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Syrian Parliament Approves Russia’s 49-year Lease of Tartus Port

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The parliament of Syria has ratified a bill handing management of the country’s largest port to a Russian firm for 49 years, state media said, according to RIA.  

The vote on Wednesday comes after a deal between Damascus and the Russian company Stroytransgaz for the management, expansion and operation of Tartus port was signed in late April. It is one of many lucrative contracts between Damascus and Moscow, which has a naval base in Tartus and has been a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The bill ratified on Wednesday, which still needs to be approved by the Syrian president, establishes a board of directors to oversee the management and operation of the port, the official SANA news agency said.

Under the agreement, the six directors would be split equally between Damascus and Stroytransgaz, but the board’s leadership would be reserved for the Russian company, SANA said.

It also exempts the firm from paying customs and tariffs on imports for the duration of the expansion work, which is expected to take six years.

Lawmakers said the expansion would benefit Syria’s ailing economy and represent an important step in support of the country’s reconstruction drive, according to SANA.

Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammud described the agreement as “ideal”. Hammud said it would yield “profitable returns” and transform Tartus port into an “economic gateway” connecting Syria to the rest of the Mediterranean.

Under the terms of the deal, Damascus could accrue up to 35 percent of profits, he added. In April, Hammud said the Russian firm could invest up to $500 million in the port’s expansion. On Wednesday, however, he said the figure was about $50 million.

Founded in 1991, Stroytransgaz is one of the largest construction companies in Russia. It is 80-percent owned by Kremlin-linked oligarch Gennady Tymchenko.

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Court in Gibraltar Extends Iranian Tanker’s Detention for 30 Days

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A court in Gibraltar has extended the detention of an Iranian oil tanker for 30 days, AFP reported, citing Gibraltar’s attorney general. According to the agency, the order authorising the detention of the tanker can be extended for up to 90 days.

“We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the territory’s parliament, as quoted by AFP.

On 4 July, the supertanker Grace 1 was detained off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicions of it carrying oil to Syria for refinement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt discussed the issue earlier this week, with Mr Zarif urging London to release the tanker. He also stressed that Tehran would continue its oil exports under any circumstances. Mr Hunt, for his part, said that the Grace 1 would be released once Iran gives guarantees about its destination.

The tanker’s four crew members were freed on bail earlier this month after being questioned.

The situation in the Gulf has remained tense since the US tightened the sanctions it reimposed on the Iranian oil sector after quitting the 2015 nuclear deal.

A series of incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, took place in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. Washington has blamed the attacks on Tehran, but the latter has denied all the accusations.

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Russia in Confidential Consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 Crash

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Russia is having confidential consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 flight that was downed over Donbass in July 2014, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Friday.

“Such consultations are underway, but we agreed that the process will have a confidential character,” the diplomat said.

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Links Between Russia and EU’s Right-Wing Parties Cause for Concern, Says Merkel

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Relations between Moscow and EU’s right-wing political parties are a cause for concern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during a press conference in Berlin.

“Some questions arise here,” she stated. “We have constantly monitored the very strong support that right-leaning parties have received from Russia in one way or the other.” “This is a cause for concern,” Merkel stressed.

The German chancellor also mentioned the scandal regarding the alleged financing of Italy’s Lega party by Russia, noting that the Italian side must investigate the allegations in detail.

Milan’s prosecution launched a case based on the publications on the US BuzzFeed website and in the Italian L’Espresso weekly news magazine shedding light on the alleged financing Lega was receiving from Russia, qualifying the case as international corruption.

The main suspect in the case is one of the associates of Italy’s Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, head of th-e Lombardy-Russia Association Gianluca Savoini. According to the prosecution, his voice can be heard on the BuzzFeed published audio recording of an alleged conversation with Russian entrepreneurs with ties to the Kremlin, during which a possible oil supply contract was discussed. The party could have received the deal dividends amounting to $65 mln.

Both Salvini and Savoini have denied the allegations.

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