjar, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in a statement.

“The exact number of displaced people on Jebel Sinjar is unknown; however, reports indicate that some 35-50,000 people displaced in nine locations, reportedly surrounded by ISIS (Islamic State) armed elements. There are reports, to be verified, of children already dying for lack of water and other assistance among those trapped,” the OCHA statement said.

A further 30,000 people, mainly women and children, have made their way to Dahuk governorate in Kurdistan, with more expected in coming days, OCHA said.

The insurgents control the two roads down the Sinjar mountain and are attacking families moving along the roads, which lead to Sinjar town and the Syrian border crossing at Rabia, OCHA said.

The senior Kurdish official said the Kurds had been overstretched because they had to watch over a vast territory.

“The Islamic State has also been intimidating people by carrying out beheadings,” he said, asking not to be identified.

After thousands of Iraqi soldiers fled their initial advance in June, the group then known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized tanks, armoured personnel carriers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, artillery and vehicles.

“It is a very dangerous situation for the region. Something needs to be done soon,” the senior Kurdish official said.

Despite the odds, Kurdish commanders were talking tough.

One colonel said the Kurdish withdrawal was tactical and forecast that several Kurdish brigades would take back all territory lost on Sunday and even win back Mosul, Iraq’s biggest northern city which is firmly in the hands of the Islamic State.

“We will attack them until they are completely destroyed. We will never show any mercy,” he told Reuters. “We have given them enough chances and we will even take Mosul back. I believe within the next 48-72 hours it will be over.”

But commanders who had lost men in battle were not as optimistic. Kurdish peshmerga Brigadier Mashia Ramazan Fattah said the base where he was stationed came under Islamic State mortar fire for 12 straight hours through the night.

He was surprised to find that 500 peshmerga forces were outnumbered by Islamic State fighters who forced them to flee.

Another commander who asked not to be named said the Islamic State took everyone by surprise and had deployed snipers in addition to heavier weapons and that, in many cases, the Kurds had simply run out of ammunition.

“We can no longer carry on fighting with just Kalashnikov rifles,” he said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Tourism

No vaccine, no flight – Qantas will require international travellers to be vaccinated

The Thaiger

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No vaccine, no flight – Qantas will require international travellers to be vaccinated | The Thaiger

Qantas, Australia’s national airline, is announcing a new requirement that all international travellers will need to have a vaccination against Covid-19 in a move that could become the norm for the world’s airline industry. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says the Australian flag carrier would implement the measure once a coronavirus vaccine was made available to the public.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft.”

“Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens with Covid-19 in the market but certainly, for international visitors coming out (to Australia) and people leaving the country, we think that is a necessity.”

Joyce says the new rule is likely to become a standard practice by all airlines worldwide as many governments are now working to introduce electronic vaccination passports. Vaccination requirements are already widely used around the world for those wishing to enter certain countries, with many countries wanting travellers show they have been inoculated against yellow fever if they are coming from regions where that disease could be acquired.

The International Air Transport Association has also announced it is in the “final stages” of developing a digital health pass that it says can be used to record Covid-19 tests or vaccinations and will “support the safe reopening of borders.”

“We are bringing this to market in the coming months to also meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation.”

Australia’s borders have been closed since March to help stop the spread of the virus, which has taken the lives of more than 1 million people worldwide. The country has even limited its own citizens arrivals from abroad by implementing a weekly quota that has left thousands stranded overseas. Qantas has grounded more than 200 planes and let go 8,500 staff members as it attempts to offset a US 1.9 billion loss.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Malaysia

Technical issues force Singapore aircraft to land on Malaysian highway – VIDEO

Maya Taylor

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Technical issues force Singapore aircraft to land on Malaysian highway – VIDEO | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Twitter

A single-engine prop plane from Singapore has been forced to make an emergency landing on a Malaysian highway due to technical difficulties. A report in Coconuts says the aircraft touched down on the hard shoulder of a highway in Johor, as cars sped past. The 2 pilots on board are believed to be in stable condition.

Chester Voo, CEO of Malaysia’s aviation authority, says an investigation has been launched to determine what went wrong with the plane, which has now been removed.

“Search and rescue teams have completed all required tasks. The investigation will be conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Bureau under the Ministry of Transport, Malaysia.”

It’s understood the plane left Seletar Airport in Singapore and was flying to Melaka when the pilots contacted Air Traffic Control at Johor, requesting permission to land at Senai International Airport, due to technical problems. However, Voo says the aircraft did not make it to the airport before it had to land on the highway.

Meanwhile, Thomas Ong from Premier Aero Singapore, who provide services at Seletar Airport, says his company provided immigration assistance to one of the pilots prior to departure, but doesn’t know what happened to cause the emergency landing.

“We only assisted Dr Yang in immigration formalities with the Seletar Airport Authority for his arrival and departure.”

SOURCE: Coconuts

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Singapore – Hong Kong travel bubble delayed due to Covid rise in HK

Maya Taylor

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Singapore – Hong Kong travel bubble delayed due to Covid rise in HK | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash

Singapore and Hong Kong have agreed to delay their travel bubble plans as Hong Kong experiences a jump in Covid-19 cases. Although case numbers in both cities are nowhere near as serious as what’s currently being seen in places like Europe and the US, officials are erring on the side of caution and postponing the plan by at least 2 weeks.

The travel pact would have allowed people to travel between both cities without having to endure mandatory quarantine, but authorities on both sides had agreed it would be postponed if either location reported more than 5 new local cases in a rolling 7 day average. The Bangkok Post reports that travel between both cities remains possible, but quarantine is still a requirement in both places.

Mungo Paterson, a British national who lives in Hong Kong and had booked a ticket to Singapore for December 7, says the reinstatement of the quarantine requirement is the biggest problem.

“That is the main deterrent, I have no interest in sitting in a hotel room for 2 weeks – it’s not healthy. I was excited when they announced it, I thought ‘here we go’. I’m now holding off confirming until Dec 2. I think there’s a 50-50 chance the flight will happen.”

Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung says the rise in cases in Hong Kong shows that any attempted travel arrangement will not be plain sailing.

“This is a sober reminder that the Covid-19 virus is still with us, and even as we fight to regain our normal lives, the journey will be full of ups and downs.”

The strict border controls seen in Asia appear to have helped countries here suppress the virus better than elsewhere in the world, but the controls have come at a significant cost, crippling tourism and the aviation sector. Rico Merkert from the University of Sydney’s business school says that, without international traffic, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines will continue to struggle, even when the travel bubble between their 2 hubs does begin.

“Even if the Hong Kong-Singapore corridor opens, the boost to the 2 aviation hubs will be limited. Singapore Airlines and Cathay will continue to struggle because they can’t funnel onto the route those travellers who would normally arrive from Europe and the US. Without that feeder traffic, those bubbles will at best be limited to the local population. International travel is going to remain a tricky affair.”

October traffic for both carriers has plummeted compared to the same period last year, with Cathay carrying just 38,541 passengers, down 98.6% on 2019 figures. Singapore Airlines has experienced a similar slump, with October numbers down 98.2% on last year’s, at 35,500.

Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation says at this stage, the implementation of a travel bubble is mostly symbolic, adding that the aviation sector will take years to fully recover.

“Bubbles provide a little bit of incremental additional international traffic in the interim period until the pandemic ends. A full recovery in air traffic will still take a few years, even with a vaccine, though bubbles will help get the process moving.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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