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Islamic World News ( 14 Feb 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hefazat Chief Shafi: Declare Qadianis as Non-Muslims

New Age Islam News Bureau

14 Feb 2019

44 CRPF jawans killed in IED blast in Kashmir's Pulwama, Jaish claims attack.



 Hefazat Chief Shafi: Declare Qadianis as Non-Muslims

 Saudi Arabia Celebrates Valentine’s Day without Hiccups

 At Least 44 CRPF Jawans Were Killed and Dozens Injured In a Terror Attack In Jammu And Kashmir's Pulwama District

 Top Pakistani Court Confirms Ban on Haram Valentine’s Day

 Missing Uighurs’ Kin Demand ‘Proof of Life’ Videos From China

 Report: At Least 41 Killed In Iran Bombing On Revolutionary Guard Personnel Bus

 US Seeks To Increase Pressure on Iran At Warsaw Conference

 Britain Will ‘Do What It Takes’ To Beat ISIS: Defense Minister


South Asia

 Hefazat Chief Shafi: Declare Qadianis as Non-Muslims

 Ahmadiyas in Bangladesh Facing Fresh Threat from Radical Islam

 Hard-line militants injure dozens in attack on minority Muslims in Bangladesh

 Bangladeshi troops won’t engage militarily in Saudi Arabia

 More than 20 Taliban militants killed in Takhar and Faryab operations

 Bangladesh proposes safe zone in Myanmar for Rohingya refugees

 50 Ahmadiyyas injured in co-ordinated attack on the community in Pachagarh

 Taliban want Haqqani’s son released ahead of talks

 Afghan Taliban announce talks with US in Islamabad: spokesman


Arab World

 Saudi Arabia Celebrates Valentine’s Day without Hiccups

 In Heart Of Baghdad, Daesh War Museum Honours Fallen Militiamen

 EU puts Saudi Arabia on ‘dirty money’ blacklist

 Lebanon’s Hezbollah condemns terror attack on IRGC forces

 Saudi Arabia to lift travel warning for Lebanon

 Iraqi forces discover, destroy 11 Daesh cross-border tunnels into eastern Syria

 Egypt’s presidential term set to be extended



 At Least 44 CRPF Jawans Were Killed and Dozens Injured In a Terror Attack In Jammu And Kashmir's Pulwama District

 2 Hizbul terrorists gunned down in J&K’s Budgam

 Centre trying to break Muslim majority status of J&K: Mehbooba Mufti

 22 Myanmar nationals including Rohingya deported since August 2017: MHA



 Top Pakistani Court Confirms Ban on Haram Valentine’s Day

 Afghan Taliban to Meet Khalilzad, Imran Khan in Islamabad On 18th

 Islamabad to seek preferential trade agreement with Riyadh

 Hate Speech: Crackdown on Social Media in the Offing

 8 MoUs to be signed during visit of Saudi crown prince

 Pakistan has successfully overcome scourge of terrorism: Fawad

 Pakistan announces 'massive' social media crackdown

 Saudi Arabia sends over 100 guards ahead of Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan


Southeast Asia

 Missing Uighurs’ Kin Demand ‘Proof of Life’ Videos From China

 Where did Alpantuni go? Instagram accused of removing gay Muslim comic strip

 Malaysian detainees in Cambodia well-treated by prison authorities, says Sng

 PSM to field youth member from PAS family for Semenyih by-election

 Nik Aziz ‘lied’ too to protect party secrets, son says to defend self



 Report: At Least 41 Killed In Iran Bombing On Revolutionary Guard Personnel Bus

 Israel Blocks Planned UNSC Visit to Occupied Palestinian Territories

 Iran’s Rouhani blames US, Israel for attack on Revolutionary Guards

 US charges former air force intel agent with defecting to Iran

 House passes resolution to end US aid for Saudi war on Yemen

 Netanyahu issues rallying cry to Arabs for 'war' with Iran

 Palestine’s Hamas, Fatah movements denounce US 'deal of century' for Middle East

 Turkey rounds up 52 Syrian Daesh suspects: state media


North America

 US Seeks To Increase Pressure on Iran At Warsaw Conference

 ‘US, Taliban to hold peace talks in Pakistan’

 Are Democrats forcing Trump to use veto powers?

 NATO weighs future of Afghan mission, seeks to support talks

 US House approves full American withdrawal from Yemen



 Britain Will ‘Do What It Takes’ To Beat ISIS: Defense Minister

 UK Prepares No-Go Zones for Extremists

 London event discusses oppression of Uighur Muslims

 French police arrest former Syrian regime spy

 Germany arrests 2 ex-spies of Syrian regime

 Iran and France close to exchanging ambassadors

 Alleged Assad regime torturers arrested in Germany and France

 Russia emerges as ‘impartial’ mediator of Palestinian disunity



 US-Libya Forces Raid Al-Qaeda Site In Libyan City Of Ubari

 Nigeria: Boko Haram attacks NE state governor convoy

 Under-fire Bashir vows peace push for Sudan war zones

 15 dead at election rally stampede in Nigeria days ahead of presidential election

 ‘14 professors arrested in Sudan ahead of sit-in protest’

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Hefazat Chief Shafi: Declare Qadianis as Non-Muslims

February 13th, 2019

He also demanded the Qadianis’ religious congregation be stopped

Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmed Shafi has demanded the Ahmadiyya Muslim community—also known as Qadianis—be declared as non-Muslims, immediately.

The Islamic hardliner also demanded the 3-day Ahmadiyya religious congregation—scheduled to begin on February 22 in Panchagarh district—be stopped.

Shafi made the demand on Wednesday during a press briefing at Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam, also known as Hathazari Madrasa, in Chittagong.

While speaking at the press briefing, Shafi said that they will be compelled to undertake tougher responses, like a long march towards Panchagarh, if the congregation is not stopped.

"The demand to declare the Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims is part of protecting the fundamental principles of Islam. Muslims [will] face various problems in their social and religious life if the Ahmadiyyas are not identified and declared as non-Muslims," said Shafi.



Saudi Arabia Celebrates Valentine’s Day without Hiccups

February 14, 2019

JEDDAH: Red roses are no longer hidden in flower shop backrooms, and heart-shaped chocolates are no longer sold under the counter on Valentine’s Day, due to curbs placed in 2016 by the Saudi religious police.

In 2018, a Saudi religious figure endorsed Valentine’s Day celebrations for the first time in the Kingdom.

Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi, former president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, announced on TV that celebrating Valentine’s Day does not contradict Islamic teachings, and that celebrating love is not limited to non-Muslims.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide, much like Mother’s Day, as “a positive aspect of the human being,” he said.

As a result, Valentine’s Day is becoming very lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons.

Chocolate and gourmet food brands, such as Godiva, have prepared Valentine’s Day products.

Abdulaziz Al-Noman, a high-end local chocolatier, is cooperating with the Rubaiyat retailer and Fitaihi Jewelry to offer customers free chocolate boxes and flowers.

Fitaihi, a well-known Saudi brand, is offering discounts on love bracelets and pendants for what they have dubbed “a very special occasion.”

Nadine Attar, a jewelry designer and the face of Nadine Jewellery, has dedicated a special line, “A Journey of Love,” for Valentine’s Day.

The limited collection quotes verses from the Qur’an and famous Arab poets such as Khalil Gibran and Al-Mutanabi.

“I decided to use colors and symbols of love, hence the heart-shaped ruby stone, which is traditionally paired with white and yellow gold, but I chose rose gold instead as rose and red colors created a modern combination, and they go very well together in symbolizing the occasion,” Attar told Arab News. The collection will be discontinued once its items run out.

Attar is also targeting men, having produced red aluminum cuff links and aluminum cuff bracelets tipped in red. She said she intends for her pieces to become heirlooms.

Lingerie brand Nayomi has launched a campaign called #CelebrateRomanceWithNayomi, with discounts of up to 25 percent on its romance collection, and free shipping on all orders until Feb. 14.

Fitness centers such as ReFit Gym are offering discounts on new memberships, and supermarkets such as Manuel and Al-Tamimi have special sales on products such as chocolates, teddy bears and red roses.

The Foursquare City Guide has listed 15 romantic spots in Jeddah for a Valentine’s dinner. The list includes French restaurant Le Traiteur, Zodiac Lounge in Al-Andalus, Italian restaurant Il Gabbiano on the Corniche, and Japanese restaurant Nozomi in Al-Rawdah.



At Least 44 CRPF Jawans Were Killed and Dozens Injured In a Terror Attack In Jammu And Kashmir's Pulwama District

February 14, 2019

Eight jawans of the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) jawans were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.

The attack was followed by gunshots. The attack took place in Goripora area of Awantipora in district Pulwama.

Terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.



Terrorists will be taught unforgettable lesson: Arun Jaitley

Cabinet minister without a portfolio Arun Jaitley said that the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists will be taught an unforgettable lesson. "Attack on CRPF in #Pulwama, J&K is a cowardice & condemnable act of terrorists. Nation salutes martyred soldiers and we all stand united with families of martyrs. We pray for speedy recovery of the injured. Terrorists will be given unforgettable lesson for their heinous act," Arun Jaitley said.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Rajnath Singh will visit Pulwama tomorrow.

18:15 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Kakapora's Adil Ahmad Dar identified as the suicide bomber

Adil Ahmad Dar of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has been identified as the suicide bomber who targetted the CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir. Adil Ahmad dar belongs to Kakapora in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district. Read here.

18:12 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Where is Modi govt defending our borders, asks Congress

The Congress party attacked the Modi government over the Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir and asked where is the government exactly defending the borders. "India is facing unprovoked terror attacks from Pak sponsored terrorism. Modiji nation wants to know why do you want to compromise India’s security? Everyday we receive the dead bodies of our martyrs, PM remains mum. PM is a mute spectator even now. Pak terror attacks are checked. What is the solution to stop terror attack on the Indian soil? Your government, Modiji, is the most weak knee government in the history of India," Randeep Surjewala said.

18:06 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Don't have words to condemn the attack: Mehbooba Mufti

I don't have enough words to condemn this attack. Border skirmishes and surgical strikes are leading to nothing. NDA Govt and all political parties must come together and reach a solution to end this bloodshed: Mehbooba Mufti

18:01 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

When will 56-inch chest reply, asks Congress

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala attacked the Modi government and asked when will the 56-inch chest reply. He said, "We strongly condemn this cowardly attack, we extend condolences to the kin of the jawans who were martyred. This is the 18th big terror attack in the last 5 years under this Modi Govt. When will the 56-inch chest reply?"

18:01 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Leaders across the country condemn Pulwama attack

Politicians across the country have condemned the Pulwama attack which left 20 CRPF jawans dead and multiple injured. The injured have been shifted to a hospital. 18 of them are reportedly in a critical condition. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief MInister Shifraj Singh Chouhan, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Vice President Venkaiah NaiduVijay Kumar Singh, BJP MP Vijay Kumar Singh and several others condemned the terror attack.

I’m deeply disturbed by the cowardly attack on a #CRPF convoy in J&K in which 10 of our brave men have been martyred and many others wounded. My condolences to the families of our martyrs. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.

Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 14, 2019

Shivraj Singh Chouhan condoled the deaths and said that the answer to the terror attack will surely be given.

17:55 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Governor Satyapal Malik observed forces responsible for the insurgency in J&K are desperate and frustrated and just want to prove presence. Visibly it seems to be guided from across border as Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility: J&K Raj Bhawan PRO on Pulwama attack

17:54 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Shocked by dastardly terrorist attack: Venkaiah Naidu

Shocked by the dastardly terrorist attack in which CRPF personnel were martyred. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved families and prayers for speedy recovery of the injured: Venkaiah Naidu

17:52 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

CRPF briefs Home Minister Rajnath Singh

Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke with DG CRPF RR Bhatnagar over the Pulwama attack which killed 20 and injured multiple CRPF jawans.

17:50 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has urged all the Security Forces Commanders to enhance surveillance on every front and directed the District and Divisional Civil and Police Administration to immediately review the security management of all important installations and establishments in view of the Pulwama terror attack.


 J&K Raj Bhawan PRO on Pulwama attack:Governor Satyapal Malik observed forces responsible for the insurgency in J&K are desperate& frustrated and just want to prove presence. Visibly it seems to be guided from across border as Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility (file pic)

17:45 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

BJP brags about surgical strike and that's why it happened: Sushil Kumar Shinde

Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde slammed the Modi government over the Pulwama terror attack and said, "It is a very sad news. We condemn this attack but I say it again and again that BJP Govt/ Modi regime they cannot control Kashmir. These people talk about surgical strikes, they tell to the world about it because they can’t keep it a secret. And that's why this is happening."

17:29 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

BREAKING: 20 CRPF jawans martyred

Twenty CRPF jawans have died in the Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district after militants detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) and opened fire at the convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway today. More than 40 have reportedly injured and 18 are said to be critical. Senior officers have reached the spot and the investigation is underway. There were 2500 personnel in the convoy.

17:27 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

There were 50 vehicles in the convoy including 20 busses plus other trucks and SUVs. Each bus/truck had 35 to 40 constables. The suicide was mounted to beat the guards along the route. The SUV, which was used by the suicide bomber, was laden with explosives. It rammed the targeted bus. The blast took place on Srinagar-Jammu national Highway. The traffic on this highway was resumed on 13 Feb after 7 days of closure due to heavy snowfall.

17:22 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Saddened that 13 CRPF jawans became martyrs today in Pulwama. We salute our brave jawans and extend our solidarity and condolences to their families. Our prayers for those injured. We wish them a speedy recovery: Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee


 Saddened that 13 CRPF jawans became martyrs today in Pulwama. We salute our brave jawans and extend our solidarity and condolences to their families. Our prayers for those injured. We wish them a speedy recovery

5:19 PM - Feb 14, 2019

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17:21 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Attack on our CRPF jawans is an act of supreme cowardice: Ahmed Patel

The horrific attack on our CRPF jawans is an act of supreme cowardice. Perpetrators of such terrorist acts are out to destabilise Jammu & Kashmir but sacrifice of our brave jawans will not go in vain. India stands firmly behind their families & loved ones in this hour of grief: Ahmed Patel

17:20 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Injured shifted to hospital, probe ordered: IG CRPF

J&K Police has taken up the investigation. The injured shifted to hospital. Post-blast analysis being done at the spot: Zulfiqar Hassan, IG CRPF(Operations) on Pulwama blast.

17:18 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Suicide bomber identified as Jaish-e-Mohammed's Adil Ahmad Dar

17:16 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Modi govt compromising national security: Congress

Congress attacked the Modi government and said that it is compromising the national security. Twelve were killed and more than 40 CRPF jawans were injured in the Pulwama terror attack.

17:13 PM IST Posted by Chanchal Chauhan

Dozens of forces vehicles were destroyed in the attack, says JeM after attack

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has claimed responsibility of the fidayeen attack on CRPF convoy at highway in which more than a dozen forces personnel were killed and several injured. A JeM spokesperson Muhammad Hassan in a statement said "dozens of forces' vehicles were destroyed in the attack". The spokesperson identified the driver (of JeM) who carried out the fidayeen attack as Aadil Ahmad alias Waqas Commando of Gundi Bagh, Pulwama.




Top Pakistani Court Confirms Ban on Haram Valentine’s Day

13 Feb 2019

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) in Muslim-majority Pakistan on Tuesday sustained its decision to outlaw Valentine’s Day celebrations and the promotion of the February 14 Christian holiday across the country, ordering authorities to take action on revelers. A day before the holiday, top Pakistani court reportedly ruled to prohibit Valentine’s Day celebrations in February 2017.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported:

The court ordered Islamabad chief commissioner to ensure implementation of court directives while taking actions against the people who celebrate this day. The order read that no arrangements could be made in any city of the country regarding Valentine’s Day.

The court also ordered Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority to ensure implementation of the decision on TV channels.

It appears Pakistani film and TV stars have found a way around the ban — celebrating “love, laughter, and togetherness ahead of Valentine’s Day,” the Daily Times noted.

“Valentine’s Day is named after a Christian saint who, legend has it, was martyred in the name of love,” the Washington Post noted on February 13, 2017, the day the Pakistani court issued the ban.

Muslim-majority Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries a punishment of life in prison or death for those who insult Islam.

The Post pointed out:

For years, Valentine’s Day has drawn protests from a constellation of religious organizations claiming Valentine’s Day violates Islamic sensibilities and traditions. Pakistan is not alone. Each year, Iranian officials launch another crackdown on Valentine’s Day to try to blunt its growing popularity among the young. Cities across Indonesia also have sided with Islamic protests to take a stand against the celebration.

Reportedly, a petition by a “mysterious” private citizen Abdul Waheed Khan prompted the IHC to outlaw the holiday.

In his plea to the court, Khan argued that Valentine’s Day is “against Islamic teachings” and while purporting to promote love, it instead propagates “immorality, nudity, and indecency.”

The sitting Pakistani president in 2016, Mamnoon Hussain, joined the anti-Valentine’s Day movement in the predominantly Muslim country, arguing that the holiday “has no connection with our culture and it should be avoided,” the Post revealed.

In a rebuke of Pakistan’s regional foe India, Hussain alleged that Western traditions had “adversely affected one of our neighboring countries.”



Missing Uighurs’ kin demand ‘proof of life’ videos from China

February 13, 2019

BEIJING: Ethnic Uighurs have launched a global campaign to press China for video proof that their missing relatives are alive, turning the tables on Beijing’s use of video to counter claims that a renowned Uighur had died in custody.

The social media campaign was launched Tuesday under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur after China released a video of a man who identified himself as Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit saying he was alive and well.

The video was made public after Turkey claimed that Heyit had died in a Chinese prison in a statement in which Ankara condemned China for herding vast numbers of Muslim minority Uighurs into “re-education” camps in the country’s remote northwestern Xinjiang region.

“Chinese authorities showed video as proof Mr Heyit is still alive. Now, we want to know, where are millions of Uyghurs?” said Halmurat Harri, an activist in Finland, who created the hashtag.

He told AFP that his own parents had been previously detained, but were released last year.

The hashtag prompted posts from around the world, with Uighurs holding pictures of missing mothers, fathers, sons, daughters or friends.

A UN panel of experts says nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities are being held in extrajudicial detention in camps in Xinjiang, where most of China’s more than 10 million Uighurs live.

Beijing at first denied the allegation, but later said it has put people into “vocational education centres”.

Many overseas Uighurs have not been able to contact relatives and friends in China for years as phone calls and messaging platforms are under close Chinese surveillance, said Rushan Abbas, a US-based rights activist.

She is demanding authorities release a video of her sister, a physician, who she says was “sent for vocational training”.

Xinjiang has long suffered from violent unrest, which China claims is orchestrated by an organised “terrorist” movement that seeks the region’s independence. It has implemented a massive, high-tech security crackdown in recent years.

But many Uighurs and Xinjiang experts say the violent episodes stem largely from spontaneous outbursts of anger at allegations of Chinese cultural repression of Uighurs, and that Beijing plays up terrorism to justify tight control of the resource-rich region.

Critics say Uighurs in the camps are being brainwashed in a massive campaign to enforce conformity with Chinese society and encourage them to abandon Islam.

Arslan Hidayat, son-in-law of prominent Uighur comedian Adil Mijit, posted a Facebook video saying his father-in-law was missing and calling for a “proof of life video” of Mijit and others “who have been locked up in Chinese concentration camps”.

Ordinary voices

Abdul Mukaddes said his cousin Erpat Ablekrem, a professional football player, has been missing since last March and that if China responds by releasing further videos it would prove they were “illegally holding people for months or years” without charge. Xinjiang’s regional government, which according to state media had released the original video of Heyit, did not respond to a request for comment on the social media campaign.

Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International, said the movement gives worried Uighurs a rare outlet while undercutting China’s terrorism assertions.

“These people are ordinary people. The Chinese government simply can’t claim that they are all extremists or terrorists,” Poon said.

It also adds pressure on the world community to speak out, he said.

The Muslim world, in particular, has been conspicuously quiet, possibly to avoid Chinese diplomatic or economic retaliation.

Turkey’s statement on Saturday was perhaps the strongest yet by any country, calling China’s treatment of Uighurs “a great cause of shame for humanity”.

Turkey said it had learned that Heyit died serving an eight-year prison sentence “over one of his songs”, but China rejected that on Monday, pointing to the video released by Xinjiang and calling the Turkish statement “vile”.



Report: At least 41 killed in Iran bombing on Revolutionary Guard personnel bus

13 February 2019

A suicide bombing targeting a bus carrying personnel of Iran’s elite paramilitary Revolutionary Guard force killed at least 41 people, FARS Iranian news agency reported.

A statement released by the Revolutionary Guards late on Wednesday said the attack left 27 of its fighters dead while 13 were wounded.

Jaish al-Adl group claimed responsibility for the roadside bomb attack, which came on the day of a US-led conference in Warsaw that included discussions on what America describes as Iran’s malign influence across the wider Mideast.

The state-run IRNA news agency, citing what it described as an “informed source,” also reported the attack on the Guard in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.

The province, which lies on a major opium trafficking route, has seen occasional clashes between Iranian forces and Baluch separatists, as well as drug traffickers.

Jaish al-Adl, formed in 2012, is a successor to the extremist group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which has carried out a spate of attacks on Iranian security forces in recent years in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.

The Guard is a major economic and military power in Iran, answerable only to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While Iran has been enmeshed in the wars engulfing Syria and neighboring Iraq, it largely has avoided the bloodshed plaguing the region. In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by extremists in Sistan and Baluchistan province.

A coordinated June 7, 2017 ISIS assault on Parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.

And most recently, an attack on a military parade in September in Iran’s oil-rich southwest killed over 20 and wounded over 60.



US seeks to increase pressure on Iran at Warsaw conference

13 February 2019

Foreign ministers and senior officials from 60 nations gather in the Polish capital Warsaw on Wednesday where the United States hopes to ratchet up pressure against Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will be joined by US Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw, played down the absence of leading European ministers at the event during a brief stop in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Tuesday, before he headed to Warsaw.

“Some countries are having their foreign ministers come. Other countries are not. That’s their choice,” he told a news conference.

“We think we will make real progress. We think there’ll be dozens of nations there seriously working towards a better, more stable Middle East, and I’m hoping by the time we leave on Thursday we’ll have achieved that,” he added.

While countries such as France, Germany and Britain have opened a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran to avert US sanctions and keep the nuclear deal afloat, they have criticized Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

“There will be discussions about Iran’s influence in the Middle East, what we can do to help get Iran on a more helpful footing that it has been, to collectively push back on some of its malign behavior in the region,” a senior US official said of the Warsaw agenda.

New US sanctions, mainly targeted at cutting off revenue from Iran’s oil sector, have largely succeeded in persuading European companies to abandon business with Iran.

Iran has threatened to pull out of the deal unless the European powers enable it to receive economic benefits. The Europeans have promised to help companies do business with Iran as long as it abides by the deal.

Attendance questions

The conference will also hear from White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, over plans by the United States for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

While Kushner is not likely to divulge too many details of the plan, it will be one of the first occasions he will publicly discuss the US efforts.

Palestinian officials have said they will not attend the Warsaw conference because of Washington’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will, however, attend, alongside several officials from Gulf states. It was unclear which ministers would be attending since organizers refused to release the list of participants ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Hosting the event is a chance for Poland’s conservative government to bolster its ties with Washington at a time when it faces mounting isolation within the EU amid a dispute over its adherence to rule of law standards.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said transatlantic cooperation was necessary to resolve problems in the Middle East.

“The European Union alone does not, in my opinion, carry sufficient political weight to try to really influence the situation in the Middle East,” he told reporters in Warsaw.

“Only working together with the United States, and broadly speaking the community of democratic countries, can we have a positive influence and achieve peace and the stabilization of the situation in the Middle East,” he added.

Michal Baranowski, who heads the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund, said the outcome of the conference could either showcase divisions or more agreement over Iran.

“The proof is very much in the pudding whether this conference is something that will show great consensus or whether it will show greater division,” he said.



Britain will ‘do what it takes’ to beat ISIS: Defense minister

14 February 2019

Britain is ready to do “all that is required” to neutralize the threat from ISIS, defense minister Gavin Williamson said Wednesday, after the US suggested creating a new international mission in northeast Syria.

Acting US defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said he would consult with allies at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels about the “potential” for an observer force in northeast Syria after American forces pull out.

US-backed forces are currently in the fifth day of a fierce battle to expel ISIS fighters from their last holdout in eastern Syria -- the final remaining scrap of the “caliphate” the extremist group declared in 2014.

But the US is set to withdraw its 2,000 troops from the country, as announced by President Donald Trump in December, in a move that shocked America’s allies and raised security fears for the region.

Asked if Britain would support an observer force with boots on the ground, Williamson did not demur but pledged to carry on the fight against ISIS, also known as Daesh.

“We recognize the fact the threat of Daesh is going to evolve and it’s going to change and it’s going to disperse,” Williamson said as he arrived for the NATO meeting.

“We will continue to do all that is required to ensure that Britain and our allies remain safe.”

Shanahan visited Baghdad on Tuesday to reassure Iraqi leaders after President Donald Trump angered many by saying he wanted to maintain some troops at the Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, to keep an eye on Iran.

Afterwards Shanahan said he would use the NATO meeting to discuss “where we can take advantage of the opportunities there... in terms of the potential in northeast Syria to establish an observer force” to ensure stability in the longer term.

The international anti-ISIS coalition, which includes the US and many NATO countries as well as Middle Eastern nations, could be an option for the proposed force, Shanahan said.



South Asia


Ahmadiyas in Bangladesh facing fresh threat from radical Islam

February 13, 2019

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Pro-Caliphate Hefazat-e-Islam had already declared it would not allow the members of the Ahmadiya community in Bangladesh in holding its annual religious congregation in country’s Panchagarh district. A statement was issued on February 7, 2019 on behalf of Ahmad Shah Shafi, kingpin of pro-Caliphate Hefazat-e-Islam stating, “Deniers of Khatmey Nabuwat (last prophecy), feet-licking slave of the British, nefarious enemy of the Muslim ummah, Golam Mohammad Kadiani had denied acknowledging Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as the last prophet. He [Golam Mohammad Kadiani] proclaimed false prophethood with the agenda of deceiving Muslims, being a lapdog of the British. Golam Mohammad was the agent of those British imperialist traders who had ruled Indian subcontinent for 190 years, and had falsely proclaimed himself as the prophet and had participated in anti-Islam propaganda”.

Ahmad Shafi also had called upon Bangladesh government to “immediately declare Ahmadiyyas” as “non-Muslims” and asked the government to “stop the Ahmadiyya religious congregation” in Panchagarh district [in Bangladesh].

He said, “Despite the fact of being non-Muslims, Qadiyanis are claiming themselves as Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat and has been booting the world’s prophet [prophet of Islam]. If such things are not stopped forthwith, Hefazat e Islam by joining ‘Khatmey Nabuwat Movement’ will go into massive anti-Ahmadiyya movement in Bangladesh. Ahmadiyyas should be declared non-Muslims and their naked exposition of audacity [against Islam] should be immediately stopped. Otherwise, any conspiracy will be foiled by the hundreds of millions of towheedi janata [masses of faith]”.

Since Hefazat-e-Islam in particular and some other notoriously radical Islamic and pro-Caliphate groups are becoming increasingly powerful in Bangladesh, mostly because of being patronized by the mainstream political parties including the ruling Awami League, on February 6, 2019 Panchagarh district’s deputy commissioner Sabina Yasmin had to sit with the members of those radical Islamic groups and give them assurances of government’s stance on not letting the Ahmadiyas in holding their annual congregation in the district. But those religious bigots and jihad-mongers were not satisfied with it. On February 12, 2019, thousands of members of Sammilito Khatme Nabuwat Shangrakkhan Parishad, Iman Akida Rokkha Committee and Touhidi Janata, joined by teachers and students of Qawmi madrassas went into mayhem on the members of Ahmadiya community in Panchagarh – set fire on houses and business establishments, looted valuable and molested girls and women. This horrific scene only would remind the ISIS atrocities and notorieties in Iraq and Syria.

Washington-based Rabwah Times in a report shows the mob as the members of the radical Islamic and pro-Caliphate groups submitting memorandum with the Panchagarh deputy commission Sabina Yasmin. Earlier, New Delhi-based The Eastern Herald also had carried a report on this incident.

Latest incident of attacks on the Ahmadiya community in Bangladesh is not only unacceptable but it also is a matter of grave concern. It clearly proves the evil nexus of radical Islamic groups and pro-Caliphate forces are increasingly gaining strength mostly because of appeasement of the mainstream political parties including the party in power. If these forces are not confronted forthwith, it will ultimately emerge as a huge monster and would certainly pose grave threat to regional and global security. Most importantly, Hefazat-e-Islam has links with Al Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS), while there are secret connections between Jamaat-e-Islamic Bangladesh (JIB), Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) and Arakan-based Islamist militancy group named Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). We are fully aware of ARSA receiving training and fund from Pakistan as well as several Afro-Arab nations. This notorious group clearly is emerging into another Al Qaeda or ISIS – if not even worst.

As there is little hope of Bangladesh authorities taking any real steps in combating these radical Islamic and pro-Caliphate forces, international community, particularly policymakers in the US should immediately take this matter into their consideration. I am making an appeal to President Donald Trump and his administration to please come forward in saving the members of Ahmadiya community in Bangladesh from persecution and exert pressure on Bangladesh government in ensuring security as well as banning Hefazat-e-Islam and all other religious extremist groups. Bangladesh government should – instead of obstructing Ahmadiyas from performing their religious rituals and holding congregations, needs to immediately stop Hefazat-e-Islam and those radical Islamic extremists from continuing such extreme notoriety on this peaceful religious minority group. I am also demanding immediate arrest of those who were behind the orchestrated attacks on the Ahmadiya houses and business establishments in Panchagarh district and the government must give substantial compensation to the affected members of Ahmadiya community.

Extremism and terrorism under the disguise of ‘Khatmey Nabuwat’ should not be allowed in a secular country like Bangladesh.



Hard-line militants injure dozens in attack on minority Muslims in Bangladesh

February 13, 2019

DHAKA: Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of hard-line militants who attacked minority Muslims in northern Bangladesh, leaving at least 25 people injured, officials said Wednesday.

The clashes erupted Tuesday night after days of tensions over a planned convention of the Ahmadi Muslim minority community in the town of Ahmadnagar. Majority Sunni Muslim groups demanded the event be canceled.

Hard-line militants do not consider the Ahmadis to be Muslim and have called for them to be banned. The 100,000 Ahmadis in Bangladesh have faced repeated attacks and are often barred from establishing mosques. The group is banned in Pakistan.

Police said several Sunni groups have been holding protests against the Ahmadis’ local convention, scheduled to start in just over a week.

“Some 700-800 men wielding sticks and batons marched toward Ahmadnagar and clashed with the Ahmadis,” local police chief Abu Akkas said.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to “maintain law and order,” he told AFP, adding that at least 20 police and five Ahmadis were injured.

Ahmadi community spokesman Ahmad Tabshir Choudhury said at least seven of the Muslim minority were injured, three critically.

The last few decades have seen a number of attacks targeting Ahmadi Muslims in Bangladesh.

In 1999, a bomb ripped through an Ahmadi mosque in the southern city of Khulna, killing at least eight worshippers.

In 2015 a suicide blast by a suspected extremist at an Ahmadi mosque in the northwestern town of Bagmara wounded three people.

Full report at:



Bangladeshi troops won’t engage militarily in Saudi Arabia

February 14th, 2019

Bangladeshi troops will not engage militarily in any war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf, assures Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque on the eve of signing of a defence deal by the two Muslim-majority nations.

“They will, however, play an advisory role, take part in landmine-sweeping along the Saudi-Yemen border, and civil construction under a memorandum of understanding (MoU),” he said during a press conference organized at the ministry on Wednesday.

The press conference was organized to brief reporters about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming visits to Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Foreign Minister AKA Momen, flanked by the secretary, shared different aspects of the two visits and replied questions of the press.    

The Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, in a statement on February 4, announced that Dhaka will sign an MoU with Riyadh today, in an effort to enhance military cooperation between the two countries.

Under the proposed agreement, some 1,800 Bangladeshi troops under two battalions will be dispatched to Saudi Arabia to defuse and remove mines along the borders of war-torn Yemen and construction of civilian infrastructure, officials involved with the deal confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune, adding that this MoU will take “military cooperation between the two countries to new heights.”

The officials requested the Dhaka Tribune anonymity since they were not authorized to speak to the media about this non-binding agreement.

When contacted, an official of the Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR) expressed his lack of familiarity with this matter and referred to the Foreign Ministry, which according to the official, is taking part in signing this deal.

However, high-level sources inside the Bangladesh government confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune that the MoU signing will take place in Saudi Arabia and Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division Lt Gen Md Mahfuzur Rahman will sign the instrument on Dhaka’s behalf.

The content of this proposed deal was finalized during the Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed’s visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

‘Not a military arrangement’

Dismissing notions that Dhaka may have shifted its defence policy regarding the kingdom with this MoU, Shahidul Haque said: “In regard to Saudi Arabia, we are following the policy laid out by the prime minister that Dhaka is only interested in missions under the blue helmet (under the United Nations).”

That sentiment was echoed by security analyst Major General (retd) Abdur Rashid as well.

When contacted, he said: “I do not think Bangladesh will be involved in the Yemen war in any way since it will be very risky for our country.”

Bangladesh is a member of Saudi Arabia-led 41-state Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) to combat terrorism, which was formed in 2015.

Though the Islamic kingdom claims the coalition was formed “to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name is, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent,” critics say Saudi Arabia formed this league to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East region in general. 

Shia Iran is at odds with Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence in the Arab world for decades and proxy conflicts between the two regional powers raged from Syria to Yemen in recent years.

Last year, for the first time in history of the  Bangladesh Armed Forces, an 18-member Bangladesh Army delegation took part in the much-hyped joint 21-nation state military exercise called the Gulf Shield -1, hosted by the kingdom. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the concluding ceremony of the exercise on an invitation by Saudi King Salman.

“Saudi Arabia requested Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to involve our troops in mine-sweeping and civilian constructions like making houses for the members of their armed forces and the prime minister agreed to do so. This imitative is an initiative being taken under that assurance,” Shahidul said, adding:

Full report at:



More than 20 Taliban militants killed in Takhar and Faryab operations

13 Feb 2019

More than twenty Taliban militants have been killed during the operations of the Afghan armed forces in northern Faryab and northeastern Takhar provinces, the Afghan Military said Wednesday.

According to a statement released by 209th Shaheen Corps, a clash broke out between the Afghan armed forces and Taliban militants in Dawlatabad district of Faryab province.

The statement further added that 4 Taliban militants were killed and 3 others were wounded during the clash.

A separate clash also broke out between the militants and security forces at around 10:20pm in Arkalik Village of Qaisar district in Faryab which left 3 militants dead and another one wounded, the 209th Shaheen Corps said adding that an army soldier was also wounded in Dawlatabad clash.

Full report at:



Bangladesh proposes safe zone in Myanmar for Rohingya refugees

February 14, 2019

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has called on Russia, China and India to help the country tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis.

In an interview with Anadolu news agency on Sunday, Momen said his government has proposed to establish a safe zone in Rakhine state in Myanmar from where the refugees fled state persecution in late 2017.

"If a safe zone is created under the vigilance of China, Russia and India along with the ASEAN states, Rohingya people will be encouraged to return to their own land," he said.

ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc of 10 countries in Asia.

Momen added that guaranteeing the refugees who return Myanmar's citizenship will be a precondition of the proposal, which he said has been appreciated by India. He hoped other countries would follow suit.

Since August 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the Muslim-majority Rohingya community.

The United Nations has also documented mass gang rapes, killings - including of infants and young children - brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.

Myanmar authorities treat Rohingya as unlawful citizens or illegal Bengalis based on a controversial 1982 Citizenship Law.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal in November 2017 with a two-year timeframe to return the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

The repatriation has been postponed due to global concerns about the safety of Rohingya in their home country.

Momen said the main goal is to "repatriate them to their country of origin with due dignity and safety", asking help from international actors.

"There are 1.2 million Rohingya now staying in Bangladesh. Although we are not a rich country, we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world," Momen said, praising Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her "benevolence" in giving the refuge.  He offered to send some refugees to friendly countries of Myanmar so that the living conditions of the refugees improve and together these states can put pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees.


The top diplomat termed Bangladesh's policy on Rohingya "a role model for humanity", calling their persecution "the biggest genocide since World War II".

At least 43,000 Rohingya are missing and presumed dead, according to a March 2018 report (PDF) by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

A UN fact-finding mission last year said Myanmar military's campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with a "genocidal intent".

Last month, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said the military chief should be prosecuted for "genocide".

Other genocides since WWII include the one in Bosnia's Srebrenica, which killed over 8,000 in 1995, and the Rwandan genocide, which killed between 500,000 and a million people in 1994.

'Foe to none'

Momen said the influx of Rohingya refugees was triggered by Myanmar's policy and that the country should be held accountable.

"Now, the question is how long we give them temporary shelter. They must go back to their country of birth. The problem has been created by our friendly country Myanmar, and they should resolve it."

He warned that Rohingya refugees living in squalid makeshift settlements in the southern part of the country are at a risk of radicalisation.

"If it lingers for a long period, our fear is that there could be a rise of radicalism, instability and uncertainty. This may cause difficulties not only for Myanmar and Bangladesh, but also for the whole region."

Momen, however, assured that the Bangladesh government is dealing with the crisis with utmost sincerity and watchfulness, resulting in no report of radical activity until now.

Full report at:



50 Ahmadiyyas injured in co-ordinated attack on the community in Pachagarh

February 13th, 2019

Islamists vandalized and torched the houses owned by Ahmadiyyas to protest the minority group holding its annual 'jalsha,' a probe committee has been formed to investigate the attack

Around 50 people have been injured in co-ordinated attacks by hardline Islamist groups on minority Ahmadiyyas in Panchagarh over holding of a "jalsha", despite the local authorities cancelling the annual convention of the minority group.

The attacks took place on Tuesday night on the streets of Ahmadnagar, the part of town where members of the minority Muslim sect have their homes and businesses, confirmed Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Panchagarh police station Abu Akkas.

The incident occurred between 9pm and 11pm. The injured have been admitted to Rangpur Medical College and Hospital.

The district authorities on Tuesday cancelled the three-day “jalsha”, which was scheduled to begin on February 22, amid protests from conservative Muslim groups.

A five-member probe committee has been formed to look into Tuesday's attack.

The committee constituted with additional district magistrate Ehtesham Reza as its head has been asked to submit its report within three days.

Meanwhile, teams of the district administration and police administration visited the area on Wednesday and talked to the followers of the community.

Besides, police and Border Guard Bangladesh members have been deployed in the area to fend off further trouble.

Meanwhile, Shah Ahmed Shafi, the de facto leader of the hardline Islamists in Bangladesh and the inspirational leader of the umbrella organization Hefazat-e-Islam, has demanded the Ahmadiyya Muslim community declared as non-Muslims, immediately.

He also demanded the three-day Ahmadiyya religious congregation—scheduled to begin on February 22 in Panchagarh district—be stopped.

Shafi made the demand on Wednesday during a press briefing at Al-Jamiatul Ahlia Darul Ulum Moinul Islam, also known as Hathazari Madrasa, in Chittagong.

While speaking at the press briefing, Shafi said that they will be compelled to undertake tougher responses, like a long march towards Panchagarh, if the congregation is not stopped.

"The demand to declare the Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims is part of protecting the fundamental principles of Islam. Muslims [will] face various problems in their social and religious life if the Ahmadiyyas are not identified and declared as non-Muslims," said Shafi.

Islamists do not consider the Ahmadiyyas- also known as Qadianis- to be Muslim and have called for them to be banned. The 1,00,000 Ahmadiyyas in Bangladesh have faced repeated attacks and are often barred from establishing mosques. The group is banned in Pakistan.

Rangpur Additional Divisional Commissioner Abdullah Sajjad, Pachagarh Deputy Commissioner Sabina Yasmin, Superintendent of Police Md Ghiasuddin Ahmed, and other officials inspected the scene of the incident and visited the injured.

They gave assurances of bringing to book those involved with the attacks. Police and BGB have been deployed in Ahmadnagar to keep the situation under control.

Ahmadiyya leaders protest attack

Leaders of the community protest the attack on their people, their houses and businesses in Panchagarh.

Nayeb-e-ameer of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Ahmed Tabshir Chowdhury, at a a press briefing in Salana Jalsha field in Ahmed Nagar in the afternoon, claimed at least seven of the Muslim minority were injured, three critically.

He urged the government to take immediate action against the criminals who organized and carried out the attacks.

Among others, Mawlan Abdul Awal Khan Chowdhury, in-charge of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Mollabek, Taher Jugal, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Panchagarh unit and Shafiqul Islam, president of Panchagarh Press club also spoke at the programme.

How the clashes began

Around 8pm on Tuesday, followers of conservative groups under the banners of Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Shongrokkhon Parishad, Iman Akida Raksha Committee, Islami Jubo Samaj and local Towhidi Janata - all protesting the celebration of the “jalsha” - started a procession.

After the procession ended, the protesters blocked the Dhaka-Panchagarh highway near Sher-e-Bangla Park intersection in Panchagarh town.

At that time, traffic on both sides of the highway came to a halt. When the protestors tried to march towards Ahmadnagar, police blocked their path on Korotoa Bridge.

Enraged, the protestors started throwing brickbats at the police, who used rubber bullets and teargas to calm the situation.

A chase and counter-chase ensued between the protestors and the law enforcers that lasted for one and a half hours, injuring people on both sides.

At one point, a group of protestors broke away and advanced to Ahmadnagar, where they vandalized and set fire to several houses of the Ahmadiyyas, injuring at least 40 people of the minority group.

"Around 40 of our people have been injured," Ahmadnagar Muslim Convention President Taher claimed. "Our women were forcibly brought out to the streets and harassed. Our houses and furniture at the jalsha meeting site were vandalized and torched."

Movement in the area was disrupted from 9pm to 11pm, while local shops remain closed fearing further violence.

The last few decades have seen a number of attacks targeting Ahmadiyyas in Bangladesh.

In 1999, a bomb ripped through an Ahmadiyya mosque in the southern city of Khulna, killing at least eight worshippers.

In 2015, a suicide blast by a suspected Islamist extremist at an Ahmadiyya mosque in Rajshahi’s Bagmara, wounded three people.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the authorities blamed the home-grown militant group a faction of Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), known as New JMB to the authorities, which is accused of killing scores of religious minorities including Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims and Shias.

Clashes despite cancellation of Jalsha   

The anti-Ahmadiyya group carried out the attacks on Ahmadnagar, despite assurances from the local administration that the “jalsha” had been cancelled.

The Ahmadiyya’s annual convention was slated to be held from February 22-24. On February 4, Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Shongrokkhon Parishad held a press briefing at the Panchagarh press club to place their demands for cancelling the “jalsha”.

At 8pm on Tuesday, leaders from Towhidhi Janata and other organizations met at the deputy commissioner's office, where the decision to cancel the event was announced.

Despite that, a group of protesters went to Ahmadnagar and attacked Ahmadiyya houses and the convention site, OC Abu Akkas said.

Finally, Additional Deputy Commissioner Md Golam Azam announced the cancellation decision through a loudspeaker from Panchagarh Bazar mosque and requested everyone to go back home around 11pm.

"The district administration decided to cancel the jalsha on Tuesday night," the OC said. "However, even before the announcement, followers of conservative groups and locals started demonstrating on the streets.

"Police fired rubber bullets and lobbed teargas shells to bring the situation under control," the OC added. "But a portion of the protesters still went to Ahmadnagar and attacked the minority group."

Superintendent of Police Md Ghiasuddin Ahmed said the police are investigating the incident. "A scattered group of the conservatives carried out the attacks. We are looking into the matter and will take legal action against those responsible."

Deputy Commissioner Sabina Yasmin said: "The Sunnis demanded cancellation of the convention. Even though we agreed to their demands and took the decision to cancel the jalsha, they engaged in acts of violence. We will take steps against that."

Full report at:



Afghan Taliban announce talks with US in Islamabad: spokesman

February 14, 2019

The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday that their negotiators would meet US envoys for talks this month in Islamabad, and also sit down with Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss Afghanistan.

The announcement, not immediately confirmed by Washington or Islamabad, comes as America's chief negotiator tours the globe shoring up support for a peace process to end its longest war.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, held extensive talks with the militants last month in Qatar, where the Taliban have an office. More talks are slated for later in February.

But a Taliban statement issued on Wednesday said separate meetings would be held first on February 18 in Islamabad “by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan”.

Talks in Doha would follow a week later on February 25, the statement said.

Khalilzad is heading a large delegation on a tour of Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan to boost the peace process and bring all Afghan parties to the table.

He has expressed cautious hope for a deal before Afghan presidential elections slated for July, but says the Taliban must come to the table with the Kabul government, which the insurgents consider a US puppet.

President Ashraf Ghani — who has expressed frustration at being sidelined from recent talks — flew to Munich on Wednesday to attend an international security conference, his office said.

The Taliban also announced a meeting with Prime Minister Khan in Islamabad for “comprehensive discussions” about bilateral affairs with Afghanistan.

News reports last month had suggested that Islamabad was open to hosting the next round of talks with the insurgents.

Full report at:



Arab World


In Heart Of Baghdad, Daesh War Museum Honours Fallen Militiamen

February 14, 2019

BAGHDAD: A few steps from Baghdad’s cultural heart and its famous book market on Al-Mutanabi Street lies the Iraqi capital’s latest tourist attraction: a war museum glorifying the sacrifices of thousands of mainly Shiite militiamen who died fighting the Daesh group.

The museum is meant to honor the fallen but it also underscores the Iran-backed militias’ growing clout in the country. Their political and military might soared after they helped the government defeat Daesh — so much so that they are now accused by some of seeking to build a parallel state within Iraq.

Housed inside Baghdad’s historic, Ottoman-era Al-Qishla building, the museum displays rocket launchers, drones and cannons from the four-year fight with Daesh. Visitors can browse through the war booty and other memorabilia from the front lines, as well as personal belongings fighters left behind on battlefields across the country.

“I feel the spirits of the martyrs floating around this space. I feel that Iraq exists because of them. ... They are the pulse of Iraq,” said 55-year-old teacher Umm Hassanin Al-Oukeily on a visit to the museum this week.

The mainly Shiite militias — known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or “Hashed Al-Shaabi” in Arabic — emerged following a call in June 2014 by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, for volunteers to fight against Daesh. At the time, Daesh militants had overrun the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest, and much of northern and western Iraq, coming dangerously close to Baghdad and Shiite shrines farther south as Iraq’s military and security forces collapsed in the face of the onslaught.

Tens of thousands heeded the cleric’s call, enlisting in multiple militia factions, many of which had existed for years and even fought American forces in Iraq. Sanctioned by the Iraqi government, the militias played a key role in the war against Daesh.

That made the Iran-backed militiamen an indirect ally to the American forces, who returned to Iraq in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle Daesh. A US-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove Daesh out in a costly campaign.

The militias lost about 7,000 fighters in the war. They included some Christian, Yazidi, and Sunni militias but were dominated by Shiite groups with close ties to Iran. They came out of the war with the image of an almost holy force protecting Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority.

That kind of popular aura has helped enshrine the militias as a major political and paramilitary player in post-Daesh Iraq. Militia factions are present in almost every Iraqi province, in many cases deeply embedded in local governance and rivaling state institutions. Posters of dead fighters adorn shop windows in Baghdad and elsewhere.

“There are no words to describe my feelings right now,” said Al-Oukeily, the teacher, tears in her eyes as she made her way around the museum with her daughter.

Outside, in the Al-Qishla garden, families were gathered to enjoy the sun as music played in the background. Inside the building, somber military music accompanied the exhibits.

In 2018 parliamentary elections — the first after the victory over Daesh — the militias’ coalition won 48 seats, making it the second-largest bloc in Parliament and guaranteeing the militias a say in formal politics. Under the new budget, militiamen are for the first time being paid the same salaries as soldiers.

The mix of arms and political power is a dangerous dynamic for Iraq, a country with a history of bloody sectarian strife. Iraq’s Sunni minority and also some in the military and the government fear the Shiite militias will dominate Iraq the way the powerful Revolutionary Guard does in Iran or the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon.

The Shiite militias “are building economic empires, taking control of state reconstruction companies and projects, and developing into economic organizations,” said a Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Iraqi politics.

The more than 50 militias in Iraq have up to 140,000 fighters, according to some estimates and the Popular Mobilization Forces itself. They are backed by tanks and weapons, and have their own intelligence agency, operations rooms and court of law.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, the leader of one of the most powerful of the militias, Qais Al-Khazali, said their existence compliments that of the Iraqi military and suggested that disbanding them was not in the cards as long as there’s an ongoing military threat to Iraq.

At the museum, images of the fallen militiamen hang down from the ceiling, printed on light bulbs. Boots, watches and eyeglasses are displayed next to flowers that honor the martyrs.

Visitors walk around life-size replicas of militia outposts, complete with real sniper rifles, sandbags and camouflage nets from the field.

They pose for photos next to two mannequins, one depicting a bearded militant in Daesh black uniform, a knife protruding from his abdomen, lying on the ground. The other, a militiaman towering over the body, has his boot pressed against the militant’s head.

“This is the fate of every Daesh traitor in the land of the prophets in the great Iraq,” reads the sign next to the exhibit, referring to Daesh by the group’s Arabic acronym.

Museum manager Ali Al Shawky, who was a volunteer doctor with the militias during the war against Daesh, said the idea behind the museum was to preserve the memory of the fallen and “personify their heroic deeds.”

The Ministry of Culture, he said, was at first hesitant to give up the landmark Al-Qishla building and its gardens on the banks of the Tigris River — long a hub where Baghdad’s intellectual and artists gathered — to the museum, but later relented and gave them the top floor.

“We wanted to say something to the martyrs with this museum,” Al Shawky said. “We will never forget you.”



EU puts Saudi Arabia on ‘dirty money’ blacklist

Feb 14, 2019

The European Commission has added Saudi Arabia, among others, to a blacklist of countries with lax controls on terrorism financing and money laundering, sparking an angry reaction from the Riyadh regime.

On Wednesday, the commission, the European Union's executive arm, updated its list to 23 financial jurisdictions, up from the previous 16.

It said that the 23 countries "have strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering/ counter terrorist financing regimes. This includes 12 countries listed by the Financial Action Task Force and 11 additional jurisdictions."

The blacklist complicates financial ties with the EU and requires its banks and other entities to apply increased checks (due diligence) on financial operations involving customers and financial institutions from the high-risk states.

Now, the 28 EU states have one month, which can be extended to two, to endorse the blacklist.

Vera Jourova, European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, predicted that the EU countries would approve the list.

"We have established the strongest anti-money laundering standards in the world, but we have to make sure that dirty money from other countries does not find its way to our financial system," she told a news conference in the French city of Strasbourg.

"Dirty money is the lifeblood of organized crime and terrorism," she said, calling on the blacklisted countries to "swiftly remedy their deficiencies."

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for allowing a flow of money to finance Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc the region.

Riyadh regrets blacklist

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Thursday, Saudi Arabia expressed "regret" over the European Commission's decision to add the kingdom to the blacklist.

"Saudi Arabia notes with regret the European Commission proposed revised list of 'high risk' countries on money laundering and the financing of terrorism released on 13th February, 2019 that includes Saudi Arabia despite several measures of reinforcement of its legal framework which has led to increased cooperation with its counterparts," it said.

Full report at:



Lebanon’s Hezbollah condemns terror attack on IRGC forces

Feb 13, 2019

The Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah has strongly denounced a deadly terrorist attack on a group of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) forces in southeastern Iran, accusing the US, the Israeli regime and their regional allies of nurturing the Takfiri elements behind the Wednesday attack.

Hezbollah said in a statement the attack that killed 27 IRGC members and wounded 13 others portrayed the true image of the organized terrorism led by the US government, which encourages other countries to follow suit.

“Intimidated by the Iranian nation’s huge turnout in the [Monday] rallies marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, these criminal groups sought to send a bloody message” by carrying out the suicide attack, the statement added.

“These crimes will not weaken the Iranian nation, and will rather increase their power and motivation to continue the path of progress and prosperity,” it added.

The Lebanese movement also pointed to the simultaneity of the terrorist attack and an anti-Iran conference held by the US in Warsaw, Poland, describing it as a sign of the US government’s harmony with criminals and murderers seeking to destabilize Iran and harm its security.

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had noted that it is not coincidental that terrorists have attacked the IRGC on the same day that the anti-Iran summit organized by the United States kicked off in Poland.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Zarif raised suspicion about the deadly attack's possible links to what he described as the "circus" in Warsaw.

"Is it no coincidence that Iran is hit by terror on the very day that #WarsawCircus begins? Especially when cohorts of same terrorists cheer it from Warsaw streets & support it with twitter bots? US seems to always make the same wrong choices, but expect different results," he wrote.

‘Attack masterminded by foreign spy services’

In a message, Iran’s First Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri said the crime has been masterminded and implemented by the spy services of hegemonic powers and their evil hirelings.

“[The attack] will not only fail to undermine the nation’s determination to defend the Islamic Revolution, but also will strengthen the national resolve for a relentless fight against terrorism,” he added.

Jahangiri also immediately ordered the governor of Sistan and Baluchestan province to identify and punish those behind the crime by using all the resources available.

In one of the first international reactions to the attack, Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Faisal condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and offered “deepest sympathies” to the families of the victims of the “heinous” crime.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry also condemned the “terrorist attack”, expressed solidarity with the Iranian nation and government, and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

Also in a tweet, the Polish Foreign Ministry said the country “condemns terrorism in all its forms”, and that its reaction to the attack on Iranian forces would be no different.

The IRGC personnel were traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Khash, in Sistan and Baluchestan province on Wednesday, when their bus was targeted in a car bomb attack.

The IRGC's Qods Headquarters said in a statement that an explosives-laden car rammed into the bus, which was taking the personnel back to their homes.

Full report at:



Saudi Arabia to lift travel warning for Lebanon

Feb 13, 2019

Saudi Arabia will lift its warning against citizens traveling to Lebanon, its ambassador to Beirut says, as a visiting envoy from the kingdom met top Lebanese officials.

"Given that the previous security reasons have ended and based on reassurances from the Lebanese government to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia then is lifting its travel warning for its citizens," Waleed Bukhari said on al-Jadeed television.

Riyadh has repeatedly issued warnings against travel to Lebanon since January 2011.

A fall in visitors from Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies has hit Lebanon's tourism industry, once a mainstay of the economy, adding to the Mediterranean country's woes in recent years.

The two countries have discussed setting up a joint committee to reinforce bilateral relations, Bukhari said in a broadcast statement after the visiting Saudi envoy, Nizar al-Aloula, met Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and other Lebanese leaders.

Full report at:



Iraqi forces discover, destroy 11 Daesh cross-border tunnels into eastern Syria

Feb 13, 2019

Iraqi border guards have uncovered and destroyed nearly a dozen long tunnels apparently used by members of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group to sneak through the desert areas of the country’s western province of Anbar into Dayr al-Zawr province in neighboring Syria.

A military source, requesting not to be named, said on Wednesday that government troops had found the tunnels over the past two weeks, adding that one of them was nearly three kilometers long and allowed the extremists to pass through it without having to crawl or bend, Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network reported.

The source added that Iraqi border forces also managed to thwart three attempts by Daesh Takfiris as they were trying to infiltrate into the country, exchanging heavy gunfire with the terrorists.

Scores of the militants were killed and injured in the process.

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced on Monday that it had dismantled the biggest Daesh terror cell in Anbar province, and captured 186 militants who were wanted for terrorist attacks across the country.

“A joint force busted the biggest Daesh cell in Anbar, which was responsible for bomb attacks, planting roadside bombs and assassination of military personnel on the international highway west of the country,” Brigadier General Saad Maan, Spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command, said in a joint press conference with the head of Anbar's provincial council, Ahmed al-Alwani.

Maan noted that the detained extremist militants have signed their confessions and some of them have even been sentenced to death.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of military operations against Daesh in the country on December 9, 2017.

On July 10 that year, he had formally declared victory over Daesh in Mosul, which served as the terrorists’ main urban stronghold in Iraq.

In the run-up to Mosul's liberation, Iraqi army soldiers and volunteer Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters had made sweeping gains against Daesh.

Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul in January 2017 after 100 days of fighting, and launched the battle in the west on February 19 last year.

Full report at:



Egypt’s presidential term set to be extended

February 13, 2019

CAIRO: Egypt’s Parliament began deliberations Wednesday over constitutional amendments that could allow President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to stay in office till 2034 — 12 more years after his current, second term expires in 2022.

Lawmakers are set to vote on Thursday, after which the text of the amendments would be finalized by a special legislative committee and sent back to the assembly for a final decision within two months.

The 596-seat assembly, which is packed with El-Sisi’s supporters, has already given its preliminary approval to the changes last week. The amendments are almost certain to be overwhelmingly approved by the legislature, but will also need to be put to a national referendum to become law.

The referendum is likely to take place before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start in early May this year.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al opened Wednesday’s session, telling lawmakers in the packed chamber that there will be a “national dialogue” and that “all opinions and trends will be included in the discussions.”

The vote had initially been scheduled for next week, but was moved up. A coalition of nearly a dozen opposition parties has come out against the amendments, but on their own they will not be able to block them.

El-Sisi, who previously held the office of military chief, led the military’s 2013 overthrow of the freely elected but divisive Islamist president, Muhammad Mursi, after protests against his rule. El-Sisi was elected president the following year and has since presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

He was re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.

Along with extending a president’s term in office from four to six years, the amendments include a special article that applies only to El-Sisi and allows him to run for two more six-year terms after his current term expires in 2022.

The amendments also envisage the office of one or two vice presidents, a revived Senate, and a 25 percent quota for women in Parliament. They call for “adequate” representation for workers, farmers, young people and people with special needs in the legislature.

The president would have the power to appoint top judges and bypass judiciary oversight in vetting draft legislation before it is voted into law. The amendments declare the country’s military “guardian and protector” of the Egyptian state, democracy and the constitution, while also granting military courts wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.

Full report at:





2 Hizbul terrorists gunned down in J&K’s Budgam

Feb 13, 2019

SRINAGAR: Two Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists were gunned down in an anti-insurgency operation in Wathoora Gopalpora area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district early on Wednesday. In south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, 13 students of a private school in Kakpora’s Narbal area were injured in a mysterious blast in the afternoon.

Based on intelligence inputs about the presence of terrorists, a joint team of Indian Army and J&K Police personnel launched a search operation around 3 am in Wathoora Gopalpora area. Holed-in terrorists opened fire at the security forces, triggering a gunfight in which two terrorists were killed.

The slain terrorists were identified as Hilal Ahmad Wani alias Abu Maaz and Shoaib Mohammad Lone alias Mursi. Both Kulgam natives worked for Hizbul Mujahideen and were wanted in several criminal cases, said cops.

“Hilal had a long history of terror crimes who conspired and executed many terror attacks on security establishments in the state. The longest-surviving terrorist operating across the southern and central belts of Kashmir Valley, Hilal was the main person responsible for recruiting terrorists ever since he took up arms in 2015. Shoaib was also wanted for several such attacks and civilian atrocities,” said police.

Cops seized arms and ammunition and other incriminating evidence from the encounter site. The terrorists’ bodies were later handed over to their families after completion of medico-legal formalities, police said.

Meanwhile, a mysterious blast inside Narbal’s Falahi-i-Milat school injured 13 Class X students. The wounded students are currently hospitalised and in a stable condition, said Pulwama SSP Chandan Kohli. Kakpora Police has registered an FIR in this connection and an investigation is underway, he added.

J&K governor Satya Pal Malik announced a compensation of Rs 50,000 for the injured students. Following the blast, clashes erupted between youth and security forces in the district. Forces used tear gas shells to disperse the mob.



Centre trying to break Muslim majority status of J&K: Mehbooba Mufti

by Bashaarat Masood

February 14, 2019

PDP president and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday alleged that the Centre is trying to “break the Muslim majority character” of the state and warned that such a move will have “dangerous consequences”.

“You (Centre) are trying to break the Muslim majority character of the state. We will not let it happen. Its consequences would be very dangerous,” she said at a press meet in Srinagar. “We want to tell, not only to the Governor but also the Government of India, that you are playing with fire,” she said.

Mufti put her weight behind the people of Kargil and demanded that the divisional headquarters in Ladakh should be based in Leh and Kargil on a rotational basis. She also demanded separate divisions for Pir Panjal and Chenab valley in the Jammu province. “Otherwise, it would mean that you have a hidden agenda,” she said.

“You want to disempower the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir; you want to divide them into separate compartments, into Shia-Sunni, into Kashmiri-Punjabi, into Gujjar and Pahari,” she said.

She warned of agitation in the Pir Panjal and Chenab valley regions of Jammu if they are not given divisional status.

The former Chief Minister, who was flanked by senior party leaders Abdul Rehman Veeri, Rafi Ahmad Mir, Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Khurshid Alam, accused Governor Satya Pal Malik of “running the agenda of BJP”.

“It seems that the agenda that we (PDP) didn’t allow BJP to implement. that BJP agenda is being implemented by the Governor,” she alleged.

“Their priorities are wrong. The priority of Governor and Central government should be that the nomads of Jammu who haven’t got any land rights even after so many years of Independence get the rights. Whatever good work we did, they are reversing it. They are creating a division in Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.

Mufti said it has been a long-pending demand of the party that the mortal remains of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru be returned. “When he was not executed, Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) sahib wrote to the President seeking pardon for him,” she said. “After his execution, we have been asking for return of his mortal remains.”

Full report at:



22 Myanmar nationals including Rohingya deported since August 2017: MHA

February 14, 2019

As many as 22 Myanmar nationals, including Rohingya, have been deported since August 2017, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has informed the Rajya Sabha.

“India does not discriminate between foreign migrants on the basis of religion. However, as per information available, 22 Myanmar nationals have been deported since August 2017 after following due process,” MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju said in reply to a query.

The Home Ministry in August 2017 had come out with an advisory to identify and deport illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

According to government estimates, there are nearly 40,000 Rohingya Muslims across India with the highest number in Jammu and Kashmir. They were forced to leave their homes after a crackdown by the army in their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.

On the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, the MHA in another reply said that 1,595 Pakistani and 391 Afghanistan nationals of all religions were granted citizenship in the last three years. “Provision for capturing online citizenship data of migrants from minority communities namely Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christains was introduced in 2018. As per the available data, 295 Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan and Pakistan have been granted Indian citizenship since then,” MOS Rijiju said.

Full report at:





Afghan Taliban to meet Khalilzad, Imran Khan in Islamabad on 18th

FEBRUARY 14, 2019

Afghan Taliban Wednesday said their negotiation team will meet US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on Feb 18.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that a meeting is scheduled to take place between the negotiation teams of the Taliban and United States on Feb 18 in Islamabad on a formal invitation of the government of Pakistan.

Taliban had refused to meet the US envoy in Pakistan in January this year.

A Pakistani official also confirmed the Taliban talks scheduled in Islamabad. “I confirm it,” the official told Daily Times on the condition of anonymity.

The Taliban spokesman said the negotiation team of the Taliban will hold ‘comprehensive discussions about Pak-Afghan relations and issues pertaining to Afghan refugees and Afghan businessmen’ with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The talks come a week ahead of previously scheduled negotiations between the two sides in Qatar on Feb 25. Mujahid said in the statement that the Qatar talks will still take place as scheduled.

The Taliban and Khalilzad had met in Qatar on Jan 21-26 and the Taliban political officials said both sides had agreed to discuss the issues of the withdrawal of the foreign forces and preventing Afghan soil from being used against the US and other countries.

The Taliban announcement to hold talks in Pakistan comes a day after the Taliban announced a 14-member negotiation team that includes six members from the powerful leadership council.

Khalilzad is due in Pakistan ahead of the Qatar talks as part of a six-country swing through Europe and the Middle East as he tries to build support for efforts to end America’s longest war.

Pakistan had also facilitated the Taliban meeting with Khalilzad in the UAE in December that led to tensions between the Taliban and the US envoy after the Taliban refused to meet the representatives of the Afghan government.

Although the Taliban and the US have been involved in negotiations since July, the challenge to encourage the Taliban start talks with the Afghan government remains.

In a major development, the Taliban political envoys met Afghan political leaders including former president Hamid Karzai in Russia last week. Afghan government had, however, barred officials of the High Peace Council from participation in the Moscow meeting that was a major step towards the initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue.

The US side is expected to push hard for a ceasefire between Taliban and foreign-backed Afghan forces before any agreement on the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops. Taliban officials say they want all foreign troops out before a ceasefire, but would still welcome non-military foreign help to re-build the country.

Washington is also seeking more details on fresh assurances from the Taliban that it would not allow Afghanistan to be used by groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies, Western diplomats said. It is also pushing hard for the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government, which it has so far shut out of talks, branding it as a puppet of Washington.

US President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address last week to say progress in negotiations with the Taliban would allow a reduction in the approximately 14,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan and a renewed ‘focus on counter terrorism’.



Islamabad to seek preferential trade agreement with Riyadh

Mubarak Zeb Khan

February 14, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will formally propose to Saudi Arabia for initiation of a dialogue on preferential trade agreement (PTA) to promote bilateral trade and investment.

The proposal will be raised among other issues during the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s two-day visit to Pakistan.

The crown prince will reach the country on February 16, accompanied by a high-powered business delegation.

Official sources told Dawn that the preferential treaty will cover tariff and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which will help diversify Pakistan’s export basket to the kingdom.

Since 2006, there is a complete deadlock in negotiations on the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) with the Gulf Cooperation Council. So far only two rounds of negotiations have been held on it.

Officials believe that this issue will be raised during the crown prince’s visit.

Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia has posted a consistent decline, dropping by a half to $2.5 billion in 2016-17 from $5.08bn in 2013-14. One reason behind this is the falling value of petroleum products which constitute 50pc of total imports.

The country’s exports to the kingdom are decreasing as well mainly due to a drop in proceeds of rice, fruits, vegetable preparations, apparel and clothing and made-up articles of textile material.

Rice is one of the major export items to Saudi Arabia but now the commodity’s market is being captured by other countries, particularly India.

If an agreement is reached on PTA, Saudi Arabia will become the second country after Iran with which Pakistan will have a bilateral preferential arrangement.

Other issues that will be discussed include easing of procedures for business visa which currently involves multiple departments and takes at least six weeks. Saudi Arabia has also increased the business visa fee to Rs74,000 per person for attending any business activity in the kingdom and Pakistan will be looking for a fee waiver .

The Pak-Saudi Joint Business Council was formulated in 2000 to enhance interaction between top chambers of the two countries. The body has met thrice in the last 18 years, which shows its seriousness in promoting trade.

Pakistan is likely to raise the issue of removing ban on its shrimp exports to Saudi Arabia as well as seeking licence for State Life Insurance to do business in the kingdom, besides holding single-country exhibitions to promote market access for its products.

Possible areas for investment with Saudi Arabia include the halal food sector, cattle farming, milk, fisheries and other agro industry projects.

Full report at:



Hate speech: crackdown on social media in the offing

FEBRUARY 14, 2019

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry Wednesday revealed that the federal government had decided to launch a ‘comprehensive crackdown’ on hate speech on social media across country.

Addressing the closing ceremony of two-day workshop on ‘Strategic Communication and Media Engagement in Crisis Situation’, the minister announced that the government has formed a working group comprising representatives of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other security agencies to keep a check on hate speech on all social media platforms. “There must never be any tolerance for hate speech. We will act indiscriminately against individuals who propagate any sort of extremist views,” he added.

Fawad said the government has largely overcome the hate speech on formal media thanks to the cooperation of media houses, adding that now steps were being taken to check hate content on social media. He said recently some arrests were made for promoting hate speech against the national institutions on social media and added that crackdown would be carried out to control extremist narrative on social media in days ahead.

The minister said the government was set to constitute Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) to tackle the issues of both formal and social media under one roof including hate speech and spread of extremist narrative. He said that extremism breeds the terrorism while dialogue and discussion can solve problems. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right but not without restrictions under the law of the land, he added.

The minister said modern media comes with its own set of challenges, adding that the pace at which informal digital media is taking over the formal media makes it ‘essential’ for the government to regulate it. Explaining that the main efforts would be to uproot threats of violence, the minister said the move would hopefully encourage healthy debates that are not emotionally fueled. “This week we have made some important arrests on the basis that they used social media to issue fatwas and advance their extremist narratives and threats. In the next few weeks, we will launch a strict crackdown. State will not allow extremists to dictate their narrative by use of force,” he said.

“We will monitor social media activity and work to eliminate fake accounts. People who violate Pakistan’s cyber laws will be prosecuted. We want to encourage discourse and debate in society but this is not possible when you have people threatening each other’s lives over differences of opinion,” he said. “The State wants dialogue but it cannot happen if others do not let you do that,” he said. “If you are told that ‘my opinion is final and if you disagree I will shoot you or you should be hanged for saying this’ then you are using the State’s powers. Only the State has the power to use force or violence. Any individual cannot be allowed to the same,” the minister asserted.

Fawad said the government wanted to build a national and international counter narrative against extremism. Mentioning Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the minister claimed that it provides a massive opportunity to combat extremism. Pakistan has managed to rid itself from an ‘irregular conflict’ which he said is more complicated than ‘regular conflicts’ where at least the enemy’s identity is clear.

“After a heavy loss of lives, we managed to leave terror behind,” he said, adding, “The next phase is to consolidate on this and not allow people to exhibit hatred because the first stage of this process is extremism and the next is terrorism.” He said dialogue is the basic principle of every democratic society, adding that the people have complete right to stick to their opinions and express themselves. “However, people do not have the right to curb others’ freedom. The extent of my freedom ends where others’ begin,” he maintained.

Fawad said Pakistan, which used to be a tolerant nation, was trapped in an irregular and prolonged conflict in the neighborhood in 1980 which eventually flourished the scourge of terrorism and extremism here. He said Pakistan is a resilient nation which rendered monumental sacrifices against terrorism and extremism and successfully overcome the menace.

The minister said that Islam was spread through Sufis in the sub-continent and not through the sword which was itself manifestation of the fact that there was no concept of extremism and terrorism in our religion. The history of endurance and tolerance of the people of the sub-continent, especially the Indus civilization, is very old, he remarked.

He said today the entire world is facing a serious challenge of extremism and Pakistan also remains a victim of it. In India, extremism did increase after Modi government came to power while various other communities of the world have also suffered from extremism in some way, he added.

Full report at:



8 MoUs to be signed during visit of Saudi crown prince

FEBRUARY 14, 2019

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi Wednesday said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will sign eight memorandums of understanding (MoUs) during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, turning their excellent bilateral relations into a strong economic partnership.

“With the visit of Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are going to witness an unprecedented level of closeness based on solid economic integration,” the minister said at a press briefing regarding the upcoming two-day visit of Saudi crown prince to Islamabad from February 16 to17.

The MoUs to be inked during the visit relate to diverse sectors including investment, finance, power, renewable energy, internal security, media, culture and sports.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood and Board of Investment (BoI) Chairman Haroon Sharif also joined the foreign minister for a comprehensive briefing on the visit of Saudi dignitary, with particular focus on its positive impact on economy. Qureshi said a high-powered Saudi delegation including key ministers and over 20 businessmen from leading companies would hold meetings with their counterparts in Pakistan and discuss potential of bigger investment between the two countries. He said Pak-Saudi Coordination Council would be set up following the visit where Prime Minister Imran Khan would personally lead monitoring of the implementation of MoUs.

Fawad Chaudhry termed Saudi Arabia a strong and trusted friend of Pakistan and said the Kingdom always helped the latter in testing times. He said this was for the first time after former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that Pakistan had attained immense success at the diplomatic front.

Advisor to Prime Minister Abdul Razak Dawood said Saudi Arabia had plans for $7 billion investment in power sector for two years besides $2 billion in renewable energy including solar and wind projects. On the Saudi interest to explore Pakistan’s oil refinery sector, he said the feasibility study by their experts on petrochemical complex and hydro cracking could take up to 12 to15 months. He said Pakistan was in high need of refined oil products, for which Saudi Arabia had shown willingness to meet the needs of local oil market with investment of $2 billion for two years in addition to investment in Pakistan’s mining sector.BoI Chairman Haroon Sharif said Saudi Arabia had comprehensive long-term stakes in Pakistan. Following the visit of Saudi crown prince, the BoI would remain in constant touch with their Saudi counterparts on the technical level, he said. He said Saudi Arabia was planning to develop two new cities in the Kingdom and the situation would encourage Pakistani workforce to be accommodated in diverse jobs.

Responding to a question that whether Pakistan would pay the price in return to Saudi investment such as becoming part of military coalition against Yemen, Foreign Minister Qureshi strongly dismissed the notion, saying, “I say it loud and clear that there is no condition attached with Saudi investment.” He said Commander of the Islamic Military Coalition General (r) Raheel Sharif during his meeting with him the other day made it clear that the force was not specific to any country or a particular sect and the suspicion in this regard was not well-counted.

Asked if Saudi investment could be termed as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, he said though it was bilateral, however as Pakistan and China had agreed upon setting up three Special Economic Zones, it could be joined by other countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A red carpet welcome awaits Saudi crown prince upon arrival in Islamabad. Prime Minister Imran Khan along with his cabinet members will receive the visiting dignitary at the airport. A red carpet will be rolled out at the PM Office where the crown prince would be presented a guard of honour.

During his two-day stay, Prince Salman will call on President Dr Arif Alvi and will also meet the prime minister and the chief of army staff, a Foreign Office press release Wednesday said. A delegation of Senate will also call on the crown prince to discuss ways to enhance parliamentary cooperation between the two countries.

All the preparations have been put in place to accord royal welcome to the visiting dignitary and his entourage. Prime minister may himself drive the special guest to the Prime Minister House right from the airport, an official said.

A fleet of around 300 SUVs has been arranged for the delegates for transportation and protocol. However, vehicles for the crown prince will be coming from Saudi Arabia. According to the plan, a fleet of JF-17 Thunder jets will escort plane of the crown prince as soon as it enters Pakistan’s airspace.

As much as 1,000 checkpoints will be established on roads and adjoining areas of federal capital and Rawalpindi. All entry points of the federal capital will be scrutinized through special arrangements during the two days of his presence in the country. Most areas in the immediate vicinity of the Red Zone will remain closed.

Full report at:



Pakistan has successfully overcome scourge of terrorism: Fawad

February 14, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday said Pakistan was once trapped in an irregular and prolonged conflict in the neighborhood during the 1980s but has eventually flourished the scourge of terrorism and extremism.

Addressing the closing ceremony of a two-day workshop on “Strategic Communication and Media Engagement in Crisis Situation”, he said Pakistan was a resilient nation which rendered monumental sacrifices against terrorism and extremism to successfully overcome the menace.

The minister said that Islam was spread through Sufism in the subcontinent and not through the sword which was itself a manifestation of the fact that there was no concept of extremism and terrorism. “The history of endurance and tolerance of the people of the sub-continent, especially the Indus Valley Civilisation, was very old,” he remarked.

He said that today the entire world was facing a serious challenge of extremism and Pakistan also remained its victim. In India, extremism did increase after Modi government came to power while various other communities of the world have also suffered from extremism in some way, he added.

He said the implementation of rules was the responsibility of the state and Imran Khan’s government was fully committed to ensuring the enforcement of law from the first day and no one will be allowed to promote hatred in the country.

Fawad said the government has largely overcome the hate speech on formal media, thanks to the cooperation of media houses and now steps were being taken to check hate content on social media.

He said that recently some arrests were made for promoting hate speech against the national institutions on social media and added crackdown would be carried out to control the extremist narrative on social media in days ahead.

He said that the government was set to constitute Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) to tackle the issues of both formal and social media under one-roof including hate speech and spread of extremist narrative.

He said that extremism only breeds the terrorism, and dialogue and discussion can solve problems. Freedom of expression was a fundamental right but not without restrictions under the law of the land, he added.

Fawad appreciated the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Studies (PPC) for organising the workshop on extremism which was currently a global problem. Earlier, PPC Chief Executive Officer Shabbir Anwar shed light on the objectives of the workshop.

Full report at:



Pakistan announces 'massive' social media crackdown

Feb 13, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities on Wednesday vowed to carry out a "massive" crackdown targeting hate speech and extremism on social media, as a minister boasted arrests have already been made.

Officials in Pakistan are frequently accused of muzzling the media and targeting individuals critical of the country's powerful military establishment and have blocked hundreds of websites and social media accounts over the years.

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry announced the government was setting up a new enforcement arm to regulate social media during a speech in the capital Islamabad.

"We made some arrests last week and by the will of Allah we are launching a massive crackdown against social media users spreading hate speech and violence," he said.

Self censorship in the South Asia nation is widely believed to be rife at traditional news outlets.

"Our problem is that digital media is over taking formal media so it is important for us to regulate this," Chaudhry added, saying: "Informal media is a greater problem than formal media."

The announcement comes days after authorities arrested a journalist for allegedly posting defamatory content on social media.

And on Tuesday an opinion piece in the International New York Times criticising Pakistan's powerful army was censored by its local publisher and replaced by a blank space.

Activists and bloggers frequently report receiving warnings from Facebook and Twitter for posting unlawful content.

Local media also complained about pressure in the run-up to a general election in July to self-censor in favour of the eventual victor, cricketer-turned-prime-minister Imran Khan.

Full report at:



Saudi Arabia sends over 100 guards ahead of Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan

Feb 13, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Days ahead of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan, as many as 123 Saudi Arabian Royal Guards arrived in Islamabad to ensure his security in the country.

The guards, according to official sources, who landed in Islamabad late on Tuesday night, will be continuously on duty for the security of Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MbS.

He will arrive in Pakistan on a two-day visit on February 16, the Saudi ambassador here said. The Crown Prince is expected to stay at the Prime Minister’s House, where a gym has also been set up for him.

To ensure foolproof security, security arrangements for the PM House and eight private hotels in Islamabad have been handed over to the Saudi Royal Guards and the Pakistan Army.

During his planned trip, MbS will be accompanied by various other Saudi princes and key members of the royal family. “The delegation will be using 300 cars in the city, solely reserved for them, during the course of their visit,” reported Geo News, a local TV station.

“A team of doctors and a delegation of Saudi media persons who will cover Mohammed bin Salman’s tour have also reached Islamabad,” it added.

Diplomatic sources have informed that a trade deal worth $14 billion would be signed between Pakistan and the Saudi Kingdom during the visit. The trade deal would be the biggest foreign investment in the country’s history.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Where did Alpantuni go? Instagram accused of removing gay Muslim comic strip

February 13, 2019

The government and social media platform Instagram gave conflicting statements regarding the shutdown of an Instagram account that posted a comic strip depicting the struggles of a gay Muslim man living in a religiously conservative society.

The government claimed on Wednesday that the social media giant, which is highly popular among Indonesians, had removed the account after an outcry from Indonesian internet users, who have in the past few years been in the grip of a moral panic about the LGBT community. 

Only hours after the government made the announcement, Instagram issued a statement denying such a claim.

“Instagram did not remove this account. There are a number of other reasons why an account may no longer be accessible, including, for example, if the account holder deleted the account, deactivated the account or changed the account username,” said an Instagram spokesperson.

The account has stirred controversy in Indonesia, particularly ahead of the general election in April as anti-LGBT sentiment is rising with politicians whipping up homophobia to get votes. 

The comic strip tells the story of Alpantuni, a practicing Muslim who is also gay and has to struggle with discrimination because of his sexual orientation.

The Instagram account @alpantuni was created in November last year, but only gained the attention of Indonesian netizens last week. As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the account was no longer accessible, according to a statement released by the Communications and Information Ministry.

The ministry claimed that the account was shut down based on its request to Instagram, Antara reported.

The account, it said, violated Article 27 paragraph 1 of the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law on the distribution of pornographic content. 

The ministry, however, stopped short of mentioning which part of the comic strip was pornographic. The information is crucial as it is believed that the government initially failed to provide legal grounds to request the account’s removal because Indonesia does not criminalize homosexuality. 

The Instagram account has triggered a torrent of complaints from Indonesian netizens who found the comic strip offensive.

“Same-sex relations are already forbidden by Islam but the account’s owner had the guts to fill its feed with gay-themed content. I felt disappointed and wanted the account to be removed,” social media user Anis Mirfaqoh said, who also tagged the ministry’s official Instagram account in a comment beneath one comic strip post to push the initiative.  

Despite the brouhaha, it is not clear who managed the Instagram account, which features the comic strip in English and Indonesian and uses the hashtags #gayindonesia, #gaymalaysia, #komikmalaysia and #gaymuslims.

Some suspected the owner was not even Indonesian, but actually Malaysian.  

The Jakarta Police said they were now investigating the case to find the person behind the controversial social media account.

Nabillah Saputri of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) questioned the ministry’s decision to request the account’s removal as she believed the comic strip represented the “social reality” of the discrimination against the LGBT community.

“If [the comic strip is banned], that means the government condones the prevailing discrimination against minority groups like the LGBT community,” Nabillah said. (mai)



Malaysian detainees in Cambodia well-treated by prison authorities, says Sng

13 February 2019

BANTEAY MEANCHEY (Cambodia), Feb 13 — The 47 Malaysians who are being detained at the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison are well-treated by the prison authorities, said Julau MP Larry Sng Wei Shien.

He said during his brief meeting with prison officials, he was informed that their superior was even willing to use his pocket money to purchase halal food for four Muslim detainees.

“I was informed that the 47 detainees are well taken care off, there is enough food for them and the chief will buy halal food for the Muslims.”

“I was also told that the prison authorities were also concerned when some detainees developed skin rashes. A medical officer who is with us on this visit has supplied them with the necessary medicines,” he told Bernama News Channel here today.

Sng arrived at the prison with media personnel and two family members at about 10.30am local time after leaving for Siem Reap International Airport from Kuala Lumpur.

According to Sng, so far only 25 families have met and contacted him to find out about the detention of the victims aged between 19 and 44 years.

“For this brief visit, we brought along two family representatives. Family members of detainees who are unable to join us have entrusted me to look into their children’s condition and I will update them once I am back in Kuching, Sarawak,

Sng added that should the detention be prolonged he would try to bring more family representatives here.

Last Thursday, Sng in a press conference revealed that 47 Malaysians, believed to be victims of trafficking syndicates were being held at a prison in the country.

Full report at:



PSM to field youth member from PAS family for Semenyih by-election

13 February 2019

By Jerry Choong

SEMENYIH, Feb 13 — Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) today announced youth member 25-year-old social activist Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul as its candidate for the Semenyih by-election.

PSM campaign manager and central committee member S. Arutchelvan said Nik Aziz, who hails from a family of PAS stalwarts, was initially supposed to run for the assembly seat during the 14th general election.

“Due to the delineation exercise that took place at that time, it was not possible. But now there is finally an opportunity for Nik Aziz to represent Semenyih’s constituents and bring up the issues facing them in the legislature,” he said during a press conference in the constituency tonight.

Arutchelvan said many think that socialists tend to be from the older generation, which is not true.

“Nowadays, in Malaysia, we see many youths becoming more and more socialist because they do not agree with the current system.

“PSM will not engage in racism during the campaign trail, and we will declare our assets to show the rakyat we have nothing to hide,” he said.

Nik Aziz said the primary motivation for him to contest the by-election is the worry that the Selangor state government under PKR may one day become too comfortable with its position.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are worried the Selangor government will one day become corrupt.

“Hence, the importance to have checks and balances within the state government. We should ask ourselves: Do we want an Opposition mired in scandal and corruption, or engages in racist rhetoric, or one which continues to struggle for the people?” he said.

Nik Aziz said this is a chance for the people of Semenyih to make a difference, and support PSM in its aims of social justice and equal distribution of wealth, among others.

“We have the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan, whom I call upon to give us the chance to place a representative in the state legislature come March 2,” he said.

Despite strong support for PAS in his family — with his father having served as the Selangor communications secretary from 1993 to 1995 as well as the state campaign manager in the 1995 general election — Nik Aziz said he did not see a conflict in being a PSM member.

“I have always believed that the party’s focus on struggling for the rakyat does not run contrary to Islam’s teachings, as the faith has always upheld social justice for those who cannot defend themselves.

“In fact, I consider (former PAS spiritual leader) Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat as one of my idols, having been named after him. His constant reminder to always provide for those less fortunate inspired me to engage in social activism to begin with,” said Nik Aziz

Most of his social activism took place in Kelantan, where Nik Aziz pursued Islamic studies at the Sultan Ismail Petra International Islamic College in Nilam Puri from 2012 to 2015.

Full report at:



Nik Aziz ‘lied’ too to protect party secrets, son says to defend self

13 February 2019

By Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 — Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz has brought up his father’s name in his self-defence of denying a controversial audio recording in which he was said to have confessed that the Islamist party had received millions of ringgit from rival Umno.

The Pasir Mas MP was reported saying the late Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat had also done a similar thing in the past in order to protect party secrets.

“It is a matter of secrecy and when we are in a major party, what more an Islamic party, therefore the matter is something that is valid. There is lore regarding this in religion. There are many examples,” he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.

Nik Abduh gave the example of the “talaq bai’ah”, or the divorce oath among PAS members that was previously a party secret, and was kept by Nik Aziz until the latter’s death.

The “third talaq bai’ah” oath is allegedly a must for Kelantan PAS lawmakers before accepting their posts and requires them to swear to divorce their wives with the “third talaq” the moment they join a new party.

Talaq ― or talak as it is spelled locally ― is a type of divorce in Islam which provides the man with an avenue to initiate a divorce through simply pronouncing the word; if the man pronounces a “third talaq”, he is then prohibited from getting back with his wife again, unless he takes another woman as his wife and then divorces her afterwards before remarrying the first woman.

“When the document [regarding the oath] was leaked, the late Nik Aziz was asked and he categorically denied it.

“It means, it’s up to you if you want to call it a lie, but it was about secrecy. He kept the secret of the oath’s existence, although it was leaked, up until his death.”

Nik Abduh had earlier today admitted that party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang was the one who gave his “blessings” for him to deny the audio recording.

Nik Abduh said he had initially wanted to admit the veracity of the recording in which he was said to have confessed that the Islamist party had received millions of ringgit from rival Umno, but realised that it would be used by detractors to destroy PAS. Yesterday, Nik Abduh finally admitted that he was the person in an audio recording critics claim was proof that the party received money from Umno.

PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan was quoted as saying that Nik Abduh had confessed to saying the things in the recording, but claimed the conversation about the money in the audio was taken out of context.

The man in the audio recording had purportedly discussed receiving RM2 million from Umno, which Sarawak Report (SR) editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown produced as evidence to back her allegation that PAS took RM90 million from then Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Full report at:





Israel blocks planned UNSC visit to occupied Palestinian territories

Feb 14, 2019

Israel has refused to allow the UN Security Council (UNSC) to visit the occupied West Bank for a close-up look at the situation on the ground after Tel Aviv decided to expel an international observer mission tasked with safeguarding Palestinians in the flashpoint city of al-Khalil (Hebron).

Kuwait and Indonesia put forward the proposal for the visit to the West Bank during a meeting last week after the US blocked a UNSC draft resolution condemning Israel for expelling the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).

During a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Security Council President Anatolio Ndong MbaMba briefed members on talks held with Israel and the Palestinians on the trip.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour immediately responded, saying a council visit would be viewed “in the most positive way.”

However, citing Ndong Mba, Kuwait’s UN Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said “Israel categorically refused the council visit.”

The Kuwaiti envoy expressed regret over the Israeli opposition to the visit which “has been raised many times by the council.”

“We want to continue our consultation,” he said. “Hopefully we reach a consensus, because we said this issue has been on the council agenda for decades.”

“We want an official trip — this is what we asked for, not to go illegally or not to be invited as tourists,” al-Otaibi said.

Equatorial Guinea’s deputy ambassador Job Obiang Esono Mbengono said, “We’re still working on it.”

The TIPH was deployed in al-Khalil following an agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, when an Israeli settler killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The group did not start its work in the city until 1998, after the Israeli military refused to leave al-Khalil following the establishment of an illegal Israeli settlement at the heart of the city.

TIPH’s mandate is renewed every six months. Its latest mandate ended on January 31.

Palestinians have denounced Netanyahu’s decision to expel the monitoring group as “unacceptable.”

More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank in 1967. This is while much of the international community considers the settler units illegal and subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied land.



Iran’s Rouhani blames US, Israel for attack on Revolutionary Guards

14 February 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States and its regional allies on Thursday for a suicide bombing in southeastern Iran that killed 27 members of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Iranian state TV reported.

The force said on Wednesday a suicide bomber driving a vehicle laden with explosives had attacked a bus transporting members of the Guards in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

A militant Sunni Muslim group, Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iranian media have reported.

“The crime will remain as a ‘dirty stain’ in the black record of the main supporters of terrorism in the White House, Tel Aviv and their regional agents,” Rouhani said.

Apart from Israel, Rouhani did not name the regional states he believed were to blame. Mainly Shiite Muslim Iran does not recognize Israel, which is a key US ally in the region and sees Tehran as posing an existential threat to its existence.

In the past, Tehran has accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni militia groups who have carried out bloody attacks against Iranian security forces. Riyadh has denied the charges.

Repeating warnings made by senior commanders of the Guards, Rouhani said Iran was determined to bring justice to those responsible for one of the worst assaults ever against the Revolutionary Guards in years.

The assault, which wounded at least 13 people, took place in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which has a large, mainly Sunni Muslim, ethnic Baluchi community, which straddles the border with Pakistan.

Jaish al Adl has carried out attacks against the border guards from Pakistan since its founding in 2012.

Full report at:



US charges former air force intel agent with defecting to Iran

13 February 2019

The US Justice Department charged a former Air Force intelligence official Wednesday with spying for Iran, saying she exposed a fellow US agent and helped the Revolutionary Guard target her former colleagues with cyber-attacks.

US officials said Monica Witt, who worked for years in US Air Force counterintelligence, had an “ideological” turn against her country and defected in 2013, turning over information on US intelligence operations against Tehran.

“It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, announcing the indictment.

“This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect,” he said.

The US also indicted four Iranians working for the Revolutionary Guard who, using information Witt provided them, targeted her former colleagues in US intelligence with malware and other hacking tools in hopes of accessing their computer networks.

The Justice Department has issued arrest warrants for Witt and the four Iranians, who all remain at large.

Witt served in the US Air Force from 1997 to 2008, becoming a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, its counterintelligence unit.

After leaving the Air Force, she worked as a defense and intelligence contractor, but by 2012 her politics had begun to turn.

That year she travelled to Iran to attend an anti-America conference sponsored by the Revolutionary Guard-related New Horizon Organization.

She returned to Iran the next year and began disclosing classified information to Iranian officials, including on her former colleagues in the US intelligence community.

She revealed to the Iranians a “highly classified intelligence collection program” as well as the true identity of a US intelligence officer, Demers said.

According to an undated FBI missing persons declaration regarding Witt, she had not been in contact with anyone since 2013.

Full report at:



House passes resolution to end US aid for Saudi war on Yemen

Feb 14, 2019

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday adopted a resolution that obliges President Donald Trump to end Washington’s military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war on Yemen, and withdraw almost all US forces engaged in the war in less than a month.

The resolution was passed 248-177, with one voting present.

The resolution directs the president to remove any US armed forces that are affecting the war with Yemen, with the exception of forces purportedly fighting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in less than 30 days after the resolution is enacted.

It's expected at some point that the Senate will take up the resolution, but it's not clear when.

On the overall issue of US military support for the war in Yemen, the Republican-controlled Senate passed similar legislation in December, but it was not taken up by the Republican-controlled House. Democrats, who now hold the majority in the House, have made the legislation a priority.

Critics say the US is not directly involved in the hostilities in Yemen, and the resolution could be used to tie the government's hands in other hostile areas.

Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that US forces are not engaged in the hostilities in Yemen and the resolution reinterprets US military assistance for Saudi Arabia as support for Riyadh's actions in Yemen.

"This resolution is directing us to remove troops that simply... are not there," McCaul said on the floor.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, however, argues the resolution is tailored specifically to address the situation in Yemen and would have no effect on other conflicts.

"This is not a broad, blanket policy," he said on the House floor.

While the US last year announced the end of its practice of aerial refueling of Saudi and Emirati jets, it has continued to share intelligence with Saudis in their brutal war against the impoverished nation.

A top US military commander in the Middle East suggested earlier this month that the US would continue to back its allies waging war in Yemen, despite new evidence of arms deal violations recently uncovered.

A report by CNN revealed last month that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had transferred US-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked militants, extremist militias and other groups on the ground.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a brutal war, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and crush the Houthis.

The offensive initially consisted of a bombing campaign but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen.

The imposed war, however, has so far failed to achieve its goals, thanks to stiff resistance from Yemeni troops and allied Houthi fighters.

Full report at:



Netanyahu issues rallying cry to Arabs for 'war' with Iran

Feb 13, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel and Arab countries are sitting down together in Poland to discuss "war with Iran," shortly after a terrorist attack against members of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) killed 27 people in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

“What is important about this meeting – and this meeting is not in secret, because there are many of those – is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” Netanyahu tweeted on Wednesday.

He later backtracked on the comment and replaced it with the words "combating Iran," after being hit by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Reacting to Netanyahu’s comments, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC that the Israeli PM “knew what he meant” in his original tweet.

Netanyahu is now in the Polish capital Warsaw to take part in a two-day US-led conference called "Conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East" that kicked off Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Zarif raised suspicion about the Sistan and Baluchestan attack's possible links to what he described as the "circus" in Warsaw.

The so-called Jaish ul-Adl terrorist group reportedly claimed responsibility for the suicide car bomb attack against the IRGC members.

The Warsaw conference is considered as part of US attempts to heap pressure on Iran globally.

Since withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal last year, the US administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and vowed to increase it until Iran halts what US officials describe as its “malign activities” throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.

Full report at:



Palestine’s Hamas, Fatah movements denounce US 'deal of century' for Middle East

Feb 13, 2019

Two major Palestinian rival groups, the West Bank-based Fatah party and the Gaza-based Hamas resistance movement, have expressed their strong opposition to US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” on the so-called Middle East peace process.

The strongly-worded statements were read by representatives of both sides on Wednesday, the final day of the third edition of Russia-mediated intra-Palestinian conference that commenced on Monday in the Russian capital Moscow with the aim of unifying 12 different Palestinian movements and organizations, including the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We created the Palestinian state, in which we declared back in 1988. We stand for the creation of the Palestinian state within the borders of the liberation of territories captured in 1967 … with its capital in East Jerusalem al-Quds,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of Fatah's Central Committee.

“I would like to emphasize for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Trump. This is our and Qatar’s opinion. We will not allow America to use the financial factor in order to tear us away from the Gaza Strip,” he added.

Ahmad said that Washington had so far rejected “all of our peace-loving initiatives.”

In late August last year, the US announced it would end all funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, a week after it cut over $200 million in aid for the West Bank and Gaza. Washington donated $355 million to the UN agency in 2016, and was set to make a similar contribution last year.

Qatar, a Persian Gulf littoral state, financially supports Hamas, a move that has time and again irked Fatah.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, for his part, said his respective movement also rejected “the American plan for solving the Middle East problem, which is called the deal of the century.”

He also stressed they would not “allow any foreign party to intervene and destroy our aspiration [to bring peace],” accusing both the US and Israel of hatching plots to separate the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian movement.

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Trump’s “deal of the century” would fail to fully guarantee a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

The so-called deal, a backchannel plan to reach a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, was proposed by the US administration in late 2017. Although the plan has not been released, leaks signal it will consist of the same tried-and-failed ideas.

While little is known about the controversial deal, leaks have suggested that it entirely regards Jerusalem al-Quds as Israeli territory, whereas Palestinians view the eastern sector of the occupied city as the capital of their future state. Palestinians also believe that the US-drafted plan calls for keeping borders and security under Israeli control, while it keeps Israeli settlements’ final borders to be discussed in later negotiations.

Israel lays claim to entire Jerusalem al-Quds, but the international community views the city’s eastern sector as an occupied territory.

Full report at:



Turkey rounds up 52 Syrian Daesh suspects: state media

February 14, 2019

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities on Thursday detained 52 suspected Daesh extremists in northwestern province of Bursa as part of a crackdown on the militants, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Police launched raids at five addresses in the Osmangazi district to round up the suspects who were all Syrian nationals, Anadolu said.

Daesh are blamed in Turkey for a spate of terror attacks, including a 2015 bombing on a peace rally at a train station in the capital Ankara that claimed 100 lives.

Turkey has stepped up the fight against the extremists and allowed a US-led international coalition to launch air raids on the group's bases in Syria from its soil.



North America


‘US, Taliban to hold peace talks in Pakistan’

Feb 14, 2019

The Afghan Taliban militant group says it is to meet with American representatives in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad next week for a new round of direct negotiations, which have so far excluded the Afghan government itself.

The militant group said on Wednesday that separate meetings would be held in Islamabad and “by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan” on February 18.

The group also announced that its delegates would meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for “comprehensive discussions about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.”

Islamabad did not immediately confirm the talks, and the US said it had not received a formal invitation to the talks from Pakistani officials. Washington said, however, that it had “noted” the announcement, which comes after weeks of meetings between American and Taliban officials.

“We are not going to negotiate in public,” a US State Department spokesperson told AFP. “This is the beginning of a long process, which we continue to work through private diplomatic channels.”

The developments come as US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tours the globe, attempting to shore up support for a peace process that could pave the way for a political settlement to the 17-year war in the Asian country and bring all Afghan parties to the table.

“The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country,” Khalilzad said in Washington last week. “Nothing is agreed until everything has been agreed to.”

In spite of that public statement, the talks have so far been limited to the US and the Taliban; and the militant group also recently held talks with opposition Afghan politicians in the Russian capital of Moscow — all of which signals the group’s deliberate attempt to snub Kabul.

The government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — excluded from the talks — has complained about the matter and repeatedly stressed that any peace plan must include the Afghan government.

Earlier this week, the Taliban dismissed President Ghani’s offer to open a political office in Afghanistan, saying the offer was aimed at “harming the peace efforts.”

The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end with a US-led invasion in 2001; but 17 years on, the militant group continues to be active on much of Afghan soil.

Currently, Kabul only controls 55 percent of the country’s territory, while the militants have a grip on 12 percent of Afghan soil, according to a report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published in October last year. About a third of the country remains contested.

Daesh has also used the mayhem in Afghanistan to establish a foothold there.



Are Democrats forcing Trump to use veto powers?

Feb 13, 2019

US President Donald Trump may have to use his veto powers to stop Democrats in control of the US House of Representatives from passing a resolution against his closest friend, Saudi Arabia.

Democrats are reportedly approving a resolution that would allegedly halt US military support for the Saudi war on Yemen, where a humanitarian crisis is under way.

The House measure is also expected to pass the upper chamber of Congress, although the Republicans enjoy majority at the Senate.

Given the US president’s bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which has led to a $110 billion arms deal, Trump may have to use the power again after more than two years and veto the measure.

“I also am hopeful the president may sign it. I know it’s uphill still,” said California Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, the lead House sponsor, in a phone interview with The Hill.

The Republican president, who is making efforts to withdraw forces from Afghanistan and Syria, is blamed for his double policies in regard to military pullbacks.

“You can’t be for withdrawal in Afghanistan and withdrawal in Syria and then say we need to escalate the war in Yemen. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Yet, the Democrat suggested that the party does not “want to politicize the issue.”

“The issue is not to score points against the administration or make this a Democratic or Republican issue,” he added. “The issue is: What can the United States do to avert a famine that could affect 14 million people?”

Funding for the wall has led to a budget impasse and an ongoing dispute over border security.

Trump finally agreed on January 25 to end the shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded for the wall, and instead, a three-week spending deal was reached to temporarily end the impasse.

Full report at:



NATO weighs future of Afghan mission, seeks to support talks

February 14, 2019

BRUSSELS: NATO defense ministers are discussing the future of the alliance’s operation in Afghanistan and how best to use its military presence to support political talks aimed at ending the conflict.

Frustrated with America’s longest war, US President Donald Trump says he wants to pull out troops, raising doubts about NATO’s training operation in the strife-torn country.

Around 14,000 US troops are in Afghanistan, just over half with NATO and the rest doing counter-terror and combat operations.

Were US troops to leave the NATO operation, some allies, like Germany, wouldn’t be able to do their job as they rely on American air support.

Full report at:



US House approves full American withdrawal from Yemen

Joyce Karam

February 14, 2019

In an unprecedented move, the US House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a resolution halting the US role in Yemen and directly challenging President Donald Trump’s military leadership.

Thirteen Republicans joined 235 Democrats in the House late on Wednesday in voting a bill under the War Powers Act that effectively puts an end to US military role in Yemen. The bill, endorsed by 248 out of 425 representatives, marks the first time Congress seeks to block a President’s unchecked military powers. The Senate is expected to vote in the coming weeks, where the resolution may pass by a narrow margin. A parallel resolution was passed by the Senate late last year in a 56-to-41 vote.

If the resolution is not vetoed, it would effectively put an end to US military role in Yemen. While there are no official numbers, the US is known to have troops on the ground in the war-torn country, mainly to fight Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). US troops have carried joint operations with the UAE against the extremist group.

The resolution, however, includes an amendment that allows US intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia despite it ending its military role. The Trump administration stopped refuelling Saudi coalition planes last fall, but intelligence sharing and other logistical support have been ongoing.

If approved by the Senate, the resolution will still need Mr Trump’s signature to become law. The US President threatened to veto such bill, also a first in Trump’s presidency.

The bill is seen as a reaction to the ongoing relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia despite the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, told The National that the resolution is “meant to be a shot across the bow directed against Mr Trump's relationship with Saudi Arabia.” “The House is trying to assert dominance over the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the war in Yemen is a low-hanging fruit to fuel that effort” he said.

Concerning the bill’s potential impact on Yemen, Mr Heras argued that “this resolution will accomplish nothing to end hostilities between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, and in fact, it may backfire.” The analyst said he feared that “it will weaken efforts to get the Houthis to the negotiating table in the UN-led peace process, and war may get worse because Saudi Arabia would then have no US constraints on its air campaign.”

Full report at:





UK prepares no-go zones for extremists

February 13, 2019

Britons who join the ranks of ISIS face up to ten years in prison under a new law aimed at creating global no-go zones for extremists.

More than 900 Britons have travelled to Syria but authorities have struggled to convict returning fighters because of the difficulty of securing evidence.

The new law is designed to deter extremists from travelling to designated warzones and to prosecute them on their return if they flout the law.

The new legislation – which was signed into law on Tuesday - comes as Britain seeks to outsource the trials of two of its most notorious extremists - Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – who are accused of being part of the ISIS assassination squad.

They have been implicated in the murders of three US and two British citizens but UK prosecutors said they were unlikely to secure a successful conviction because of their treatment while being held in custody.

The men, who have been stripped of their British nationality, are currently being held by western-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria but could go on trial as early as the summer in the United States, according to media reports.

The new law makes it illegal for a UK national or resident to enter or remain in an area designated by the government and then agreed by parliament. It could include entire countries, said the UK’s home office, which said the first areas could be in place by April this year.

It also does not apply retrospectively for anyone who travelled to fight in Iraq and Syria.

“The stable door has in part closed since IS do not occupy much territory any more,” said Alex Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“But it’s to be expected that so-called Islamic State is likely to revert to terrorism having lost their territory and will hold small pockets. I don’t suppose there will be many cases where it will be used but those will be important cases.”

The legislation does not apply to people travelling to those countries for funerals, to care for terminally-ill relatives, or for certain professions, including UN and humanitarian workers, government staff and journalists.

Denmark and Australia have a similar offence which has been used to prosecute its nationals returning from Iraq and Syria. An impact assessment by the government said it anticipated “low” use of the legislation.

Theresa May, the prime minister, announced a review of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy after the London Bridge attacks when a group of extremists mowed down pedestrians in a van before embarking on a stabbing spree which left eight dead.

The attack was one of five targeting the UK in 2017 that left 36 people dead, prompting demands for stricter rules to target British extremists, who have travelled abroad to secure training and battle experience, and home-grown terrorists.

The legislation also tightens the rules around hate preachers who manage to remain on the right side of the law despite inspiring their adherents to join banned groups.

Anjem Choudary, the legally-trained former head of the banned organisation Al Muhajiroun, avoided prosecution for years despite his propaganda motivating at least 100 people to pursue terrorism. He was finally jailed for five-and-a-half years in 2016 after urging support for ISIS.

The legislation also updates counter-terrorism laws for the technological age, making it an offence to view or stream terrorist content. Previous laws required defendants to download the material before it became an offence.

Security minister Ben Wallace said the law would ensure that security officials had “the powers they need to tackle the evolving threat posed to the UK by terrorism and hostile state activity”.



London event discusses oppression of Uighur Muslims


By Muhammad Mussa


A conference held in London on Wednesday discussed the plight of China’s Uighur Muslims and heard from a panel of scholars, journalists and thinkers on the oppression they are facing from Chinese authorities.

The conference was organized by the Cordoba Foundation and hosted speakers such as Dr. Anas Altikriti, the foundation’s CEO and founder, Uighur activists and scholars Rahime Mahmut, Mahmut Turdi and Aziz Isa Elkun, Labour MP Emily Thornberry, Rodney Dixon QC, a human rights lawyer and Louise Payne-Jones, head of research at the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR).

Hosting the conference was Dr. Altikriti, who started off by saying that the event was timely and important.

“Throughout this evening, we will all hear from different perspectives in regards with this particular issue that will highlight something that is seldom talked about -- in fact, for some reason, almost never talked about. So today, we will highlight those perspectives.”

He also spoke of his surprise at how many people, Muslims in particular, don’t know of the Uighur Muslims who live in China and the decades of oppression they have faced at the hands of the Communist Party.

The oppression faced by the Uighurs, according to Altikriti, amounts to cultural genocide and the Cordoba Foundation will be holding extensive and in-depth sessions in the coming months and years aimed at raising awareness on the plight of Uighurs.

Also addressing the conference was Uighur activist Rahime Mahmut.

“For the last 18 years, I was unable to return to see my family and beloved homeland because of my involvement in speaking out against human rights violations imposed on my people by the Chinese government,” she said.

Mahmut said it has been over two years since she last spoke to her family, who live in Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan, and noted that her brother told her not to contact the family anymore out of fear that Chinese security forces would detain them in concentration camps for staying in contact with a Uighur human rights activist.

“Please leave us in God’s hands and we’ll leave you in God’s hands too,” Mahmut’s brother told her in January 2017.

“He indirectly told me ‘not to contact us anymore’, and up till today, I don’t know how they are, if they are safe, or if they are interned in these so-called ‘re-education camps,” she added.

Mahmut Turdi, another Uighur activist living in exile, spoke of his experience being detained and interrogated in his home town of Karamay two days after getting married to his wife, who was also detained and interrogated without his knowledge.

“Two days after my marriage, I knew there were Chinese security forces behind us, and they had taken me from my room to a local hotel and I didn’t know that they had also taken my wife, and so I was interrogated for two days because of my identity, and because I studied in the West, they were paranoid as to who I associated with,” Turdi said.

Upon returning to the UK in 2003, Turdi’s Chinese passport was cancelled and he was banned from visiting his family in East Turkestan. As such, it has been 15 years since he last saw or spoke to his family, and he has no knowledge as to how they are doing and whether or not they are free.

Rodney Dixon QC, the human rights lawyer, and Louise Payne-Jones, head of research at IOHR, described how Xinjiang and its major cities and towns are turning into a police state, with surveillance and intelligence gathering invading Uighur people’s personal lives in an attempt to “sinicise” them and crush their culture and religion.

They explained how police stations and concentration camps are being built in alarming numbers to control most aspects of Uighur people’s lives. This they argue, along with the mass detainment and torture of Uighur Muslims in the so-called ‘re-education’ camps, is cultural genocide aimed at destroying Uighur Turkic culture and assimilating them into the dominant Chinese Han culture.

As such, Uighurs are prevented from practicing basic tenets of their faith such as observing the daily prayers, reading the Quran and fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly stated that they are detaining people accused of minor crimes and that they are being held in centers of re-education, where they enjoy their time and are ‘grateful’ to be there. But personal accounts from former detainees paint an Orwellian picture where Uighurs are prevented from observing their religious duties.

According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government has carried out these repressive policies for many years against the Uighur people and the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in concentration camps is the latest in a campaign of oppression and repression.

Full report at:



French police arrest former Syrian regime spy


By Yusuf Ozcan


French police arrested a Syrian former spy on charges of crimes against humanity, according to the Paris prosecutor's office Wednesday.

The suspect in his 30s is accused of taking part in acts of violence against civilians from 2011 until 2013 when he worked for Syria's intelligence service.

He left Syria in 2013, the statement read.

Similarly, German police arrested two Syrian former spies on charges of crimes against humanity, torture, mistreatment and extra-judicial killings, the Federal Prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.

Anwar R. and Eyad A. were arrested Tuesday, following police operations in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate and Berlin, it added.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or displaced in the conflict, mainly by regime airstrikes targeting opposition-held areas.

Full report at:



Germany arrests 2 ex-spies of Syrian regime


By Ayhan Simsek


German police arrested two Syrian former spies on charges of crimes against humanity, torture, mistreatment and extra-judicial killings, officials said Wednesday.

Anwar R. and Eyad A. were arrested Tuesday, following police operations in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate and Berlin, the Federal Prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The 56-year-old Anwar R. was a senior official of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate until September 2012, and he was suspected of being responsible for the systematic torture of hundreds of civilians at the Al-Khatib detention facility in Damascus. The other suspect, 42-year-old Eyad A., was suspected of killing two people, when he worked for the Syrian intelligence between July 2011 and January 2012. He was also accused of involvement in torture and mistreatment of at least 2,000 detainees. 

Milestone in fight against impunity

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based institution assisting survivors of torture in Syria, welcomed the arrests as a milestone in the fight against impunity.

“This could lead to a criminal trial in Germany, which would be the first trial anywhere in the world examining the responsibility of senior members of the Syrian intelligence agencies of President Bashar al-Assad for crimes of torture,” the institution said in a statement.

Full report at:



Iran and France close to exchanging ambassadors

February 14, 2019

Iran and France are close to exchanging ambassadors the foreign ministry in Paris has said, ending a year-long delay over claims intelligence officials from Tehran had planned attacks in the French capital.

The comments come as the US convenes a meeting in Warsaw with scores of officials from around the world to discuss the Middle East, particularly Tehran’s influence. France and Germany have not sent ministers to attend the controversial summit and publically criticise US president Donald Trump’s stance on Iran.

Since pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year, Mr Trump has ramped up sanctions in a bid to pressure Tehran to end its ballistic missile program – not covered by the 2015 JCOPA deal – and stop regional meddling.

Even though France and Germany have led efforts to maintain the nuclear deal, rolling out an alternative trading mechanism that will be immune to US sanctions, Paris has had its own issues with Iran.

As well as criticising the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program and urging dialogue to limit the scope, French authorities also uncovered Iranian plans to assassinate opposition figures in Paris.

"We protested vigorously against an attempted attack that was stopped in the Paris region which led us to suspend the nomination of our ambassador to Tehran and Tehran responded reciprocally," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament's foreign affairs committee.

"But we are close to reaching a conclusion on this situation as long as [Iran] keeps to the 2015 [nuclear] deal."

France in October said there was no doubt Iran's intelligence ministry was behind a June plot to attack an exiled opposition group's rally outside Paris and it seized assets belonging to Tehran's intelligence services and two Iranian nationals.

Full report at:



Alleged Assad regime torturers arrested in Germany and France

David Crossland

February 13, 2019

Police in Germany and France have detained three former members of Syria’s intelligence service in the first arrests by western authorities of suspected torturers from Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

Germany, which has taken in more than 600,000 Syrian refugees since the outbreak of the conflict in the spring of 2011, has led efforts to collate evidence and launch investigations that could one day trigger war crimes prosecutions against the Syrian leadership for the systematic torture and killing of civilian opponents.

The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement on Tuesday saying the arrests took place on Monday in Berlin, in the western German town of Zweibrucken, and in France.

It said Anwar R, 56, was accused of crimes against humanity for taking part in the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in his capacity as a high-ranking member of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate between the end of April 2011 and the start of September 2012.

Eyad A, 42, is suspected of assisting in the killing of two people and in the torture and mistreatment of at least 2,000 people between early July 2011 and mid-January 2012, the office said. Another member of the secret service who has not been named was arrested in France by the Paris prosecutor’s office. The arrests were co-ordinated and the suspects have been remanded in custody.

The arrests are based on criminal complaints and harrowing testimony from former prisoners of the Syrian regime who came to Germany as refugees. Their statements were compiled by the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which called the arrests a milestone.

“This could lead to a criminal trial in Germany, which would be the first trial anywhere in the world examining the responsibility of senior members of the Syrian intelligence agencies of President Bashar Al Assad for crimes of torture,” ECCHR said.

The group’s general secretary, Wolfgang Kaleck, said the witness statements given by six survivors contributed to the arrest warrant and that they would join the case as private parties.

“The arrest shows once again that Germany is taking the fight against impunity for torture in Syria seriously,” Mr Kaleck said. “It sends a very important message to survivors of Assad’s system of torture. Without justice, there will be no lasting peace in Syria.”

The intelligence service played an important role in suppressing the opposition from April 2011 onwards and was tasked with using brutal force to nip the uprising in the bud.

The arrested men are alleged to have belonged to a section of the General Intelligence Directorate that was responsible for security in the Damascus area.

“Anwar R headed the so-called investigation department there which had a prison attached to it,” the federal prosecutor’s office said. “Prisoners underwent brutal and massive torture during their interrogation there. As head of the investigation department Anwar R directed and commanded procedures in the prison and the use of systematic and brutal torture.”

It said Eyad A worked at a checkpoint near Damascus where he apprehended deserters, demonstrators and other suspects. “200 to 300 people were checked a day there. Around 100 were arrested per day, taken to the prison run by Anwar R and tortured.”

Eyad A is also suspected of taking part in raids on people’s homes, and in autumn 2011 pursued demonstrators fleeing from a protest that had been put down violently. He had helped to arrest them and bring them to the prison for interrogation.

So far, all international efforts to launch prosecutions against members of the Assad regime have failed. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague cannot act because Syria is a not signatory, and China and Russia have vetoed the UN's attempts to allow the ICC or a special tribunal to proceed.

Germany is rigorously applying the principle of universal jurisdiction that allows national prosecutors to pursue people accused of international crimes even if they were committed in another country and neither the accused nor the victims are German nationals.

It is one of only three European countries, along with Sweden and Norway, applying universal jurisdiction over war crimes and was one of the first to incorporate universal jurisdiction — which is enshrined in the ICC’s statute — into its own national criminal code in 2002.

It set up a war crimes unit at the federal prosecutor’s office in 2010 and opened up two general investigations into Syrian human rights abuses and ISIS in 2011.

Testimony from the former torture victims led to the issue of a German arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence, in June last year. Other high-ranking officials named by victims include National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk and former defence minister Fahd Jasim Al Furayi.

Full report at:



Russia emerges as ‘impartial’ mediator of Palestinian disunity

Jonathan Brown

February 13, 2019

Rival Palestinian factions concluded three days of face to face negotiations in Moscow on Wednesday, which while failing to produce concrete results were credited by the delegates as an important step towards reconciliation. But the biggest winner may have been Russia, which delegates said is bolstering its reputation as a Middle East peace broker.

Russia said it had invited the rival groups to Moscow so they could discuss “problems that stand in the way of restoring unity in the Palestinian ranks.”

In announcing three days of intra-Palestinian talks last week, Russia specifically named the main Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. The two have been at loggerheads since 2007 when Hamas seized control of the isolated Gaza Strip. The sides have since disagreed over who is responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza. And Fatah insists that Hamas disband its military wing, saying that only the Palestinian Authority, which it controls, is allowed to bear arms.

Even though the Palestinian factions failed to agree on key points of a joint statement following three days of negotiations, members of the main groups Fatah and Hamas said the talks had paved the way new negotiations.

"Tensions have subsided," said Azzam al-Ahmad, a representative of the Fatah delegation.

Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, a senior member of the Hamas delegation, said: “The Moscow dialogues has allowed the groups to turn a new page.”

Russia has become an increasingly important political force in the Middle East since entering the Syrian war on the side of embattled president Bashar Assad in 2015.

In the years since, the Kremlin has sought to showcase its ability to speak with both sides of regional conflicts. Moscow has hosted the Taliban as part of Afghanistan peace talks twice since November and President Vladimir Putin is due to bring together leaders of Turkey and Iran in Sochi on Thursday to help bring about a political solution to the war in Syria.

Following a highly publicised press conference in central Moscow, Dr Mustafa Barghouti, who heads the Palestine National Initiative political party, told The National that Russia was increasingly seen on the Palestinian side an impartial and constructive broker.

“We made a breakthrough in the sense that after a year of no talks, Fatah and Hamas are sitting together with other parties in direct negotiations,” he said. “In my opinion what Russia did was miraculous because it allowed us to break the deadlock bringing all sides together.”

Russia’s interest in playing peacemaker comes as Palestinians are increasingly outspoken over what they say is US bias towards Israel. Since US President Donald Trump came of office, he has recognised Jerusalem and Israel’s capital and cut funding for Palestinian aid.

“We see Russia as being completely impartial from internal Palestinian differences,” Mr Barghouti said. “The United States is totally biased.”

Before the talks, expectations were low that the two sides would make meaningful progress on solving existential differences. Fatah has said it is committed to dialogue with Israel to secure a future Palestinian state, while Hamas aims to achieve its goals through military force.

“The biggest problem is philosophical and ideological,” says Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“Under the current circumstances, you can be sure that any ‘reconciliation’ agreement is short-term, tactical and essentially opportunistic on both sides,” he said. “Especially on the part of Hamas if it won't give up its weapons, which it won't.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the delegation on Tuesday afternoon. During the meeting he said Russia would support agreements that the Palestinian leaders adopted in Moscow and reiterated his support for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

Mr Lavrov criticised Washington’s “unilateral” approach to resolving the conflict, and said a new US peace plan did not include a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The United States is hosting a conference on Middle East security and stability in Poland this week, with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the agenda. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is expected to host discussions on ending the decades-long impasse.

Palestinian leaders have called on Arab states to boycott the conference in Warsaw, which Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki described “as a plot against the Palestinian cause.”

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed on Twitter last week that Palestinian leaders would not be attending, adding “we have not mandated anyone to talk on behalf of Palestine.”

Full report at:





US-Libya forces raid Al-Qaeda site in Libyan city of Ubari

February 14, 2019

CAIRO, Egypt: Joint US-Libyan forces raided an Al-Qaeda site in the Libyan city of Ubari on Wednesday, according to a statement by a Libyan official.

The spokesperson for Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Presidency Council of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord of Libya, said in a statement late on Wednesday that a site with a number of Al-Qaeda members in Ubari was “raided” but gave no details.

“This joint work between the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord and the US Government coincided with the meeting of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala at the Global Coalition To Defeat Islamic State meeting last week,” spokesperson Mohamed El Sallak said in the statement.

The US Africa Command, which is responsible for American forces in that area, could not immediately be reached for comment.



Nigeria: Boko Haram attacks NE state governor convoy


Boko Haram insurgents attacked the campaign convoy of the governor of Nigeria's northeast Borno State, security sources said Wednesday.

Early Wednesday the insurgents ambushed Governor Kashim Shettima’s convoy near the border with Cameroon while campaigning ahead of Saturday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in the volatile region.

"The governor was going to Gamboru from Dikwa to campaign when Boko Haram ambushed and opened fired on the long convoy," a security source at the governor's office told Anadolu Agency in Maiduguri, the provincial capital, on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Five people were feared dead, according to the source.

"Some of the vehicles at the end of the convoy were targeted," an official said.

Over a dozen young soldiers supporting the military’s fight against Boko Haram were also in the convoy targeted by the insurgents.

The military declined to comment on the incident.

The governor has yet to return to the capital after the incident. Due to the lack of phones in the area, reports of the attack came to the capital this evening.

Full report at:



Under-fire Bashir vows peace push for Sudan war zones

13 February 2019

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has faced weeks of protests against his three-decade rule, pledged to promote peace in the country’s war zones in an address to paramilitary units on Wednesday.

“I assure you that the year 2019 will be the year of peace in Sudan,” the president told members of the Popular Defense Force (PDF), a paramilitary unit that has been widely used to fight longstanding rebellions in Darfur and in regions near the South Sudan border.

“We want to keep our guns completely silent,” said Bashir, wearing military uniform.

His remarks came weeks after he extended ceasefires in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, where troops and paramilitaries have been battling rebels with pre-independence links to South Sudan.

“We want you to go to the war zones, not for fighting but for building schools and health centers,” Bashir said.

The paramilitaries of the PDF are civilians, many of them young students. Before South Sudan broke away in 2011, they played a major role in the brutal decades-long civil war against the independence movement.

The PDF has also fought in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where ethnic minority rebels took up arms in 2003, drawing a scorched response from the government that prompted war crimes charges against Bashir from the International Criminal Court.

The president has repeatedly denied the charges, which also include genocide and crime against humanity.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the three conflicts and millions displaced, despite the longstanding deployment of a UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Since December, the 75-year-old Bashir has faced near-daily protests in the Sudanese heartland calling for his resignation, that analysts say pose the greatest challenge to his iron-fisted rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence. Human Rights Watch has said at least 51 people have been killed.

Anger that had been mounting for years over growing economic hardship and deteriorating living conditions has boiled over onto the streets, under the slogan: “Freedom, peace, justice!”

Full report at:



15 dead at election rally stampede in Nigeria days ahead of presidential election

Feb 13, 2019

Fifteen people have been killed in a stampede at an election campaign rally held in southern Nigeria in support of President Muhammadu Buhari, hospital officials say.

A hospital spokesman in Rivers state said on Wednesday "a total of 15 bodies were brought in" the day before. Twelve wounded people were also taken to the hospital, he added.

Police earlier gave a toll of four dead and four wounded, while Buhari's office announced the death of "several" people.

The crush is the latest in similar incidents in Buhari’s campaign rallies. Last Thursday, two people reportedly lost their lives during a crush at a rally in the northeastern state of Taraba. 

On January 21, several people were wounded in the northeastern city of Maiduguri after a platform collapsed during the president’s visit.

According to local media, the stampede happened after Buhari’s campaign speech as the crowd surged towards a partially-locked gate to follow the president.

"Those from behind were pushing and putting pressure on those in front, leading to some persons falling on the ground and being trampled upon," said a journalist of the Vanguard newspaper.

Rivers state, famous for its oil and gas industry, is a major battlefield between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). There are already claims of vote-rigging attempts.

Five APC members were shot to death during clashes on Sunday with PDP followers near the city of Warri, an oil hub in Delta state.

The incidents come ahead of Saturday’s election in which current president Buhari will seek another term.

Full report at:



‘14 professors arrested in Sudan ahead of sit-in protest’

Feb 13, 2019

Sudanese security agents have reportedly arrested more than a dozen university professors who were preparing to participate in a sit-in as part of a wave of protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s government.

The government forces, who were deployed near the University of Khartoum in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday, detained “14 professors, eight from University of Khartoum and six from other universities,” said university professor Mamdouh Mohamed Hassan.

He said the professors were “on their way to take part in the sit-in when security agents took them away.”

The forces also closed the gates of a venue where protesters had gathered before heading for the sit-in site, according to Hassan.

Photos posted online in the day showed protesters holding banners that read “Freedom, justice, and peace,” “No to torturing and killing protesters” and other slogans.

According to witnesses, doctors had also rallied in Khartoum and other cities across the country.

The Sudanese capital has been the scene of almost daily protests by union members, students, doctors, and opposition activists since December last year against price hikes and shortages of food and fuel.

According to official figures, at least 30 people have died in protest-related violence so far. Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) put the death toll at 51.

The HRW on Monday called on the United Nations Security Council to act on “irrefutable evidence” of state violence in Sudan.

Since protests began in December 2018, security agents have regularly arrested professors and other professionals in an attempt to crack down on protests.

President Bashir, who accuses foreign powers of inciting the unrest, has so far remained defiant. In an address to soldiers last month, he called the protesters “rats” who must “go back to their holes.” Bashir also said that he would only move aside for another army officer, or at the ballot box.

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