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Germany’s Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKAG.DE) will build three advanced submarines for the Israeli Navy in a deal worth 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion), the Israeli Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

The parties also signed an industrial strategic cooperation agreement that amounts to more than 850 million euros, the ministry said.

The first of the submarines, part of a new series called Dakar, will be delivered within nine years, the government said.

Israel’s Navy operates five German-built Dolphin-class submarines, with a sixth under construction in Germany. The three Dakar submarines will replace three of the ageing Dolphins.

“I would like to thank the German government for its assistance in advancing the agreement and for its commitment to Israel’s security,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“I am confident that the new submarines will upgrade the capabilities of the Israeli Navy and will contribute to Israel’s security superiority in the region.”

The agreement also includes the construction of a training simulator in Israel and the supply of spare parts.

“The Dakar class will be of a completely new design, which is to be specifically engineered to fulfil the operational requirements of the Israeli Navy,” Thyssenkrupp said.

The announcement comes only a few days before Israel’s cabinet is due to discuss forming a panel to investigate the decision-making process behind purchases of submarines and missile boats from Germany worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Israeli prosecutors last year charged several Israelis, including a businessman, a former naval officer and a former cabinet minister, with bribery, money laundering and tax invasion in connection with deals from 2009 to 2016.

Thyssenkrupp has said an internal investigation found no evidence of corruption in its handling of the sales and Israeli authorities have taken no action against the conglomerate.

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Turkey’s central bank said on Thursday it expected a disinflation process to start on the back of measures taken for sustainable price and financial stability, and so it halted an easing cycle after inflation soared to 36 per cent in December.

The bank’s monetary policy committee said it was conducting a comprehensive review of its policy framework with the aim of prioritising the Turkish lira in all the bank’s policy tools.

After cutting its policy rate by 500 basis points since September to 14 per cent, the bank signalled last month that it would pause the easing cycle in January to monitor the impact of recent easing during the first quarter of 2022.
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Already rampant inflation in Turkey will rise further in the coming months before declining to around 27 per cent by the end of the year, a Reuters poll showed on Monday, as forecasts soared after a currency crisis in 2021 sent prices rocketing.

Turkey’s inflation surged to 36 per cent in December after a series of interest rate cuts by the central bank, long sought by President Tayyip Erdogan, prompted the lira to lose 44 per cent of its value against the dollar last year.

The annual consumer price index (CPI) was seen standing at 40 per cent by the end of the first quarter and 39 per cent by mid-year, according to the median estimate in the Jan. 10-14 Reuters poll.

Inflation was seen declining to 26.8 per cent by the end of 2022, and to 15.4 per cent in 2023, in sharp contrast to government expectations that inflation would decline to single digits by mid-2023.

Estimates for inflation at the end of 2022 ranged widely from 17 per cent to as high as 46 per cent.

Despite the government’s recent policy of keeping interest rates low to boost exports and credit, some economists saw the central bank changing direction and hiking its policy rate in the future.

The median estimate for the one-week repo rate was for it to remain unchanged at 14 per cent throughout this year, but seven of the 20 economists polled expected a cut while three predicted an increase – with the top estimate at 25 per cent.

Erdogan has backed aggressive rate cuts to support his new programme that stresses exports and credit – despite soaring inflation and widespread criticism of the policy from economists and opposition lawmakers.

Authorities have recently said Turkey’s biggest economic problem is the chronic current account deficit, largely due to Turkey’s heavy import bill, which they say will improve as a result of the new economic plan.

However, economists still predict the deficit would amount to 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product in 2022 and 2.3 per cent in 2023.

Turkey’s GDP growth was seen at 10.1 per cent in 2021 as the economy rebounded from a downturn due to the pandemic, but the pace of expansion was seen dropping to 3.5 per cent in 2022 and standing at 4.0 per cent in 2023.

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A helicopter flies over the downtown skyline, as seen from the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group attacked the United Arab Emirates in what it said was an operation using missiles and drones, setting off explosions in fuel trucks that killed three people and causing a fire near the airport of Abu Dhabi, capital of the region’s commercial and tourism hub.

The strike on a leading Gulf Arab ally of the United States takes the war between the Houthi group and a Saudi-led coalition to a new level, and may hinder efforts to contain regional tensions as Washington and Tehran work to rescue a nuclear deal.

“The UAE condemns this terrorist attack by the Houthi militia on areas and civilian facilities on Emirati soil…(It) will not go unpunished,” its foreign ministry said. “The UAE reserves the right to respond to these terrorist attacks and criminal escalation.”

The UAE, a member of the coalition, has armed and trained local Yemeni forces that recently joined fighting against the Houthis in Yemen’s energy-producing Shabwa and Marib regions.

“With (nuclear) negotiators running out of time, the risk of a deterioration in the region’s security climate is rising,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt, principal MENA analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a phone call with his Emirati counterpart, condemned the attack, the UAE state news agency reported. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington would work to hold the Houthis accountable.

The Houthis have frequently launched cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but have claimed few such attacks on the UAE, mostly denied by Emirati authorities.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group fired five ballistic missiles and “a large number” of drones at Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, an oil refinery in Musaffah and several “sensitive” sites in the UAE.

Abu Dhabi police said three people were killed and six wounded when three fuel tanker trucks exploded in the industrial Musaffah area near storage facilities of oil firm ADNOC. State media said those killed were two Indians and a Pakistani.

Police said initial investigations found parts of small planes that could possibly be drones at the sites in Musaffah and Abu Dhabi airport, but they made no mention of missiles.

ADNOC said an incident at its Mussafah Fuel Depot at 10 a.m. resulted in a fire. Police closed the road leading to the area, where unverified footage on social media had shown thick smoke.

“ADNOC is deeply saddened to confirm that three colleagues have died. A further six colleagues were injured and received immediate specialist medical care,” it said.

An Etihad Airways spokesperson said a small number of flights were briefly disrupted at Abu Dhabi airport due to “precautionary measures”, but normal operations quickly resumed.

PROXY FIGHT

The Saudi-led alliance carried out air strikes on Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa, Reuters witnesses said, following the strike on the UAE and after the coalition intercepted eight drones launched toward Saudi Arabia on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack on the UAE and urged “all parties to exercise maximum restraint and prevent any escalation”, his spokesperson said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the attack threatened regional stability.

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials, but Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported it as an “important operation”.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had moved to engage with Iran in recent months to avoid any wider conflict that could hurt regional economic ambitions. The Yemen war is widely seen as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.

The Houthi strike could derail UAE and wider Gulf dialogue with Iran, said UAE political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.

“The UAE is not going to take this very lightly,” he said.

The attack coincided with a visit to the UAE by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. A Blue House official said a summit between Moon and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince was cancelled.

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Turkey’s annual inflation rate will be in single digits by the time presidential and parliamentary elections set for mid-2023 are held, Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati said on Saturday.

Inflation hit a 19-year high of 36 per cent in December after the central bank slashed interest rates under pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan, causing a currency crisis that led to the lira shedding 44 per cent of its value in 2021.

Speaking to heads of non-governmental organisations in Istanbul, Nebati said Turkey’s only problem now was high inflation, and the volatility in the lira’s exchange rate had settled.

“With fiscal policies and the steps that we will take, we will enter the elections… next year with single-digit inflation,” Nebati said.

“We will all experience, see the change after the first quarter (of 2022),” he said about inflation.

Despite government officials’ promises of bringing inflation down quickly, economic analysts say it could exceed 50 per cent in coming months and remain elevated through the year.

The currency crisis was halted last month, thanks in part to costly currency interventions and to government incentives to reduce the dollar’s appeal to savers.

Turks snatched up hard currencies as the lira sank to record lows against the dollar, and Turkish locals’ forex and gold holdings hit a record high of $238.97 billion in December before they declined slightly to $234.3 billion by Jan. 7.

Nebati said on Saturday the conversion of forex holdings to Turkish lira will accelerate in coming weeks.

“The decline in forex deposit accounts has begun. We will see the declining trend in the forex deposit accounts continuing downward quickly,” he said, adding that the central bank’s reserves will rise as well.

Nebati said that as of Friday night more than 131 billion lira ($9.69 billion) had been deposited in accounts under the government scheme that protects lira deposits from forex depreciation.

Speaking in the western province of Aydin, Erdogan said the lira protection scheme had spoiled foreign economic “attacks.”

“In the last few years, they specifically targeted our economy. They made countless efforts to create an economic crisis followed by political and social chaos,” he said.

Erdogan said Turkey was aiming for $35 billion in tourism revenues this year, and $250 billion in exports.

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The lira held firm on Friday after Turkey’s finance minister was cited as saying inflation would peak in January and hit single digits by June 2023 elections, but a key survey showed inflation would still be around 30 per cent at the end of this year.

The lira gained 0.3 per cent to 13.58 to the dollar by 0925 GMT. It weakened 44 per cent last year, with a currency crisis halted last month after currency interventions and a government scheme to protect lira deposits from forex depreciation.

Minister Nureddin Nebati was quoted as telling Bloomberg in an interview that the lira facility had attracted 126 billion lira ($9.3 billion), of which 15 per cent came from foreign currency accounts, with some 300,000 people participating in the scheme.

He said that work on increasing the capital of state banks will be completed before the end of the month.

Driven by the lira plunge, inflation surged to a 19-year high of 36 per cent in December, the highest under President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule, and is seen reaching up to 50 per cent in coming months.

But Nebati said it would ease as the summer approaches.

“Currently we are carrying the hump of December. In the summer, both with easing food prices and in terms of global inflation, we will be entering a period where the impact of both of these will lessen,” he said, forecasting single-digit inflation by the time of elections scheduled for June 2023.

A central bank survey on Friday showed consumer price inflation was seen at 29.75 per cent at end-2022.

The lira crisis in November and December was sparked by the central bank’s 500 basis points of rate cuts to 14 per cent since September. It eased policy under pressure from Erdogan, who seeks higher growth by boosting production and exports.

BBC ISTANBUL STAFF STRIKE

The jump in living costs has eaten into household earnings, prompting government measures including a 50 per cent rise to 4,250 lira ($275.44) in the monthly minimum wage for 2022 to offset strains.

Last month Turks began queuing to buy cheap bread from the Istanbul municipality, while the costs of electricity, natural gas and fuel have all jumped.

With unions pushing for wage hikes, 12 staff at the BBC Istanbul bureau went on strike on Friday after collective bargaining talks with the broadcaster reached no deal.

The Turkey Journalists’ Union said the BBC’s final offer of a 20 per cent pay increase did “not sufficiently address the meltdown in the staff’s wages,” which are paid in lira.

A BBC spokesperson said it understood staff concerns and had implemented a pay increase and made an additional benefits offer, with “mechanisms in place to support staff financially during sustained volatility”.

The erosion of Turks’ earnings has been felt in particular among working and lower middle class Turks, who form the electoral base of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP).

Recent opinion polls show more Turks now believe an opposition alliance is better suited than Erdogan and the AKP to end the economic turmoil.

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Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 15 per cent of its value since the start of the year, piling further pressure on the population more than two years into a crisis that has plunged many into poverty and fuelled demonstrations.

Protesters took to the streets in several areas of the country on Monday night, burning tires and voicing anger at the dire economic situation amid political deadlock. Cars queued at fuel stations to fill up before another expected rise in prices.

“You would like to believe that you can be hopeful, but there is no hope,” said Abdel-Rahman Shaar, who runs a computer shop in central Beirut. “People are dying of hunger … , the state is in a coma and the dollar (exchange rate) is crashing.”

The Lebanese pound, which has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since 2019, was trading at a new low of more than 33,000 to the dollar on Tuesday from 27,400 on Dec. 31. It had traded at 1,500 before the economy was crushed by a mountain of debt.

Public frustration has been fuelled by political sclerosis among Lebanon’s sectarian leaders.

A new cabinet, appointed in September as a step towards reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, has not met for nearly three months amid a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion.

President Michel Aoun held a series of meetings on Monday and Tuesday to win support for a national dialogue conference to discuss the economic crisis among other issues, but he has so far only secured backing from his close allies.

“At the best of times, the call for dialogue is normal and necessary. At a time of hardship, pressure and bickering, it is more than necessary not to stop dialogue,” Mohamed Raad, a lawmaker from Hezbollah, a powerful Shi’ite Muslim group that has an alliance with Aoun’s Christian party, said after meeting the president.

Others, including rivals from Aoun’s Christian community, have rejected the proposal. Some have said talks must wait until a parliamentary election in May, while others have said the cabinet needs to meet first.

Aoun’s six-year term as president, a post reserved for a Christian under Lebanon’s sectarian system, ends later this year adding further uncertainty to the political outlook.

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Data from Israel on Thursday supported growing evidence worldwide that Omicron causes milder illness than previous variants of the coronavirus even as the country grappled with a record number of daily infections.

Total hospitalisations on Wednesday stood at 363 patients, after the Health Ministry reported more than 16,000 new cases – a record high in Israel since the start of the pandemic – with a daily increase of 32 more people falling severely ill.

During the height of Israel’s Delta variant wave, the record number of people infected topped 11,000, with the number of those falling severely ill increasing daily by around 100 and 1,300 people hospitalized.

“Our initial data, which is not yet entirely accurate, points to seven to eight people hospitalised for 1,000 infected, two of whom will fall severely ill or worse,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s head of public health, told Army Radio.

“This is a significant change from Delta which saw far more – at least 10 severely ill for every 1,000 infections,” she said.

Israel has confirmed around 1.4 million infections since the start of the pandemic and more than 8,000 deaths.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that more evidence nL1N2TK0GF was emerging of Omicron causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a “decoupling” in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates.

Nonetheless, health officials are concerned that even if Omicron is less harmful, its fast surge could overload healthcare systems.

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center opened its second coronavirus ward on Thursday as coronavirus admissions rose.

“We get the impression that Omicron causes a disease that is not as severe as the previous variants. However, there is still a high level of uncertainty because we need perspective, we need to see after a period of time how many severe cases we accumulate,” said Hadassah’s head of medicine Alon Hershko.

With infections rising fast, Israel’s testing centres have been buckling under the pressure, prompting health officials to prioritise risk groups and trust younger, vaccinated populations to test at home if exposed to a carrier.

Risk groups have also been green-lighted for a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and for Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co Inc’s antiviral COVID-19 medications.

A week into a fourth dose trial at a major Israeli hospital, researchers saw participants’ antibody levels increase five-fold.

But Gili Regev-Yochay, who is leading Sheba Medical Centre’s study, said that while the jump restored protection provided by a third dose, it was lower than what she had hoped for.

“I expect to see it continue rising, the peak of antibodies usually occurs two to four weeks in,” she told Army Radio.

Hershko said that so far, as in the Delta wave, unvaccinated patients largely suffered more severe COVID-19 than vaccinated ones and made up the majority of admissions. Around 60% of the country’s 9.4 million population is vaccinated.

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Turkey’s lira firmed slightly on Wednesday, trimming losses a day earlier as investors weighed up the impact of a surge in inflation to a 19-year peak after last year’s plunge in the currency’s value.

The lira firmed as much as 1.3 per cent to 13.275 in early trade but gave up most of those gains to reach 13.42 by 0742 GMT. On Tuesday it weakened 3.6 per cent to close at 13.45.

In 2021, the Turkish currency suffered its worst year since Erdogan’s AK Party came to power in 2002, tumbling 44 per cent. It hit a record low of 18.4 two weeks ago before rebounding after the government unveiled a deposit-protection scheme.

The lira slide and a series of administered price rises – including for utilities and wages – are forecast by economists to push inflation higher this year after data on Monday showed the annual rate reached 36.1 per cent in December.

Speaking to his ruling AK Party on Tuesday, Erdogan said he would not abandon Turks to “extreme” price hikes and volatile exchange rates.

“God willing, we have left the worst behind us. From now on, it is time to reap the benefits of our efforts, to show our people that we are approaching our goals.”

Under pressure from Erdogan, who overhauled the central bank’s leadership last year, the bank has slashed its policy rate by 500 basis points to 14 per cent since September.
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Destruction in the Syrian war.

A Swedish woman has been charged with war crimes for helping enlist her 12-year-old son to fight as a child soldier in Syria, where he was killed in the civil war, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

The 49-year-old woman, a Swedish citizen who returned from Syria in 2020, is the first person known to have been charged in Sweden with aiding the recruitment of her own minor son as a child soldier.

The boy, born in 2001, fought beginning in 2013 for groups which include Islamic State. He died in 2017. Authorities released no further identifying details about the mother or her child.

The woman denies the charge, her lawyer, Mikael Westerlund, said. If found guilty she faces a minimum prison sentence of four years, prosecutor Reena Devgun said.

According to the United Nations, recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law and recognised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

Under Swedish law, courts can try people for crimes against international law committed abroad. The trial will start on Monday, Jan. 10.
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Turkey’s annual inflation rate surged to 36.1 per cent last month, its highest in the 19 years Tayyip Erdogan has ruled, laying bare the depths of a currency crisis engineered by the president’s unorthodox interest rate-cutting policies.

In December alone, consumer prices took a rare step into double-digits, rising 13.58 per cent, Turkish Statistical Institute data showed on Monday, eating deeper into the earnings and savings of Turks rattled by the economic turmoil.

The year-over-year CPI outstripped a median Reuters poll forecast of 30.6 per cent with staples such as transportation and food – which took increasing shares of households’ budgets during 2021 – rising even faster.

Turkey’s lira shed 44 per cent of its value last year as the central bank slashed interest rates under a drive by Erdogan to prioritise credit and exports over currency and price stability. On Monday it whipsawed down 5 per cent then up 3 per cent, before trading flat at 13.1 versus the dollar at 1225 GMT.

Some economists predict that inflation could reach as high as 50 per cent by spring unless the direction of monetary policy is reversed.

“Rates should be immediately and aggressively hiked because this is urgent,” said Ozlem Derici Sengul, founding partner at Spinn Consulting in Istanbul.

The central bank was however unlikely to act, she added, and annual inflation “will probably reach 40-50 per cent by March”, by when administered price rises would have been added into the mix, including a 50 per cent minimum wage hike.

Last year was the worst for the lira in nearly two decades, while the annual CPI was the highest since the 37.0 per cent reading of September of 2002, two months before Erdogan’s AK Party first took office.

But Erdogan’s focus on Monday was on trade data which showed exports surged by a third to $225 billion last year.

“We have only one concern: exports, exports and exports,” he said in a speech, adding the trade data showed a sixth-fold rise in exports during his tenure as leader.

“WE DON’T GO OUT”

Erdogan, a self-declared enemy of interest rates, overhauled the central bank’s leadership last year. The bank has slashed the policy rate to 14 per cent from 19 per cent since September, leaving Turkey with deeply negative real yields that have spooked savers and investors.

The subsequent accelerating surge in prices and drop in the lira have also upended household and company budgets, scuttled travel plans and left many Turks scrambling to cut costs. Many queued last month for subsidised bread in Istanbul, where the municipality says the cost of living is up 50 per cent in a year.

“We don’t sit with our friends in a cafe and drink coffee any more,” Mehmet, 26, a university graduate, said as he did his job as a pollster in Istanbul.

“We don’t go out, just from home to work and back again,” he said, adding he was buying smaller meal portions and believed inflation was higher than official data showed.

The central bank has argued that temporary factors had been driving prices and forecast a volatile course for inflation, which – having been around 20 per cent in recent months and mostly double-digits over the last five years – it said in October would end the year at 18.4 per cent.

Sengul suggested that, with Monday’s data, that argument had run its course.

“This reflects a vicious cycle of demand-pull inflation, which is very dangerous because the central bank had implied the price pressure was from cost-push (supply constraints), and that it couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.

Reflecting soaring import prices, December’s producer price index rose 19.08 per cent month-on-month and 79.89 per cent year on year. Annual transportation prices soared 53.66 per cent while the food and drinks basket jumped 43.8 per cent, the CPI data showed.

The economic turmoil has also hit Erdogan’s opinion polls ahead of a tough election scheduled for no later than mid-2023.

The lira touched a record low of 18.4 against the dollar in December before rebounding sharply two weeks ago after state-backed market interventions, and after Erdogan announced a scheme to protect lira deposits against currency volatility.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speaking on the second anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by the United States, said that former US President Donald Trump must face trial for the killing or Tehran would take revenge.

Iran and groups allied with it in Iraq and other countries have been holding events to honour Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards. He was killed in Iraq in a drone strike on Jan. 3, 2020, ordered by then President Trump.

“If Trump and (former secretary of state Mike) Pompeo are not tried in a fair court for the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani, Muslims will take our martyr’s revenge,” Raisi said in a speech on Monday.

“The aggressor, murderer and main culprit – the then president of the United States – must be tried and judged under the (Islamic) law of retribution, and God’s ruling must be carried out against him,” Raisi added.

Under Iran’s Islamic laws, a convicted murderer can be executed unless the family of the victim agree to take “blood money” through a reconciliation.

Iranian judicial officials have communicated with authorities in nine countries after identifying 127 suspects in the case, including 74 U.S. nationals, Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri told state television.

“The criminal former president (Trump) is at the top of the list,” he said.

On Sunday, Iran urged the United Nations Security Council in a letter to hold the United States and Israel, which Tehran says was also involved in the killing, to account, Iranian media said.

Days after the assassination, the United States told the United Nations that the killing was self-defence. The then U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Trump clearly had the authority to kill Soleimani and the general was a “legitimate military target”.

Hundreds of supporters of Iran-backed militia groups gathered on Sunday at Baghdad international airport to mark the anniversary of Soleimani’s death and to chant anti-American slogans.

Two armed drones were shot down on Monday as they approached an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. forces near Baghdad’s international airport, Iraqi security sources said.

Late on Sunday, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement seized a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo vessel which it said was engaged in “hostile acts” but which the Saudis said was carrying hospital equipment.

In Israel on Monday, the Jerusalem Post newspaper said its website had been hacked in what it called an apparent threat to the country, with an illustration that appeared to recall Soleimani.


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The United Arab Emirates will ban non-vaccinated citizens from traveling abroad from Jan. 10, the state news agency WAM reported on Saturday, citing the foreign ministry and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority.

The report said that fully vaccinated citizens would also require a booster shot to be eligible to travel. The ban would not apply to those with medical or humanitarian exemptions.
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Turkey’s lira fell 5 per cent on Thursday, extending a four-day slide and eating into big gains last week, as the government struggled to convince savers to ignore the volatility even as worries persisted over surging inflation and unorthodox rate cuts.

The currency has shed as much as 20 per cent in four trading sessions. That reversed a more than 50 per cent rally over the previous five days, which was triggered by a new state scheme to protect lira deposits from depreciation losses versus hard currencies.

The lira dipped as far as 13.4 to the dollar and edged back to 13 by 0718 GMT. It has swung from 18.4 to 10.25 in the last two weeks, a dizzying ride for Turks who have seen their household budgets upended and savings depleted.

The fast-moving currency crisis was set off by a series of aggressive interest rate cuts beginning in September that were sought by President Tayyip Erdogan under his “new economic programme” focused on exports and credit.

Economists and opposition lawmakers called the policy easing reckless given inflation had climbed above 21 per cent, and is expected to soar beyond 30 per cent this month and in the months ahead, due primarily to the sharp lira depreciation.

Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati – whom Erdogan appointed earlier this month – said late on Wednesday the record volatility was not worrying.

He also said there were no state interventions to sell dollars and boost the lira last week – despite data showing that the central bank’s foreign reserves tumbled in what bankers said signaled state-backed market support.

Under the scheme unveiled by Erdogan, the Treasury or central bank would cover the difference between deposit rates and the FX rate for lira converted into the new instrument, which is meant to reverse a tide of dollarization.

Many economists warn that if the lira continues to depreciate, the scheme could stoke inflation and add to the state’s fiscal burden.

Nebati said on broadcaster CNN Turk that 59.8 billion lira ($4.60 billion) were in the protected deposits as of Wednesday.

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The Turkish lira weakened for the third consecutive day on Wednesday, tumbling 5 per cent and eating further into the huge gains made the previous week, as worries persisted over soaring inflation and unorthodox monetary policy.

The losses gathered pace after little initial reaction to the central bank’s (CBRT) 2022 policy document, in which it said it will monitor risks related to the foreign exchange market and do what is necessary to ensure it runs smoothly.

The lira plunged as far as 12.45 against the dollar and traded at 12.3 by 1034 GMT. Despite surging more than 50 per cent last week following state-backed market interventions, it has lost 40 per cent of its value this year.

“The CBRT has no commitment to any exchange rate level and will not conduct FX buying or selling transactions to determine the level or direction of the exchange rates,” the bank said.

It said it would monitor closely the impact of its policy decisions in the first quarter and “the policy framework will be reassessed in order to create a foundation for sustainable price stability.”

The lira surged last week after billions of dollars worth of state-backed market interventions and a government move to cover FX losses on certain deposits, restoring the currency back to its mid-November levels.

The recovery came after President Tayyip Erdogan unveiled an incentive for savers to convert forex deposits into lira, under which their losses incurred due to any erosion in lira value during the deposit period would be reimbursed.

Hasnain Malik at Tellimer said this provided a free currency hedge to domestic savers if the lira depreciates.

“But this also implies higher quasi-fiscal costs should the credibility of this hedge or the currency weaken,” he said.

The lira hit an all-time low of 18.4 to the dollar before Erdogan’s announcement, after weakening for months due to fears of surging inflation following a series of interest rate cuts sought by the president.

Annual inflation is forecast to have hit 30.6 per cent in December, a Reuters poll found, breaching the 30 per cent level for the first time since May 2003 – six months after Erdogan’s AK Party first came to power.

According to traders’ calculations, the central bank’s net forex reserves, excluding swaps, fell some $8 billion last week, with most of the fall in the first two days of the week. They were down $17-$18 billion as of last Friday since the start of the month, when the bank began its direct interventions.

The central bank has cut its policy rates by 500 basis points to 14 per cent since September.

The main share index (.XU100) in Istanbul rose 1.4 per cent.

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A still image from a video footage shows a firefighter dousing flames at the Syrian port of Latakia, Syria, December 28, 2021. SANA

Israel launched an air strike on Syria’s main port of Latakia on Tuesday in the second such attack this month, the Syrian army said, setting ablaze the container storage area where two port sources said Iran has been storing munitions.

An Israeli military spokesperson declined to comment saying: “We don’t comment on foreign reports.”

Official Syrian reports made no mention of any casualties. A source familiar with the operations of the port said the strike hit a container area where large consignments of Iranian munitions that had arrived last month were stored.

“These blasts and huge fires were caused by the explosions from the munitions stored in a warehouse close to commercial cargo,” the source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter told Reuters.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the head of the Latakia fire brigade as saying the containers targeted in the strike contained oils and spare parts for machines and cars.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it says are Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, visiting an Israeli air-force base did not speak about the specific incident on Tuesday but warned his country would not allow Iran to use Syria to threaten Israel.

“I call upon the region’s countries to stop Iran from violating their sovereignty and people. Israel will not allow Iran to funnel balance-breaching weapons to its proxies and threaten our citizens,” Gantz said.

Another Syrian source familiar with Iranian military movements in Syria said Tehran had in recent months transferred weapons by sea as it sought to dodge intensified Israeli strikes that struck eastern Syria near a weapons supply corridor along the border with Iraq.

The drone strikes disabled several large weapons convoys sent by Tehran from Iraq, he added in information confirmed by a Western intelligence source.

Iran has expanded its military presence in Syria in recent years where it now has a foothold in most state-controlled areas where thousands of its militias and local paramilitary groups are under its command, Western intelligence sources say.

Citing a military source, SANA said Israel had carried out the air strike targeting the container storage area at 3.21 a.m. (0121 GMT), causing a fire and leading to “big material damages”.

Fire fighters were working to extinguish the blaze, it quoted the head of the Latakia fire brigade as saying. Syrian state TV footage showed flames and smoke in the container area.

Citing its correspondent, state-run broadcaster al-Ikhbariya said a number of residential buildings, a hospital and a number of shops and tourist facilities had been damaged by the power of the blasts.

Russia, which has been Assad’s most powerful ally during the war, operates an air base at Hmeimim some 20 kms (12 miles) away from Latakia.

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The Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran

Iran and Russia sounded upbeat about talks on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, with Tehran saying an accord was possible if other parties showed “good faith” and a Russian negotiator reporting “indisputable progress”.

Iran and the United States resumed the indirect talks in Vienna on Monday, with Tehran focused on one side of the original bargain – lifting sanctions against it – despite what critics see as scant progress on reining in its atomic activities.

“The Vienna talks are headed in a good direction… We believe that if other parties continue the round of talks which just started with good faith, reaching a good agreement for all parties is possible,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Tehran.

“If they show seriousness, in addition to the good faith, arriving at a deal soon and in the near future is conceivable,” Amirabdollahian said in a video of his remarks on state media.

Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said on Twitter: “We observe indisputable progress… Sanctions lifting is being actively discussed in informal settings” in a working group at the talks.

The seventh round of talks ended 11 days ago after adding some new Iranian demands to a working text.

Western powers said the talks had made little discernible progress since they resumed for the first time after Iran’s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. They said negotiators had “weeks not months” left before the 2015 deal becomes meaningless.

Little remains of that deal, which lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its atomic activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of it in 2018, re-imposing U.S. sanctions, and Iran later breached many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions and kept pushing well beyond them.

Iran refuses to meet directly with U.S. officials, meaning that other parties to the deal – Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – must shuttle between the two sides.

The United States has repeatedly expressed frustration at this format, saying it slows down the process, and Western officials still suspect Iran is simply playing for time.

Separately, Iranian media said on Tuesday that Raisi was planning to visit Russia in early 2022 at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.

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Turkish Airlines has reached an agreement with its labour union for a pay rise of inflation plus 65 per cent for 2022, the Hava-Is union said on Thursday.

The flag carrier will offer a further increase of inflation plus 5 per cent for the second half of 2022, followed by a rise of inflation plus 1 per cent for each half of 2023, according to the union, which represents more than 80 per cent of the airline’s workers.
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A still image from a video footage shows a firefighter dousing flames at the Syrian port of Latakia, Syria, December 28, 2021. SANA

Fires erupted in Syria’s Latakia Port’s container storage area following an Israeli missile attack, Syrian state media reported on Tuesday.

The attack, the second in December, damaged facades of a hospital, some residential buildings and shops

“The Israeli “aggression” caused big materialistic damages and assessing its results is still a work in progress”, the Syrian defence ministry said in a statement.

Israel has mounted frequent attacks against what it has described as Iranian targets in Syria, where Tehran-backed forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have deployed over the last decade to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s war.

Live footage aired by the Syrian State TV showed flames and smoke in the containers area.

“Fire fighters are trying to put the fires off while ambulances arrived at the scene,” the state TV reporter said.

Latakia, a Mediterranean port, is Syria’s main commercial port.

Russia, which has been Assad’s most powerful ally during the war, operates an air base at Hmeimim some 20 km (12 miles) away from Latakia.
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The United Arab Emirates government has told some of its biggest business families that it plans to remove their monopolies on the sale of imported goods, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The government did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment but state news agency WAM quoted a Ministry of Economy statement saying a draft law on commercial agencies was still in its legislative cycle and “it is still too early to give details”.

The cabinet referred the draft to the Federal National Council for discussion and possibly more amendments, it added.

The FT report said the proposed legislation would end the automatic renewal of existing commercial agency agreements in the Gulf state, giving foreign firms the opportunity to distribute their own goods or change their local agents.

“It no longer makes sense for individual families to have such power and preferential access to easy wealth,” the report quoted an Emirati official as saying. “We have to modernise our economy.”

The proposed law must be approved by the Emirati leadership and the timing for that remains uncertain, the report added.

Over the past year the UAE, a growing economic rival of Saudi Arabia, has taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investors and talent.

Earlier this year, UAE said foreigners opening a company will no longer need an Emirati shareholder or agent, after it made changes to UAE company law.

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