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Islamic World News ( 2 Feb 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Alcohol in 2022 Qatar Football World Cup Stadiums – For Those Who Can Purchase

New Age Islam News Bureau

02 February 2021


• Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General  and Mushaal Mullick, wife of Yasim Malik Wants Pakistan To Cut Off Diplomatic Ties With India

• Mauritanian Clerics Announce Religious Ban On Normalization Of Relations With Israel

• Can The Saudis Buy A New Image On Capitol Hill?

• Turkey To Prepare Reports On Islamophobia, Racism In West

• Iran Link Emerges In New Delhi Israel Embassy Attack Probe Despite False Flags: Cops

• Aung San Suu Kyi No Longer West's Priority After Myanmar Military Coup

• Indonesia Launches Its Biggest Islamic Bank After Year-Long Merger Talks

• Zarif Says EU Can ‘Choreograph’ Moves By Iran, US To Reach A New Nuclear Deal


Arab World

• Alcohol in 2022 Qatar Football World Cup Stadiums – For Those Who Can Purchase

• Israel Wants To Setup Road Links With UAE, Says 130,000 Tourists Visited: Diplomat

• Iraq's Grand Mufti Slams PM Khadimi, Demands Reforms

• Bahrain court gives life sentence to eight anti-regime activists

• Lebanon Army Arrests 18 Members Of Daesh-Linked Cell Near Syria Border

• Pope Says He Is Intent On Making Iraq Trip Despite Difficulties

• Lebanon Army Arrests 18 Lebanese, Syrians Linked To ISIS Terrorist Group

• Israel says drone falls in Lebanese territory, Hezbollah says it brought it down



• Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General  and Mushaal Mullick, wife of Yasim Malik Wants Pakistan To Cut Off Diplomatic Ties With India

• ‘Zarif’s trips to Islamabad proof of amicable Iran-Pakistan ties’

• Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony ‘Turns Down’ Bill On Minorities Rights

• Pak SC rejects govt's request to suspend release of accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case: Report

• Pakistan SC extends detention of principal accused in Daniel Pearl murder case for one day

• Minister sees Indian lobby behind PIA plane seizure

• FM rejects claim Pakistan stands diplomatically isolated

• Three terrorists killed near Afghan border



• Mauritanian Clerics Announce Religious Ban On Normalization Of Relations With Israel

• Libyan delegates start talks in Geneva for transitional leaders

• Group of Chibok Schoolgirls Reportedly Escape Boko Haram Captors

• Borno speaker faults Olonisakin, Lai Mohammed’s claims on Boko Haram


North America

• Can The Saudis Buy A New Image On Capitol Hill?

• Biden Urged To Defend Right To Free Speech, Back Peaceful Calls For Israel Boycotts

• US forces ‘transporting by choppers’ Daesh terrorists in Afghanistan: Taliban

• US President Biden will keep tariffs on UAE aluminum imports citing national security

• US secretary of state: Iran ‘weeks away from having material to build nuclear bomb’



• Turkey To Prepare Reports On Islamophobia, Racism In West

• Lawmakers debate bill to rout out radical Islam in France

• Pope To Celebrate International Day Of Human Fraternity With Abu Dhabi Crown Prince



• Iran Link Emerges In New Delhi Israel Embassy Attack Probe Despite False Flags: Cops

• Terrorist Hideout Busted In Rajouri, ‘War-Like Store’ Recovered

• Bilkis Bano, 82, Is ‘Woman Of The Year’ And Ilham Tohti, A Champion Of Uyghur Cause, Is ‘Man Of The Year’

• Govt hands over Israel embassy blast to NIA after Iranian angle emerges


South Asia

• Aung San Suu Kyi No Longer West's Priority After Myanmar Military Coup

• Two killed as bombs rock Afghan capital

• Taliban delegation: New government will ’emerge’

• Taliban Battered in Kandahar, Balkh, Kunduz


Southeast Asia

• Indonesia Launches Its Biggest Islamic Bank After Year-Long Merger Talks

• Sabah Mufti: Ebit Lew’s Mass Conversion Stands, But Most Bajau Laut Already Muslims

• Iran, S Korea ties still sour in post-Trump era



• Zarif Says EU Can ‘Choreograph’ Moves By Iran, US To Reach A New Nuclear Deal

• Turkey's police detain 159 people at protests over Erdogan-appointed university head

• Turkey's President Erdogan says may be time for new constitution

• Kosovo, Israel establish diplomatic ties, embassy to be in Jerusalem

• Israeli forces shoot two Palestinians in occupied West Bank city of Jenin

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Alcohol in 2022 Qatar Football World Cup Stadiums – For Those Who Can Purchase

February 1, 2021

DOHA: Alcohol will be available to football fans in stadiums at the 2022 World Cup, but so far only to those purchasing hospitality packages, the contractor behind the premium offerings has said.

Despite the Muslim nation’s strict rules around alcohol consumption, the announcement indicates that Qatari authorities agree in principle with serving it at the venues — the clearest indication yet that beer and other drinks could be available for ordinary fans.

The question of alcohol at the World Cup has dogged the Qatari organisers since the conservative Islamic emirate won the right to host the tournament back in 2010.

No ruling on the availability of alcohol in stadiums for standard ticket-holders has yet been issued.

Speaking at Monday’s launch of packages for the tournament, Jaime Byrom, the chairman of MATCH Hospitality, the World Cup hospitality provider, said: “It is our expectation that people will be able to (drink).

“We expect that, depending on the decisions taken by others — we will of course always comply with whatever regulations, whatever laws are decreed — certainly at this point in time we are planning to be in a position to serve alcohol in our hospitality programme.”

In a sales presentation, MATCH Hospitality touted their most premium offering for the World Cup, the Pearl Lounge box at the 80,000-seat Lusail stadium, which will feature “mixologists, Champagne selection, sommeliers, and premium spirits”. No price was given.

Sales and consumption of alcohol are tightly controlled in Qatar. Only a handful of bars and restaurants linked to luxury hotels are permitted to serve, and a single state-controlled off-licence bottle shop sells to holders of liquor permits.

Temporary visitors, including football fans, will not be eligible to purchase from the bottle store under the current rules.

While alcohol prices have dipped modestly in recent years, a pint of beer outside of happy hours commonly costs in excess of US$15, with glasses of wine reaching almost US$20.

It is a crime to be intoxicated in public in Qatar and there is zero tolerance for drink driving.

Qatar experimented with a “wet fan zone” during the 2019 Fifa Club World Cup when fans were permitted to consume alcoholic beverages at a site on the outskirts of Doha. A beer cost around US$7 and supporters responded favourably.

That year, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Hassan al-Thawadi said that “alcohol is not part of our culture, but hospitality is”.

There will be no fan zone at this year’s Club World Cup featuring European champions Bayern Munich, which gets underway Thursday, due to strict coronavirus prevention measures.


Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General  and Mushaal Mullick, wife of Yasim Malik Wants Pakistan To Cut Off Diplomatic Ties With India


Mushaal Mullick appealed to the political parties to shun their mutual differences for some time and show unity on the Kashmir cause. — SS courtesy of Youtube


February 2, 2021

LAHORE: Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Ameerul Azim and Mushaal Hussein Mullick, the wife of detained Kashmiri leader Yasim Malik, have demanded Pakistan should cut off all diplomatic ties with India and nullify the Simla Agreement to show solidarity with the Kashmir cause.

Addressing a joint conference at Mansoora on Monday, both leaders appealed to the media and the nation to play an active role to highlight the genocide of Kashmiris by Indian forces in the valley.

“The government has failed to meet the nation’s expectation. They [rulers] are only paying lip service to the Kashmir cause,” Mr Azim said.

He demanded the government should take the case of illegally detained Kashmiri leaders Yasin Malik, Syed Ali Gilani, Asia Andrabi and others to International Court of Justice and other world forums to ensure their release.

He also demanded the international rights groups should arrange a meeting between Yasin Malik and his daughter, which the Indian government had been denying them, keeping the Hurriyat leader in death cell in a fake case for more than a year and a half.

Ms Mullick appealed to the political parties to shun their mutual differences for some time and show unity on the Kashmir cause.

“The Kashmir is the only important issue of the South Asia and Pakistan’s government, political parties and nation should utilise their energies to expose the Indian crimes against humanity at international level,” she said.

She stressed the need for adoption of a consistent national Kashmir policy by Pakistan. She expressed the hope that India could no more enslave the Kashmiri people and the sun of freedom would soon rise in the occupied area.

Earlier, Ms Mullik, with her mother and daughter, met the JI leadership and offered fateha for the deceased party leader Hafiz Salman Butt.

Samia Raheel Qazi and Qaisar Sharif were also present.


Mauritanian Clerics Announce Religious Ban On Normalization Of Relations With Israel


In this file picture, hundreds of Mauritanians rally in the capital, Nouakchott, to protest former US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital. (Photo via Twitter)


01 February 2021

Some 200 clerics and scholars in Mauritania have declared normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel religiously forbidden, emphasizing that establishment of ties with the Tel Aviv regime that is occupying the Palestinian territories as well as holy Jerusalem al-Quds is not permissible in any case.

“Normalization equals full support for usurping Zionists, and their siege, massacre and destruction. It has nothing to do with peace and reconciliation at all,” the clergymen said in a fatwa (religious decree) issued at the end of a symposium held at al-Tawfiq Mosque in the capital Nouakchott on Sunday evening, Lebanon's Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television news network reported.

The religious scholars also called on the Mauritanian government to maintain its previously declared position that it does not intend to normalize ties with Israel.

Among the most prominent signatories is Sheikh Muhammad al-Hasan bin al-Diddu al-Shanqiti, who is the head of the northwest African country's Center for the Development of Scholars.

Last month, Mauritania’s largest opposition political party announced it was intending to submit a bill to the parliament seeking to criminalize normalization and establishment of diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime.

“In line with our principles, values, and constitutional texts, which cite Sharia as a source of law, and fulfillment of the aspirations of Muslims to support just causes of nations, especially the issue of al-Aqsa [Mosque] and the Palestinian cause, we highly demand the enactment of a law to criminalize normalization [of relations with Israel], and we declare our full readiness to do whatever necessary for such an honorable purpose,” the National Rally for Reform and Development said in a statement released on January 11.

Earlier, three other opposition parties, namely Union of the Forces of Progress, the People's Progressive Alliance and the Alliance for Justice and Democracy/Movement for Renewal, had called for legislation against normalization of ties with Israel.

Mauritania fully severed diplomatic ties with Israel in March 2010.

The northwest African country had expelled Israeli representatives and closed the regime’s embassy in Nouakchott a year earlier. The move came after it froze ties in response to Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The Mauritanian government has frequently affirmed its firm support for Palestinians and their right to establish an independent and sovereign state with Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.


Can The Saudis Buy A New Image On Capitol Hill?

01 February 2021

The administration of US President Joe Biden strongly supports Israel who wants Saudi Arabia on its side because it is instrumental in establishing closer ties between Tel Aviv and regional Arab states, according to J. Michael Springmann, an American political commentator, author and former US diplomat in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi authorities have reportedly hired more than a dozen lobbying firms to help boost relations with the United States and improve the Riyadh regime’s image as Biden assumes office.

According to foreign agent registration filings with the US Justice Department, Riyadh has used at least 16 firms “to largely restore its influence machine in the capital [Washington] and in other parts of the country, and help boost US-Saudi trade relations.”

The lobbying effort will be even more crucial during the term of new US President Joe Biden, whose administration decided on Wednesday to freeze arms sales to Riyadh pending a review, said a Foreign Policy report.

Saudi authorities are already in hot water over issues including Riyadh’s devastating war on Yemen, its treatment of women and the murder of exiled dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Foreign agents hired to lobby on behalf of Saudi interests have apparently contributed almost $2 million in political donations to federal candidates, including Trump and new Democratic President Joe Biden, said the report.

“The Saudis' hiring lobbying firms to improve their image in the United States is nothing new. There’re currently putting a lot of money into a number of firms that have ties to conservatives on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the American political system,” said Springmann.

“But in actual fact, they were lobbying several years ago when the Bush administration was doing its best and the Obama administration was doing its best to block the publication of a redacted series of 28 pages from the 9/11 Commission Report. And once they finally let some of it out, which was heavily redacted still, it showed that the Saudis had in fact been deeply involved in one way or another with the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. So, farther back they were very good at polishing their image in the United States. Various journalists and so-called journalists including lobbyists for Israel have published articles and books about this going back 20 years or more,” he told Press TV on Monday.

“So it's essentially an issue that the Saudis are very good at. They're one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the world and I think the third largest in the region. But of course the issue is and it will be an issue for some time, I think, that Israel is working very hard to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia and the (Persian) Gulf states in order to split the Arab opposition to support for Israel, and to eliminate anybody who would be in any way able to oppose Israel and question exactly what they're doing,” he said.

“And of course, since the Biden administration strongly supports Israel and it appointed a number of Jews who are presumably Zionists to high-level positions like Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Deputy Director of the CIA, and Director of  National Security, we find that he's not really going to oppose the Saudis as much as people think he might,” the analyst noted. The Israelis have been clandestinely working with the Saudis and want the process to continue.

“The Saudis, of course, provide oil to the United States, they buy American weapons, they put lots of money into the bottom line of many huge American corporations, and provide jobs for tens of thousands of people. Along the way Israel, of course, wants Saudi Arabia on its side. The Saudis are instrumental in this because they established the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the state lists of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council were countries who are beholden to Saudi Arabia and they would not have established closer relations with Israel recently, without Saudi approval. So all this is under the table, back-channel communications, and I don't see any major changes coming,” he stated.

“What they're going to do, I think, is to simply change the perception in the United States, if in fact there is one, since Americans probably can't find Saudi Arabia on a map if they had help. You've got the situation that's obtained in the United States and Saudi Arabia since the end of the Second World War. They worked with the United States to create international [Takfiri] terrorism, starting with the recruitment of the Mujahideen terrorists against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. So I don't think there's going to be any real changes,” he said.

“In fact, when I was in Jeddah, the issue was, of course, the policy of the American mission to Saudi Arabia is to support the country, guarantee stability in the region, which is questionable in my mind, given what America has done to Iran, and also to ensure that Americans can sell weapons there, Americans really travel there, and the US government wants to keep tight relations with the Saudis which has a huge oil reserve,” he said.

“So I think that whatever they're paying the lobbyists, and there is any number of groups that they're backing, is basically to maintain their image or not lose any amount of their image or lose any luster to their image, maybe, and it's going to be more of the same. There won't be any changes. The Congress will not rise up and stop sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia because it's bombing the living hell out of Yemen and engaging in torture and human rights violations amongst some people. You've got all kinds of clerics that have been imprisoned there.  Well that's nothing new. Laith al Hathloul was imprisoned along with other people that dare to question what the Saudis were doing, especially those in the eastern province, which is heavily Shia," he said.

"So I don't think there's going to be any changes. The Saudis will use their money wisely. They will use their lobbying outlets wisely. And I expect no real change,” the commentator concluded.


Turkey to prepare reports on Islamophobia, racism in West

FEB 02, 2021

Turkey will prepare annual reports on acts of Islamophobia and racism in other countries, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Monday.

Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) seventh congress in Antalya province, Çavuşoğlu said that until today, the European Union and the United States have been publishing reports on Turkey and other countries, but from now on, Turkey will also produce its own reports "for the good of humanity."

He said Turkey no longer played the game by others' rules in matters that concern itself.

"Diplomacy is always our priority, but we also teach those who do not believe in diplomacy to come back to the table," he said.

The rising trend of Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia have been disturbing the Turkish community living in Western countries, particularly in Europe.

Racist attacks targeting Muslims or immigrants increasingly make the headlines as white supremacists become more efficient in an age where their ideals, or at least parts of them, are going mainstream. There is no single large group orchestrating these attacks against Muslims and immigrants. Rather, individual attacks lead to more attacks by copycats.

The tolerant political climate under the pretext of freedom of speech has helped far-right sympathizers with violent tendencies expand their support.

For instance, Islamophobia is being disguised as secularism in France, a French opposition leader had said in criticism of the Emmanuel Macron-led government, which has recently come under fire for policies against Muslims living in the country.

"There is hatred toward Muslims under the guise of secularism in this country. Secularism does not mean to hate a religion," Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed movement and a parliamentarian from Bouches-du-Rhone, a Mediterranean region with a large Muslim population, told the BFM-TV channel in November. His remarks come after recent anti-Islam statements by Macron and other politicians. Macron described Islam as "a religion in crisis" and announced plans for tougher laws to tackle Islamic "separatism" in France.

"There is an attempt at forming French Islam, German Islam. We, of course, are against these attempts. There has never been an Arabic or Turkish Islam so there cannot be a European Islam as well," Melenchon said, noting that there is only one Islamic religion.

Regarding maritime disputes over the Eastern Mediterranean, he said Turkey favors "equitable sharing," but the Greek side has disclaimed this approach despite Turkey staking its claims in the Mediterranean.

"Everyone has learned the ways of cooperation with Turkey," he said.

Çavuşoğlu reiterated that positive messages were given about the EU in December and that a road map was worked on to develop relations in a positive atmosphere.

Helping hand extended amid pandemic

Çavuşoğlu stressed that Turkey has used hard and soft power in diplomacy and the country is No. 1 in the world in terms of providing humanitarian aid.

He noted that amid the pandemic, Turkey has sent aid to 156 countries.

"Turkey is co-chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the U.N. It (Turkey) is a reliable mediator not only at the table but also (on the ground) in Somalia, Mali, Venezuela, all over the world. Today, we are one of the five countries that wave their flag in the world with 248 representatives," he added.


Iran Link Emerges In New Delhi Israel Embassy Attack Probe Despite False Flags: Cops

JAN 31, 2021

By Shishir Gupta

Investigations by Indian security agencies into the improvised explosive device (IED) blast outside the Israeli Embassy on Friday evening are still not conclusive but the needle of suspicion is pointing towards Iran with local involvement.

According to counter-terrorism officials in New Delhi, there is enough to suggest the involvement of Tehran in the blast, although investigators are still looking for the people who actually planted the bomb.

“Deliberate efforts have been made to firewall the real prepetrators behind the terror incident with false flags and deniability built into the attack that obviously was carried out at the behest of Iran,” said a senior official who asked not to be named.

Queries to the Iranian officials went unanswered at the time of going to press.

New Delhi has taken the heinous attack against Israel very seriously and its position is that India cannot be used by any other country to target its perceived enemies. India has close ties with both Israel and Iran, although the two countries, in turn, are enemies. “ Once we have concrete evidence we will take up the matter in very serious terms with the country behind the attack,” said a second official in know of the entire investigation who too asked not to be named.

The current investigations, counter-terror officials said, are focused on Indian students who have returned after studying at Qom, one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam, in Iran. The focus is on a particular city in south India and a Shia dominated city in Afghanistan, the officials added.

According to available evidence, at 3.27 pm, much before the blast at the Israeli embassy, a Telegram (messaging app) entity, VikarUdDeen@Vikar45 claimed responsibility for the blast near the Israeli Embassy on behalf of an unknown group called “ Jaish ul Hind.” This message was posted by Vikar on a Telegram group in the ISIS linked group Qayam Forum (Telegram ID @brownisbest_88). The Jaish ul Hind has a Facebook account (jaish.ulhind), which is currently locked, a private group with 56 members. The message posted by Vikar was forwarded and posted in several other ISIS linked Telegram groups such as Jaag Muslman Jaag, Muslim Groups and Azaadi ki Awaaz Channel of which Vikar is also a member. ISIS is a hard line Sunni organisation, which considers Shias as non-believers. Investigations have shown that the internet protocol address of Vikar is shown to be Herat in Afghanistan, which has considerable Shia Iran influence. But this appears to be a false flag, the officials said.

After the IED exploded around 5.11pm, the investigators recovered a letter addressed to Israeli Ambassador to India, Ron Malka.

The letter was addressed to “ The Terrorist, Devil of Terrorist Nation Dr Ron Malka” and was written by someone who identified himself as Sarallah India Hezbollah. While Ya Sarallah means one who is dead but has not yet been avenged, Hezbollah is the Shia Islamist political party in Lebanon with a sword arm — a sworn enemy of Israel. The letter swears revenge for the killing of Iran Quds Commander Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mehdhi Al Muhandis, who were killed in a US drone attack in January 2020, and Iranian nuclear physicist Dr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died in a car bomb attack in Iran in November 2020. The contradiction is that Al Muhandis was very close to Soleimani and fought against ISIS.

The letter reads : “ This is just a trailer presented to you, that we can observe you, from eating to …..Mind it, all the participants and partners of Israelian terrorist ideology will be no more in existence. Now get ready for a big and better revenge of our heros (Soleimani, Muhandis and Fakhrizadeh).”

The letter claimed that the group has the capacity to “end your life” anytime and that Israeli terror shelters would be destroyed. It ended by saying : “ All you have to do (is) just count your days now.”

Malka said he would not like to comment on the letter and would leave the investigation to India.

Despite the letter making such tall claims, the IED itself was very basic in nature with ammonium nitrate-fuel oil as main charge, a non-electrical detonator and bicycle ball bearings as shrapnel. According to the counter-terror officials, it did not appear to be the creation of an expert bomb maker but that of some one who was guided to make a device through a cyber handler.

Given that an Iran link was being established through the recovered letter, external affairs minister S Jaishankar talked to his Israeli counterpart, as did the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Doval made a call and briefed the Israelis despite being abroad on a visit.

The matter could take a serious diplomatic turn, South Block officials said. This is not the first time Iran has been involved in an attack of this kind in India. Three Quds agents through an Indian conduit targeted the wife of the Israeli Defence Attache on February 13, 2012 with a magnetic bomb. While the agents managed to escape, the then UPA-regime discreetly rapped Iran on its knuckles and told it not to repeat this again in New Delhi.

Once it finds concrete evidence, the Narendra Modi government will send a strong message to Tehran, the South Block officials added.


Aung San Suu Kyi no longer West's priority after Myanmar military coup

FEB 01, 2021

Aung San Suu Kyi's fall from grace as a rights icon has dampened Western enthusiasm for her as Myanmar's leader, but governments will still press for her release after Monday's coup in order to return to democratic rule, diplomats and lawmakers said.

Long celebrated as a pro-democracy activist, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991, was later feted at the White House and became the subject of a 2011 film.

But as the country's elected leader since 2015, she has faced an international outcry at her defence of allegations of genocide against at Myanmar's Rohingya population.

Western leaders condemned Monday's seizure of power by the military and called for the release of those detained. But many European governments chose not to mention her by name in their statements. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok on Twitter demanded "the immediate release of all democratically elected politicians and civil society representatives".

Her party's landslide win in a Nov. 8 election, viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi's fledgeling democratic rule, means she is critical to any return to democracy, said Heidi Hautala, a vice president of the European Parliament and former Finnish government minister who met Suu Kyi in 2013 in Myanmar.

"But we won't forget what she said about the Rohingya people in the International Court of Justice. She has spoiled her international reputation as a human rights defender with her very open support of the military in the genocide issue," Hautala told Reuters.

In December 2019, Suu Kyi led a legal defence team to the World Court in The Hague, where the country faces allegations of genocide against its Muslim Rohingya population.

The Nobel committee faced calls for her to be stripped of her prize, and number of other cities and institutions, including the European Union, withdrew or suspended honours.

Restored as a "martyr"?

Although Suu Kyi does not personally face charges, she backed the military and denied genocide.

An August 2018 United Nations report said the Myanmar military had carried out killings and mass rape with "genocidal intent" in the 2017 operation.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh during the crackdown, during which UN investigators said 10,000 people may have been killed.

But Suu Kyi defended the violence in western Rakhine State as a counter-terrorism operations and asked the court "to remove the case from its list".

Laetitia van den Assum, a retired Dutch diplomat in Southeast Asia who regularly met Suu Kyi during the nearly 15 years between 1989 and 2010 when she was under house arrest, said her status as an icon of democracy was "almost irreparably tarnished".

"But nobody wants there to be a military regime in Myanmar," she said.

A senior EU diplomat based in Jakarta told Reuters her image might benefit from the coup, "restoring her position as a martyr" but that the West was now realising that despite her popularity at home, she had no sway over the military.

With only the United States and Britain having direct sanctions on Myanmar's powerful military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the EU could show its support for Suu Kyi by imposing punitive measures this month, although they may first choose to cut development aid, the senior EU diplomat said.


Indonesia launches its biggest Islamic bank after year-long merger talks

February 01, 2021

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s biggest Shariah-compliant bank, formed out of the merger of three Islamic lenders, began its operations on Monday with a combined asset value of 240 trillion rupiah ($17.1 billion), making it the Asian country’s seventh-biggest bank.

President Joko Widodo launched the operations of state-owned Bank Syariah Indonesia (BRIS), the new single identity replacing the Islamic lending trio of Bank BRI Syariah, Bank Syariah Mandiri, and Bank BNI Syariah.

Each of the banks was a subsidiary of their respective conventional banking companies, namely Bank BRI, Bank Mandiri, and Bank BNI.

“Amid the (coronavirus disease) pandemic crisis, I am pleased to receive reports that the performance of Shariah banking in Indonesia recorded stable growth, and their growths were higher than the conventional banks,” Widodo said during the launch.

He noted that Indonesia’s Shariah economy performance had ranked fourth in 2020, rising from 10th place in 2018 and fifth in 2019, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report.

BRIS President Director Hery Gunardi said the merger process began in March and on Feb. 1 the bank started operating under its new logo, which features a five-edged star to represent the Pancasila or the five national ideologies and five pillars of Islam.

“Bank Syariah Indonesia is committed to being a banking institution that serves customers from all walks of life and upholds the Shariah principles,” Gunardi added.

He pointed out that the bank was also aiming to be among the world’s top 10 Shariah-compliant financial institutions within five years.

It has a core capital of more than 22.6 trillion rupiah, with 1,200 branches and 2,447 ATMs throughout Indonesia, and more than 20,000 employees.

Financial authority data showed that Indonesia’s Shariah banks’ assets in 2020 grew 10.97 percent year-on-year while conventional banks’ assets rose by 7.7 percent.

Loans from Shariah banks went up 9.42 percent, compared to 0.55 percent among their conventional counterparts.

The growth showed that there had been a significant shift to Islamic-compliant banks in the world’s most predominantly Muslim population.

On Monday, Erwin Dariyanto was surprised to discover he had become the first customer registered under the newly merged bank.

“I was opening a new account at a former BNI Syariah branch when the customer service staff and the branch manager congratulated me for being the first customer under the new bank identity. They gave me a souvenir to mark the occasion.

“I already have an account in a private Shariah bank, and I wanted to open an account in a state-owned one. I have shifted all my bank accounts to Shariah banks, except for one at a conventional bank where my salary is transferred,” Dariyanto told Arab News.

Ebi Junaidi, the director of Islamic finances and economy at the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia think tank, said there was still huge potential for growth at the new bank.

While Muslims make up around 75 percent of Indonesia’s 270 million population, Shariah-compliant lenders have a penetration rate of less than 8 percent.

“Hopefully, now that we have a Shariah bank among Indonesia’s 10 biggest lenders, it will improve the Islamic banking sector performance, since previously there was no Shariah-compliant bank that had the competitive edge compared to the conventional ones on the top 10 list,” Junaidi added.

With its major assets, Junaidi said the bank would have the potential for international exposure with the possibility of opening branches in the Middle East where global Shariah funds were primarily concentrated.

“It can be part of the global Shariah fund liquidity and one of the players in the global Shariah economy,” he added.


Zarif says EU can ‘choreograph’ moves by Iran, US to reach a new nuclear deal

01 February 2021

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sketched out a path on Monday to overcome the US-Iranian impasse over who goes first in returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying the EU foreign policy chief could “choreograph” the moves.

“There can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” Zarif told CNN in an interview.

Zarif noted the agreement created a Joint Commission coordinated by the European Union foreign policy chief, now Josep Borrell. Borrell “can ... sort of choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran,” Zarif told CNN.

The commission includes Iran and the six other parties to the deal: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program to make it harder for it to develop nuclear weapons in return for relief from US and other economic sanctions.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions. US President Joe Biden has said that if Iran returns to strict compliance, Washington will too.



Arab World


Israel wants to setup road links with UAE, says 130,000 tourists visited: Diplomat

Marco Ferrari

01 February 2021

Israel is looking to set up road links with the UAE to further strengthen the bilateral trade corridor, Emirati state news agency reported on Monday citing an Israeli envoy.

Around 130,000 Israeli tourists had visited the UAE since diplomatic relations were established in September's Abraham Accords, added Eitan Naeh, Head of Mission at the newly-opened Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

"Now we are looking into the potential of trailers and lorries carrying goods from the UAE reaching Israel in three days and vice versa in the near future," he said.

Trade is currently conducted between the two countries by air, which takes a few hours, or by sea, which takes 16 days.

"It all has to be investigated. Business communities in Israel and the UAE are now looking into ways to increase trade. Each country brings its relative advantage. We have trade agreements with the West [US and European Union]. You are an opening to the East. So, it is a huge market," said the 57-year-old diplomat, who arrived in Abu Dhabi a week earlier.

The envoy spoke about how Israelis are “very curious people” who “like to travel,” adding that he had spoken with tourism industry leaders in his home country who estimated around 50,000 Israelis were likely travel to the UAE every month.

Once COVID-19 is no longer a concern, Naeh also expects many tourists from the UAE to visit Israel.

“Israel has got many climate zones, forests and mountains and water bodies, which will attract visitors from the UAE,” he said.

"We are very ancient people. We carry with us a long history. We carry that bag on our back, but we’re certainly the kind of people like yourselves [Emiratis] who look very much into the future," he said.


Iraq's Grand Mufti slams PM Khadimi, demands reforms

01 February 2021

Robert Carter

Any hopes of a good start to 2021 for Iraq were quickly squashed during January.

With renewed criticism on the government amid the return of Daesh terror attacks to Baghdad, new US troop deployment and a postponement of June's parliamentary elections.

Amid the difficulties, Press TV secured an exclusive interview with Iraq's most senior Sunni religious authority, Grand Mufti Mehdi al-Sumaidaie. Who was eager to speak out.

The Mufti blasted the government for failing to protect the people or improve living conditions.

However, when asked about fears of sectarian strife, the Mufti made it clear he blames the politicians and is working closely with his Shia Muslim counterparts.

Before ending our discussion, the Mufti issued a stark warning to current PM Mustafa al-Khadimi, who he condemned for snubbing Iraq's scholars.

Last year saw large numbers of Iraqis take to the streets to demand reforms. In some cases, people were killed.

If Baghdad continues to alienate respected scholars - they might have lost the only capable of stopping the protests from becoming a revolt.,-demands-reforms


Bahrain court gives life sentence to eight anti-regime activists

01 February 2021

A court in Bahrain has sentenced eight anti-regime protesters to life imprisonment and handed down prison sentences to several others as the ruling Al Khalifah regime continues its clampdown on political opponents and pro-democracy activists in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

On Sunday, Bahrain's High Criminal Court found eight defendants guilty of forming an anti-regime cell, alleging that they were affiliated to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Iran has repeatedly denied supporting any bid to overthrow the Bahraini government.

The same court also sentenced two others to 15 years in prison each. Two dissidents each received a ten-year prison sentence.

Five-year prison terms were slapped against another five defendants, and a one-year prison sentence was passed on the last defendant.

Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals on March 5, 2017. The move drew widespread condemnation from human rights bodies and activists, and was described as imposition of an undeclared martial law across the country.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah rubber-stamped the constitutional amendment on April 3 that year.

The Persian Gulf kingdom has seen anti-regime protests over the past nine years. The major demand has been the ouster of the Al Khalifah regime and the establishment of a just and conclusive system representing all Bahraini nationals. The Manama regime has ignored the calls.


Lebanon Army Arrests 18 Members Of Daesh-Linked Cell Near Syria Border

01 February 2021

The Lebanese army says it has arrested 18 people linked to the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the town of Arsal on the border with Syria. 

The army said in a statement on Monday that those arrested included several Lebanese and Syrians, adding that they were detained in a series of security operations over the past two weeks in Arsal, which lies 124 kilometers northeast of the capital, Beirut.

The detainees confessed to being a Daesh member, the statement said, adding that they were in possession of weapons, which were confiscated from them.

The Juroud Arsal region on the outskirts of Arsal is a barren area in the mountains between Syria and Lebanon, which was previously a base of operations for militants fighting in Syria, including Daesh and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front

The Arsal area was hardly hit by the spillover of the Syria crisis in 2014, when militants managed to overrun the town for a brief period. Thousands of Syrian refugees are believed to be living in camps in the Juroud area.

Lebanon has often seen the infiltration of Takfiri elements from neighboring Syria into its territory, where they target the civilian population or security forces with bombings.

In August 2014, members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Daesh overran the town of Arsal, killing a number of Lebanese forces. They took 30 soldiers hostage, most of whom have been released.

Since then, Hezbollah resistance fighters and Lebanese military forces have been defending Lebanon on the country’s northeastern frontier against foreign-backed terrorist groups from Syria.

Hezbollah fighters have fended off several Daesh attacks inside Lebanon. They have also been providing assistance to Syrian army forces to counter the ongoing foreign-sponsored militancy.


Pope says he is intent on making Iraq trip despite difficulties

01 February 2021

Pope Francis said on Monday he is intent on making a trip to Iraq next month even if it means many Iraqi Christians won’t be able to see him in person because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” he told Catholic New Service (CNS), the news outlet of the US Bishops Conference.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Francis said it was important that “they will see the pope is there in their country” even if most would see him only on television because of social distancing requirements.

CNS said the 84-year-old pope intended to go ahead with the March 5-8 trip unless there is a serious new wave of coronavirus infection there.

The patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church said last week the pope would meet the country top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The visit, which eluded Francis’ predecessors, takes place amid deteriorating security in some parts of Iraq and after the first big suicide bombing in Baghdad for three years.

CNS did not say if the pope discussed security during an audience granted to its Rome staff on the occasion of the agency’s 100th anniversary.

Iraq has been home to Christian communities for centuries. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam Hussein or were driven out when Islamic State captured much of the north in 2014.


Lebanon army arrests 18 Lebanese, Syrians linked to ISIS terrorist group

01 February 2021

Lebanon’s army said on Monday it had arrested 18 people, some Lebanese and others Syrian, with links to ISIS terrorist group.

The arrests came in “field operations” that took place over the past two weeks in the border town of Arsal in the north, an army statement said.

The individuals arrested confessed to belonging to ISIS and supporting it, and several weapons were also confiscated, it said.

Juroud Arsal, a barren area in the mountains between Syria and Lebanon, was previously a base of operations for insurgents fighting in the Syrian civil war, including militants from ISIS and the group formerly known as the Nusra Front.


Israel says drone falls in Lebanese territory, Hezbollah says it brought it down

01 February 2021

Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday it brought down an Israeli drone that had entered Lebanese airspace, while the Israeli military said one of its drones had fallen inside Lebanon.

Hezbollah said in a statement carried by al-Manar television that it was now in control of the drone.

The Israeli military said the drone had fallen in Lebanese territory during an operation near the border demarcation known as the Blue Line and that there was, “no breach of information.”





‘Zarif’s trips to Islamabad proof of amicable Iran-Pakistan ties’

01 February 2021

Pakistan’s foreign minister says his Iranian counterpart has made four trips to Islamabad in less than three years, and that proves Iran and Pakistan have maintained great relations.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the remarks in a Monday address to his country’s Parliament, where he elaborated on the level of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors, including Iran.

“Pakistan enjoys very good relations with all its neighbors, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Qureshi said.

“Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, paid four official visits to Islamabad [since less than three years ago when the new Pakistani government took office],” the Pakistani top diplomat said.

“That indicates our good ties with this neighboring country,” he added.

Zarif made his latest trip to Islamabad in November 2020, during which he expressed Tehran’s preparedness for expansion of all-out relations with its eastern neighbor.

In that visit, he held separate meetings with the country’s prime minister, army chief, and Foreign Minister Qureshi.

The Iranian foreign minister has made 11 visits to Pakistan since assuming office in 2013.

Iran and Pakistan enjoy cultural, religious and political relations in addition to close cooperation in security and economic sectors.

In December 2020, the two states opened a new border crossing point to bolster their bilateral economic and trade ties.

The Rimadan-Gabd border gateway was officially opened on December 19, becoming the second border crossing between Iran and Pakistan.


Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony ‘Turns Down’ Bill On Minorities Rights

February 02, 2021


The Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony turned down on Monday a private bill regarding the protection of the rights of minorities, saying that the minorities were enjoying complete religious freedom in the country.

A committee meeting, chaired by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, observed that the existing laws were already providing unprecedented religious freedom to minorities, adding that that the proposals in the bill were already present in the laws.

The Protection of the Rights of Religious Minorities Bill was presented by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Javed Abbasi. He said that the minorities should have the opportunities to go to their sacred religious places in a free environment.

Abbasi said that 8 million Hindus lived in Pakistan, and stressed that minorities should have the opportunities to go to their sacred religious places in a free environment. He also pointed to incidents of forced conversion in Sindh and other areas.

In many cases, young girls are forcibly converted, Abbasi said, adding that the state of Pakistan would not allow such acts. “We do not treat minorities in Pakistan as [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is doing in India,” he said.

Haideri observed that the government was even constructing temples for the minorities, while minorities had the liberty to establish their religious educational institutions. He added that temple vandalising in Karak had wrongly been attributed to the Muslims.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Senator Sirajul Haq termed the bill a part of the agenda of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Religious affairs ministry secretary Ejaz Khan Jaffar told the committee that the protection of the rights of minorities had been handed over to the provinces after the 18th Amendment.

During the meeting, there were heated exchanges between the members of the committee. Haq said that a minor girl cannot be married. As far as the hate speech was concerned, he added, the law should be applied to all – opposition members and the treasury members.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Krishna Kumari Kolhi (Kishoo Bai) said that they did not seek legislation on speeches in the Senate, but on the issue of inciting people to kill and harm others. Haq said if the Sindh government did not apply the law and could not protect people it was its problem.

“What did terrorism in Machh have to do with Islam or any other religion,” Haq asked. “Terrorism has no religion,” Haideri replied. Abbasi said that he had no objection if the bill was rejected. However, Haideri said that “reject” was a strong word, instead the bill should be turned down.

later, Kishoo Bai walked out of the meeting in protest after the bill failed to pass through the committee. “You [should] reject it [bill] to show that you do not want to protect minorities,” Bai said. “I can't sit on such a committee.”

The committee endorsed the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, (Amendment) Bill 2020 with the directions for further amendments to it. The bill was also moved by Senator Abbasi. He said special allowance for elderly parents, who have no other source of income, should be made part of the law.


Pak SC rejects govt's request to suspend release of accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case: Report

Feb 1, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Supreme Court on Monday rejected the government's request to suspend the order to release British-born al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and his three aides in the brutal murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, days after it announced to formally join the review proceedings against the acquittal of the accused amid mounting international pressure.

The court, however, extended the interim detention order of main accused Sheikh and his aides - Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib- by one day to hear the government's position on the case.

During the hearing on Monday, the attorney general of Pakistan requested the Supreme Court to suspend the decision to release the accused so that he could argue the case in detail. The apex court rejected the request, according to a report in The Express Tribune.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of the accused by dismissing appeals against their acquittal by the Sindh High Court. The judgement was denounced by Pearl's family as "a complete travesty of justice".

The Sindh government on Friday filed a review petition in the apex court against the acquittal of Sheikh and his three accomplices.

Amid mounting pressure from the US and the UN, a spokesman of the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP) on Saturday announced that the federal government will file an appropriate application before the apex court to be allowed to join as a party in the proceedings and further seek review and recall of the court's January 28 judgement.

Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the links between the country's powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.

“Let's hear the government's position till tomorrow,” the court said, according to a report in The Express Tribune.

“The government should tell the court how a citizen can be detained,” it further said.

A three-judge bench of the apex court led by Justice Umar Ata Bandial heard the government's petition wherein a notice to the Attorney General of Pakistan was also issued and records of the case were sought from the Sindh High Court (SHC), the report said.

During the hearing, the AGP said that the government has not been made a party in the SHC and the accused were acquitted without hearing pleas from the government, a necessary step in such cases, the report said.

A Pakistani citizen is in custody, the high court will not rule without looking at the order sheet, Justice Bandial said.

The court also refused to adjourn the case for a week on the request of a co-counsel.

Meanwhile, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday said that Pakistan will not hand over the main accused in the case to the US, The Express Tribune report said on Sunday.

His comments came after a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who offered to prosecute Sheikh in America.

Blinken also expressed "deep concern" over the apex court's judgement.

The US also has been mounting pressure on Pakistan, demanding justice for Pearl. Last month, the US said it is ready to take custody of Sheikh, asserting that Washington will not allow him to evade justice.

Acting attorney general Monty Wilkinson said the US was deeply concerned by the ruling affirming the acquittal of individuals convicted by a Pakistani trial court.

"The release of those involved would be an affront to Daniel Pearl's family, to other terrorism victims around the world, and to the cause of justice,” Wilkinson said.

Expressing concern over the acquittal of the accused in the case, a senior UN official representing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it is important that there is accountability for such crimes.

"What is important is that there be accountability for those crimes committed,” Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

In April 2020, a two-judge Sindh High Court bench commuted the death sentence of 46-year-old Sheikh to seven years imprisonment. The court also acquitted his three aides who were serving life terms in the case -- almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.

The Sindh government and the family of Pearl filed petitions in the apex court, challenging the high court verdict.

The Sindh government invoked the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance 1960 to keep the four men under detention.

Their continuous detention was challenged in the Sindh High Court (SHC), which on December 24 directed security agencies not to keep Sheikh and other accused under "any sort of detention" and declared all notifications of the Sindh government related to their detention "null and void".

Sheikh in a handwritten letter to the SHC in 2019 admitted his limited involvement in the killing of Pearl. The letter was presented to the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago and Sheikh's lawyer on Wednesday confirmed the letter. The accused, however, didn't explain the nature of his role which he said was “just minor”.

Pearl's murder took place three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.

He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country.


Pakistan SC extends detention of principal accused in Daniel Pearl murder case for one day

Feb 2, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday extended for one day the detention of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, the prime accused in the American journalist Daniel Pearl murder case.

The extension has been granted on the request of the Sindh government, which has filed a review petition in the SC against Sheikh’s release. A three-member bench of the SC, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, heard the petition.

The petition also requested an early hearing of the matter.

During the hearing, Sheikh’s lawyer said his client was innocent and those involved in the murder of Daniel Pearl had been released. “The wrong man was caught under American pressure. Sheikh passed a law degree from the UK. If he hadn’t been in jail, he would have been a better lawyer than me,” Sheikh’s lawyer argued. The hearing was adjourned till Tuesday.

The top court’s order had led the US to call it “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere” and to demand that the Pakistani government review its legal options.

Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He was researching a story about militants when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002.

Nearly a month later, a graphic video showing his decapitation was received by officials at the US consulate in Karachi.


Minister sees Indian lobby behind PIA plane seizure

Amjad Iqbal | Mohammad Asghar

February 2, 2021

TAXILA/RAWALPINDI: Federal Mi­­nis­­ter for Avia­tion Ghulam Sarwar Khan claimed on Monday that there was Indian lobby’s conspiracy behind the seizure of the Pakistan Inter­national Airlines (PIA) passenger plane in Malaysia last month.

Malaysian authorities held back the PIA plane on Jan 15 due to a British court case over the jet’s lease. The plane, however, returned to Pakistan on Friday.

Answering questions of reporters in Taxila, the minister accused the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government of acquiring planes for PIA from a foreign firm at higher than the market value. He said the previous government’s adviser on aviation, Shujaat Azeem, allegedly tried to grab kickbacks in the lease deal of the plane. Mr Azeem, he added, was “controlled” by some Indians.

He said the lease of the said plane expired in July last year and the government had decided not to extend it.

Meanwhile, PIA on Monday issued new directives for its cabin crew after another flight crew member went missing during the last two days soon after the PIA flight landed in Toronto.

The move by the general manager flight services came after another crew member, this time an airhostess who was among the crew members of PIA flight PK797 from Karachi to Toronto, went missing in Canada on Jan 31.

This was the second such incident during as many days.

PIA issued new stan­dard operating procedures (SOPs) for its crew members that included confiscation of their passports on arrival aboard to check the incidents of slipping away of the staff in other countries.

“Cabin crew passports will be kept in the safe custody of the station manager. They should be collected on arrival after immigration and customs formalities and should be returned at the time of check in on departing flights,” a statement issued by PIA in Rawalpindi said.

The GM flight services further directed: “Hotel security will be activated to ensure that everyone checks in on arrival. Any shortfall should be immediately reported by the hotel staff.”

Due to the pandemic situation, cabin crew movement should be restricted and no one should be allowed to stay out of hotel premises at night, the directives said.

A PIA spokesperson confirmed that there had been two recent incidents of cabin crew missing in Canada after which the matter had been reported to Canadian immigration authorities.

He said there was no contact with the crew members who were reported missing in Toronto.

Earlier on Friday, a flight steward of PIA reportedly went missing in Canada soon after the airline’s flight PK-798 landed in Toronto.


FM rejects claim Pakistan stands diplomatically isolated

Baqir Sajjad Syed

February 2, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday rejected the opposition’s criticism of ‘diplomatic isolation’ and called for forging bipartisan consensus on foreign policy issues.

Winding up a debate in the Senate on the foreign policy, Mr Qureshi invited lawmakers of the opposition for a briefing on external affairs and developing consensus on different issues related to it.

“The foreign policy is linked to state’s interests,” he emphasised while cautioning against developing rival views on relations with external world.

The foreign minister offered to visit the opposition leaders, in case they did not want to come over to him.

“The government is open-minded. We are not narrow-visioned on this,” he asserted.

Senators offered briefing on foreign affairs to forge consensus

The foreign minister rejected the opposition’s criticism of the country facing diplomatic isolation and said that it had not happened despite India’s desires and efforts.

In this regard, he pointed to success at the UN Human Rights Council, to which Pakistan was re-elected in last October; UN Economic and Social Council, where Pakistan is currently holding the presidency; and the seven per cent growth in trade with Africa last year.

He, however, said that the government was aware of the “challenges, pitfalls, and spoilers” and had a plan for moving forward.

Mr Qureshi said that the challenges in the foreign policy domain were not new and some were longstanding and preceded the current government.

He also touched upon some of the important relationships.

The foreign minister said that there were important convergences with the new Biden administration in Washington on various aspects of the Afghan conflict, especially with regard to withdrawal of troops and reduction in violence.

He said that he had written a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, even before he spoke to him last week, in which he had emphasised the convergences.

In the region, he said, the government desired friendly ties with all its neighbours.

He contended that Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan had improved and Kabul had, along with the international community, started acknowledging Islamabad’s support for peace process.

He also pointed out another shift in the approach on Afghanistan and said the government was no more interacting with only one ethnicity group in Afghanistan and had started reaching out to other important ethnic groups as well.

About India, he said, the government desired normal relations with it, but that couldn’t move forward because of lack of reciprocation from the other side. He blamed the current stalemate in ties on the extremist Hindutva mindset dominating India.

Mr Qureshi observed that ties with Iran had greatly improved during the current government’s tenure as reflected by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s six visits, Tehran’s support for the Kashmir issue and improvement in border management. Border markets are now being set up, he added.

The evergreen ties with China, he said, were further deepening. The second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, he added, was under way which involved industrial relocation, transfer of technology and investment in agriculture — all of which would increase national productivity.

The foreign minister rejected the impression of lukewarmness in relations with Saudi Arabia. He argued that the loan given by Riyadh was time-bound and the government paid it when the foreign exchange reserves improved. The Saudi government, he pointed out, supported Pakistan at the United Nations and OIC meeting in Niamey (Niger).

About the UAE, Mr Qureshi said, he had been assured by his Emirati counterpart that their relations with India would not be at the cost of Pakistan.


Three terrorists killed near Afghan border

February 2, 2021

LOWER DIR: Security forces thwarted an infiltration attempt by terrorists close to the Afghan border in Lower Dir by killing three of them, official sources said.

The security forces conducted an intelligence-based operation in an area close to the border, according to a statement issued here by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The ISPR said the three terrorists namely Abdul Sattar, a resident of Mardan, and Abid and Yousaf Khan, both residents of Swat, were killed during an exchange of fire with the security forces. A large quantity of ammunition, weapons and grenades were seized from their possession, it added.

According to the military’s media wing, the terrorists remained involved in several targeted killings in Swat in 2019. While they had again planned to infiltrate and target several notables inside Pakistan, they were timely engaged and killed, the ISPR stated.

It also noted that area people appreciated the operation and pledged their complete support to the security forces against the menace of terrorism.





Libyan delegates start talks in Geneva for transitional leaders

01 February 2021

Libyan delegates have come together for UN-backed talks in Switzerland to choose new interim leaders who will oversee preparations for elections scheduled to take place by the end of the year.

The participants at a five-day meeting in Geneva would vote next week to pick a three-person presidential council and a prime minister.

They will pick from 24 candidates for the three council posts. Twenty-one people are vying for the post of premier.

The 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which was set up in line with UN efforts to end the chaos in the country, is working to get the warring sides to agree on a mechanism that would lead to a transitional administration following presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021.

Many fear competition for the abovementioned posts could yet trigger new fighting, unraveling a ceasefire that has largely held since October 2020.

Stephanie Williams, the acting UN envoy, told the delegates on Monday that the temporary leaders should strive toward national reconciliation and restoration of democracy.

“Reaching this far and achieving this progress in the political dialogue has been an arduous journey fraught with challenges,” Williams told the gathering Monday. “Indeed, a year ago, this would not have been possible.”

“This decision was greeted with the overwhelming approval by your compatriots, and it is a commitment that must be honored at all costs,” she added.

“The Libyan people are behind you. They support you and they want you to succeed. They need you to succeed. Don’t let them down.”

Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in Libya, namely the UN-recognized government based in the capital Tripoli, and another camp based in the eastern city of Tobruk, backed militarily by armed rebels.

The country descended into unprecedented chaos last year after the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) under rebel commander Khalifa Haftar moved toward Tripoli to seize the city. They were repelled by government forces.

The conflict has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.

The rivals agreed during talks in Geneva in September 2020 to hold elections within 18 months and restructure the government.


Group of Chibok Schoolgirls Reportedly Escape Boko Haram Captors

By Timothy Obiezu

January 29, 202

ABUJA - An unknown number of girls, kidnapped seven years ago from a government school in Chibok, Nigeria, are believed to have escaped after the military launched an offensive in the Sambisa Forest in Borno state, a Boko Haram base where the girls and many other kidnap victims are believed to be held.

One of the girls, Halima Ali Maiyanga, spoke to her father Friday from military custody, confirming the escape.

Former chairman of the Chibok community Hosea Adama, speaking to VOA via a messaging app, says the town is celebrating the news: "People are happy, yes it is true. Even if it's one (girl), the whole village will jubilate over it." 

The Nigerian military has yet to respond to questions or issue a statement on the matter.

However, Adama says the military is profiling the rescued victims to ascertain how many of them are Chibok girls, who would now be in their late teens and early 20s.

"Up tlll now, we don't know who is involved and how many. Even the soldiers, people contacted them, they don't have the right information. They are still profiling," he said.

In 2014, Boko Haram militants raided a government secondary school in Chibok town and kidnapped 276 girls. 

Dozens of the girls escaped soon after and about 100 of them were freed through negotiations between 2016 and 2017.

Hosea says five of his nieces are among the Chibok girls who are yet to be found, and he's hoping they're among the new batch of returnees.


Borno speaker faults Olonisakin, Lai Mohammed’s claims on Boko Haram

By Abdulkareem Haruna 

February 1, 2021

The Speaker of Borno State House of Assembly, Abdulkareem Lawan, has faulted claims that Boko Haram no longer holds any local government area in the state.

The speaker was responding to a statement by the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, at the pulling out parade of retired service chiefs that no local government area is under the control of the insurgents.

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, had in December 2020 during a meeting with the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria , made the same asertion.

But the Borno speaker said the claim was not fair to the displaced people of Borno, especially his immediate constituency.

Mr Lawan said even as the head of the state legislature he has not been able to visit his local government area for three years because it is being occupied by insurgents.

“I disagree with the claims of the former Chief of Defence Staff during their pulling out ceremony that no territory in Nigeria is under the control of Boko Haram. I say this because my local government is completely under the control of Boko Haram for the past three years.

“As I am speaking to you right now, there is no single civilian that lives in the entire territory that defines my local government area, Guzamala. Sadly, there is also no single military presence or soldier in my local government.

“I have also heard the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the same thing that no single local government area is under the occupation of Boko Haram.

“This gives me worry because I know there are 774 local government areas in Nigeria and my local government Guzamala is one of them. I don’t know if the federal government has reduced the number of local government areas in Nigeria to 773, by saying that no single LGA is under the control of Boko Haram.

What about my local government, Guzamala, which is a no-go-area for both military and civilians? Are we not part of the Nigerian state? Have we been cut off from the Nigerian geographical space? If that is the case, we need the federal government to tell us in clear terms.

“For the past one year, the Borno state governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, has been visiting all the local government areas and making efforts to return IDPs to their liberated local. government headquarters. But of all the places, Guzamala was never visited because it is a no-go-area.”

The speaker said of all the 10 local government areas that form the Northern Borno senatorial district, “none is completely free of Boko Haram.”

“Most of the IDPs relocated to their communities are only restricted to the local government headquarters because the remote villages and hamlets are still not safe. So how can we even say Boko Haram is not in those locations when only the local government headquarters are relatively secured?”

But he called on the new commanders to see to the total elimination of the insurgents from the nooks and crannies of the state.

“We are happy with the new set of services chiefs especially the CDS and the Chief of Army Staff who were once commanders of the Lafiya Dole Theatre Command here in Borno. We plead with them to deploy more troops to the northern part of Borno where Boko Haram are still occupying my entire local government area.”

During the retired service chiefs pull out ceremony last week, the former CDS said under his leadership, the Nigerian military had seen the reclaiming of the 20 local government that was under the control of the insurgents in 2015.

“We all could recall that at the inception of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Boko Haram terrorist group held sway in parts of north-east Nigeria, where the sect occupied 20 out of 26 local government areas in Borno State,” Olonisakin, who retired as a four-star General, said.

“Our immediate challenge on the assumption of office was to flush out Boko Haram and restore Nigeria’s sovereignty over these occupied territories.

“Gratefully, with the support of political leadership and indeed all Nigerians, the armed forces of Nigeria, under my leadership, was able to reclaim all territories that were then under the control of Boko Haram.”



North America


Biden urged to defend right to free speech, back peaceful calls for Israel boycotts

02 February 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on new US President Joe Biden to defend free speech, including peaceful calls for a boycott of Israel, and publicly renounce his predecessor Donald Trump’s legacy of branding human rights groups and activists critical of Israel and its settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian lands as “anti-Semitic.”

Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa executive director at the HRW, stated on Monday that the Democratic leader should oppose laws that penalize companies seeking to cut ties with West Bank settlements — which are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention — in order to avoid complicity in inevitable human rights violations of the structures.

Goldstein then expressed doubts that Biden would end Washington’s attempts to tar the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in ways that threaten free speech.

The BDS movement was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organizations that were pushing for “various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.”

Thousands of volunteers worldwide have since then joined the campaign, which calls for people and groups across the world to cut economic, cultural and academic ties to Tel Aviv, to help promote the Palestinian cause.

Goldstein went on to say that former hawkish US secretary of state Mike Pompeo did not stop at accusing the pro-Palestinian BDS movement of being “anti-Semitic,” but also lumped in groups that use international law as a basis to urge businesses to shun Israeli settlements.

He said the Trump administration upended the global politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Pompeo toured a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — the first such visit by a top US official — on November 19 last year.

The trip to Psagot came a year after Pompeo said the settlements did not contradict international law, reversing a long-held US position.

The declaration outraged Palestinians, who oppose settlements on land they claim for a future independent state.

Goldstein further noted that the former US secretary of state vowed the same day to list, and cut off funding to groups that support boycotts of Israel. Pompeo, however, did not release that list, for unexplained reasons.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they are built on occupied land.

After Trump took office in December 2016, Israel stepped up its settlement construction activities in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which pronounce settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds “a flagrant violation under international law.”

But Biden has indicated his administration will restore US policy of opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories.,-back-calls-for-Israel-boycotts


US forces ‘transporting by choppers’ Daesh terrorists in Afghanistan: Taliban

01 February 2021

The Taliban says the US occupation forces in Afghanistan are engaged in “transporting by their choppers” members of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the war-torn country’s east.

Senior members of a Taliban delegation, who are on an official visit to Iran for talks on the Afghan peace process and relevant topics, made the assertion in a news conference in Tehran on Monday, saying that the US forces in Afghanistan are assisting the Daesh terrorists to escape the areas that are coming under the Taliban control.

“Daesh were in Nangarhar and Kunar; they existed in those areas. They were eliminated by the Taliban there but their members were transferred by choppers,” Suhail Shaheen, a negotiating member of the Taliban told reporters, adding, “When the Taliban laid a siege on them, we saw that only American choppers could fly as the Afghan airspace is fully under the control of Americans.”

The senior Taliban member also referred to the escalation of violence in Afghanistan after the US-Taliban deal last February and said the US forces were to blame as they defaulted on their obligation to end their occupation and resumed the assault.

“After the signing of the agreement, we gave a chance to the Americans to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and we were committed not to launch any attacks, so if they terminated the occupation we were committed to refrain from any assaults or attacks so it would pave the way for intra-Afghan talks but unfortunately new attacks were launched against us and we were forced to defend ourselves and they even tried to capture our region and they conducted nightly attacks,” he said.

“We have no access to the media but they have. They attribute violence to us and that is not true. They start the violence. They start the violent action and that’s still continuing.”

During the news conference, the Taliban negotiator said the group was after an “inclusive system and establishment” in Afghanistan and not after “monopolizing power,” adding that they would reconsider the agreement with US if foreign forces failed to withdraw from Afghanistan.

“We have resisted the occupation of Afghanistan for 20 years and we will continue resistance against occupation if foreign forces remain in the country,” the senior Taliban member said.

Last week, the Taliban political delegation arrived in Tehran at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the latest of such visits that have been paid several times over the past months.

Iran strongly supports the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan, which has been embroiled in decades of militancy fueled by foreign military intervention.

The intra-Afghan talks started after the United States agreed to withdraw 12,000 US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban’s halting of their attacks on international forces under a deal between the two sides in February 2020.

The deal was intended to result in the reduction of bloodshed, but violence continues to take a heavy toll on the country.

In recent months, deadly attacks and high-profile assassinations have seen a rise in Afghanistan. The Taliban have denied responsibility for the killings, but Afghan and US officials have pinned the blame on the group.

Despite the ongoing talks between Kabul and the Taliban, the administration of US President Joe Biden has said it would review the peace deal reached last year.

The US first invaded Afghanistan in 2001 under the banner of fighting “terrorism.” The invasion toppled the Taliban, but the group has never stopped its attacks, citing the foreign military presence as one of the main reasons behind its continued militancy.

Since the US invasion of Afghanistan, Washington has spent more than two trillion dollars for the war on the impoverished country, according to some estimates. Over 2,400 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed.


US President Biden will keep tariffs on UAE aluminum imports citing national security

02 February 2021

US President Joe Biden will maintain tariffs on aluminum imports from the United Arab Emirates, reversing Donald Trump's move to end the levies on his last day as president, the White House said on Monday.

Trump said on Jan. 20 he would exempt UAE from a 10% tariff imposed on most aluminum imports in 2018, saying the two countries had reached a quota agreement that would restrict aluminum imports. The exemption was due to go into effect on Wednesday.

"I consider it is necessary and appropriate in light of our national security interests to maintain, at this time, the tariff treatment applied to aluminum article imports from the United Arab Emirates," Biden said in a proclamation released by the White House on Monday.


US secretary of state: Iran ‘weeks away from having material to build nuclear bomb’

February 01, 2021

JEDDAH: Iran will be weeks away from building a nuclear bomb if it stays on its current path, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Monday.

In his first TV interview since his appointment was confirmed last month, Blinken said Tehran was months away from being able to produce enough material for a weapon, but it would be “a matter of weeks” if it continued to breach the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions, is an early foreign policy challenge for the new Biden administration.

Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, and Tehran has responded by gradually increasing its enrichment of uranium beyond what is permitted under the deal.

Blinken said on Monday the US was willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if Iran did, and then work with US allies and partners on a “longer and stronger” agreement encompassing other issues.

Iran has rejected any new negotiations or changes to the participants in the JCPOA, after French President Emmanuel Macron said new talks should include Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom and its Gulf allies believe any enhanced agreement should address Iran’s ballistic missile program, and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

Blinken’s reference to a timeframe for Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb means the issue must be resolved rapidly, because the US will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, political analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “The US is giving Iran an ultimatum to solve the matter within weeks,” he said.

Al-Shehri said the international community was aware that if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, it would not be alone in the region. “Other countries will not accept that Iran possesses nuclear weapons alone, and remain standing idly by,” he said.

“However, although the US is offering to open the door for Iran to return to a deal, entrance is subject to certain conditions,” Al-Shehri said. These included US follow-up to ensure Iran’s compliance, addressing other issues such as ballistic missiles, and involving other countries including Saudi Arabia, he said.

Iran would understand the threat and was unlikely to wholly reject the proposal, Al-Shehri said.





Lawmakers debate bill to rout out radical Islam in France

February 02, 2021

PARIS (AP) — French lawmakers debated a bill on Monday they hope will uproot radical Islam in the country, beliefs that authorities maintain are creeping into public services, associations, some schools and online with the goal of undermining national values.

The bill is broad and controversial, with around 1,700 proposed amendments, and it guarantees heated debate for the next two weeks in the lower house.

Opening the debate, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, the bill’s sponsor, said the aim is to stop “an Islamist hostile takeover targeting Muslims.” He stressed that “we are not fighting against a religion,” although some Muslims in France have voiced concern that it adds a new layer of stigmatization for them. Other religions, from Buddhists to Roman Catholics, have complained they also could suffer fallout from the text.

The bill reflects a priority for President Emmanuel Macron, who in an October speech painted a dark picture of what he dubbed “separatism,” a perverse version of Islam, France’s No. 2 religion, quietly making inroads and creating a “counter society.”

Darmanin echoed the president in his opening remarks to lawmakers, saying “Our country is suffering from a sickness of separatism, first and foremost an Islamist separatism that is like gangrene infecting our national unity.”

Darmanin, a right-leaning member of Macron’s centrist party, took up his mission to propose a law with zeal, writing a short book to be released in the next few days, “Manifesto for Secularism” — a fundamental value of France that the bill he sponsored is meant to protect.

Multiple attacks in France by Islamist extremists provide a backdrop for the bill, even if recent violence was committed by outsiders.

The text applies to all religions, but some Muslims say the legislation once again points the finger at Islam.

Other critics say the bill covers ground already addressed in current laws while far-right leader Marine Le Pen says the bill doesn’t go far enough or even name the enemy: radical Islam.

The proposed law is one aspect of the French president’s bid to do what his predecessors tried and failed to do: create a made-to-measure “Islam of France.” Separately, the official conduit to the government, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, or CFCM, was pushed to create a “charter of principles for Islam of France,” completed last month after much wrangling among Muslim federations.

Muslim leaders were keeping a low profile as debate opened.

In ways small and large, the bill seeks oversight in the functioning of associations and mosques, including foreign financing, and aims to plug up entry points for Islamist ideology in the lives of Muslims.

Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the CFCM, said at a parliamentary commission hearing in January that the new oversight of associations in the bill is “useful, necessary to fight those who want to instrumentalize associations” to counter French values. However, he expressed concern that officials could “use this tool to bother associations, the good students” following the rules.

The head of the Foundation of Islam, a secular organization representing a progressive Islam, called the proposed law “unjust but necessary.”

While Muslims are not mentioned in the text, it singles out “but one religion, but one category of the citizenry,” Ghaleb Bencheikh said in a phone interview. It is necessary because “French society, the French nation is traumatized by attacks and the reality of radical Islam.” While radicals are a minority, “it’s minorities that make up history,” Bencheikh added.

Among the 51 articles, the bill aims to ensure that public service employees respect neutrality and secularism, while protecting them against threats or violence.

In a bid to protect children from indoctrination and to do away with underground schools, the text requires all children from age 3 to attend a regular school. Around 50,000 children were home-schooled in 2020, according to French media. But the number of “clandestine schools” where children are reportedly indoctrinated in radical ideology is unknown.

Among other key points, the bill aims to keep a close watch on associations, including those that often run mosques, with measures including one aimed at ensuring that outsiders can’t take control of an association.

Another measure requires associations receiving state funds to sign a “contract of Republican commitment” ensuring they honor French values. Funding must be reimbursed if the contract is broken. While foreign funding for mosques isn’t banned, amounts over 10,000 euros ($12,100) must be declared.

If some Muslims feel a new layer of stigmatism, France’s other religions feel collateral damage. Le Monde newspaper reported they were unanimous in their criticism of the treatment of religious associations, which leaders told a parliamentary commission adds unnecessary layers of work, oversight and suspicion for all faiths.

The proposed law also seeks to halt the issuing by doctors of virginity certificates, the practice of polygamy and forced marriage. Doctors would be fined and risk jail for providing virginity certificates.

The law includes an article that Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has called the “Paty law,” after the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty who showed students in a civics class caricatures of the prophet. It creates a new crime for hate speech online in which someone’s personal details are posted. A Chechen refugee beheaded Paty after information about the teacher was spread online.

The parliamentary debate comes after the French president’s defense of the right to produce or show such caricatures following the school teacher’s beheading, a stance for free expression that upset many Muslims abroad. It triggered protests in multiple countries where Macron’s position was perceived as anti-Muslim, which his government strongly denies. An international collective of pro-Muslim groups filed a complaint last month with the U.N. Human Rights Committee, accusing France’s government of “Islamophobic attitudes.”


Pope to celebrate International Day of Human Fraternity with Abu Dhabi crown prince

February 01, 2021

ROME:  Pope Francis will celebrate the UN’s first International Day of Human Fraternity on Feb. 4 with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed.

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, UN Secretary-General António Guterres and other public figures will also take part in the event, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said.

The Zayed Award for Human Fraternity will be given that day, with the meeting and ceremony streamed live in several languages.

The prize was inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity that the pope signed with Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi during his inaugural visit to the Arabian peninsula two years ago.

“This celebration responds to a clear call that Pope Francis has been making to all humanity to build a present of peace in the encounter with the other,” Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot MCCJ, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told a press conference.

"In October 2020, that invitation became even more vivid with the encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti.’ These meetings are a way to achieve true social friendship.”

It was on Feb. 4 2019, during his trip to the UAE, that the pope signed the Document on Human Fraternity.

He and the grand imam had spent nearly six months drafting the document before announcing it together during the historic visit.

The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity was established to translate the document’s aspirations into sustained engagement and concrete actions to foster fraternity, solidarity, respect and mutual understanding.

It is planning an Abrahamic Family House - featuring a synagogue, a church and a mosque - on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.

It has established an independent jury to receive nominations for the Zayed Award and choose winners whose work demonstrates a lifelong commitment to human fraternity. The award carries a $1 million prize.

The committee comprises different international religious leaders, scholars and cultural leaders who were inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity and are dedicated to sharing its message of mutual understanding and peace.

Their work is to act concretely according to the aspirations of the document and to spread the values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

The committee’s secretary-general is Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam.

Last December the UN General Assembly unanimously declared Feb. 4 as the International Day of Human Fraternity.

Pope Francis has encouraged the Holy See to join in the celebration of International Human Fraternity Day under the leadership of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, a Vatican institution founded in 1964 by Pope Paul VI with the aim of working on relations and dialogue between the Catholic Church and the faithful of other religions.

“This is a further evidence of Pope Francis’ commitment to interreligious dialogue,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Celli, former president of the Vatican Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told Arab News. “A commitment confirmed also by the visit that the Holy Father will hold in Iraq between 5 and 8 March, when we all expect he will deliver a powerful message.”

The papal itinerary in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government and the local Catholic Church, will include Baghdad, Irbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh.

He will also visit the ancient city of Ur, said to be the birthplace of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish patriarch Ibrahim.

It will be the pope’s first overseas trip since Nov. 2019, when he traveled to Thailand and Japan, and his first trip to the Middle East since Feb. 2019, when he visited the UAE and celebrated Mass in front of 180,000 people at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.





Terrorist hideout busted in Rajouri, ‘war-like store’ recovered

Feb 2, 2021

JAMMU: A joint team of the Army and J&K Police busted a terrorist hideout in the dense Gadyog forest in Rajouri district’s Khawas region late Sunday and recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition, including an AK-47 rifle, three AK-47 magazines, 94 AK-47 rounds, five UBGL grenades, two Chinese pistols, two Chinese pistol magazines, eight pistol rounds, one Kenwood radio set and three radio set antennae, confirmed Rajouri SSP Chandan Kohli.

The timely recovery has thwarted a possible terror bid besides attempts to revive terrorism in Rajouri and Reasi districts, SSP Kohli said.

On January 23, a joint team of the Army, BSF and J&K Police had busted a terror hideout in Hari Buddha area in Poonch district. On January 3, security forces had recovered arms and ammunition from another hideout in Dabbi village in Mendhar’s Balakote on disclosures of three terror associates of J&K Ghaznavi Force who were arrested on December 27 last year.

Based on information obtained from the trio, security personnel busted three terror hideouts and recovered 13 grenades, three pistols, five pistol magazines, 105 pistol bullets, four Pakistan-made balloons, one flag of Tehreek ul Mujahideen Jammu and Kashmir and 18 posters of J&K Ghaznavi Force.


Bilkis Bano, 82, Is ‘Woman Of The Year’ And Ilham Tohti, A Champion Of Uyghur Cause, Is ‘Man Of The Year’

Peerzada Ashiq

FEBRUARY 02, 2021

Bilkis Bano, 82, who became the face of the Gandhian-style protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who advocated an India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir, were among the world’s 500 most influential Muslims named by the Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC) on Monday.

In its latest report, the RISSC said the survey of the ‘persons of the year’ included individuals “who achieved or represented something significant in the past year”. It named Ms. Bano as the ‘Woman of the Year’ and Ilham Tohti, a champion of Uyghur cause from China, as the ‘Man of the Year’.

The survey described Ms. Bano from New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh as one who mobilised and inspired many to stand up by starting a Gandhian-style sit-in on a road in her locality and brought the world’s attention to the “latest signpost” in India’s slide into “majoritarianism”.

“Ms. Bilkis was joined by thousands of women, initially Muslim, but then of all religions, ages and classes, to protest against the government’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act,” the report said.

The Mirwaiz is among 10 “most influential” in the political category. The survey described him as “an advocate of dialogue between India and Pakistan so that the aspirations of the Kashmiri people may be realised”. The Hurriyat leader had remained under house arrest since August 2019, when the Union government ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, it added.

The RISSC, an independent research entity affiliated to the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, is an independent institute headquartered in Jordan’s capital Amman.


Govt hands over Israel embassy blast to NIA after Iranian angle emerges

FEB 02, 2021

The Union home ministry on Tuesday handed over the probe into the blast near Israel embassy in Delhi to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The premier investigating agency will look into the Iran angle, people aware of the development said.

“The NIA has been roped in as case has international ramifications. The case file and evidence collected so far by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell including the explosive sample, CCTV footage and the ‘threat letter’ recovered from the blast site will be handed over to the central agency,” said an officer, requesting anonymity.

According to counter-terrorism officials in New Delhi, there is enough to suggest the involvement of Tehran in the blast, although investigators are still looking for the people who actually planted the bomb.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Monday assured his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu of punishing the perpetrators of the low-intensity bomb blast that took place near the Israeli Embassy on January 29.

According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the two leaders spoke on phone and PM Modi told Netanyahu that India gives high importance to the safety and security of Israeli diplomats and embassy.

On January 29, a low-intensity explosion took place near the Israel embassy in Delhi. No injuries have been reported in the incident so far. Windscreens of several cars parked in the vicinity of the embassy on Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road were found damaged.

After the incident, external affairs minister S Jaishankar had assured the Israeli foreign minister of "fullest protection" to their diplomats.



South Asia


Two killed as bombs rock Afghan capital

Feb 2, 2021

KABUL: Two people were killed as the Afghan capital was rocked Tuesday by a series of rush-hour car bombs, officials said, while a police vehicle was targeted in an attack north of Kabul.

Attacks during the morning commute have become a favoured tactic of insurgents, who remotely detonate bombs attached to target vehicles.

Police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz told reporters two people were killed and two injured in a first blast, while a second targeting an interior ministry vehicle wounded two security personnel.

There were no reports of casualties from a third blast.

Deadly violence has ravaged the country in recent months -- particularly in Kabul, with near-daily attacks against government officials, security personnel, journalists and other prominent Afghans.

Separately, a police vehicle was targeted north of Kabul in Parwan province, but the blast caused no casualties, police said.

Peace talks between the warring Taliban and Afghan government were launched in September in Qatar, but progress has been slow.

The new US administration of President Joe Biden has said it will review a landmark deal Washington made with the Taliban last year after accusing the insurgents of ramping up violence.


Taliban delegation: New government will ’emerge’

02 Feb 2021

A Taliban delegation in Iran said in a press conference, that the Doha agreement and Intra-Afghan talks would lead to the overthrow of the Ashraf Ghani-led government and “Afghanistan’s new Islamic government will emerge”.

Suhail Shaheen, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammad Wasiq members of the Taliban’s negotiating team and political office have indicated the Doha Agreement includes the formation of an Islamic government and that the current republic government will fall.

Suhail Shaheen added Taliban’s agreement with the United States is that a new Islamic government would be formed, meaning that the current government would be overthrown, and it will occur as a result of Intra-Afghan peace talks.

This comes as 200 checkpoints occupied by the Afghan National Army’s 205th Corps in Kandahar were abandoned to Taliban, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report

Resolute Support mission in the country has long identified a need for reduction and elimination of most vulnerable checkpoints, and to consolidate personnel into patrol bases.

According to the report Afghanistan government had 10,000 check points across the country, with 10-20 personnel, out of which an estimated 6,000 checkponts remain.

In 2020 checkpoint reduction and base development plan was developed but nearly 200 checkpoints in Kandahar were voluntarily abandoned to the Taliban by 205th corps personnel.

Recent abandonment let all of the government weapons and ammunition fall into Taliban hand.

Lack of cooperation, shortfalls in personnel, adversarial relations with the public, low fuel and personnel reserves for the 205th Corps have led to such a huge collapse, Sigar stated.

These are the concerns that MoD is working to “Improve”, SIGAR said.


Taliban Battered in Kandahar, Balkh, Kunduz

02 Feb 2021

Ministry of Defense in a published statement on Tuesday said, at least 52 Taliban fighters were killed in Balkh, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces.

Taliban fighters planned to attack ANDSF outposts in Khan Abad, Timurk, and Mesgaran villages of Chahar Bolak district of Balkh province, Arghandab and Dand districts of Kandahar province and in Bakhmal Kocha area of Imam Sahib district in Kunduz province, MoD reported.

According to the statement, Afghan national defense and security forces rebuffed the planned Taliban attack by killing 15 of the group’s affiliated members in Balkh, 25 in Kandahar, and 12 others in Kunduz province.

MoD said in the statement, that more than 20 Taliban were wounded in Balkh, three in Kandahar and six others in Kunduz province

During the Afghan security force’s reciprocal attacks some of the weapons and ammunition belonging to the Taliban were seized and three of the group’s strongholds were totally wrecked.

Meanwhile, ANA 205th Corps in Kandahar stated that seven planted mines in the Dand and Maiwand districts of Kandahar were discovered and defused.

The bombs were placed with an intention to hurt civilians and soldiers, the corps’ engineering team defused the bomb before it could inflict injuries to the public, MoD stated.

So far, Taliban has not commented on this matter.



Southeast Asia


Sabah mufti: Ebit Lew’s mass conversion stands, but most Bajau Laut already Muslims

02 Feb 2021T


KOTA KINABALU, Feb 2 — Sabah’s Islamic authorities lauded the mass conversion of a Bajau Laut community by popular preacher Ebit Lew recently, but clarified that the nomadic sea gypsies are mostly already classified as Muslims.

Sabah Mufti Datuk Bungsu Aziz Jaafar said that while he was not privy to the actual conversion ceremony, the Sabah Islamic Affairs Department (JHEAINS) does classify the Bajau Laut ethnic group as Muslims based on its own surveys and reports.

“As far as I know, in the Bajau Laut or Pala’u community, they are considered Muslims. Based on a survey by JHEAINS a few years ago, they are classified as Muslims,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail.

Bungsu said that he is aware of Lew's visit to Sabah but was not part of the conversion ceremony which was believed to have been unplanned. He said their conversion stands as long as they recited the shahadah with belief.

“But to enter Islam is simple, one just has to believe in Allah, be pure and sure that there is no other God, and that Muhammad is the messeger of God, and recite the shahadah.

“In the eyes of Islam, they are Muslims,” he said, when asked about the procedure required for such mass conversions to happen.

However, he admitted the registration process for the any such converts in those communities may be a different story, as the 157 villagers of Pulau Tatagan in Semporna are believed to be mostly undocumented, owing to their nomadic lifestyle.

“In that case, the process is different. Normally, a new convert would have to come into the office for the administrative process — register, get the picture taken, go through the process. But if they are undocumented, or stateless the process then is more complicated,” said Bungsu.

He said that other agencies like the Immigration Department, National Registration Department and JHEAINS would be the rightful authorities to speak to.

On January 31, the philantrophist posted on his social media that he had allegedly converted some 157 Bajau Laut to Islam by reciting the shahadah after he reached out to them with food supplies and other aid.

The Pahang-born Lew was on day three of a 10-day humanitarian visit to Sabah’s east coast districts of Lahad Datu, Tawau, Kunak and Semporna when he visited the water village off Semporna.

The Bajau Laut are originally from a sea gypsy nomadic culture and practice an ancestral worship or belief in spirits, sometimes of holy natural objects or places. Some beliefs and practices still go on today despite having embraced Islam.

Many communities who have yet to assimilate to life on land continue with their mix of Islamic and traditional beliefs.

Malay Mail has learnt that other non-governmental groups and organisations have previously reached out to the Bajau Laut of Tatangan island, as well as nearby islands of Maiga, all within the Tun Sakaran Marine Park where villagers had also converted.

“In fact, there are suraus which have been built by NGOs and groups in the two adjacent villages in the area, in Maiga and Alab.

“There are definitely other groups who have met the villagers and each time, the villagers would again profess their faith,” said Aminor Azmi, a scuba diving operator based out of the nearby Selakan island since 2013, and is familiar with the community there.

He said that though “converted”, the Bajau Laut may not have had the benefit of continuous Islamic teachings to practice the religion without any kind of school.

Lew has since said that he was in the process of building a school which he hopes will be ready within a month, and has engaged six teachers who can speak the local language ready to teach in three schools he intends on building overall.

In Malaysia, Muslim preachers and missionaries are free to evangelise and convert those from other faiths into Islam.

However, it is illegal and forbidden for other religions to preach and evangelise towards Muslims.


Iran, S Korea ties still sour in post-Trump era

01 February 202

Hooman Abedi

The Islamic Republic of Iran and South Korea are experiencing a very rare chapter of relationships. Since 2.5 years ago Tehran and Seoul are at loggerheads over the decisions of a man who is not in power anymore, Donald Trump.

Tehran is angry about the blocking of some seven billion dollars of its cash assets by Seoul since 2019 when Donald Trump ended the US sanctions waivers for the South to buy Iran’s oil.

The Islamic Republic filed a lawsuit against the South at The Hague, but up to now negotiations with the Koreans to release Iran’s frozen assets has come to nothing.

It was in early January that Iran’s naval forces held a South Korean oil tanker due to its violation of environmental protocols. This deteriorated the bilateral ties more.

I attended the weekly presser of the foreign ministry to ask if the capturing of the vessel has anything to do with Tehran’s frozen assets and the answer was Not At All.

During the past few weeks Koreans expressed worries about the fate of the ship and its crew, but the Iranian top diplomat made assurances that all of them are safe and sound.

Korea was one of the main purchasers of Iran’s oil after the nuclear agreement. It also turned into the largest buyer of Iran’s oil derivatives and gas at the same time. However, after souring the ties, they lost access to Iran’s oil and also the country’s large market for their products.

Earlier, the South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister visited Iran and held talks with the country’s top officials. His visit raised hopes that after the end of Trump’s era Tehran and Seoul could mend ties again.,-S-Korea-ties-still-sour-in-post-Trump-era





Turkey's police detain 159 people at protests over Erdogan-appointed university head

02 February 2021

Turkish police on Monday detained 159 people over protests in Istanbul against President Tayyip Erdogan's appointment of a new rector at one of the country's top universities, the Istanbul Governor's office said.

Students at the Bogazici University in Istanbul began their protests nearly a month ago, saying the appointment of Melih Bulu as rector was undemocratic. Teachers at Bogazici have also protested Bulu's swearing-in.

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Protesters chanting slogans such as "Police, get out" and "Universities are ours" clashed and scuffled with the police on Monday.

In a statement, the Istanbul Governor's office said 159 people had later been detained for "not ending the demonstrations in front of the Bogazici University despite warnings," and added that an investigation had been launched.

Earlier, more than 100 police gathered at the main entrance of the campus. They allowed university students to enter, checking their IDs, but told others to leave, including several lawmakers, mainly from the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).

Sidewalks next to the roads leading up to the university were fenced off, and minor scuffles broke out as some protesters began chanting and walking toward the police barricade.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), criticised the detentions late on Monday on Twitter, calling on Bulu to resign to end "this ugly situation".

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, also from the CHP, said he had spoken with authorities to establish dialogue between them and the protesters, adding he would meet with Bogazici students on Tuesday to hear their concerns.

Bulu, who has applied to be a candidate for Erdogan's ruling AK Party in a 2015 parliamentary election, was the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Bogazici faculty members have said.

The protesters have also been demanding the release of four people who had been detained after images were shared on social media of them laying a picture on the ground that mixed sacred Islamic iconography with symbols supporting LGBT issues.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at the weekend that four "LGBT perverts" had been detained, while Erdogan on Monday praised his ruling AK Party's youth wing for "not being the LGBT youth."


Turkey's President Erdogan says may be time for new constitution

01 February 2021

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday it may be time for Turkey to adopt a new constitution, feeding speculation that he could seek a way to extend his rule.

Erdogan, 66, has governed Turkey as prime minister or president since 2002, cementing his control over the nation of 83 million people and surviving a failed coup.

As prime minister, he pushed through changes to the constitution in 2017 that created an executive presidency and abolished the premiership.

He then won the 2018 presidential election, the first of two potential five-year terms.

Turkey is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, meaning that his rule would have to end by 2028 if he were re-elected.

But after chairing a four-hour cabinet meeting, Erdogan raised the idea of writing a brand new constitution to replace one that Turkey has been using since 1982. It was drafted following a military coup.

"It is clear that the source of Turkey's problems is that constitutions have always been written by putschists," Erdogan said in nationally televised remarks.

"It may be time for Turkey to reopen the debate about a new constitution," he said. "If we reach a common understanding with our (ruling coalition) partners, we may take action for a new constitution in the future."

Erdogan's AK Party is allied in parliament with ultranationalist MHP.

Erdogan added the the drafting of Turkey's new constitution "would have to be done in a transparent manner and the agreed upon text would have to be submitted to the will of the people".

Erdogan has never lost an election, but his popularity has been waning since he unleashed a sweeping crackdown after a failed coup in 2016.

His jailing of political opponents and assault on civil liberties have been accompanied by economic problems that analysts blame on financial mismanagement.

The Turkish lira has fallen sharply since 2018, wiping out people's savings and undermining his support among working class voters who form a part of Erdogan's political base.

Soner Cagaptay, Turkey programme director at the Washington Institute, said Erdogan's comments were his "first admission that he may not win Turkey’s next elections held under the new executive-style presidential system."

"His likely next step: divide his opposition through culture wars along left-right lines," Cagaptay said in a tweet.

"Turkey is a right-wing dominated country (where Erdogan will) try to build a new majority."


Kosovo, Israel establish diplomatic ties, embassy to be in Jerusalem

01 February 2021

Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on Monday, with the Muslim-majority territory recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world.

In a ceremony held over Zoom in Jerusalem and Pristina, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart from Kosovo Meliza Haradinaj Stublla signed a joint declaration establishing ties.

Ashkenazi said he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem.”

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Israel last year inked a series of deals brokered by former US president Donald Trump to establish diplomatic relations with Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Those agreements, known collectively as the Abraham Accords, triggered criticism in many majority-Muslim countries.

But the Arab parties to the Abraham Accords have all maintained that their diplomatic missions in Israel will be in Tel Aviv.

That position is in line with global consensus against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.

In September, Trump announced at a summit originally organized to strike a deal between Kosovo and its former war foe Serbia that Kosovo and the Jewish state would establish diplomatic ties.

But the most eye-catching part of the summit was an announcement by Kosovo that it would mutually recognize Israel, and Serbia saying it would follow Washington’s lead in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

So far, however, Serbia has failed to honor its pledge, with some officials claiming the deal was non-binding.

Kosovo also said it was ready to set up its Israel mission in Jerusalem, in exchange for Israel’s recognition, as it seeks to further legitimize its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and statehood.


Israeli forces shoot two Palestinians in occupied West Bank city of Jenin

01 February 2021

Israeli forces have shot and injured two Palestinian workers in the West Bank city of Jenin, as tensions continue to simmer in the occupied territories. 

The Palestinian Information Center, quoting local sources, reported that Israeli forces opened live fire on two civilians while they were near the controversial “apartheid wall” close to Barta’a village, southwest of Jenin, on Monday.

Palestinians sources said one of the men sustained an injury to the foot and was taken to hospital for treatment, adding that Israeli forces are still holding the other.

Israel began building the barrier of walls and fences inside the occupied West Bank back in 2002. Tel Aviv argues that the project is aimed at preventing infiltration into the occupied territories, but Palestinians say the move is yet another violation of their rights and allows for further annexation of their land.

The barrier wall violates the basic rights of nearly a million Palestinians, forcing thousands of them to obtain special permits from Israeli forces to allow them to move between their homes and their lands.

The International Court of Justice said in an advisory opinion issued in 2004 that the "apartheid wall" violates international law and urged Israel to remove it from the occupied territories.

Israeli police arrest two Palestinian teenagers in East Jerusalem

In a separate development on Monday, Israeli police arrested two Palestinian teenagers in the East Jerusalem al-Quds neighborhood of al-Tur.

Local sources said the boys, identified as 15-year-old Ismail Abu al-Hawa and Raed Al-Sayyad, 16, were detained after Israeli police raided their houses in al-Khalwa and Qa'a al-Hara districts, respectively.

Al-Tur residents suffer from continuous attacks by Israeli police and settlers.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

The UN Security Council has condemned Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories in several resolutions.

According to human rights groups, incidents of sabotage and violence by extremist settlers against Palestinians and their property are a daily occurrence throughout the West Bank.



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