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Islamic World News ( 4 Jan 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Germany Trains Its Own Imams to Cut Risk Of Extremism; New Imam Has Started To Preach In German

New Age Islam News Bureau

04 January 2021


Forty-three-year-old imam Murat Gül is president of the Islamic Federation of Berlin and teaches Islam at the local Rosa Parks primary school.


• Bill Introduced In US House to Terminate Designation of Pakistan as Major Non-NATO Ally

• Asaduddin Owaisi Visits at Furfura Sharif, A Place of Religious Significance for Bengali Muslims, Says Will Fight Bengal Polls

• Terrorists Abduct, Execute Eleven Coal Miners from Shia Hazara Community in Balochistan; Terror Outfits ISIS and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Claimed Responsibility

• Iran Executes Three Jaish al-Adl Men for ‘Terrorist’ Acts and Murder

• At Least 70 Civilians Killed In Suspected Militant Attacks in Niger: Report

• Security Forces Discover Taliban Safe House, Seize IEDs

• Indonesian Minister Pledges to Safeguard Religious Minorities

• Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi Rolls Out Saliva COVID-19 Testing For Children in More Schools



• Germany Trains Its Own Imams to Cut Risk Of Extremism; New Imam Has Started To Preach In German

• EU announces additional aid but urges Bosnia to rebuild migrant camp

• France says two French soldiers killed in Mali in a second attack in less than a week

• Report: German govt. approved $1.4bn arms sales to countries involved in Yemen, Libya wars in 2020


North America

• Bill Introduced In US House to Terminate Designation of Pakistan as Major Non-NATO Ally

• US aircraft carrier to stay in Arabian Gulf due to Iran threats: Pentagon

• US-Iran tensions building up to some sort of crescendo: Expert



• Asaduddin Owaisi Visits at Furfura Sharif, A Place of Religious Significance for Bengali Muslims, Says Will Fight Bengal Polls

• Anti-Conversion Law: Cops Say Allegations against Three Muslim Youths False, Probe On

• After 'love jihad' ordinance, Madhya Pradesh to introduce law against stone pelters

• As security forces tighten noose, Pak-based terror groups resort to cyber recruitment in J&K: Officials

• Malegaon blast case: Pragya Thakur appears before special NIA court

• In 3-month trip to India, Christchurch attacker visited Goa, Mumbai and Jaipur



• Terrorists Abduct, Execute Eleven Coal Miners from Shia Hazara Community in Balochistan; Terror Outfits ISIS and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Claimed Responsibility

• Bilawal Bhutto says national dialogue possible only after resignation of 'illegitimate' PM

• Pakistan exposed India thru’ dossier, says Qureshi

• TLP warns of protest if French envoy not expelled

• Outlawed TTP continued to regroup in ex-Fata in 2020: report



• Iran Executes Three Jaish al-Adl Men for ‘Terrorist’ Acts and Murder

• International Union of Muslim Scholars Urge Economic Boycott of Israel over Its Occupation of Arab Territories

• IRGC: Iran will not distinguish between US bases, Arab host countries in case of war

• Israel seizes more land in West Bank, razes Palestinian house

• EU urges probe into Israeli army fire that left Palestinian man quadriplegic

• Security Official: Iran Untouched by US Hype over Return to N. Deal, Lifting Sanctions Should Happen in Action



• At Least 70 Civilians Killed In Suspected Militant Attacks in Niger: Report

• Al-Qaeda-linked group says it was behind killing of three French soldiers in Mali

• Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan resume negotiations over disputed Blue Nile dam

• Algeria army says 2 extremists, 1 soldier dead in second clash within 24 hours


South Asia

• Security Forces Discover Taliban Safe House, Seize IEDs

• 38 Taliban Insurgents Killed In Kandahar: MoD

• Magnetic IED Claims 5, Injures Provincial Ulema Head in Kapisa

• Afghan gov’t, Taliban to resume talks as clashes undermine efforts to end war

• Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

• Taliban Accuses America of Violating Doha Agreement, US Army Responded


Southeast Asia

• Indonesian Minister Pledges to Safeguard Religious Minorities

• 10 Chinese Spies Caught In Kabul Get A Quiet Pardon, Fly Home In Chartered Aircraft

• Agong: Malaysia to intensify Covid-19 vaccine development with UAE

• Say you are Malaysian first to restore racial ties, Kit Siang tells PM

• Jakim welcomes proposal for QR code to detect non-halal meat

• Go ahead, fire me, I only want the best for Umno, says Annuar

• Vaccine hesitancy rises in Indonesia amid COVID-19 pandemic


Arab World

• Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi Rolls Out Saliva COVID-19 Testing For Children in More Schools

• Iraq wants US, Iran to respect its sovereignty a year after Soleimani’s killing

• Lebanese decry Hezbollah’s erection of Soleimani posters, monuments in Beirut suburbs

• Syria blasts US for sanctions, following UN expert's remarks

• Daesh attack in Syria kills several soldiers, civilians

• Iraqi lawmaker says expulsion of US forces from Arab country ‘national decision’

• Syria: UN expert’s remarks necessitate removal of cruel US sanctions

• Blackwater guard pardoned by Trump says ‘acted correctly’ in Baghdad shooting

• Israel’s Netanyahu hints at trip to Saudi Arabia in party meeting

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Germany Trains Its Own Imams To Cut Risk Of Extremism; New Imam Has Started To Preach In German

Justin Huggler

January 04 2021


Forty-three-year-old imam Murat Gül is president of the Islamic Federation of Berlin and teaches Islam at the local Rosa Parks primary school.


At Friday prayers, the area around Berlin’s Sehitlik mosque can seem like a forgotten corner of Istanbul.

It’s not just the traditional Ottoman mosque, complete with dome, twin minarets and pierced screens, or the fact that many of the older faithful greet each other in Turkish.

Even the sermon, as it crackles over the loudspeakers, is in Turkish. But in recent months, the new imam has also started to preach in German.

It is the first time the Sehitlik, one of Berlin’s biggest mosques, has had an imam who speaks German. But he still comes from Turkey. He had to be recruited from another country because there is no way to train as an imam in Germany.

Things are about to change. Next April, Osnabruck University is set to open Germany’s first imam training course – a move Prof Rauf Ceylan, a leading Islamic scholar and one of the founders of the project, says is a vital step in combating extremism.

“Ninety percent of imams still come from abroad. They don’t speak German and the German culture is alien to them. Young Muslims want German-speaking imams,” says Prof Ceylan.

“The old type of imam was geared to the needs of first-generation Muslims, immigrants who came to Germany in the Sixties. Most third-generation Muslims no longer speak their grandparents’ mother tongue that well. The danger is that they turn to other German-speaking authorities such as Salafists [extremist preachers].

“These Salafists are usually German-speaking and understand how to cast Islam into a popular form. They speak the language of the young , while the imams from abroad are unable to understand the young people’s world.”

When Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, called for a European institute to train imams as a way of fighting extremism in November, he was widely ridiculed. But the idea has been gaining currency in European countries.

In Germany, the move to train imams has been led by the Muslim community rather than the government, although the state has agreed to provide funding.

The largest single employer of imams in Germany is Ditib, a Turkish government agency that trains them, pays their salary and decides when they leave Germany. In recent years, German politicians and commentators have begun to raise concerns at the influence this gives Turkey over Germany’s Muslim community.

The new course will not be confined to offering traditional imam training in German. While the students will be taught how to conduct prayers, funerals and the like, they will also attend classes on social plurality and be taught about extremism so they can protect young Muslims from it. The course will be open to both men and women. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


Bill Introduced In US House To Terminate Designation Of Pakistan As Major Non-NATO Ally

Jan 4, 2021


The bill also asks the president to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting Haqqani Network senior leaders and mid-level operatives.(Bloomberg)


WASHINGTON: On the first day of the 117th Congress, a lawmaker has introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to terminate the designation of Pakistan as a Major non-NATO Ally.

Introduced by Republican Congressman Andy Biggs, the bill removes Pakistan's designation as a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows for various benefits such as access to excess US defense supplies and participation in cooperative defense research and development projects.

The bill also notes that the US President cannot issue a separate designation of Pakistan as a Major NATO ally, unless a presidential certification that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan.

It also seeks a presidential certification that Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistani territory as a safe haven and that the Pak government actively coordinates with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants, such as the Haqqani Network, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The bill also asks the president to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting Haqqani Network senior leaders and mid-level operatives.

Pakistan was named a Major non-NATO ally during the Bush Administration in 2004. Currently, there are 17 Major non-NATO ally. Brazil was the last country to given this designation by President Donald Trump in 2019.

The designation gives the countries to entry into cooperative research and development projects with the Department of Defense (DoD) on a shared-cost basis, participation in certain counter-terrorism initiatives, purchase of depleted uranium anti-tank rounds, priority delivery of military surplus (ranging from rations to ships).

It also gives them access to War Reserve Stocks of DoD-owned equipment that are kept outside of American military bases, offers them loans of equipment and material for cooperative research and development projects and evaluations and permission to use American financing for the purchase or lease of certain defense equipment.

The designation among other things expedites export processing of space technology and permission for the country's corporations to bid on certain DoD contracts for the repair and maintenance of military equipment outside the United States.

However, President Trump in January 2018 suspended all financial and security assistance to Pakistan. The outgoing Trump Administration even considered terminating the designation of Pakistan as a Major non-NATO ally.

Under the Obama Administration, US designated India as a Major Defense Partner.


Asaduddin Owaisi Visits at Furfura Sharif, A Place Of Religious Significance For Bengali Muslims, Says Will Fight Bengal Polls

By Saurabh Gupta

January 04, 2021

Kolkata: AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi's hush-hush visit to Bengal's Hooghly district has triggered more speculation over his political plans for a state due to hold Assembly elections in April-May.

During his visit Mr Owaisi met Abbas Siddiqui at Furfura Sharif, a place of religious significance for Bengali Muslims, and asked him to be the face of his party's campaign in the state. Mr Siddiqui, who has been openly critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had earlier claimed the ruling Trinamool exploited the Muslim population for votes.

Abbas Siddiqui is the nephew of the main preacher at Furfura Sharif - Toha Siddiqui, who has been supported by the Trinamool and whom Mr Owaisi did not meet. The younger Siddiqui, who is in his late 30s, has reportedly been identified by the AIMIM chief as someone who can help the party win votes in Hooghly and other districts, like Malda, Murshidabad and Dinajpur.

Toha Siddiqui has made it clear Muslims in Bengal will vote against "communal forces"; the Trinamool, which views Abbas Siddiqui as being in cahoots with the BJP, claims Mr Owaisi has been paid by the opposition party to divide minority votes.

A few days ago Ms Banerjee said: "... to divide the minority vote, they (the BJP) have brought in a party from Hyderabad. They (this party) takes money from the BJP. Their strategy is they will take a hardline stance to get Muslim votes so that Hindus vote for BJP."

In an interview to NDTV Mr Owaisi hit back, saying: "My request to the media is - why don't you ask about the Hindu vote... the upper caste Brahmin vote... the backward class vote? Why is the media fixated on the Muslim vote? Who was responsible when the BJP had 18 parliamentary seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election? These are tough questions which the media must ask."

"As far as this question is concerned, we have proven that wherever MIM has contested it has benefited only MIM. My effort is to make my party and my candidates win," he said.

"If Mamata Banerjee makes such wild allegations it does not befit her office but it shows her clear frustration that she is losing ground," Mr Owaisi added.

He also told NDTV that his party would contest the Assembly election and would back Abbas Siddiqui in all matters. "We will go along with him... we will contest the elections. What number, in which places we will decide in the coming months," he said.

The Trinamool is confident that Asaduddin Owaisi will not cut into its votes. The party is also confident that Ms Banerjee has the support of Hindu and Muslim voters alike.

The BJP meanwhile, which has rolled out some of its biggest guns - Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief JP Nadda - to back its campaign, has scoffed at Mr Owaisi's visit and called it an attempt to regain ground after a few of his leaders crossed over to the Trinamool.

Off the record BJP leaders also say they expect Mr Owaisi's presence in Bengal to hurt Mamata Banerjee more, given she counts on Muslim votes.

Thirty per cent of Bengal voters are Muslim and analysts say they vote for Ms Banerjee en masse, making her almost invincible. To counter this, the BJP has accused her of "Muslim appeasement". Mr Owaisi's presence - an alternative for that Muslim vote - could be a red flag for the Trinamool.

Mr Owaisi has also ruled out an alliance with any of the other political formations but there is chatter about him joining hands with one of the anti-BJP blocs.

Reacting to criticism his play in Bengal might help the BJP, he declared: "I am the 'Laila' of Indian politics and have a lot of 'Majnus'... but it doesn't make any difference to me."


Terrorists Abduct, Execute Eleven Coal Miners from Shia Hazara Community in Balochistan; Terror Outfits ISIS and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Claimed Responsibility

January 4, 2021

In the latest attack on minority communities in Pakistan, 11 coal miners were abducted and shot dead by terrorists in Balochistan province on Sunday. Pakistani officials believe that the miners, all of whom hailed from the Shia Hazara community, were targeted because of their faith.

The coal miners were abducted by armed terrorists in Balochistan's Machh area while on their way to work. Soon after, they were shot dead from close range. While six of the miners died on the spot, the other five succumbed on their way to a nearby hospital.

The victims were paraded before they were executed, news agency PTI quoted an official of the Balochistan Levies as saying.

Condemning the killings, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he has directed the country's Frontier Corps (FC) to apprehend the killers. "The families of the victims will not be left abandoned by the govt," he said in a tweet.

This is not the first time members of the Shia Hazara community have been targeted by Sunni militants in Quetta or other parts of Balochistan. In 2019, a suicide bomb attack in a marketplace in a Hazara housing society killed at least 21 people. Terror outfits ISIS and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Responding to questions, Quetta Deputy Commissioner Murad Kaas said on Sunday that no outfit has claimed responsibility for the execution of the 11 coal miners from the Shia Hazara community as of yet. "Those who targeted these innocent coal miners do not deserve any concessions," Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan said.


Iran Executes Three Jaish al-Adl Men for ‘Terrorist’ Acts and Murder

03 January 2021

Iran hanged two men on Sunday for “terrorist acts” and another for murder and armed robbery, the judiciary's official Mizan Online news agency said.

The three were executed early Sunday morning in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province.

Two were named as Hassan Dehvari and Elias Qalandarzehi, arrested in April 2014 after being found with “a large amount of explosives” and weapons.

The pair were convicted of the abduction, bombing, murder of security forces and civilians, and of working with the extremist Jaish al-Adl (“Army of Justice”) group, Mizan said.

Dehvari and Qalandarzehi were also arrested in possession of documents from Jaish al-Adl on “how to make bombs” as well as “takfiri fatwas” terms used by Iran's Shiite authorities to refer to decrees issued by Sunni extremists.

Jaish al-Adl has carried out several high-profile bombings and abductions in Iran in recent years.

In February last year, 27 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards were killed in a suicide attack claimed by the group.

Jaish al-Adl was formed in 2012 as a successor to Sunni extremist group Jundallah (“Soldiers of God”), which waged a deadly insurgency for a decade before it was severely weakened by the capture and execution of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi in 2010.

The third man executed was named as Omid Mahmoudzehi. He was convicted of armed robbery and the murder of civilians, Mizan said.


At Least 70 Civilians Killed In Suspected Militant Attacks in Niger: Report

03 January 2021

At least 70 civilians were killed in simultaneous attacks on two villages by suspected Islamist militants in Niger, near the border zone with Mali, security sources said on Saturday.

About 49 villagers were killed and 17 people wounded in the village of Tchombangou, said one of the security sources, who requested anonymity.

A second source, a senior official in Niger's interior ministry who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that around 30 other villagers had been killed in the village of Zaroumdareye.

Niger's government was not immediately available to comment.

The West African nation has previously suffered attacks by Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS. Attacks near the western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, and the southeastern border with Nigeria, killed hundreds of people last year.


Security Forces Discover Taliban Safe House, Seize IEDs

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

04 Jan 2021

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said on Monday, at the 6:30 am meeting, that Kabul police had found a safe house in PD8 of Kabul city.

The safe house reportedly belonged to the Taliban militants, in which the group have stored different types of IEDs and Magnetic Bombs.

Saleh added, that Kabul police detained four individuals in relation to this case, and have seized explosive devices and mines.

“A terrorist attack in which a magnetic IED targeted an ANA vehicle this morning occurred in the same area, the incident left no severe casualties”, First Vice President indicated.

Suicide attacks and magnetic mine explosions have increased in Kabul and other provinces over the past two months.

Earlier, this morning a police officer was wounded, following a magnetic IED explosion PD8 of Kabul’s Kart-e-Naw, market area.

The IED Targeted an Afghan National Army Vehicle in the area.


Indonesian Minister Pledges to Safeguard Religious Minorities

By Sebastian Strangio

January 04, 2021

Last week, Indonesia’s newly appointed religious affairs minister promised to uphold the rights of the religious minority groups like the Shia and Ahmadiyah and to work to prevent their persecution.

“I don’t want members of Shia and Ahmadiyah displaced from their homes because of their beliefs. They are citizens [whose rights] must be protected,” Yaqut Cholil Qoumas reportedly said on December 28.

Yaqut, who heads GP Anshor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, was appointed in a reshuffle late last month that saw a raft of changes to the cabinet of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

His remarks came in response to Azyumardi Azra, a professor from the Jakarta State Islamic University and a noted Muslim scholar, who called on the government to safeguard the full diversity of Islamic belief.

In recent years, minority Islamic sects like Shia and Ahmadiyah have been subject to increasing pressure from hardline Sunni Islamic demagogues who view their beliefs as “heretical.” According to the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, there were a total of 546 violent incidents against Ahmadi Muslims between 2007 and 2017.

The minister’s comments came a day after Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD announced that the government had banned the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), an influential fundamentalist pressure group that has done much to contribute to the atmosphere of hostility toward religious minority groups.

“The government has banned FPI activities and will stop any activities carried out by FPI,” Mahfud said. “The FPI no longer has legal standing as an organization.”

Founded in 1998, FPI has evolved into a potent force in Indonesian street politics. It was particularly prominent in the campaign to bring down Jakarta’s Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also know as Ahok), who was railroaded by Islamist protesters and jailed on a bogus blasphemy charge in 2017.

The group was thrust back into the headlines in November, when its leader Habib Rizieq Shihab returned from exile in Saudi Arabia to a hero’s welcome, after leaving the country in 2017 amid allegations of involvement in a pornography case.

After leading a number of large comeback rallies in which he promised to lead a “moral revolution,” the wispy-bearded cleric was arrested last month and charged with violating COVID-19 protocols and remains in custody. Meanwhile, last month Rizieq’s supporters clashed with police during a protest in Jakarta demanding his release. This came after six of his bodyguards were shot dead by police on a highway outside the Indonesian capital.

Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, Indonesia’s deputy justice minister, said that the FPI was outlawed because nearly 30 of its leaders, members, and former members have so far been convicted on terrorism charges. He also said that the group’s aims conflicted with the nation’s state ideology, Pancasila, and its nation motto Bhinekka Tunggal Ika – “unity in diversity.”

The banning of FPI represents a welcome stiffening of the Indonesian government’s stance against religious intolerance and demagoguery, after a decade in which these forces have gained an alarming amount of ground.

However, it might be harder than it sounds. FPI is politically influential, and its banning is likely to inflame conservative Sunni sentiment against Jokowi’s government. The government also needs to address the deeper social and economic factors that have underpinned the rise of Islamist politics in Indonesia over the past decade.

Chief among these are the economic grievances that have delegitimized traditional politicians and driven many people to embrace hardline, Saudi-inflected readings of Islam. As I have argued previously, the campaign against Ahok drew a considerable portion of its support from Jakarta residents that had been displaced by slum clearance projects and real estate developments approved by Ahok’s government.

Similarly, Islamist pressure groups including FPI have come out strongly against the Jokowi government’s recent Omnibus Bill on job creation, which is feared will undermine job security in the drive to attract foreign investment. While formal Islamist political forces remain fragmented at the national political level, increasing levels of Islamic observance makes the religious card an increasingly tempting play for politicians on the up.

All this suggests that the fight to realize Indonesia’s national motto Bhinekka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) will be a long one.


Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi Rolls Out Saliva COVID-19 Testing For Children in More Schools

Tala Michel Issa

04 January 2021

The Government of Abu Dhabi has rolled out saliva COVID-19 testing for children, with plans to introduce it in a second phase to schools across the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the official WAM news agency reported on Monday.

The UAE’s Department of Health and Abu Dhabi’s Public Health Center’s worked together to find a more child-friendly solution for COVID-19 testing.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

The saliva Polymerase-Chain-Reaction (SPCR) test is a reliable test that is accurate and able to produce results very quickly, ranging from six to twelve hours from the time of sample collection.

The collaboration between the Department of Education and Knowledge, Biogenix Labs and the Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, ensured that phase one of the saliva tests were completed in October 2020.

The first phase of the SPCR tests was conducted in a number of schools across the UAE's capital for students between the ages of four and twelve. A total of 447 saliva samples were collected during this phase and the results of the collection were verified for accuracy, according WAM.

In December 2020, phase two was launched across 25 schools. As of yet, over 2,000 students have been examined.

Authorities plan to continue the collection of samples from students in private and charter schools as per the epidemiological needs of the investigation, based on the health authority and the Department of Education and Knowledge’s recommendations.

“In line with the continued efforts of the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre and the Department of Health to research and apply the latest scientific developments with regard to COVID-19 examinations and responding to the pandemic, and in the interest of providing easy, comfortable and reliable services, we have been using a new method for collecting testing samples since the beginning of October, which is done through saliva collection instead of a nasal swab,” Dr. Omniyat al-Hajiri, Director of the Community Health Department, Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, was quoted as saying.

Al-Hajiri added that her experience has shown that saliva collection was a much easier and more comfortable method of testing for this age group, compared to the nasal swab.

Biogenix Labs is well-prepared for the second phase of testing operations, with the capacity to test and process 30,000 SPCR tests per day.





EU announces additional aid but urges Bosnia to rebuild migrant camp

03 January 2021

The European Union announced additional funding Sunday to help vulnerable migrants in Bosnia, but urged the government there to rebuild a camp that burned down.

Brussels has denounced condition for migrants in Bosnia, a candidate for EU membership, as “completely unacceptable,” and warned that lives are at risk.

Fire engulfed the Lipa migrant center in northwestern Bosnia on December 23. There were no casualties from the blaze but much of the infrastructure was destroyed.

The incident deepened a crisis over where to house thousands of migrants, as Bosnian authorities have failed to find new accommodation for the newly homeless.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussel was ready to add another 3.5 million euros to its humanitarian support for Bosnia.

But he warned that 900 people were still exposed on the grounds of the destroyed camp, and that 800 more were without shelter in the region.

“The situation in Una Sana canton is unacceptable. Winter-proof accommodations are a pre-requisite for humane living conditions, which need to be ensured at all times,” he said.

“Local authorities need to make existing facilities available and provide a temporary solution until Lipa camp is rebuilt into a permanent facility.”

Police believe the blaze was started by migrants to protest the withdrawal of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), which had been running the camp.

The IOM had left, complaining that the accommodation – opened in April but without power or running water – was not fit to house people during the winter.

Bosnia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and in Africa.


France says two French soldiers killed in Mali in a second attack in less than a week

03 January 2021

Two French soldiers died in an operation in Mali on Saturday and a third was injured when an improvised explosive device hit their armoured vehicle, the French presidency said.

The soldiers were on a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering mission in the eastern region of Menaka when the blast occurred late Saturday morning, the joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.

The injured soldier's life was not in danger, the presidency said.

Less than a week ago three French soldiers were killed in Mali also by an improvised explosive device during a mission in the southern region of Hombori.

Al-Qaeda's North Africa wing has said it was responsible for that attack, monitoring organisation SITE Intel reported on Saturday.

The soldiers in both cases were part of France’s Barkhane military operations in Mali against Islamist fighters.


Report: German govt. approved $1.4bn arms sales to countries involved in Yemen, Libya wars in 2020

03 January 202

The German government approved export of weapons and military equipment worth around $1.4 billion in 2020 to countries involved in the deadly conflicts in war-torn Yemen and Libya, a report says.

In a report on Sunday, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa), citing Germany’s Economics Ministry, said that the German government approved exports of arms worth 752 million euros ($913 million) to Egypt alone as of December 17.

Egypt is part of a military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, which waged an ongoing brutal war against impoverished Yemen since March 2015 in declared objectives, not fulfilled yet, of bringing a former Riyadh-backed regime back to power and crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The imposed war has claimed the lives of some 233,000 people so far, according to a recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The appalling figure includes 131,000 from indirect causes, such as lack of food, health services, and infrastructure.

The military intervention has also razed to the ground much of Yemen’s infrastructure.

The Egyptian government also supports Libya’s rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, who has launched a persisting military campaign to unseat the internationally-recognized government in the capital Tripoli.

Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), composed of various militia factions, has killed thousands of people so far in the oil-rich North African country, which has two rival seats of power since 2014, namely the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, and another camp based in the eastern city of Tobruk, backed by the LNA.

According to the dpa’s report, the German government has also granted permission to supply arms licenses to Qatar for 305.1 million euros, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 51.3 million euros, Kuwait for 23.4 million euros, and Turkey for 22.9 million euros.

Berlin also approved arms exports worth about 1.7 million euros to Jordan and Bahrain worth around 1.5 million euros, it added.

All of the said countries have played a role in either one or both of the years-long conflicts in Yemen and Libya. The UAE and Jordan support Haftar in Libya. Abu Dhabi is also a significant part of the Saudi war on Yemen.

Turkey and Qatar support the Tripoli-based government in Libya, while Bahrain, Kuwait, and Jordan are fighting for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

According to figures provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Germany is among the top five arms exporters of the world, along with the US, Russia, France, and China.

The institute says these countries accounted for 76 percent of all arms exports in 2015-19.



North America


US aircraft carrier to stay in Arabian Gulf due to Iran threats: Pentagon

04 January 2021

The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz will remain in the Gulf due to “recent threats” by Iran, the Pentagon said Sunday, following reports the ship was returning home in what some read as a sign of de-escalation.

The Nimitz has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November, but American media said this week that the acting US defense secretary, Christopher C. Miller, had ordered the vessel to return home.

The New York Times, quoting US officials, said this move was part of a “de-escalatory” signal to Tehran to avoid a conflict in President Donald Trump's last days in office.

However, Miller issued a statement to the contrary late Sunday.

“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” he said.

“The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the US Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America.”

His statement came one year after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iran's revered commander Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes.

Thousands of Iraqi mourners chanted “revenge” and “no to America” on Sunday.

The anniversary of the Baghdad drone strike was also marked in recent days across Iran and by supporters in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, reimposing and reinforcing crippling sanctions.

The two countries have twice come to the brink of war since June 2019, especially following the killing of Soleimani.

Days after the Soleimani assassination, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops, with Trump refraining from any further military response.


US-Iran tensions building up to some sort of crescendo: Expert

02 January 2021

A former American Senate foreign policy analyst says that US-Iran tensions are “building up to some sort of crescendo,” but he hopes that the Trump administration will not make any stupid move.

James Jatras, a former Senate foreign policy adviser in Washington, made the remarks in an interview with Press TV on Saturday while commenting on the Pentagon’s deployment of a pair of B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf, just weeks before US President Donald Trump is due to leave office.

The nuclear-capable bombers flew nonstop from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and headed home after a show of force over the western side of the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Announcing the deployment, the head of US Central Command said Wednesday that it was to show that “we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests.”

“It looks now almost certain that Donald Trump will have to leave office in about three weeks. And there is a real concern in a number of quarters that there may be some kind of push for him to do something militarily against Iran before he leaves office,” Jatras told Press TV.

“It is hard to see what possible benefit that can be to him, much less to the United States when we look for example these demonstrative flights of B-52s towards Iran, the threats against Iran that ‘any action against American forces in Iraq, we will hold Iran responsible for those and then we will see an attack on American forces there,’” he added.      

“Now this is extremely worrisome that this is building up to some sort of crescendo. I hope that is not the case, and this is not designed for some petty political move against the incoming Biden administration, which frankly I don’t expect much good from either,” he stated.   

“I really don’t know if the US is going to attack Iran in the coming days or not. I hope not but it certainly cannot be excluded. My thought is probably not. I cannot believe that even these people are reckless and stupid but one really does not know what this crowd wants,” the analyst concluded.





Anti-Conversion Law: Cops Say Allegations against Three Muslim Youths False, Probe On

By Manish Sahu

January 4, 2021

Two days after three Muslim youths, including a 24-year-old taxi driver Abrar Khan, were booked for molestation and under new anti-conversion law on a complaint filed by a 24-year-old Hindu woman, Bareilly police on Sunday said that in the preliminary inquiry they found the allegations levelled by the woman to be false.

The 24-year-old woman, who is now married to a Hindu man, filed a complaint on January 1 alleging that on December 1, before she got married, Abrar had stopped her at a crossing in Fareedpur area while she was returning home on her scooty and molested her while trying to pull her down from two-wheeler. She had also alleged that Abrar was forcing her to marry him after converting her to Islam, and when the residents of the area intervened, he escaped with the help of two others. Police had filed the FIR against Abrar, his brother Maisur and friend Israr.

The woman, who also accused Abrar of stalking her, had said that she took a month’s time to report the incident to the police as Abrar had threatened her.

The woman, who has lost her parents, stays with her maternal uncle, and Abrar lives in the same neighbourhood.

However, during inquiry, the police found that on December 1, the three – Abrar, Maisur and Israr – were not in Fareedpur area.

“During our investigation, we found that the accused were not present at the spot on that day when the alleged the incident took place. As per the evidence collected by the police, the allegations levelled against the three men by the woman were wrong. However, police are looking into other allegations against Abrar and two others including that of stalking,” Senior Superintendent of Police (Bareilly) Rohit Singh Sajwan said.

Police also found that the woman had gone “missing” last September and an FIR was filed against Abrar by her maternal uncle, who had accused him of kidnapping her. Abrar was then booked under IPC section 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage etc ).

“However, two weeks later, the woman returned home and told police that she had gone to Delhi on her own. The woman had stayed with Abrar in Delhi for around 15 days and then returned. After the woman gave her statement to the police, no action was taken against Abrar,” the SSP added.

Police also found that on December 11, the maternal uncle of the woman got her married.

“It has been found that Abrar had gone to the woman’s in-laws’ place,” the SSP added.

No one has been arrested in the case so far.

“Investigation in the case is still on,” Station House Officer (Fareedpur) Surendra Singh Pachauri said, adding the FIR against the three was filed under IPC section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 506 (criminal intimidation) and Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020.


After 'love jihad' ordinance, Madhya Pradesh to introduce law against stone pelters

Ravish Pal Singh

January 3, 2021

After ordinance against 'love jihad', the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh government is now planning to introduce a law against stone pelters.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Sunday gave a hint about the same while speaking to media in Bhopal.

CM Chouhan said that people who throw stones are "enemies of society".

"Stone pelting is not an ordinary crime. It can also kill people, it creates an atmosphere of fear and terror, causing panic and chaos. Such criminals are not ordinary criminals, they will not be left out. Until now, we were taking minor action but now we are making a law for severe punishment to stone pelters," Chouhan said.

He further said that not only stones, many times the public property, as well as private properties, are damaged and even set on fire.

"Setting shops on fire and damaging properties is an unforgivable crime. Democracy allows protests in peaceful manner but setting private or public properties on fire and sabotaging it is not allowed. Therefore, our government has decided not only to take strict action against those who damage public and private property, but also to recover the losses by attaching properties of accused," the chief minister said.

The statement of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has come at a time when there have been incidents of stone-pelting in three different cities back to back in Madhya Pradesh.


As security forces tighten noose, Pak-based terror groups resort to cyber recruitment in J&K: Officials

Jan 3, 2021

SRINAGAR: Pakistan's intelligence agency and terror groups are now carrying out recruitment in Jammu and Kashmir using applications in cyber and mobile space as direct physical interactions have become difficult due to the security forces' hawk-eyed vigil, officials said on Sunday.

Fake videos of alleged atrocities committed by the security forces and building a false narrative are now often used by the ISI handlers from Pakistan to whip up emotions among the new recruits, they said, citing intelligence reports and technical surveillance.

Earlier, terrorist sympathisers used to establish physical contact with the prospective recruits to bring them into a terror group's rank and files. However, after security agencies cracked down on such sympathisers, they changed their modus operandi.

In 2020, over two dozen terror modules were busted by security agencies leading to the arrest of over 40 such sympathisers.

Two surrendered terrorists, Tawar Waghey and Amir Ahmed Mir, who laid down their arms before 34 Rashtriya Rifles of the Army late last month, had given an insight into their joining of terror modules that showed that cyber recruitment was being carried out on a large scale.

Both the terrorists had come in contact with a Pakistan-based handler via Facebook who indoctrinated them before handing them over to a recruiter code-named Khalid and Mohammed Abbas Sheikh.

The two terrorists were provided training online using various links available on public platforms like YouTube and both of them had met their local contact only once in Shopian in south Kashmir, the officials said.

This, according to the officials, is done to avoid exposure of sleeper cells created by Pakistan's ISI within the valley. Security agencies have busted several modules following intelligence inputs provided by local residents.

The two terrorists, after being recruited into The Resistance Front (TRF), which is believed to be a shadow outfit of banned terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, were receiving orders as well as religious teachings from Pakistan-based Burhan Hamza.

The officials said there were around 40 such cases where the recruitment was done and indoctrination carried out through social media, especially in south Kashmir. The new recruits were awaiting orders from across the border.

Terror groups are definitely facing a shortage of arms and that is one of the reasons why Pakistan-based terror outfits are more focused on sending more arms and less manpower, the officials said.

They gave an example of last month's encounter on the outskirts of Jammu city where a valley-bound group of four terrorists was carrying 11 assault rifles and a huge quantity of ammunition.

The death of a 22-year-old local terrorist Amir Siraj in north Kashmir late last month was yet another case of cyber recruitment, the officials said.

A final year graduation student from Khawaja Gilgat in Sopore, Siraj was staying with his maternal uncle in Adipora in north Kashmir and would spend most of his afternoons playing football in the local ground.

He went missing on the afternoon of June 24, 2020. Later, it was found that he had been recruited by terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed from across the border via social media, the officials said.

The local terrorist had expressed his desire to surrender but was threatened by his accomplice that he and his family would be killed if he were to act on it, they said.


Malegaon blast case: Pragya Thakur appears before special NIA court

Edited by Prashasti Singh

Jan 04, 2021

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker Pragya Singh Thakur, one of the seven accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, on Monday appeared before the special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Mumbai.

Thakur’s lawyer, advocate JP Mishra, had confirmed that she will be appearing in the NIA court on Monday. Mishra had said on December 19 last year that probe agency was delaying the trial in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and not them.

The special court had asked all the accused to remain present before it on that day. However, only Lt Col Prasad Purohit, Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Ajay Rahikar and Sudhakar Dwiwedi appeared before the court. The remaining accused — Pragya Singh Thakur, Ramesh Upadhayay, Sudhakar Diwedi and Sudhakar Chaturvedi — could not appear before the court.

Six people were killed and over 100 injured when an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off near a mosque in Malegaon, a town in north Maharashtra, on September 29, 2008. The court had framed terror charges against Purohit, Thakur and five other accused in October 2018. They have been charged under Sections 16 (committing terrorist act) and 18 (conspiring to commit terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

They have also been charged under sections 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 153 (a) (promoting enmity between two religious groups), of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and relevant provisions of the Explosive Substances Act.


In 3-month trip to India, Christchurch attacker visited Goa, Mumbai and Jaipur

by Deeptiman Tiwary

January 4, 2021

Brenton Tarrant, the lone gunman who killed 51 people, including five Indians, in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019, had stayed in Goa, Mumbai and Jaipur, among the seven-eight places he visited in India, in 2015-16.

Following inputs from their counterparts in New Zealand, Indian intelligence agencies launched an investigation into Tarrant’s three-month visit to India. They found that Tarrant, an Australian, travelled extensively in India between November 21, 2015, and February 18, 2016.

Sources said Tarrant largely travelled and stayed in southern states, spending considerable time in Goa. He spent a few days in Mumbai too; the only north Indian state he visited was Rajasthan.

“We have verified the information provided by New Zealand authorities about his travel details. As yet, we have not found anything that suggests that any of his activities here, or connections made thereof, had any link with the attack. There is nothing to suggest that his travels in India could have prompted him to carry out that ghastly attack,” said a senior intelligence official.

“He stayed in cheap accommodations, largely popular with backpackers, and visited spots popular with tourists from the West. His itinerary shows that he largely stayed in South India, barring one visit to Jaipur. He stayed for quite a few days in Goa, largely putting up in accommodations near the beaches,” the official added.

Sources said his interactions were limited to fellow travellers and local people involved in the business of travel, hotels or adventure activities. “All this points to the fact that his interests in India were limited to travel. The probe by New Zealand authorities has found that Tarrant travelled extensively across the world before carrying out the attack. He had even visited Muslim countries like the UAE and Pakistan. In any case, in his own admission, he has said that he was inspired to carry out the attack after visiting Europe in 2017,” said another official.

Between April 15, 2014, and August 17, 2017, Tarrant travelled extensively — always alone, except for his visit to North Korea as part of a tour group. The countries that he visited for periods of about a month or more included China, Japan, Russia and South Korea among others.

Before the attack in March 2019, Tarrant had put up online posts that contained anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and Right Wing extremist views. He had mounted a camera on his head, and live-streamed the attack. He received a life sentence in August 2020.

According to agency reports, in December 2020, the Royal Commission of Inquiry in New Zealand released a 792-page report on the attack that claimed Tarrant, 30, worked as a personal trainer at a local gym until 2012 when he suffered an injury.

“He never again worked in paid employment. Instead, he lived off the money that he had received from his father and income from investments made with it. With the money from his father, the individual travelled extensively. First, in 2013, he explored New Zealand and Australia and then between 2014 and 2017 he travelled extensively around the world,” PTI quoted the report as having said.

According to the probe, Tarrant moved to New Zealand in 2017





Bilawal Bhutto says national dialogue possible only after resignation of 'illegitimate' PM

Jan 4, 2021

THATTA: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Sunday asserted that the option of dialogue at the national level will only be possible after the incumbent premier Imran Khan steps down from his post.

"Once the incumbent anti-people and illegitimate puppet prime minister steps down, this will pave the way for such a dialogue," he told a press conference, reported Dawn.

Bhutto-Zardari was on a visit to Thatta to offer his condolences to the family of the late Aijaz Ali Shah Sheerazi, a former adviser to the Sindh chief minister.

He said the only platform for a national dialogue would be the parliament, but before any such dialogue, the Prime Minister has to resign so that a political solution on issues faced by the people can be chalked out.

Lambasting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for its poor performance, the PPP chairman said every segment of society, including farmers, labourers and small traders were fed up of it.

"People are unable to send their children to schools and buy them essentially required commodities, medicines etc due to inflation and unemployment," he said.

Bhutto-Zardari further argued that Imran Khan could not even provide relief to workers by increasing their salaries nor could it raise the pension of retired people, while tariffs on electricity and gas continued to build up. He also said the premier has pushed Pakistan's economy in shambles with its growth rate fallen below those of Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

He also accused the government of pleasing 'mafias' by extending bailout packages worth billions of rupees to them.

Furthermore, Bilawal strongly condemned the killing of over 10 coal miners in Balochistan and asked the government to ensure the safety and security of the workers, while demanding the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), reported Dawn.

"Ever since the current government has come to power, we have been witnessing escape of terrorists from the custody of law enforcement agencies," he claimed.

He also slammed Imran Khan and Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed for not fulfilling their responsibilities and victimising the opposition and threatening the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leaders instead.

He also reaffirmed PPP's key role in the struggle against the federal government's move to occupy provinces' islands.

Bilawal's statement comes after the PDM held a political rally against the government in Bahawalpur.

The 11-party opposition alliance has demanded the resignation of Imran Khan till January 31.


Pakistan exposed India thru’ dossier, says Qureshi

04 Jan 2021

MULTAN: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has laid the foundation stone of South Punjab province by establishing a secretariat and in future no one would be able to stepback from it.

Addressing a ceremony after laying down the foundation stone of the construction of a bridge over the metro route at Madni Chowk, the foreign minister said appointments for the [south Punjab] secretariat had been made and rules of business amended.

“This [all] has happened because of the leadership of Imran Khan and Multan would have its own secretariat. One day the dream of a separate province will come true,” he said.

Qureshi said Islamabad had exposed New Delhi across the globe through a dossier on how India wanted to destabilise Pakistan.

“India wants to destabilise Pakistan and create unrest. EU DisinfoLab exposed [New Delhi] by disclosing that India was propagating against Pakistan through 750 fake websites and hundreds of NGOs.

The government wants to stabilise the country economically. Two years back, the powerlooms machinery was being sold as scrap but today not only all powerlooms are functional but there are such a large number of orders that new orders for purchase of machinery have been placed and Faisalabad is short of labour,” he said.

Terming the attack on coal miners in Balochistan an act to destabilise the country, the foreign minister said the elements who want stability in Pakistan are the friends of Pakistan while the forces that want to destabilise the country are its enemies.

“We not only have to identify and expose them but also defeat them,” he said.


TLP warns of protest if French envoy not expelled

04 Jan 2021

LAHORE: The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has threatened to relaunch its protest if the government does not fulfill its promise of expelling the French ambassador by Feb 17 on the issue of blasphemy of Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

“We’re bound to honour the agreement till Feb 17. A war for (protecting) the honour of the Prophet (SAW) has been waged. If someone has some misunderstanding, it must be removed as we pledge that there shall be no delay in taking a decision after February 17,” the newly-appointed leader of the TLP, Maulana Saad Rizvi, said at the chehlum of his father and founder of the outfit, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi.

Khadim Rizvi died on Nov 19, 2020, two days after the TLP signed an agreement with the government for ending its protest in Islamabad on the publications of caricatures of the Prophet of Islam (SAW) in France.

The agreement read the government would get a decision made by the Parliament regarding expulsion of the French ambassador within three months and it would not appoint its ambassador to France and release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.

The last two demands were met immediately but a decision on the first two is still pending.

“If you have forgotten the promise, see our history. Now we’re even more ready to die (for the honour of the Prophet (SAW)). You’ve got time until Feb 17 to expel the French ambassador,” Saad warned the government while addressing thousands of the TLP workers attending the chehlum.

He said he had become a leader from among the party workers and thus fully understood the aspirations of the workers and added that earlier the workers would come for financial donations for the cause but they were now coming to offer their lives.

He said the TLP was bound to honour the commitment made with the government for waiting for three months to let the rulers enact laws through the Parliament on severing diplomatic ties with France but it would not keep quiet after the deadline.


Outlawed TTP continued to regroup in ex-Fata in 2020: report

Kalbe Ali

04 Jan 2021

ISLAMABAD: A security report for 2020 released by Pakistan institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has said while the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and affiliates continued to regroup in erstwhile Fata, Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups also intensified attacks.

The report launched here on Sunday stated that though terrorism was no longer an epidemic in Pakistan, the country faced a more severe challenge of religious extremism.

“There is also little evidence to suggest that National Action Plan has been successful in countering these and the related challenges,” the report added.

The TTP and its affiliates remained the major actors of instability in Pakistan in the year 2020 which perpetrated a combined total of 67 terrorist attacks or about 46 per cent of the total reported attacks in 2020, mainly in erstwhile Fata.

Terrorism no longer an epidemic but Pakistan still facing challenge of religious extremism

“The TTP also successfully brought its few breakaway factions and some other militant groups and commanders into its fold. Another religiously-inspired militant group, the Islamic State, perpetrated two major attacks in 2020 in Quetta and Peshawar.”

While six Baloch insurgent groups were found active in Balochistan, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) were the two major groups which carried out 24 attacks out of the total 34 perpetrated by the Baloch insurgents.

Meanwhile, Sindhi nationalist groups perpetrated 10 terrorist attacks in Sindh, including eight by Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army.

The report added that different militant, nationalist, insurgent and violent sectarian groups perpetrated 146 attacks across Pakistan, including three suicide blasts, which is a decline of over 36pc from the previous year.

However, these attacks claimed 220 lives but it was a decline of 38pc from those killed in such attacks in 2019.

At the same time, the alarming part was that out of the total 146 attacks 95 were perpetrated by religiously-inspired militant groups, another 44 by Baloch and Sindhi insurgents, and seven attacks were sectarian-related.

Amir Rana, the director for PIPS, said despite the statistical decline in the incidents of terrorism, the severe challenge of religious extremism continued to manifest in 2020.

The report referred to the enormous gathering at Allama Khadim Rizvi’s funeral in Lahore, growing individual and mob attacks on minority communities and their worship places, persisting narratives of hatred and hate speech, offline and online and continuing activities of banned religious organisations were witnessed during the year.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa witnessed the highest number of terrorist attacks for any one region of Pakistan, where 79 recorded terrorist attacks with 31 in North Waziristan alone claimed 100 lives and inflicted injuries on another 206 people.

In Balochistan, 95 people were killed and 216 others were injured in 42 reported attacks. Different Baloch insurgent groups perpetrated 32 attacks and religiously inspired militant groups such as the TTP, Hizbul Ahrar and ISIS-affiliates were reportedly involved in 10 attacks in Balochistan.

As many as 18 terrorist attacks happened in Sindh province - 15 in Karachi and three in interior Sindh - killing 20 people and injured 66 others.

Seven terrorist attacks took place in Punjab that claimed five lives and injured 59 people.

Compared to 28 in the year before, security forces and law enforcement agencies conducted 47 anti-militant operational strikes in 2020 in 22 districts and regions of Pakistan.

These actions killed 129 militants while 17 Pakistan Army soldiers were also martyred.

Security and law enforcement agencies also entered into 15 armed clashes and encounters with militants that claimed 38 lives, including 29 militants, seven security personnel and two civilians.

A total of 125 attacks took place from across Pakistan’s borders with 11 attacks Afghanistan and 114 from India. As many as 62 people lost their lives in these attacks, a decrease of about 34pc from the year before. The 62 Pakistani citizens killed in cross-border attacks included 42 civilians, 18 army officials and two FC personnel.





International Union of Muslim Scholars Urge Economic Boycott of Israel over Its Occupation of Arab Territories

04 January 2021

The International Union of Muslim Scholars has called for a mass boycott of Israel over its occupation of Arab territories, and attacks on Muslims in Palestine and Syria’s Golan Heights.

"We call for boycotting the Israeli regime, which is currently occupying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, attacking our brothers and sisters in Golan Heights in Syria, and in Palestine and destroying their lands and homes," it said in a statement published on the body's official Facebook page on Sunday.

The statement, signed by President Ahmed er-Raysuni and General Secretary Ali al-Qaradaghi, stressed that resisting occupation by legitimate means and ousting the occupiers is a moral obligation according to Islam, and is recognized by international law as well as United Nations resolutions.

Noting that occupation is a temporary situation, and hence does not allow the seizure of private property, the organization said, "Those who purchase or market the goods of occupiers are recognized as sinners who abetted in this crime."

"We, therefore, call upon all Muslims for a mass economic boycott of Israel until it withdraws from the all occupied territories."

The call comes as four new countries, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco normalized ties with the Israeli regime in 2020, joining Egypt and Jordan as the only other Arab nations to do so.

The normalization deals have been condemned by all Palestinian factions as a betrayal of their cause.

Meanwhile, boycotting of Israeli products around the world has been growing rapidly in recent years and caused heavy losses to Israeli companies.

Last November, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the State Department’s decision to list the humanitarian anti-Israeli regime movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as an anti-Semitic organization.

The BDS movement started over 15 years ago in protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. The movement has been campaigning for a boycott of all Israeli goods, and academic and cultural activities.

Israel and its allies in Washington have long rallied against the BDS, which was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to raise awareness about the decades-long Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice.


IRGC: Iran will not distinguish between US bases, Arab host countries in case of war

Tuqa Khalid

02 January 2021

Iran will not differentiate between US military bases in the region and the Arab countries hosting American troops if a war broke out, commander of the IRGC aerospace divison said on Saturday.

“If something happens here and a war breaks out, we will not distinguish between US bases and the host countries. Naturally, the very same Arab countries in the region will bear the brunt,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted General Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying.

The US has bases and personnel in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Iraq.

Hajizadeh’s comments coincided with the first anniversary of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani's assassination in US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran, which have been increasing since 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, reached historic heights in January when the US killed Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Hajizadeh also said Iran has been supporting the missile capabilities of their allies in Gaza and Lebanon.

Iran has a long history of arming and financially supporting its network of proxies – Shia militias across the Middle East – to further its influence in the region. Most notably, Tehran backs Hezbollah, a Shia militia in Lebanon which has a powerful grip on the Lebanese government.

Iran also backs the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, and militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

“Instead of giving a fish or teaching to catch a fish, we taught our allies and friends how to make a hook,” Hajizadeh said, adding that Iran’s allies in the region are now in possession of advanced missile technologies.


Israel seizes more land in West Bank, razes Palestinian house

03 January 2021

Israeli forces have seized vast swathes of land and demolished a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank, displacing its occupants.

The Palestinian Information Center, citing local sources reported that the Israeli troops bulldozed and demolished a house of a farmer in Biddya town, west of Salfit in the occupied West Bank on Sunday morning.

Local Palestinian officials said the demolitions led to displacement of several Palestinians.

The municipality’s order to raze the building was issued under the pretext of lacking the necessary construction license, which is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Israeli authorities usually demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, claiming that the structures have been built without permits.

They also sometimes order the Palestinian owners to demolish their own homes or pay the demolition costs to the municipality if they do not.

In different areas of Bethlehem and other parts of the occupied territories, the Israeli authorities also confiscated a vast tract of private Palestinian land as the Tel Aviv regime presses ahead with expansionism land expropriation policies in violation of international law and UN Security Council resolutions.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he would start plans for annexing more areas in the occupied West Bank, in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s "deal of the century" scheme, further infuriating Palestinians.

Trump officially unveiled his scheme last January at the White House with Netanyahu on his side, while Palestinian representatives were not invited.

The proposal gives in to Israel’s demands while creating a Palestinian state with limited control over its own security and borders, enshrining the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds as “Israel’s undivided capital” and allowing the Tel Aviv regime to annex settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.

Trump's highly provocative scheme, which further denies the right of return to Palestinian refugees, is also in complete disregard of UN Security Council resolutions and rejected by the vast majority of the international community.

Israel’s unlawful annexation push has drawn widespread criticism from the entire international community, including the regime’s closest allies.

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

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.


EU urges probe into Israeli army fire that left Palestinian man quadriplegic

03 January 2021

The European Union has called for an investigation into the shooting of a Palestinian man by Israeli military forces, which left him paralyzed from the neck down after an altercation over a portable electric generator in the occupied West Bank earlier in the week.

“The EU opposes such excessive and disproportionate use of force and calls on the Israeli authorities to swiftly and fully investigate this serious incident in order to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the European Union Delegation to the Palestinians wrote in a post published on its official Twitter page on Saturday.

The injuries he sustained left Haroun paralyzed from the neck down. The EU opposes such excessive and disproportionate use of force and calls on the Israeli authorities to swiftly and fully investigate this serious incident in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

— EU and Palestinians (@EUpalestinians) January 2, 2021

The Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement that 24-year-old Haroun Rasmi Abu Aram was shot through the neck in the village of Tuwanah, south of al-Khalil, on Friday.

The official Palestinian WAFA news agency reported that the young man had been attempting to prevent Israeli troops from “stealing an electric generator” that belonged to him.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem said Abu Aram was helping a neighbor to build a house at the time of the shooting.

Witnesses confirmed the incident was triggered when Israeli forces tried to stop Palestinians building a house in the village, and seized an electricity generator belonging to Abu Aram.

Moreover, the Joint List, which is a political alliance of the main Arab-majority political parties in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), condemned the shooting, and its leader MK Ayman Odeh said the incident was part of an attempt by the Israeli army to rid Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military’s control, of Palestinians.

Abu Aram “is another victim of the attempt to push the [Palestinian] villagers in Area C into cities [in Area C], and to seize as much territory as possible [there] with as few Palestinians as possible,” Odeh said.

“The only solution is an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel,” he added.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – besieged since 2007 – during the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.

Shortly after capturing East Jerusalem al-Quds, the Tel Aviv regime expanded the municipal boundaries of the city to take in large areas of land on which it later constructed settlements.

At the same time, it sharply limited the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods, forcing many in the increasingly crowded areas to build illegally.

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.


Security Official: Iran Untouched by US Hype over Return to N. Deal, Lifting Sanctions Should Happen in Action


"The complete and definitive lifting of all sanctions is Washington's sole option to correct Trump's failed strategy of maximum pressure", Shamkhani wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday.

He added that the American endeavor to magnify a petty issue like returning to the nuclear deal will lead nowhere.

America's perceptual war to magnify a trivial issue such as its return to #JCPOA will not be successful.

The complete and definitive lifting of all sanctions is Washington's sole option to correct Trump's failed strategy of maximum pressure.#ActiveResistance

علی شمخانی (@alishamkhani_ir) January 3, 2021

In relevant remarks on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the new US president could remove the sanctions on Iran by signing three executive orders, yet what matters to Tehran is not his signature on the paper, but his practical measures.

This is the last chance for the nuclear deal; Biden can call off all of Trump's executive orders on his first day in office, but even that signature is not a criterion to us because the US has shown that it is unreliable; we need to see the effect of that signature,” Khatibzadeh said in an exclusive interview with FNA.

He noted that Iran has heard contradictory messages from US President-elect Joe Biden during his election campaign, and added, “What we are constantly hearing today is the unconditional return to the nuclear deal. We believe that the US should fully comply with its obligations under the resolution 2231. We also stated that if the other party effectively - that is, we do not mean just signing of a sheet - returns to the nuclear deal, we will revise all our actions carried out within the nuclear deal framework. But this will only happen the day when the effective implementation of the nuclear deal takes place.”

These are quite clear. All US undertakings are clear and in black and white, and the nuclear deal has not postponed any paragraph to the future. If the nuclear deal has so many pages and clauses, it is because there has been no trust between us. The nuclear deal was written on the basis of absolute distrust. We have a lack of trust in the US, and in recent months and years this lack of trust has increased and the wall of distrust has risen, and the US should gain our trust, not on paper, but in practice. Our situation is quite clear. Full implementation (of the nuclear deal by Iran) for full implementation (by the other side),” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that implementation of the nuclear deal by the other side will be proved to Iran when the country will be able to sell its oil and get its money back, easily export and import and start banking transactions.

The senior diplomat also referred to the European states’ lagging in implementation of their nuclear deal undertakings, and said, “Europe should fulfill its undertakings effectively. Europe is a US partner in violating the undertakings.”

He described the nuclear deal as a signed and sealed agreement (which cannot be renegotiated), and said Iran does not care about the time span between Biden’s possible signature to return to the nuclear deal and implementation of the US undertakings as Tehran's action comes just in return for US actions, and not words.

It does not matter if it lasts 20 days or 30 days. The day we see that the other side’s undertakings have been fully fulfilled, we will implement our undertakings as well.”

Khatibzadeh also referred to a recent bill approved by the Iranian parliament to take strategic measures to remove sanctions, and said, “Of course, the parliament approval is a new responsibility for everyone. The law passed by the parliament is quite clear and we are required to implement it.”

Asked about media claims in the past few weeks on exchange of messages between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Biden, he said, “There was absolutely no exchange of messages between Mr. Zarif and Biden.”

The next few weeks are critical, either the other side returns to the path of fulfilling its undertakings or it really loses the chance of diplomacy that once happened with the nuclear deal,” Khatibzadeh said.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump, a stern critic of the historic deal, unilaterally pulled Washington out of the JCPOA in May 2018, and unleashed the “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism in an attempt to strangle the Iranian oil trade, but to no avail since its "so-called maximum pressure policy" has failed to push Tehran to the negotiating table.

In response to the US’ unilateral move, Tehran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions.

Tehran has particularly been disappointed with failure of the three European signatories to the JCPOA -- Britain, France and Germany -- to protect its business interests under the deal after the United States' withdrawal.

On January 5, Iran took a final step in reducing its commitments, and said it would no longer observe any operational limitations on its nuclear industry, whether concerning the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, the volume of stockpiled uranium or research and development.

Meantime, Biden has recently said in a CNN article that he wants a renegotiation of the contents of the deal before he agrees to rejoin the agreement.

I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” he wrote, mentioning that he wants changes to the contents of the nuclear deal and guarantees from Tehran that it would be open for compromise to strike multiple deals over its missile and regional powers as well as a number of other issues that have been the bones of contention between the two sides in the last four decades.

In response, Zarif had stressed that the US has violated the nuclear deal and is in no position to ask for any conditions for its return to the JCPOA, adding that it's Tehran that has its own terms to allow the US back into the internationally endorsed agreement.

The foreign minister has reiterated time and again that Tehran would not change even a single word of the agreement, and cautioned the US that it needs to pay reparations for the damage it has inflicted on Iran through its retreat from the nuclear agreement and give enough insurances that it would not go for initiating the trigger mechanism again before it could get back to the deal.





Al-Qaeda-linked group says it was behind killing of three French soldiers in Mali

03 January 2021

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing has said it was responsible for the killing of three French soldiers in Mali, extremist monitoring organization SITE Intel reported on Saturday.

The soldiers, who were taking part in France’s Barkhane military operations in Mali against extremist fighters, were killed on Monday when an improvised explosive device hit their armored vehicle, the French Presidency said in a statement.

SITE Intel said on Twitter that Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which has repeatedly attacked soldiers and civilians in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso, had said it was responsible for the attack.

France’s military command was not immediately available for comment.


Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan resume negotiations over disputed Blue Nile dam

03 January 2021

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan resumed their years-long negotiations Sunday over the controversial dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, officials said.

The resumption came six weeks after Khartoum boycotted talks in November, urging the African Union to play a greater role in reaching a deal over the disputed Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

The negotiations have centered on the filling and operation of the giant dam. Key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia has rejected binding arbitration at the final stage of the project.

The foreign and irrigation ministers of the three Nile Valley countries met online Sunday, said Ahmed Hafez, the spokesman of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. Sudan also confirmed the meeting.

Ethiopia’s Water and Energy Minister Seleshi Bekele said earlier the meeting was called by South Africa, the current head of the African Union, and that U.S. observers and AU experts would attend.

In November, Sudan did not attend a round of talks called by South Africa, arguing that the current approach to reaching a tripartite agreement on the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s dam had not yielded results.

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas said at the time that the AU should do more to “facilitate the negotiation and bridge the gap between the three parties.”

Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam has caused severe tensions between the three nations.

Egypt has called it an existential threat and worries that it will reduce the country’s share of Nile waters.

The Arab’s world most populous country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its more than 100 million people. About 85 percent of the river’s flow originates from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia says the $4.6 billion dam will be an engine of development that will pull millions of people out of poverty. Sudan, in the middle, worries about the effects on its own dams, although it stands to benefit from access to cheap electricity.


Algeria army says 2 extremists, 1 soldier dead in second clash within 24 hours

03 January 2021

Another soldier and two more extremists were killed Sunday afternoon during an “anti-terror” operation in the Tipaza region of Western Algeria, the defense ministry said.

The second clash in the region within 24 hours takes the number of “terrorists” killed there to six, along with three Algerian soldiers, according to the ministry.

“During... (a) combing operation, still underway... a detachment of the national army killed... two more dangerous terrorists and recovered two Kalashnikov machine guns and ammunition,” a statement by the ministry said.

It named the latest dead Algerian soldier as Rachedi Mohamed Rabah.

Algerian authorities use the term “terrorist” to describe armed extremists who have been active in the country since the early 1990s.

Between 1992 and 2002, a civil war pitting the army against multiple extremist groups killed an estimated 200,000 people.

Over the course of last year, 21 militants were killed, nine were captured and seven surrendered during Algerian army operations, the military said in a tally published on Saturday.

State media reported late last year that the army thwarted a plan by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to redeploy.

AQIM’s leader Abdelmalek Droukdel was killed in June by French forces in northern Mali, but was replaced in November by Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, a well-known AQIM veteran and Algerian national.



South Asia


38 Taliban Insurgents Killed In Kandahar: MoD

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

04 Jan 2021

At least 38 Taliban insurgents were killed in Arghandab and Zherai districts of southern Kandahar province on Sunday, the Ministry of Defence said.

MoD said in a released statement, that 38 Taliban insurgents were killed in Arghandab and Zhari districts of Kandahar province,

According to the statement these militants were attacked, while they were planning assaults on the national defense and security forces.

During the skirmish, 3 of the Taliban militant’s strongholds were wrecked, a “large amount of their weapons and ammunition were destroyed.

Ministry of defense confirms this operation on Twitter, saying “38 Taliban were killed in Zheria and Arghandab district of Kandahar province, yesterday. They were planning to attack ANDSF positions when they were targeted by ANA and AAF. Additionally, 3 strongholds and a large amount of their weapons and ammunitions were destroyed”.


Magnetic IED Claims 5, Injures Provincial Ulema Head in Kapisa

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

03 Jan 2021

In an explosion in Kapisa, five people were killed and two were injured on Sunday afternoon, local officials said.

According to provincial police, the magnetic IED targeted Kapisa Ulema Council Head’s vehicle.

Some media outlets reported, that 9 people including provincial Ulema council head, Mirwais Karimi were injured.

The blast occurred in the Sayyad market in Kapisa province.

No group or individual has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.


Afghan gov’t, Taliban to resume talks as clashes undermine efforts to end war

04 January 2021

Afghan government representatives and Taliban officials are due to resume their power-sharing talks, officials said on Monday, although battlefield clashes and targeted killings risk undermining efforts to end the war.

The talks began in Qatar in September months after the Taliban reached an agreement with the United States allowing it to pull its troops out of Afghanistan and end its longest war in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

The two Afghan sides got bogged down on procedures for weeks but in December they reached an agreement on the process, clearing the way for them to get down to the issues when they resume their negotiations on Tuesday.

“Talks are a complicated process but the Afghan government and the negotiating team, with regard to the interest of the people of Afghanistan, are determined to take the process forwards,” said Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Peace Affairs.

But Afghan government officials have in recent weeks accused the Taliban of a string of high-profile murders, including of bureaucrats and journalists, and bomb attacks.

The Taliban have rejected some of the accusations but at the same time, the insurgents have made gains against government forces in fighting in various parts of the country.

US and European officials said they have urged both sides to reduce hostilities and move quickly towards a negotiated settlement.

The United States has been scaling back its presence in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after it intervened with its allies to overthrow the Taliban in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on US cities.

Afghan security officials expect the size of the US force to dwindle to about 2,500 troops early this year.


Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

January 04, 2021

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Sunday denied accusations that a Rohingya photographer in judicial custody was arrested for documenting the relocation of refugees from Cox’s Bazar to a controversial island camp in the Bay of Bengal.

Rights activists, including Bianca Jagger and Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaifur Rahman, on Friday called for the release of Abul Kalam, who they said was taking photographs of buses with Rohingya refugees on their way to the Bhasan Char island.

A second group of more that 1,804 Rohingya refugees — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar — were on Tuesday taken to Bhasan Char, despite UN concerns for their safety and welfare as the island is prone to flooding and severe weather conditions. They followed a first group of 1,642 relocated to the island, 30 km from the mainland, in early December.

“Kalam was handed over to Ukhia subdistrict police station on Wednesday in connection with a case filed in June 2020. We produced him before the court on Thursday and currently he is being kept in judicial custody,” Cox’s Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Rafikul Islam told Arab News.

Kalam, 35, has been living in Bangladesh for the past 28 years. He has been charged with obstructing government work and assaulting officials while discharging duties.

Rights activists say he was apprehended on Monday and handed over to a police station on Wednesday.

“They produced him as an ‘unnamed fugitive’ from a case going back to May 28. Not for anything that happened on Dec. 28, the day of the Bhasan Char relocation, but an incident which allegedly happened seven months earlier,” Rahman, who has been documenting Rohingya refugees and is the initiator of the campaign to release Kalam, told Arab News.

He said it was an attempt to shift the focus from Bhasan Char.

“The removal of focus from what Abul Kalam was doing on Dec. 28 — photographing Bhasan Char buses — is also conveniently handled by involving him in an unrelated case going back months,” Rahman said.

According to activists involved in the campaign to release Kalam, he came to Bangladesh from Maungdaw in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, and is a prolific photographer who has documented refugee life in recent years, and recently won two prizes in the Rohingya Photography Competition.

Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman in Dhaka, told Arab News that UNHCR has been engaged with authorities since Kalam’s arrest and is providing legal aid to ensure he receives a fair hearing of any charge against him.

“UNHCR has assigned one of its partner lawyers to represent him during the investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings,” he said.


Taliban Accuses America of Violating Doha Agreement, US Army Responded

By Mohammad Haroon Alim

04 Jan 2021

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon pilot maneuvers to refuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over Afghanistan on March 11, 2018. AIR FORCE / TECH. SGT. GREGORY BROOK

Taliban on Monday accused the US government of violating the US-Taliban agreement signed in February in Doha.

The group claimed that the US has carried out airstrikes in Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces.

Taliban stated, the airstrikes were conducted in support of the Afghan infantry missions in these regions.

The statement indicates these strikes were carried out in non-combat areas, adding that “Such repeated violations by the Americans occurred two days ago when the US Secretary of State announced that (after the signing of the Doha Agreement, they were not attacked by the Mujahideen). This confession shows the commitment and commitment of the Islamic Emirate to the Treaty of Doha.”

Taliban said in the statement, “The Islamic Emirate warns once again that if the bombings and the Kandahar operation are not stopped as soon as possible and the bombings and operations against the Mujahideen continue contrary to the provisions of the treaty, the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate will be forced to react seriously and the responsibility will be on the shoulders of the US government,”.

The statement was released hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, that no US soldier was killed in almost a year by the Taliban, since the Doha peace deal.

US Forces to Afghanistan spokesman Col Sonny Leggett reacted to the Taliban’s claim in a tweet, “the Taliban’s accusations the US violated the US-TB agreement are false. US Forces have been clear & consistent: We will defend Afghan forces against TB attacks. We renew our call for all sides to reduce violence”.

He added, “the Taliban’s campaign of unclaimed attacks & targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders & journalists must also cease for peace to succeed”.

This comes as US President-elect JOE Biden’s national security advisor, Jack Sullivan said Taliban commitment to cut ties with Al-Qaeda should not only be spoken but needs to be proved practically.

In an interview with CNN Sullivan said, Taliban have pledged to sever ties with Al-Qaeda but this comment needed to be not a matter of words but of action.

He stressed that the Taliban must reduce violence and with good faith enter into the peace negotiations, he believes that a political solution can only be reached through peace negotiations in Afghanistan.



Southeast Asia


10 Chinese spies caught in Kabul get a quiet pardon, fly home in chartered aircraft

Shishir Gupta

Jan 04, 2021

Afghanistan has let off the 10 Chinese nationals caught on 10 December for operating a terror cell in the capital city of Kabul and allowed them to leave the country, people familiar with the matter said on Monday. The 10 members of the module were flown out of the country in a plane arranged by the Chinese government.

Hindustan Times had reported the detention of the 10 Chinese nationals by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) for being part of an espionage module on 25 December. Afghanistan had offered to pardon the 10 Chinese nationals on the condition that Beijing apologise for deploying the 10 persons including at least one woman, believed to be linked to China’s spy agency, Ministry of State Security.

The terms of the release of the 10 Chinese spies is not known.

Diplomats and security officials in Kabul, however, confirmed to Hindustan Times that the 10 had been allowed to board a chartered aircraft that flew them out of the country on Saturday after clearance from President Ashraf Ghani. The 10-member module, evacuated after 23 days in detention, had not been formally charged.

President Ghani, who had been briefed about the detentions when Afghanistan’s intelligence agency made the arrests beginning 10 December, had tasked First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a former NDS chief who is credited with resurrecting the Afghan intelligence agency, to handle the case.

As expected, Amrullah Saleh who releases pointers from his security briefings on his Facebook page, had put out what appeared to be a cryptic denial of the arrest of the Chinese nationals on 27 December.

“No foreign citizen has been arrested in an effort operation in the Khairkhaneh area. The arrested are the palmadis that are under the scope. A number of them have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in kidnapping and assassination…,” Afghanistan’s First Vice President said.

Amrullah Saleh had earlier conveyed Kabul’s offer to release the 10 spies to China’s envoy Wang Yu if Beijing submits a formal apology that admits to the violation of international norms and a betrayal of Kabul’s trust. Ambassador Wang Yu is learnt to have insisted at this meeting that Kabul does not declare the detentions. An investigative report by an Australian newspaper in mid-December had already spotlighted how Chinese communist party members had infiltrated some of the world’s powerful and influential agencies, including the consulates of Western nations and security agencies.

There has been no statement by the Chinese foreign ministry on the espionage module busted in Kabul.

A senior diplomat in Kabul had earlier told Hindustan Times that at least two of the 10 Chinese nationals - Li Yangyang and Sha Hung - were in contact with the Haqqani Network, the terrorist group that doubles as the sword arm of the Taliban. Sha Hung used to run a restaurant in Kabul’s Shirpur while Li Yangyang was learnt to have been operating for the Chinese Intelligence since July-August.

The NDS team had seized arms, ammunition and Ketamine powder, a recreational drug , from Li Yangyang’s house in the western Kabul neighbourhood of Kart-e-Char when the first round of raids were carried out on 10 December.

The Afghan security establishment believes the 10 detainees were creating a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan.

ETIM is a small Islamic separatist group alleged to be active in Xinjiang province, home to China’s ethnic minority Uighur Muslims. Its founder Hasan Mahsum, an Uyghur from Xinjiang’s Kashgar region, was shot dead in 2003 by Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad has been playing along with China that has been accused of running camps in Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million people are held in camps.

Rights groups say China uses the ETIM threat as an excuse to impose restrictions on Uyghurs and discredit human rights activists outside China. The United States last month revoked the terror tag slapped on ETIM although the group continues to be designated by the UN Security Council.


Agong: Malaysia to intensify Covid-19 vaccine development with UAE

30 Dec 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 ― To overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia is looking forward to intensifying efforts on vaccine development with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

In an exclusive interview with Emirates News Agency (WAM), Sultan Abdullah said UAE has demonstrated itself as a friend of Malaysia during this difficult period.

“Both countries could explore and intensify relations in the field of Covid-19 vaccine development and strengthen post-pandemic collaboration in the fields of health, education, food security, agriculture, future technology, renewable and clean energy, halal industry and tourism, just to name a few,” he was quoted as saying in WAM’s report yesterday.

Sultan Abdullah was on a five-day special visit to Abu Dhabi, UAE, where he also met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed Zayed Al Nahyan who is also Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and other senior officials.

Meanwhile, Sultan Abdullah also commented on the common values between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, saying that Malaysia, as a trading nation, has placed a strong emphasis on the relation with GCC countries, especially the UAE.

He said, Malaysia’s Islamic identity for decades has been factored into the ties with GCC countries where issues of importance to the Muslim Ummah have been closely engaged.

“Malaysia also shares many similar and common values with GCC countries. With its strategic geographical location, UAE in particular, has been the main trading hub not only in this region but also in the world for decades,” said Sultan Abdullah. ― Bernama


Say you are Malaysian first to restore racial ties, Kit Siang tells PM

January 2, 2021

PETALING JAYA: The five priorities listed out by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his New Year message for national recovery were hardly inspiring, says DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang.

Citing the fifth thrust — to strengthen racial and religious ties among the people — he said Malaysia had never been more polarised since the “backdoor Sheraton Move” takeover 10 months ago which was openly based on the formation of a Malay-Muslim government.

Lim said if he was genuine in this pronouncement, Muhyiddin should now declare himself to be “Malaysian first, Malay second” so that the rakyat could join him in his efforts to build a more united nation to face the challenging post-pandemic period.

He said the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government created after the Sheraton Move was the most unstable government in the history of Malaysia – riven not only by dissension in the ruling coalition but also the narrow majority in Parliament.

In his statement, Lim said there were no signs over the last 10 months of the PN government that stern action would be taken against any “misinformation campaigns” by certain parties to polarise the races and religions in Malaysia.

On the prime minister’s strategy of ensuring good governance, Lim said this was a mockery unless he was prepared to replace the numerous politician-led government-linked companies (GLCs) and agencies with professionals to ensure they were operated professionally and with integrity.

“I am sure all Malaysians, including the Cabinet, will be dreading the release of the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2020 later this month as it will be the latest global report card on the performance of the PN government.”

On Muhyiddin’s plan to uphold sovereignty and strengthen the country’s position on the world stage, Lim said the latest report that Vietnam would surpass Malaysia to become the 4th largest economy in Southeast Asia was not encouraging.

“The PN government’s way of controlling the spread of Covid-19, rising unemployment rate and the contraction of industrial production are signs of tough times ahead, with no signs of long-term plans to handle the post-pandemic situation,” he added.


Jakim welcomes proposal for QR code to detect non-halal meat

02 Jan 2021

KOTA BHARU, Jan 2 — The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) welcomes the proposal from the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) to utilise the the Quick Response (QR) Code system on imported products at all entry points to detect non-halal meat.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said that the entry of imported meat from abroad is under the jurisdiction of KPDNHEP and even the standard operating procedures (SOPs) come under the ministry.

He said Jakim only provided approval for halal certification (to meat importing companies) and it was in the midst of drafting improvements of the SOPs as well as the QR code which have been listed for discussion.

He said this to reporters after presenting aid to 20 Pusat Asuhan Tunas Islam (Pasti) in the Pengkalan Chepa parliamentary constituency here today.

Two days ago, KPDNHEP Deputy Minister Datuk Rosol Wahid proposed the use of the QR Code system on imported products to address leakages at the country’s entry points and prevent recurrences of problems such as illegal meat syndicates.

Rosol said that the proposal was to make it easier for officers involved to detect meat or any other imported goods that entered the country without following the stipulated procedures, such as at airports and seaports.

He also added that the system will be able to reduce the workload of the country’s entry points’ enforcement agencies in the event of any misconduct regarding the entry of imported products.

In another development, Ahmad Marzuk refuted allegations by some quarters that PAS was rather ‘quiet’ on special lottery draws which have been increased from eight times in 2020 to 22 this year.

“What I want to say is that PAS does not remain quiet on this matter as alleged by viral posting. We are actually making internal protests that are deemed more appropriate and effective,” he said.

Earlier, Senator Liew Chin Tong was reported to have said that the Perikatan Nasional government had increased the frequency of special lottery draws from eight times in 2020 to 22 in 2021. — Bernama


Go ahead, fire me, I only want the best for Umno, says Annuar

January 4, 2021

PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional secretary-general Annuar Musa says he is willing to be fired in order to maintain the cooperation among Malay parties and the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

In a Facebook post, Annuar said he stood by the Umno Supreme Council’s decision against cooperating with DAP and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“I want Umno to lead the cooperation among Malay and Islamist parties, while rejecting any division among the ummah. If you want to fire me because of that, please go ahead,” he said.

Annuar’s comments come in the wake of the call by Pasir Puteh Umno Youth chief Muhammad Saifullah Ali for the Umno leadership to dismiss Annuar from the party.

Saifullah said the party should take strict action against Annuar, as he was seen to be a spokesman for PPBM.

Annuar noted that during his 40 years in Umno, meetings with the party’s division representatives often discussed issues involving Malays, Islam and the people.

However, he said, the past year had only been about calls for rejection and disunity among the Malays, adding that “we are fighting among ourselves. DAP can begin to smile”.

He also claimed that the Umno divisions and MPs in Kelantan were slowly turning over to parties in the opposition.

“Hopefully, it won’t be the same at national level,” he said.

Earlier, Kelantan Umno chief Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub announced he was ready to resign as the chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) if PN did not dissolve Parliament by the end of this month.

The Machang MP had said he would do so as a sign of his unwillingness to work with the PN government, should Putrajaya fail to request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament.


Vaccine hesitancy rises in Indonesia amid COVID-19 pandemic

4 Jan 2021

Jakarta, Indonesia – Questions about the potential use of pork products in vaccines is compounding vaccine hesitancy in Indonesia, experts have warned, urging officials and Muslim leaders in the Southeast Asian nation to speed up efforts to gain public trust ahead of a mass immunisation campaign against COVID-19.

Pork-derived gelatin is used as a stabiliser in some vaccines. But the consumption of pork is strictly forbidden or “haram” to Muslims, who comprise 87 percent of Indonesian’s 273 million people, raising concern this may hamper vaccination in the Southeast Asian nation worst-affected by COVID-19.

Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist who has helped formulate the Indonesian Ministry of Health’s pandemic management strategy for 20 years, said a halal certification for COVID-19 vaccines was essential.

“Halal is about more than just food – it incorporates more every aspect of lifestyle for observant Muslims,” said Budiman.

“If you are doing business, you must do it in a halal way and not cheat people. With regards to vaccines, halal certification is virtually mandatory in Indonesia because it ensures the production process from beginning to end is in line with Islamic teaching.”

Indonesia’s government has been commended by health experts for not pinning its hopes on just one COVID-19 vaccine. It has entered binding orders for 100 million doses from AstraZeneca, 50 million does from Novavax, 50 million from Pfizer, 53 million from COVAX/GAVI – a world body working to ensure poor countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines, and another 125 million from China’s Sinovac.

The government is yet to approve a single vaccine candidate, however.

AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer have all said there are no pork products in their vaccines. But Sinovac has refused to disclose the ingredients of its COVID-19 vaccine or specifically say if it has pork gelatin.

The MUI, Indonesian’s top Muslim clerical body that makes decisions over halal certification, also appears to be asleep at the wheel. It completed its study of Sinovac’s vaccine a month ago but has not yet announced its decision.

“Many people in Indonesia believe in conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and one of the reasons for that is the government has had no clear, strategic communication campaign,” Budiman said. “Sinovac also needs to be very clear about the ingredients of its vaccine and the MUI should announce its decision about the halal certification without further delay.”

‘It’s been a mess’

Indonesia, which has reported more than 758,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 22,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, has already received three million doses of the Sinovac vaccine and expects to receive doses from AstraZeneca and Pfizer in the coming weeks.

But with authorisation and halal certifications for the vaccines still pending, it is not clear when the country may roll out its inoculation programme.

Ahmad Utomo, a molecular biological consultant in Jakarta specialising in the diagnosis of lung infections, said the government’s failure to quell concerns about pork products in vaccines is a textbook example of its failure to communicate with the public throughout the pandemic.

“The issue is one of public trust. There is a deep distrust against the government when it comes to COVID-19 that was exacerbated by poor scientific communication by Purwanto in the early stages of the pandemic,” he said, referring the former Indonesian health minister who infamously said the country was immune from COVID-19 because of prayer.

“Aggressive gestures of the certain government officials for vaccinations to start in November when there were no signs of vaccine efficacy nor BPOM [Indonesia’s agency for drug and food control] approval were also unproductive,” he said. “Scientists have been caught in the middle. It’s been a mess.”

Vaccine hesitancy has been on the rise in Indonesia for many years and has been further exacerbated during the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A survey it conducted in August with Indonesia’s Ministry of Health found that 27 per cent of respondents were hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine – a group the survey said was “crucial for a successful vaccination programme”.

Their reasons ranged from religious beliefs, fear of side effects from vaccines and uncertainty about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I am not sure I will take it because my aunt told me it had pork,” Vita, an observant Muslim in West Kalimantan province who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, told Al Jazeera. “Maybe it’s OK for Muslims to have it if there is a specific purpose. But I would have to study the Quran to find the answer.”

But Sadiyah said halal certification does not worry her. “I’m more worried about the other ingredients. Will it make me healthy or sick? Because right now I am healthy.”

Yasmin Libbing, a product specialist who supplies German medical tools to hospitals in Central Java, said virus hesitancy was rife in her hometown Semarang.

“Many people are contra- and many are pro-vaccines. There is no agreement,” she said. “But the doctors I talk to every day, they tell me they won’t trust them until they have passed all the clinical trials.”

Obstacles ahead

The joint WHO-health ministry survey also found one-third of Indonesians who want to be immunised for COVID-19 were unwilling or unable to pay for it. Before he was replaced in a cabinet shuffle in December, former Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said the government plans to cover the cost for only 30 percent of the 107 million people marked out to receive COVID-19 vaccines by 2022.

“But the government should have a clear strategic communication policy to address the ‘info-demic’ and provide the public with accurate data about the effectiveness and risks of every vaccine to stop rumours from growing,” he said. “That way it can be left up to the individuals to decide if they want to be vaccinated or not.”

The MUI is expected to approve COVID-19 vaccines that contain pork gelatin, citing the greater good. But if the Indonesian public’s past reaction to other vaccination programmes is anything to go by, accepting the coronavirus scheme could prove difficult.

Between 2017 and 2018, Indonesia undertook the world’s largest vaccination campaign against measles and rubella. More than 67 million children were jabbed with a new combined measles-rubella (MR) vaccine from India.

The first phase in 2017 was a success, with more than 35 million children vaccinated on the main island of Java. Measles and rubella cases dropped by more than 90 percent.

But things turned south in 2018 when the MUI on the Riau Islands, an archipelago scattered between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, alleged that the MR vaccine contained pork gelatin and was therefore forbidden.

The MUI in Jakarta issued a statement backing that assessment and subsequently, in Sumatra, the second-most densely populated island in Indonesia, the MR immunisation uptake dropped to 68 percent. In Aceh, an ultra-conservative Muslim province on Sumatra’s northwest tip, participation dropped to just 8 percent, according the Ministry of Health.

The MUI tried to backtrack with a follow-up statement saying the MR vaccine permitted for use by Muslims. But by then, measles cases had spiked. By 2019, Indonesia had gone back to where it was before the campaign with the third-highest rate of measles in the world.

Seminal British medical journal The Lancet said vaccine hesitancy was on the rise globally and Indonesia’s experience with the MR vaccine was cautionary.

“Political leaders and health ministries must continue dialogue with religious scholars and communities to generate both a common understanding and unambiguous messaging regarding the benefits of immunisation,” the journal said. “The health and survival of Indonesia’s children depend on it.”



Arab World


Iraq wants US, Iran to respect its sovereignty a year after Soleimani’s killing

Ismaeel Naar

03 January 2021

Iraq has warned both the United States and Iran to respect its sovereignty, according to a statement from an Iraqi army official, as Baghdad marks the one-year anniversary of the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia commander.

“We do not want Iraq to be a starting point for striking neighboring countries. America and Iran must respect the sovereignty of Iraq,” the Iraqi News Agency quoted the spokesman for Iraq’s Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces as saying.

“The capabilities of the Iraqi army are very good, but it needs to strengthen the air defense capabilities. We are communicating with Syria to secure the borders. The sovereignty of Iraq is a red line for the armed forces. Any strike between America and Iran will be disastrous,” the statement from the spokesperson added.

The statement from the Iraqi army comes as tens of thousands of supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups chanted anti-American slogans in central Baghdad on Sunday to mark the one year since Soleimani was killed along with Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes on Jan. 3, 2020, in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport.


Lebanese decry Hezbollah’s erection of Soleimani posters, monuments in Beirut suburbs

Rawad Taha

03 January 2021

The installation of many billboards showing slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in the predominantly Iran-backed Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon has sparked criticism by Lebanese who took to social media to protest Iran’s influence in the country.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Iran’s top general and a senior Iraqi militia leader in a US drone strike in Iraq. Iran heavily backs and supports the Hezbollah Shia militant group in Lebanon.

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Former Minister of Administrative Reform May Chidiac asked those who posted the pictures of Soleimani to “stop distorting the identity of Lebanon.”

“What happened to the statues of Assad following the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation? The lesson is for those who consider Lebanon an Iranian province. Stop distorting the identity of the country and stop its involvement in wars. Statues and pictures of Soleimani and al-Mohandes, and naming the suburb roads, the airport road, and the southern roads with the name of Khomeini will turn against you,” Chidiac said.

Activist Lea Dagher tweeted: “Only in my car, I don’t see a picture of Qassem Soleimani, [is this] Lebanon or Iran?”

On the eve of Soleimani’s assassination anniversary, the southern Lebanese village of Arabsalim erected a model depicting the moment a US drone missile struck Soleimani’s SUV on its way out of Baghdad’s airport.

“Tehran is 1,789 km away from Arabsalim,” Middle East political researcher Bachar al-Halabi added.

Dima Sadek, a Lebanese journalist, posted a picture of a Soleimani statue that was set to be mounted in the suburbs of Beirut in the next several days.

Sadek said the day would come when “we will destroy this idol with our own hands as the idols of tyrants have been destroyed before it.”

Another Twitter user said that it would have been more “appropriate and honorable” to post photos of the Lebanese victims of the Beirut Port explosion, who died as a result of corruption instead of uploading pictures of the “child killer” Qassem Soleimani.

Luna Safwan tweeted pictures from Lebanon’s Airport highway with new Soleimani pictures on “every possible corner.”

“To some, he was a great leader. To others, he was a mass murderer, so how do you compromise and make a country livable and bearable, to both sides?” Safwan wrote.


Syria blasts US for sanctions, following UN expert's remarks

02 January 2021

Syria on Saturday lambasted the U.S. government for sanctions it has imposed on Damascus, following a U.N. special rapporteur's statement that called on Washington to remove unilateral sanctions against the war-torn country.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry described U.S. sanctions against the country as equal to “crimes against humanity” that impact the life of normal citizens as the country looks to rebuild after 10 years of civil war.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions for years on Syrian President Bashar Assad and a number of his top officials. Measures that went into effect in June will also allow U.S. authorities to target foreign companies that do business with some Syrian state institutions.

On Tuesday, U.N. human rights expert Alena Douhan called on the United States to lift its unilateral sanctions “which may inhibit rebuilding of Syria’s civilian infrastructure” destroyed by the conflict that has killed about half a million people.

Douhan, who is the U.N. special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, said American sanctions “violate the human rights of the Syrian people.”

Speaking on Wednesday, the U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn rejected Douhan’s statement as “misguided and false.”

He said that the blame for Syria’s economic situation and humanitarian crisis falls on “Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people, not on U.S. sanctions.”

Areas under government control in Syria have been suffering from a severe shortage of bread and fuel that Damascus blames on Washington. In some areas, people have to stand in line for hours outside bakeries to get bread, the main staple in the country.

Alongside being hit hard by sanctions, the Syrian economy has suffered for many years because of widespread corruption and recently as a result of a severe economic and financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.


Daesh attack in Syria kills several soldiers, civilians

04 January 2021

Terrorists affiliated with Daesh have ambushed several cars and a bus on Syria’s Damascus-Raqqa highway in the central Syrian desert, killing nine people and injuring nearly two dozen others, according to several sources.

Sources told Reuters that the Sunday attack killed at least nine Syrian army soldiers; however, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) quotes its own sources as saying that seven soldiers, a little girl, and a civilian were killed in the ambush.

The SOHR also says 16 others including four civilians were injured in the attack; however, Reuters claims 22 soldiers have been wounded in the attack. Both sources reported that some of those injured are in critical conditions.

The bus was targeted while on the road near Wadi al-Azeeb in the western part of the Syrian desert known as the Badia, east of the city of Hama.

Russian jets flying from a major air base in the area at high altitudes bombed its vicinity in the surprise attack, according to two military sources in touch with their coordinates on the ground.

This is the second such incident in less than a week by Daesh militants. State media said last Wednesday twenty-eight people were killed in a similar terrorist attack on a bus along a main highway in Dayr al-Zawr province that borders Iraq.

Daesh’s Amaq news agency a day later claimed responsibility for the ambush, saying it had killed 40 Syrian army soldiers and badly wounded six others.

Western intelligence sources say there has been a rise in recent months of ambushes and hit-and-run attacks by remnants of Daesh militants who take shelter in caves in the mainly rugged sparsely Syrian Badia.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

Syrian government forces have taken back many areas once controlled by the terrorist groups.


Iraqi lawmaker says expulsion of US forces from Arab country ‘national decision’

03 January 2021

An Iraqi lawmaker says the expulsion of American troops from Iraq is a national decision, stressing that everyone understands the danger of their presence in the Arab country.

Speaking to Iraq’s Arabic-language al-Maloumah news agency on Sunday, Mehdi Taqi, member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi parliament, stated that the decision to expel foreign troops, particularly US troops, from Iraq is not a mere political decision, but rather a national decision made by representatives of all Iraqis in the Council of Representatives of Iraq.

On January 3 last year, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and deputy head of Iraq’s anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were assassinated along with their companions in a US terror drone strike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport.

Both popular commanders played key role in eliminating the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

Two days after Washington’s assassination operation, Iraqi legislators approved a bill, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the US from the Arab country, which is currently home to some 3,000 American servicemen.

“Our country does not need the presence of any foreign force whatsoever on its soil while our national forces are capable of warding off the dangers of terrorism and any external threat to the security and stability of Iraq,” Taqi further said.

The lawmaker added that the presence of foreign forces, including those of the US, is causing numerous crises and problems in Iraq, noting that the landmark decision made by the Iraqi parliament demonstrated farsightedness in order to avoid major problems in the Arab country.   

Taqi also pointed out that “all Iraqis are aware of the danger that these forces will cause on the Iraqi soil, so everyone has agreed to expel them from the country in accordance with the decision by the parliament, which represents the voice of all Iraqis.”

Last year’s US assassination of General Soleimani and Iraqi PMU commander Muhandis significantly raised the already present anti-US sentiment in Iraq and led to numerous popular protests across the Arab country against the presence of American troops.

Iraqis chant anti-US slogans, mourn revered commanders 

Separately on Sunday, tens of thousands of Iraqis, while condemning the “American occupiers”, took to streets of Baghdad and converged on the iconic Tahrir Square to mark the anniversary of the US killing of General Soleimani and Lieutenant Muhandis.

Demonstrators waved the Iraqi flag and chanted anti-American slogans, including “America is the Great Satan.”

On Saturday evening, thousands of black-clad mourners also gathered on the highway that leads to Baghdad International Airport, where both commanders were assassinated, in a mock funeral procession staged in tribute to the two “martyrs” and eight of their companions.

“We tell America and the enemies of Islam that they can inflict the greatest sacrifices on us, but we will continue to resist despite the bloodshed,” said a mourner.

In November 2017, Soleimani declared the end of Daesh in a letter addressed to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Last year, the Leader awarded Soleimani with Iran’s highest military order, the Order of Zulfaqar. 

US media reports revealed details of the assassination, saying the terrorist operation used Israeli intelligence and was run from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Qatar.

Hailed both by friends and foes as a major military tactician, General Soleimani topped Foreign Policy (FP)’s 2019 list of Global Thinkers in defense and security. It placed General Soleimani on top of the list of the most influential people in the defense and security sector.


Syria: UN expert’s remarks necessitate removal of cruel US sanctions

03 January 2021

Syria has slammed the United States for imposing unilateral sanctions on Damascus, after a UN special rapporteur called on Washington to remove restrictive measures against the war-torn country.

In a statement on Saturday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry described US sanctions as “crimes against humanity” that impact the life of normal citizens amid efforts to rebuild the Arab country as a result of almost ten years of conflict, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.

The Syrian ministry's statement came days after Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights, voiced concerns that sanctions imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act risk exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria, especially following the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

“When it announced the first sanctions under the Caesar Act in June 2020, the United States said it did not intend for them to harm the Syrian population,” Douhan said.

She added that the enforcement of the Act may worsen the existing humanitarian crisis and deprive the Syrian people of the chance to rebuild their basic infrastructure.

UN expert @AlenaDouhan calls on the #UnitedStates to remove unilateral sanctions which may inhibit rebuilding of #Syria’s civilian infrastructure destroyed by almost 10 years of ongoing conflict. Learn more:

— UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) December 29, 2020

In response, the US Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn rejected Douhan's statement as "misguided and false," adding that the blame for Syria's economic situation and humanitarian crisis falls on the government of President Bashar Assad, "not on U.S. sanctions."

In its Saturday statement, the Syrian foreign ministry slammed US envoy's remarks, saying that it included lies in response to Douhan’s appeal to Washington to lift the sanctions on Syria, and proves US adherence to the policy of hegemony, arrogance and unipolarity.

“It is time for the US administration to assume full responsibility for the suffering of Syrians through its support for terrorism and the unilateral coercive measures, which violate international laws and deprive Syrians of a decent life,” the Syrian ministry stated.

It added that the lies and misleading information included in the US statement would no longer deceive anyone, and that hypocrisy and lying have become the feature of the US administration and its allies.

In late December, Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad denounced unilateral sanctions imposed by the US against the war-stricken country as “crimes against humanity," saying the Western sponsors of terrorism must pay the price for their atrocities against the Syrian nation.

Speaking in an interview with SANA news agency in Moscow, at the end of his official visit to Russia, Mekdad added, “Unilateral coercive measures against Syria are inhumane and can be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Over the past years, the US has been maintaining an illegal military presence on Syrian soil, collaborating with anti-Damascus militants and stealing the country’s crude oil resources.

It has slapped rounds of crippling sanctions on Syria, which has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011.

Parts of the restrictive measures have been imposed under the so-called Caesar Act, an American piece of legislation that alleges to support the Syrian people by protecting them against the Syrian administration’s way of governance.

The bans target almost all Syrian economic and trade activities, as well as the country’s government officials.


Blackwater guard pardoned by Trump says ‘acted correctly’ in Baghdad shooting

03 January 2021

One of the four Blackwater security contractors, pardoned by US President Donald Trump in a controversial move last month, says he “acted correctly” in a 2007 massacre of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

Evan Shawn Liberty had been convicted along with three other Blackwater guards for a shooting rampage that killed 14 civilians in Baghdad, but they were pardoned by the US president in a move which shocked everyone, including Americans.

In his first interview since his release, Liberty showed no sign of remorse, saying instead he felt like he “acted correctly.”

“I regret any innocent loss of life, but I’m just confident in how I acted and I can basically feel peace with that,” he told the Associated Press.

Liberty and the three other guards had been convicted for their role in the massacre, in a US court in 2015, after seven years.

Th court had found one of them, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Liberty had been convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter.

After an appeal, they were each given between 12 and 15 years in prison.

They have already defended themselves, saying that they acted in self-defense.

An FBI agent, who led the investigation into the Baghdad incident, denounced the pardon in a letter to New York Times published Saturday, saying that he was “embarrassed for our country.”

“I believe we will pay a heavy price in our relationships with other countries as a result of these pardons,” he wrote.

Patarini wrote that he led the investigation into Baghdad’s Nisour Square massacre, initially thinking the shooting was some form of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between the Blackwater guards and militants at the time.

After only one week, however, he discovered that the incident was not as what Blackwater, now renamed Academi, and State Department officials had described.

It was actually a carnage similar to the My Lai massacre where between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were killed by US Army soldiers during the Vietnam War, he wrote.

Trump’s order which came in the waning days of his administration sparked anger among human rights groups and the United Nations, who described the move as a violation of US obligations under international law.

Presidential pardons have historically been reserved for nonviolent crimes, but Trump has recently used his power in pardoning his allies, who were charged in high-profile cases.


Israel’s Netanyahu hints at trip to Saudi Arabia in party meeting

03 January 2021

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has implicitly mentioned that he recently visited Saudi Arabia, in what is his first known confirmation of a trip to several Arab countries in November last year.

Netanyahu made the comment in a closed-door meeting of his Likud party on Saturday night when he was asked about a possible deal between Tel Aviv and Iraqi Kurds.

"I recently visited other Arab states, and just like I couldn't tell about the Emirates, I cannot say now," he told officials from the ruling party, according to leaks from the meeting.

Netanyahu is reported to have met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Red Sea city of Neom on November 22, along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Israeli sources confirmed at the time the visit which lasted several hours, but no public statements have so far been made. Moreover, the Saudi Foreign Ministry denied reported details of the meeting, but not that Netanyahu and Salman had held a meeting.

Netanyahu’s comments came two weeks after he claimed that “many, many more countries” would be signing normalization agreements with Israel “a lot sooner than people expect.”

Since September, the Israeli regime has struck normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, with US officials saying a deal with Saudi Arabia is “inevitable.”

Washington has tried to coax Riyadh into following the lead of other Arab countries of the Persian Gulf to normalize relations with Israel.

Saudi officials have said Riyadh supports full normalization with Israel, but have shied away from announcing an abrupt deal similar to the UAE and Bahrain, stating that a permanent and complete peace agreement has to be reached first between Israelis and Palestinians.

The normalization deals between some Arab states and the Tel Aviv regime have already been condemned by all Palestinian factions as a treacherous "stab in the back" of their cause against the Israeli occupation.



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