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‘I Will Only Go To A Madrasa, I’m Scared Of Hindu Children’ - North-East Delhi's Muslim Children Leave School, Join Madrasas

New Age Islam News Bureau

29 January 2021


A Maulvi supervises students at a madrasa in Lal Bagh Mandi. North-East Delhi Photo: Tarushi Aswani.


• US State Secretary Offers To Prosecute Omar Sheikh Following SC Acquittal

• Amnesty International Urges EU To Follow Biden’s UAE, Saudi Weapons Freeze

• Saudi Arabia Hires Over Dozen Lobbying Firms In US To Launder Its Reputation

• Taliban Risks Losing International Legitimacy

• Public Trial Not Suitable For Singapore Youth Who Planned To Attack Muslims, May Deepen Religious Divides, Says Shanmugam On Use Of ISA

• Foreign Minister Hopeful Country Will Get Out Of FATF Grey List Next Month

• Israel Downplays Biden Administration’s Suspension Of US Fighter Jets Sale To UAE

• 'We Want To Kill Boko Haram': Nigerians Welcome New Army Chiefs



• ‘I Will Only Go To A Madrasa, I’m Scared Of Hindu Children’ - North-East Delhi's Muslim Children Leave School, Join Madrasas

• Uttar Pradesh: Court Dismisses 9 Pleas For Becoming Party In Mathura Mosque Land Suit

• Any military confrontation between India, Pak would be disaster of unmitigated proportion: UN chief

• PM Modi, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Discuss Ways To Boost Post-Covid-19 Partnership

• India: Pak’s true intent on tackling terror showcased

• Pak returns Poonch woman after 4 months


North America

• US State Secretary Offers To Prosecute Omar Sheikh Following SC Acquittal

• Former Obama aide Malley expected to be named Biden's envoy on Iran: Sources

• Biden taps Hady Amr as US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs

• DHS Issues Its First National Terrorism Bulletin for Domestic Extremists

• Member of Extremist Group Pleads Guilty in Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot

• Saudi Arabia serves as key pillar of regional security, major US partner: Pentagon

• US calls on Russia, Turkey to ‘immediately’ withdraw troops from Libya



• Amnesty International Urges EU To Follow Biden’s UAE, Saudi Weapons Freeze

• UK bans direct flights from UAE, shutting world's busiest international route

• US charges Iraqi-born UK national with bribery scheme to obtain Iraq contracts

• Europe complicit in Yemen humanitarian disaster by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE: Lawmaker

• German Woman Charged With Plotting Attack on Muslims, Others


Arab World

• Saudi Arabia Hires Over Dozen Lobbying Firms In US To Launder Its Reputation

• Pope Francis To Meet Shia Cleric Sistani During Visit To Iraq: Cardinal     

• Lebanon’s caretaker PM condemns overnight violence in Tripoli

• Iraq Announces Killing Of Senior ISIS Commander One Week After Deadly Baghdad Bombing

• Lebanese man dies of wounds after lockdown protests

• Security forces kill Daesh self-proclaimed leader in Iraq: PM Kadhimi


South Asia

• Taliban Risks Losing International Legitimacy

• Taliban Violence Raises Questions About US Troop Withdrawal

• No decision yet on future force posture in Afghanistan: Pentagon

• Bangladesh sends 3rd group of Rohingya refugees to remote island

• Pentagon: Taliban are not honouring commitments to US

• Biden admin ditches May obligation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan


Southeast Asia

• Public Trial Not Suitable For Singapore Youth Who Planned To Attack Muslims, May Deepen Religious Divides, Says Shanmugam On Use Of ISA

• Perlis Allows Obligatory Prayers In Mosques Held At Maximum Capacity



• Foreign Minister Hopeful Country Will Get Out Of FATF Grey List Next Month

• Pakistan: Lashkar-e-Islam Terrorist Group Head Mangal Bagh Killed In Afghanistan

• Pak Defence Ministry Opposes Request For Removal Of Ex-ISI Chief’s Name From No-Fly List

• Turkey-Pakistan nexus on proxy warfare working on to create disturbances in Afghanistan and Kashmir

• Alvi for Pakistan, Jordan to boost defence and economic ties

• Pakistan wants closer engagement with US for regional stability

• Police claim to have nabbed two ‘TTP militants’



• Israel Downplays Biden Administration’s Suspension Of US Fighter Jets Sale To UAE

• UNRWA: US Aid Too Little After Biden Resumes Funding Palestinians

• Iran Dismisses US Call To Be The First To Return To Nuclear Deal

• Iranian FM Advises US Counterpart Not to Forget Trump's Failure

• Iran's Top Diplomat Meets Georgian President, PM on Bilateral Ties, Regional Issues

• President Rouhani: US Defeated by Iranian People's Unity, Resistance

• Speaker's Aide Underlines Positive Prospect of Cooperation between Iran, India

• Israel downplays US review of UAE arms sales, Netanyahu believes deal will move ahead

• Iran exceeds its uranium enrichment goals despite Western criticism

• Yemeni families seek justice for 34 deaths in US drone strikes



• 'We Want To Kill Boko Haram': Nigerians Welcome New Army Chiefs

• Tunisia Presidential Staffer Suffers Symptoms After Opening Suspect Envelope

• Amnesty: Nigeria trying to cover up Lagos massacre

• Israel might be behind Tunisian president’s failed assassination: Party leader

• Somalia: Army Kills Militants in Operation Against Al-Shabaab

• Militant killings more than doubled in Congo in 2020, UN says

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



‘I Will Only Go To A Madrasa, I’m Scared Of Hindu Children’ - North-East Delhi's Muslim Children Leave School, Join Madrasas


A Maulvi supervises students at a madrasa in Lal Bagh Mandi. North-East Delhi Photo: Tarushi Aswani.


Tarushi Aswani

January 29, 2021

New Delhi: When the Assam government approved a proposal last month to shut down about 600 madrasas (Islamic schools) in the state, Muslim children and their parents, still terrified by the anti-Muslim riots that had taken place in northeast Delhi in February 2020, began to feel trapped. Now even their last resort for a good education seemed to be in danger.

In the past one year owing to a number of instances demonstrating clear targeting of Muslims – the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which is distinctly anti-Muslim; the riots that followed protests against the CAA, which made them fearful of communities other than their own; the pandemic that closed schools; and the lackadaisical manner in which the Delhi Police has been conducting inquiries into the riots – children from the community in northeast Delhi have increasingly been dropping out of government, public and private schools and joining local mosques and madrasas instead, for the sake of safety and some peace of mind.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammed Talib, for instance, had been enrolled in a government-run senior secondary school in Karawal Nagar and was due to take his board exams, but dropped out to join a madrasa, because both his school and his coaching classes are located in Hindu-dominated areas.

During the riots, Talib had been badly bruised on his left leg and other members of his family had been hurt when a mob claiming to be ‘Ram bhakts’ (believers in Ram, an avatar of Vishnu, the Hindu god who protects and preserves the universe) pelted his house with stones.

As classes continued at the madrasa, a dimly-lit room sheltered by tin sheets, and boys ranging in age from nine to 15 swayed back and forth while reciting the Surah Qariah from the Quran, Mohammed Shahrukh, a student from Johripur, recalled witnessing the riots from their terrace.

“Ab Madarase Mein Hi Parhunga, Yahan Safe Lagta Hai, Ab Hindu Bacchon Se Darr Lagta (Now I will only go to a Madrasa, I’m scared of Hindu children),” says Shahrukh, explaining that the public school he had attended earlier had a majority of Hindu students and was located in a Hindu-dominated area.

Though a Hindu friend apologised to him for the riots, Sharukh believes that their friendship will never be the same, because even the sights and sounds of temples, Bhagwa flags and Hindu chants send him spiralling back to memories he do not want to revisit. A 14-year-old, Shahrukh says he now feels more Muslim than ever, not because he is a believer but because his community was targeted.

‘The children here are our kind’

Abdul Rehman, a student who quit a public school in Karawal Nagar, says he never wants to go back to that school, and only wants to study among Muslims now. Aged 11, Abdul says, “I saw masked men setting houses on fire, throwing stones. I was very scared and didn’t go out to play for months.”

Abdul’s father, Haji Mohammed Ilyas has told The Wire, “Agar Mandir se bhi Jai Shri Ram ki awaaz aati hai, humare bacche darr jaatay hain. Dango ne bacchon ko bhi Hindu-Muslim ka farq sikha diya hai (When chants of Jai Shri Ram are heard from the temples, our children are scared. The riots made even children aware of the difference between Hindus and Muslims).”

Maulana Mohammed Akbar, head of the Madrasa Islamia Arbia Miftahul Quran, says that most of the parents who send their children to his madrasa are more concerned about the children’s safety than their education. While the madrasa does offer English, Maths and Hindi in addition to Islamic subjects, but that is not the primary concern of parents.

The madrasa was also attacked during the riots and reopened only a few weeks ago, catering to its regular students as well as many new school dropouts.

Aliya Saifi, a 13-year-old former student of the S.E.S. Public School, Shiv Vihar, says that after rioters burned her father’s cycle repair shop, the family didn’t have enough money to continue sending her to school.

Aliya faintly remembers the mob that attacked her father’s shop, many of the men wielding swords and petrol bombs. Her only question is: “Jab humne kuch kiya hi nahi kisi ko toh humri dukaan kyu jalaai (We didn’t do anything to anybody, so why did they burn our shop)?”

Her classmate at the madrasa, 14-year-old Simran Hanif, quit the government school in Sherpur. Simran’s memory of the riots is mainly to do with the horror of fire, the utter chaos that prevailed on the streets and in the colonies of northeast Delhi and the painful sounds of shrieks. She says she feels safer at the madrasa than she might have felt at her old school since she believes the students here are her ‘kind’.

‘Hindu chants frighten our children’

During the riots, Tayyaba Masjid in Lal Bagh Mandi area was torched and severely damaged. Rioters apparently even burned copies of the Quran in the masjid. Now renovated and ready to welcome believers, its madrasa has more students than it did before the riots. The masjid’s Imam, Abdul Khalid Qasmi, says he has noticed an interest among children to join Quran lessons since last year.

Rehan, a 13-year-old, who quit Bhagwati Memorial Public School in Karawal Nagar after the riots, regularly attends Quran lessons at Tayyaba Masjid. His grandfather claimed that there has been a very drastic change in Rehan’s behaviour since the day he saw his house being torched by rioters.

“Rehan has become anxious since then. On Diwali, when Hindus chanted slogans in the lanes, he frantically shut all the doors.”

Mohammed Usman, a nine-year-old who opted out of a government school in Karawal Nagar explains that he had always disliked going to school because the Hindu children taunted him for being a ‘mullah’ (literally a learned Islamic scholar, but used as a pejorative in this case).

After the riots, his identity became more of an issue. “Humare poore ghar mein aag laga di thi, aur woh log bhi humme ‘Mullah, Mullah’ keh rahe thhe (They torched our house entirely all the while yelling ‘Mullah, Mullah’),” recounts Usman.

The boy is now terrified of being identified as a Muslim. He is sure, he says, that his classmates from his earlier school would tease him even more now if he had continued in that school after the riots.

While most of the children who have newly joined the madrasas clearly express how they feel more vulnerable in the presence of Hindu children, a few also had to leave their schools because of a lack of money after their homes and family-owned shops were reduced to ashes in the riots.

With little or no social security and diminishing cultural currency, even those Muslims who wanted a modern education have been forced by the anti-Muslim activities now prevalent in the country to step back into ghettos and restrict themselves to madrasas.


US State Secretary Offers To Prosecute Omar Sheikh Following SC Acquittal


In this March 29, 2002 file photo, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnap-slaying, appears at the court in Karachi. — AP/File


Anwar Iqbal

January 29, 2021

In his first statement on Pakistan as the United States secretary of state, Antony Blinken said America was ready to prosecute Omar Saeed Sheikh — the principal accused in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl — in US courts, a day after he was acquitted by the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, a three-judge Supreme Court bench acquitted Sheikh by extending the benefit of the doubt to him and ordered his release. The Supreme Court issued the verdict on a petition filed by the Sindh government and Pearl's parents against a Sindh High Court (SHC) order for Sheikh's acquittal and immediate release.

Blinken, in a statement issued by his office late on Thursday evening, said he was "deeply concerned by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and any proposed action to release them".

“We are also prepared to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen," the statement read further.

"We are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists accountable.”

The chief US diplomat, who took charge of his office on Wednesday, recalled that Sheikh had been indicted in the US in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of Pearl, the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, as well as the 1994 kidnapping of another American citizen in India.

Blinken termed the verdict as an "affront to terrorism victims everywhere" and said that the US expected Pakistan's authorities to “expeditiously review its legal options to ensure justice is served”.

“The court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan. The United States recognises past Pakistani actions to hold Omar Sheikh accountable and notes that Sheikh currently remains detained under Pakistani law,” he said.

Blinken also took note of the attorney general of Pakistan's statement which said that the latter intended to seek a review of the verdict.

The US state secretary expressed similar sentiments in a tweet posted on Friday, where he said: "I am deeply concerned by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. We are committed to securing justice for the Pearl family and holding terrorists accountable."

This is not the first time the US has offered to prosecute Sheikh in America.

In a statement last month, the then US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said America “stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here” after the SHC overturned a government detention order that Sheikh should remain in custody.

Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was "outraged by the Supreme Court decision to affirm the acquittals of those responsible” for Pearl's slaying and underscored the administration's commitment to securing justice for Pearl's family.

At her daily briefing, Psaki called on the Pakistani government to quickly review legal options including letting the US prosecute those acquitted.

Pearl's murder and legal action

Yesterday, a three judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Yahya Afridi and headed by Justice Mushir Alam dismissed a petition by the Sindh government against the Sindh High Court (SHC) order for Sheikh's acquittal on murder charges and his immediate release.

With a majority of two to one, the bench ruled that Sheikh, along with other suspects including Fahad Naseem Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Shaikh Muhammad Adil be set free forthwith, if not required to be detained in connection with any other case. The detailed reasons for the judgement will come later.

In a dissenting note, however, Justice Afridi partially allowed the appeals against acquittal with regard to conviction of Sheikh and Naseem under Sections 365-A and Section 120-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 and sentencing to life imprisonment on each count.

The top court's verdict was termed as a "travesty of justice" by Pearl's parents and their legal counsel said that the only legal avenue following the court's decision upholding Sheikh's release would be to ask for a review of the court decision.

“We also hope that the Pakistani authorities will take all necessary steps to rectify this travesty of justice,” the statement by the journalist's parents said, adding that no amount of injustice would “defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl”.

The Sindh government has also decided to seek a review of the SC decision, provincial Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah said in a statement yesterday.

Later, a spokesman for the office of the AGP said that the federal government was in contact and fully engaged with the government of Sindh in respect to the judgement in the Pearl case. It was confirmed that a petition seeking review and recall of the order of acquittal passed by the Supreme Court will be filed at the earliest.

Sheikh was accused of kidnapping Pearl in Karachi in Jan 2002 while he was carrying out research on religious extremism in the city. Later a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate after a month of his abduction. Sheikh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by a trial court.

In April 2, 2020, the SHC overturned Sheikh's conviction for Pearl's murder but maintained his conviction on a lesser charge of abetting the kidnapping, for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Since Sheikh had been incarcerated since 2002, that sentence was counted as time already served by the high court. The SHC had also acquitted three other men namely Naseem, Adil and Saqib, who had been earlier sentenced to life imprisonment by a Karachi anti-terrorism court.


Amnesty International urges EU to follow Biden’s UAE, Saudi weapons freeze

29 January 2021

A Yemeni mother feeds her malnourished daughter as the girl receives medical treatment in al-Sabeen hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, on December 13, 2020. (Photo by Xinhua news agency)

------Amnesty International has welcomed the United States decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), calling on European countries to follow suit and end weapons exports to the two countries involved in the devastating war on Yemen.

“President [Joe] Biden’s decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE represents a welcome relief in an otherwise shameful chapter of history. Almost six years of conflict in Yemen, fueled by irresponsible arms transfers, have left 14 million Yemenis in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said on Thursday.

He added, “The suspension of arms sales by the US is a step in the right direction and ups the pressure on European countries, most notably the UK and France, to follow suit and stop fueling the human misery in Yemen.”

Nassif highlighted that Amnesty International has been for years warning Western states against complicity in war crimes being perpetrated in Yemen as they continue to supply the Saudi-led coalition with arms.

“The Biden administration is finally acknowledging the disastrous effects of these continued sales, and puts to shame other states that continue to ignore the mountain of evidence of probable war crimes collected by Yemenis, the United Nations, and human rights organizations over the course of the past six years,” he pointed out.

On Wednesday, Mick Wallace, an independent Member of the European Parliament (MEP) slammed Europe’s support for the ongoing Saudi-led military onslaught on Yemen, arguing that EU nations have done little to condemn the attacks and deal with the humanitarian catastrophe there.

“We are complicit in this humanitarian disaster,” the Irish politician wrote in a post published on his official Twitter page.

He criticized European countries for their arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stating that the Saudi-led coalition has put millions of people in Yemen at risk of starvation.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE deliberately starve millions in Yemen - and the EU can't even stop its Member States from arming them,” Wallace said.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned in December that Yemen is the country most at risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in 2021.

The organization noted that continued conflict, widespread hunger and a collapsing international aid response threaten to dramatically worsen the current crisis in the impoverished Arab country.

According to the UN, 80 percent of Yemen’s 30 million people need some form of aid or protection.

About 13.5 million Yemenis currently face acute food insecurity, including 16,500 people living in famine-like conditions, UN data shows.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, back to power and crushing the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Ansarullah movement, backed by the Yemeni armed forces and allied popular groups, has gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders, leaving Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the county.,-UAE


Saudi Arabia hires over dozen lobbying firms in US to launder its reputation

29 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Among these firms is the powerhouse Edelman, which heavily favors Democratic candidates in its political donations and signed a $225,000 contract, after the November presidential election, to provide services to the controversial Neom megacity project that is planned to be constructed in Tabuk region of northwestern Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea in an area nearly the size of Belgium.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) reportedly held a secret meeting in Neom city in late November.

Edelman communications firm was also hired by state-owned Saudi Basic Industries in early 2020 to provide strategic communications in a $5.6 million contract.

Additionally, the Riyadh regime struck deals with companies seen as close to the Republican Party. Just before the presidential vote, the Saudi Embassy in Washington hired Off Hill Strategies, a firm run by a couple with a long history in conservative politics, for $75,000 to lobby for them through January 2021.

“The Saudis need to maintain their influence within the Republican Party post-Trump in hopes the Republican Senate can [help] block any bills that might hurt them, like prohibitions on arms sales or withdrawing troops from Yemen,” Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy’s Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, which seeks to promote transparency and accountability in global relations, said.

He added “there was this public perception that the Saudi lobby went into hiding” following Khashoggi’s murder.

“But that’s not true at all—what we saw is that actually they doubled down, giving money to think tanks and US universities to help launder their reputation,” Freeman said.

He noted that the kingdom hired the multinational firm Qorvis to a $10 million contract just three months after Khashoggi’s death in a bid to improve its image and reputation.

Andrea Prasow, the deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said Riyadh used lobbyists to “whitewash” its image, citing the failure of the Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler who has presented himself as reformer to Western governments.

Biden has vowed to be tougher on Saudi Arabia than Trump, who bragged about protecting bin Salman in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder.

Several intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have reportedly concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Riyadh has denied the accusations in return.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under intense scrutiny following the murder of the Saudi journalist.

Rights group urges UN to secure release of top Saudi dissident cleric

Separately, amid a brutal crackdown led by the Saudi crown prince against pro-democracy activist, Muslim preachers and intellectuals in the kingdom, a Swiss-based human rights organization has called upon the United Nations (UN) to intervene and secure the release of distinguished dissident cleric Sheikh Salman al-Ouda.

Alkarama asked the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to pursue the case, and urged independent experts to visit the imprisoned 64-year-old clergyman to examine him, and report on his condition and needs.

The human rights organization called on the UN body to “intervene and urge Saudi authorities to release the prominent scholar Dr. Salman al-Ouda, who was arbitrarily detained, and stop the reprisals against his family,” the cleric’s son, Abdullah, wrote in a post published on his official Twitter page on Thursday.

The Arabic-language Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on September 4, 2018 that Saudi public prosecutors had leveled 37 counts against Ouda, and even demanded his execution.

Saudi authorities detained the prominent Muslim scholar on September 7, 2018 and have been holding him in solitary confinement without charge or trial ever since. Officials have imposed travel bans on members of his family as well.

A family member told Human Rights Watch that the distinguished cleric was being held over his refusal to comply with an order by Saudi authorities to tweet a specific text to support the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

Ouda, instead, posted a tweet, saying, “May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people,” - an apparent call for reconciliation between the Persian Gulf littoral states, the US-based rights group said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt signed a declaration on the eve of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders’ summit in the ancient desert city of al-Ula, to ease a rift with Qatar, signaling the end of a three and a half year embargo of the energy-rich Persian Gulf country.

In June 2017, the four countries accused Qatar, among other things, of supporting “terrorism” and having close ties to Iran, and severed economic and diplomatic ties. A blockade was also imposed by the four countries by land, sea and air.

Qatar repeatedly denied the claims and said there was no justification for severing relations.


Taliban Risks Losing International Legitimacy

M.K. Bhadrakumar

29 Jan 2021

A high-level delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the senior leader of the Taliban and its chief negotiator at the Doha talks, held consultations in Tehran and Moscow this week through January 26-29 amidst growing uncertainty over the Afghan peace process.

A commentary by the US government-funded RFERL said on Thursday that “the fate of the nearly year-old (US-Taliban) agreement is in the balance,” as the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani is “eager to exploit the growing fractures between the Taliban and Washington and is pushing at the very least to disrupt the (Doha) agreement.”

The RFERL adds: “Sensing an opportunity to advance their interests, Afghan officials are now pushing to keep a U.S. counterterrorism force beyond the May deadline for complete withdrawal. (US President) Biden has long advocated keeping a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan as a deterrent against possible terrorist threats.”

Indeed, if an alibi is needed for extended US troop deployment to Afghanistan, the outgoing Trump administration might just have provided one, with the Treasury Department notifying the Pentagon vide a memo dated January 4 that:

“As of 2020, al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban’s protection”;

“Al-Qaeda capitalises on its relationship with the Taliban through its network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support”;

“Senior Haqqani Network figures have discussed forming a new joint unit of armed fighters in cooperation with and funded by al-Qaeda.”

The Doha agreement of February last year had envisaged that the US troop would completely withdraw its troops by coming May but that would be conditional on the Taliban severing its links with al-Qaeda. In principle, that conditionality is now becoming a deal breaker. The Taliban feels cheated and has reacted in indignation, saying, “some circles are seeking the extension of this imposed war on the Afghan nation in pursuit of their interests and malicious objectives.” Taliban suspects — with good reasons — that the US is shifting the goal post on the basis of intelligence inputs by the Afghan intelligence.

Indeed, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at his first press conference in Washington after assuming office on January 27 that a policy review on Afghanistan may be on cards, since “one of the things that we need to understand is exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban (in Doha) to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made as well as any commitments that we’ve made.”

On January 28, Blinken called President Ashraf Ghani and “shared that the United States is reviewing the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement and whether the Taliban are living up to their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.” 

The Biden Administration is distancing itself from the explicit commitment on a total withdrawal of US troops by May, as per the Doha pact. Therefore, the timing of Mullah Baradar’s journey to Tehran can be put in perspective as a frantic attempt by the Taliban to shore up regional support. Interestingly, Baradar reportedly said at his meeting in Tehran on January 27 with the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, “We do not trust the United States an inch, and will fight any party that serves as its mercenary.”

Baradar assured Shamkhani that Taliban is open to the participation of all ethnic groups in shaping the future of Afghanistan and that Taliban will maintain the security of the Afghan-Iran border. These are of course Tehran’s core concerns. However, Shamkhani’s remarks were non-committal — although he voiced criticism of the US intentions. Shamkhani underscored that Iran is totally opposed to a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. He also stressed the importance of power sharing and an inclusive peace settlement.

Despite the US-Iran tensions, Tehran attaches the highest importance to the stabilisation of Afghanistan and will not play the role of a spoiler vis-a-vis the efforts for a negotiated settlement. Fundamentally, Iran assesses that the US is a much diminished power today, and is no longer in a position to impose its will or act unilaterally in regional conflicts.

A prominent Iranian expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues Pir Mohammad Mollazehi, recently referred to a behind-the-scenes agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban to mobilise local radical Islamic forces in Afghanistan who have fought in Iraq and Syria, to pit them against Russia, China and Iran.  But he assessed that the Biden team will not allow any such full-fledged takeover of power by the Taliban and may have plans to engage with Russia and China or even Iran.

As he put it, Biden will also try to distribute power in a future set-up in Kabul between the three main currents — Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban — and if that happens, there will be a new government in which all factions will have a share in power. Curiously, Tehran is sanguine that Pakistan is also inclined to encourage the Taliban to share power in Kabul.

From Tehran, the Taliban delegation proceeded to Moscow and held talks with Russian officials on January 29. A Russian Foreign Ministry press release said, “The Russian side spoke out in favour of launching substantive and constructive intra-Afghan talks as soon as possible so as to put an end to the bloody civil war and create an effective national government in Afghanistan.”

Again, despite the tensions in Russian-American relations, Moscow has so far refrained from undermining the US diplomacy vis-a-vis the Taliban. At the weekly foreign ministry press briefing in Moscow on December 16, spokesperson Maria Zakharova specifically addressed this aspect, saying,

“In recent years the Russian Federation and the US have established a constructive dialogue on the peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Our special envoys have stayed in touch, and since 2019, together with our Chinese and Pakistani partners, we have set up the format of expanded “troika” that has proven effective in promoting a peaceful settlement in the intra-Afghan conflict.”

“We hope that once the new US president takes office, the Russian-American contacts for achieving peace in Afghanistan will continue as soon as possible, along with the efforts to neutralise the threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking emanating from that country.”

In principle, Russia remains supportive of the US’ insistence that Taliban should jettison its links with all terrorist groups (which include Chechen militants from Chechnya and Central Asia) and agree to a ceasefire so that peace talks can take place in a conducive atmosphere. China’s position also cannot be any different, given its concerns over the presence of Uighur militants on Afghan soil. And this will continue to be so despite the Biden administration’s adversarial mindset toward Russia and China.

All in all, if the Biden Administration keeps its word to forge “a collective strategy to support a stable, sovereign, democratic, and secure future for Afghanistan,” —  as Blinken promised Ghani on Thursday — its efforts to get the Taliban to the negotiating table “to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders” will have international backing.

The point is, no one wants the present scale of violence to continue in Afghanistan. Put differently, the Taliban once again faces the spectre of international isolation, as had happened in the 1990s, although the Ghani government itself is extremely unpopular and is ill-reputed as a cabal of self-seeking corrupt people devoid of any political base or legitimacy.


Public Trial Not Suitable For Singapore Youth Who Planned To Attack Muslims, May Deepen Religious Divides, Says Shanmugam On Use Of ISA

28 Jan 2021

SINGAPORE, Jan 28 — The 16-year-old Singaporean who had made plans to attack Muslims here will get a hearing under the Internal Security Act (ISA), rather than be tried in open court, as making the details of the teenager’s motives public may run the risk of deepening religious divides.

It was also important to intervene early via the ISA instead of waiting for him to carry out an attack before detaining him, said Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam.

Shanmugam was speaking to the media today after a closed-door meeting with Christian and Muslim leaders at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, which was one of the mosques targeted by the teenager.

The boy, who was detained by the Internal Security Department (ISD) in December last year, is a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity and is believed to have acted alone. He was not named because of his age.

Shanmugam said that the boy’s age was not taken into consideration on whether or not he should be detained under the ISA.

“I think we agree that he is capable of doing harm. And until he’s rehabilitated, if we leave him out, and if he carries out what he intends to do, I think we’ll all be very sorry,” he said.

However, the boy’s age should be taken into account when deciding the rehabilitation process, he said.

“Given his age there must be considerable hope that he can be rehabilitated.”

Laying out the reasons for why the secondary school student will not be tried in court, Shanmugam said the criminal process is not suitable in this case as it can be argued that the teenager has not yet performed any criminal acts so far.

“In many countries, that’s part of the issue. You have to wait for them to do something and often that’s too late,” said Shanmugam, who is also the Minister for Law.

In court, Shanmugam added that the teenager will also take the stand and talk about how he was inspired by far-right extremist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who livestreamed the massacre of more than 50 Muslims at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, and this could stir up negative sentiments among Christians and Muslims.

“(That is why) I think our people support the approach where we intervene very early,” he said.

Shanmugam was also asked if religious institutions should step up their security measures in response to the news.

In his reply, he said places of worship are meant to be open and people should feel welcomed in these institutions, so the authorities should be “careful about going in that direction”.

Still, he said those in charge of the administration within religious institutions should “raise their alertness levels”. The authorities must also ensure that emergency forces can reach any part of Singapore within a short period of time.

Incident a ‘wake up call’ for community

Following the closed door meeting, the president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore Reverend Keith Lai and Mufti of Singapore Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir made statements to the media reaffirming the warm relationship between the two religious communities.

Said Reverend Lai: “When the Christian community heard about the alarming news it really pained us, and we were in shock and disbelief that this had happened, especially coming from a 16-year-old.

“This is a wake up call for us as a community, not just the Christian community, but as a nation, on how we can help young people and guide and mentor them in the right way.”

Echoing his statements, Dr Nazirudin said religious communities should now focus on helping the young to understand the world through real friendships rather than through stereotypes and prejudices.

“We know that hate and extremist ideologies, not scripture or faith, is the real threat that can drive a sharp wedge between communities,” he said.

“It is a growing threat that we must confront and arrest with conviction.” — TODAY


Foreign Minister Hopeful Country Will Get Out Of FATF Grey List Next Month

Baqir Sajjad Syed

January 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Thursday expressed the hope that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global illicit financing watchdog, would delist Pakistan from its grey list at its next plenary meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to take place virtually from Feb 22 to 25.

Briefing the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the foreign minister said he was optimistic that no politically motivated decision would be taken by the FATF.

The meeting was chaired by Chairman of Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed.

Pakistan has been on the FATF’s ‘grey list’ for deficiencies in its counter-terror financing and anti-money laundering regimes since 2018.

In its last meeting held in October last year, the watchdog had decided to retain Pakistan on the list of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ till the review in February 2021 when the status of its compliance with recommendations would be assessed again.

Pakistan has so far fully complied with 21 of the 27 actions recommended by FATF. It was, however, deemed to have crucially fallen short on action against the organisations linked to the terror groups listed by the UN Security Council; and prosecution and conviction of banned individuals. Similarly, it was said to have done little to tackle terror financing through narcotics and smuggling of precious stones.

Mr Qureshi said he expected a positive decision would be made in Pakistan’s case as “substantial progress” had been made on the remaining six items.


Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan would host the next meeting of Organisation of Islamic Coope­ration’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) later this year.

He said Pakistan would keep the focus of the meeting on the situation in India-occupied Kashmir. The government, he said, would ensure that human rights and the issue of Kashmiri political prisoners remained at the forefront.

Pakistan had after the annexation of occupied Kashmir in Aug 2019 tried to convene a special meeting of the OIC CFM, but could not get the support of Arab countries, which hold a virtual veto on the 57-member bloc of Muslim countries.

OIC foreign ministers had at their last meeting held in Niamey (Niger) in November 2020 reiterated their support for the Kashmir cause.

“We reiterate the OIC’s principled position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute for a peaceful settlement in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions,” the foreign ministers said in the Niamey Declaration.

Mr Qureshi also briefed the committee on the progress on CPEC. He said CPEC was now in the second phase in which relocation of Chinese industry, job creation and the activation of two new Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on agriculture and international cooperation, respectively, will be a force-multiplier for the project.

The foreign minister later presented the dossier on “Indian state sponsorship of terrorism and destabilisation in Pakistan” to Senator Mushahid Sayed.


Israel downplays Biden administration’s suspension of US fighter jets sale to UAE

29 January 2021

Israel has played down a possible set-back for efforts to build up relations with the United Arab Emirates following a decision by US President Joe Biden’s administration to suspend the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the Persian Gulf country.

“I don’t think so. I think we have passed the point of no-return,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, when asked by reporters whether the US move would affect the regime’s ties with the UAE and other Arab countries.

“Everyone understands that there are huge advantages here. It’s peace in exchange for peace ... I think it’ll move ahead,” Netanyahu said, according to Reuters.

Benny Gantz, Israeli minister of military affairs, also claimed the US move was “routine”.

The newly-inaugurated Biden administration on Wednesday put a hold on the sales of several major foreign arms initiated by former US President Donald Trump, including the sale of US F-35 jets to the UAE.

“The department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending US defense transfers and sales under Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review,” the State Department said in a statement.

The UAE was expected to receive 50 stealth F-35 jets and 18 advanced Reaper drones under a deal with the Trump administration, following a promise to Abu Dhabi to be given a chance to purchase them when it agreed to normalize relations with the Israeli regime last August.

The UAE-Israel agreement, which was brokered by the Trump administration, sparked protests and condemnations in the Muslim world, who described it as an act of treason and a stab in the back of Palestinians. 

“Everyone understood that this was a historic step and that there were enormous benefits here,” Netanyahu said of the deal. “It’s somewhere else already. I think it’s going to move forward.”

Israel apologizes to UAE over COVID-19 comments

Meanwhile, recent remarks by an Israeli health official, who blamed the UAE for a sharp rise in the coronavirus cases among Israelis returning from vacations in Dubai, prompted Emirati officials to contact Israeli premier’s office to express their frustration.

According to Thursday reports by the Israeli media, officials in the Israeli prime minister’s office apologized for the comments by Sharon Alroy-Preis after being contacted by Emirati officials.

Alroy-Preis, head of the Israeli Health Ministry’s public health department, had reportedly told hospital chiefs earlier this week that “in two weeks of peace [with the UAE] more people died than in 70 years of war.”

Tens of thousands of Israelis have traveled to the UAE since the much-criticized normalization deal went into force. According to Israel’s Channel 13, since the beginning of December, 906 Israelis who returned from the UAE tested positive for the coronavirus.

Last Sunday, Israel announced that it had opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi with the arrival of the regime’s envoy there. The UAE also approved a decision to establish its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Israel regards Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital, although most of the international community does not recognize the claim.

Back in December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital. In May 2018, the US officially announced the opening of its new embassy there.


'We want to kill Boko Haram': Nigerians welcome new army chiefs

January 27, 2021

Residents of an internally displaced camp in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri have welcomed President Muhammadu Buhari's decision to replace the country's top military commanders as security issues mount.

"To be sincere, the outgoing service chiefs have tried their best but in some instances their best isn't enough at all, despite the fact that we are not security experts, but we know that they have failed." said Ummate Abubakar, an internally displaced person from the village of Monguno.

The Boko Haram insurgency and its deadly affiliate, the Islamic State in West Africa, has killed some 36,000 people and displaced millions since it waged its war for a caliphate in the northeast in 2009.

The group controlled vast swathes of the region in 2015 but were pushed back.

But Boko Haram still conducts deadly attacks and ambushes on civilians and the military.

"What we want is not to repel the Boko Haram but to kill them, not to repel them but to kill them, to finish them at once, not to repel them again," said Sunday Ishaya, an internally displaced person from the village of Monguno.

"We are repeating what all the time we do, that is the reason why we are not after them. We want somebody that will just degrade them, complete them, wipe them away."

Nigeria also faces criminal gangs in the northwest, who were blamed by authorities for the kidnapping of some 300 schoolboys in December.

While in the central regions farmers clash with cattle herders.





Uttar Pradesh: Court dismisses 9 pleas for becoming party in Mathura mosque land suit

Jan 28, 2021

AGRA: The Mathura district court on Thursday dismissed nine pleas filed by various organisations including the Akhil Bhartiya Tirth Purohit Mahasabha, Mathur Chaturvedi Parishad and Hindu Mahasabha to become a party in the case filed earlier for the removal of a 17th century mosque from near the Krishna Janmasthan temple in Mathura.

The next hearing on the revision petition filed by Lucknow resident Ranjana Agnihotri is scheduled on March 22.

While priests bodies had condemned the petition for the removal of the Shahi Idgah mosque built within the Katra Keshav Dev temple, on grounds that the issue can create “communal disturbance in the town”, other organisations including Hindu Mahasabha had claimed that the Eidgah, adjacent to “Krishna’s birthplace, is illegal.

Talking to TOI, district government counsel Shivram Singh, said all the pleas have been dismissed by the court as the “appeal” had been modified into a “revision” petition. In such a situation, no one can become the party in the suit filed by Lucknow-based advocate Ranjana Agnihotri and seven others.

Last year on October 16, Mathura district court had admitted an appeal filed against the dismissal of a civil suit on September 30, seeking ownership of 13.37 acre Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi land and removal of Shahi Idgah mosque from its face.

Earlier this month, the management trust committee of Shahi Idgah moved an application in the District court objecting to the admission of an appeal filed against the dismissal of a civil suit as it was registered as a “miscellaneous” petition, which was dismissed by the court. While hearing the objections raised by the committee, the district judge directed for the modification of the petition and its registration as a “revision” petition on January 18.


Any military confrontation between India, Pak would be disaster of unmitigated proportion: UN chief

Jan 29, 2021

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said it is “absolutely essential” for India and Pakistan to be able to come together and seriously discuss their problems, cautioning that any military confrontation would be a “disaster of unmitigated proportions” for both countries and the whole world.

“Well, what I said in the unfortunately the same that I can say today. I mean, I do believe that it is absolutely essential to have a de-escalation of the situation, namely in the Line of (Control)," the UN chief said.

Guterres was responding to a question by a Pakistani journalist on tensions between India and Pakistan over the situation in Kashmir. The question also referred to the statement Guterres had issued in August 2019 on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir where he had appealed for maximum restraint.

"I think it's absolutely essential for the two countries to be able to come together and seriously discuss their problems, and I think it's essential that human rights are fully respected in all territories that you mentioned,” Guterres said during his press briefing on Thursday.

“Now, things have not moved in the right direction. Our good offices are always available, and we will insist within it of finding peaceful solutions for problems that have no military solution. It is clear, when seeing Pakistan and India, any military confrontation between the two would be a disaster of unmitigated proportions for both countries and for the whole world,” he said.

Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after New Delhi abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories in 2019.

Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic relations with India and expelled the Indian high commissioner following the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.

India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its "internal matter".


PM Modi, Abu Dhabi crown prince discuss ways to boost post-Covid-19 partnership

JAN 28, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Thursday discussed ways to diversify trade and investment links and strengthen the India-UAE partnership in the post-Covid-19 world.

The phone conversation between the two leaders came a day after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took the unprecedented step of providing in-air refuelling for three Rafale combat jets on a non-stop flight from France to India. The French-made jets were part of the latest batch of Rafales to join the Indian Air Force (IAF).

UAE’s move reflected the growing defence ties between the two sides. Last month, Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane became the first head of one of the three services to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Modi and the crown prince, who is also deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, discussed the impact of the pandemic in the region and expressed satisfaction that cooperation between the two countries hadn’t halted during the crisis.

“They agreed to continue close consultations and cooperation to further strengthen the India-UAE partnership in the post-Covid-19 world. In this context, they discussed the opportunities for further diversifying trade and investment links,” the external affairs ministry said.

Modi expressed his special appreciation for the personal attention and care that the crown prince has “always shown for the well-being of the expatriate Indian community”.

“The two leaders shared their confidence that the Covid-19 crisis would soon be overcome, and looked forward to meeting in person in the near future,” the ministry said.

The UAE is home to 3.42 million Indians, one of the largest concentrations of expatriates in West Asia. Experts believe the recent normalisation of ties between Israel and the UAE could open up new opportunities for trilateral cooperation with India, which has close relations with both countries.


India: Pak’s true intent on tackling terror showcased

Jan 29, 2021

India on Thursday described the release of al-Qaida terrorist Omar Sheikh as a “travesty of justice” and said it truly demonstrated Pakistan’s intent on taking action on the terror front. Sheikh was one of the terrorists freed by India to secure the release of passengers of flight IC-814 which was hijacked in 1999. “I had mentioned earlier about the very low conviction rate in Pakistan when it comes to sentencing of terror accused,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

“This case truly demonstrates Pakistan’s intent on taking action on the terror front. It is a travesty of justice not to find Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of any charges in this heinous act of terror. Our position on Pakistan taking sustained, verifiable, credible and irreversible action against terrorism and terrorist funding emanating from all territory under its control remains unchanged,” he said.

Before he was freed by Indian authorities, British-born Sheikh was serving a prison term in India for kidnapping western tourists in the country.

Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped in Karachi in 2002. A graphic video showing Pearl’s decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi nearly a month after his abduction.

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

White House outraged: The White House expressed outrage over the ruling. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the decision “an affront to terror victims everywhere.”


Pak returns Poonch woman after 4 months

Jan 29, 2021

JAMMU: A woman from Poonch, who had inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) around four months ago, was on Thursday handed over to the Indian authorities.

Confirming repatriation of the woman, Poonch SSP Romesh Angral said, “A woman, Zareena Bi (36), resident of Chela Dangri of Mandi in Poonch district, who had crossed over to the other side, has been handed back the by PoK authorities.” The SSP said the woman was received on this side at Chakkan-Da-Bagh in Poonch after four months of her crossing over. Legal formalities are going on, he added.

Earlier, as a goodwill gesture, the Indian and Pakistani sides had repatriated two youths who had inadvertently crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in December 2020 in Poonch sector to their respective territories on January 8.

With the support of Jammu and Kashmir Police and the civil administration, Ali Haider, a 14-year old boy from PoK’s Mirpur, was repatriated via the Poonch-Rawalakot crossing point, while the Pakistani authorities also handed over Mohammed Bashir, who had been in their custody since December 24.

Prior to this, two minor girls from Kahuta area of PoK, who had inadvertently crossed over to this side of the LoC on December 6, 2020, were handed over to the Pakistani authorities at Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch on December 7. Identified as Laiba Zabair, 17, and Sana Zabair, 13, residents of Abbasspur village in Kahuta tehsil of PoK, these sisters had strayed to the Indian side from Mendhar sector in Poonch.



North America


Former Obama aide Malley expected to be named Biden's envoy on Iran: Sources

29 January 2021

US President Joe Biden is expected to name Robert Malley, who served as a top Iran adviser in the administration of former President Barack Obama, as his special envoy on Iran, according to two sources.

Malley’s appointment could be announced as soon as Friday, one of the sources told Reuters on Thursday.

While some Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel groups expressed concern that he would be soft on Iran and tough on Israel, several foreign policy veterans supported his appointment.

Observers believe concerns about his appointment are part of a broader effort against diplomacy with Iran and reversing former Republican President Donald Trump's aggressive approach towards Iran.

Malley was a key member of Obama’s team that negotiated the Iran nuclear deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – an agreement which Trump abandoned in 2018.

The deal was initially signed between Iran and six major world states — the US, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — in 2015 and was ratified in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 shortly afterwards.

Trump withdrew the US from the accord and reinstated the anti-Iran sanctions that had been lifted by the deal.

His administration also launched what it called a maximum pressure campaign against Iran, targeting the Iranian nation with the “toughest ever” restrictive measures.

If confirmed, Malley will be put at the forefront of Biden’s efforts to find a way to deal with Iran after years of deteriorating relations under Trump.

He held numerous senior positions in the Democratic administrations of Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

He informally advised Biden’s team during his presidential campaign and served as the president of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization that deals with global conflict.

Additionally, Malley was an informal adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 but resigned after it was revealed that he had met with representatives of the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, while working for the organization.

Malley was later brought into the Obama administration and held a position with a focus on Middle East and Persian Gulf policymaking.

Biden has said that he may return the US to the deal, but Iranian officials have stressed that Tehran should see genuine actions not mere words from Washington.

They underscore that the US needs to first lift all its sanctions to prove its goodwill and then ask Iran to resume its obligations.


Biden taps Hady Amr as US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs

Joseph Haboush

January 29, 2021

A former diplomat in the Obama administration is set to become US President Joe Biden’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, sources familiar with the move have said.

Hady Amr has accepted the role, and he has informed friends and family of the decision, sources told Al Arabiya English.

Amr’s bio page on the Washington-based Brookings Institution says that he is “currently serving in the Biden administration as deputy assistant of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs.”

An official announcement was made Thursday by the State Department.

The sources said that Biden would not appoint a special envoy specifically for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Amr was former President Barack Obama’s deputy special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations for Economics and Gaza.

With his experience and close ties to the Palestinian leadership, he is expected to restore some of the lost trust in Washington during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration has already reversed several decisions made by the previous White House administration, viewed as heavily biased toward Israel.

Biden officials have announced that the US will restore ties with the Palestinian leadership, reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission in Washington, and renew aid to the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees around the world (UNRWA).

Palestinian officials welcomed the announcements on Wednesday.

Amr, born in Lebanon, is one of the multiple appointments of Arab-Americans made by Biden.

Appointed as the deputy-director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, Reema Dodin, is of Palestinian descent. Dana Shubat, is now a senior legal affairs advisor to Biden. Her parents are Jordanian.

Separately, Biden has asked Maher Bitar to become a director for intelligence on the National Security Council. Bitar is also of Palestinian descent.

On the medical team, Biden previously appointed Dr. Bechara Choucair as the White House Vaccinations Coordinator. Choucair is of Lebanese descent.


DHS Issues Its First National Terrorism Bulletin for Domestic Extremists

By Rachael Levy and Ben Kesling

Jan. 27, 2021

The Department of Homeland Security issued its first-ever national terrorism bulletin about violent domestic extremists, warning they could attack in the coming weeks, emboldened by the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

DHS, in an advisory Wednesday, said violent extremists opposed to the government and the presidential transition “could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence,” though the department said it doesn’t have evidence of a specific plot.

The bulletin said that violent extremists have been “motivated by a range of issues, including anger over Covid-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force” as well as “long-standing racial and ethnic tension, including opposition to immigration.”

DHS has commonly issued terrorism bulletins, though those warnings usually focus on foreign-inspired threats. While this advisory mentions terrorists inspired by foreign ideologies, it is notable for its focus on domestic violent extremists—the first such bulletin ever published, according to a DHS spokesman.

The most recent DHS bulletin—a warning that Iran had the potential to carry out cyberattacks—came a year ago. DHS didn’t issue a bulletin ahead of the planned Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. that devolved into a mob attack at the Capitol, despite public chatter online about the extremists’ plans.


Member of Extremist Group Pleads Guilty in Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot

By Neil MacFarquhar

Jan. 27, 2021

One member of an antigovernment group accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan last fall pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court, with documents revealing new details about the group’s plans to storm the Michigan Capitol and commit other violence.

Ty G. Garbin, a 25-year-old airplane mechanic, agreed to testify against the other five defendants charged in federal court in Western Michigan, according to the plea agreement filed by prosecutors. Eight other men have been accused in state court of cooperating with the violent plans, and Mr. Garbin will serve as a witness against them, too, it said.

Under questioning by Judge Robert J. Jonker in court, Mr. Garbin said he realized that his testimony might end up hurting people he knows. His sentencing was scheduled for July 8.

The defendants, arrested in October, were accused of planning to kidnap Ms. Whitmer around the time of the Nov. 3 election and to either abandon her in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan or take her to another state, possibly Wisconsin, and put her on trial.

They accused Ms. Whitmer of acting like a “tyrant” for restrictions the state had put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The plot came amid heightened political tensions surrounding the presidential election, tensions that had been building all year in Michigan with protests against lockdowns that armed groups helped to organize starting in April.

Former President Donald J. Trump had tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” at that time, and two of the accused in the state case were among the protesters who entered the Michigan Statehouse last spring carrying long guns and dressed in camouflage.

Other plans discussed by the group included a military-style assault on the Statehouse, as well as carrying out attacks against the Michigan State Police, and the plea agreement included new details about those scenarios.

Mr. Garbin and several of the others accused in the plot were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a secretive armed organization that spent much of 2020 discussing and rehearsing various efforts to attack the government, according to the court papers. The plans were laid out at several meetings and “field training exercises” in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

At one “field training exercise” in Cambria, Wis., in July the defendants used plywood, shipping pallets and a door frame to construct a “shoot house” to practice breaching the Michigan Capitol or other buildings, according to the documents. Adam D. Fox, the accused leader of the group, had allegedly sought to recruit 200 men for the attack, but it was later abandoned because it was too complicated and some members of the group opposed it.

In the plot to kidnap the governor, the defendants visited Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home in Michigan twice and planned to buy $4,000 worth of explosives to blow up a bridge to try to prevent the police from responding to their plan.

The group discussed waiting until after the election, as members anticipated widespread civil unrest that might make it easier to carry out the plan, the agreement said. At a field training exercise near Luther, Mich., the men also built a “shoot house” to simulate an attack on the governor’s house and practiced attacking it with firearms, the plea agreement stated.

The field training exercises also included attempts to build homemade bombs that included gunpowder, shrapnel and fireworks for ignition. Two attempts to explode such devices failed, according to court papers.

Gary K. Springstead, the lead lawyer defending Mr. Garbin, said his client already faced a life sentence for the kidnapping charge, a felony. Further charges for weapons or explosives were possible as federal officials released more details about what the group had done. The plea agreement could help lower the amount of jail time for the kidnapping plot and also stave off further charges, said Mr. Springstead.

During the preliminary hearings in October, Mr. Springstead and other lawyers in the case had focused on the idea that the men were practicing their First and Second Amendment rights when denigrating the governor.

The fact that the men had cased the governor’s house made any such defense much harder, he said. “There was a line that was crossed, something that you cannot undo,” the lawyer said.

Mr. Fox had posted pictures and video of the vacation home on the group’s encrypted chat. In addition, Mr. Garber had joined with the other men in discussing what to do if President Biden won the election, selected Ms. Whitmer for his Cabinet and assigned her Secret Service protection. The men talked about attacking her security detail, including possibly using a shoulder-fired weapon to destroy a lead vehicle in her convoy.

One defendant, Barry G. Croft Jr., from Delaware, said he had brought an AR-15 military-style rifle with projectile launcher for that purpose, the plea agreement said. Mr. Fox had also told the group that he had zip ties and a Taser to help “neutralize” the governor, the agreement said.

The government used two informants from among the armed paramilitary group and two undercover agents to build the case against the men, but Mr. Springstead said his client could tell the entire story.

Mr. Springstead said Mr. Garbin regretted what he had done.

“Everyone is entitled to their thoughts about what the governor should or should not do, but he realized that he had made a terrible mistake,” he said.


Saudi Arabia serves as key pillar of regional security, major US partner: Pentagon

Tamara Abueish

29 January 2021

Saudi Arabia is a major partner of the United States and an important pillar of regional security, the Pentagon said on Friday, the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The US will maintain talks with its regional partners in the Middle East to determine the capabilities required to deter Iran and support stability in the region, Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Anton Semelroth, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said.

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Washington has been preparing to expand its bases in the Kingdom in the coming weeks.

“As we work to de-escalate tensions in the region through principled diplomacy…we will also help our partner Saudi Arabia defend against attacks on its territory and hold those who attempt to undermine stability to account,” The Wall Street Journal cited US Department of State spokesman Ned Price as saying on Monday.

The Pentagon this week concluded a preliminary arrangement with Riyadh for the use of various air bases and sea ports in the western regions of the country should a possible conflict with Iran arise, the head Central Command on the Middle East General Kenneth Mckenzie told reporters.

This comes as the Royal Saudi Navy, US Navy, and the British minesweepers concluded joint naval exercises in the Arabian Gulf on Thursday, according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense.

Participating vessels executed a number of marine formations, as well as boarding and searching ships, floating mines and reconnaissance operations, port training and defense, drone operations and shooting air and surface enemy targets with live ammunition.


US calls on Russia, Turkey to ‘immediately’ withdraw troops from Libya

28 January 2021

The United States on Thursday called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian and Turkish forces from Libya, after a deadline for them to leave was ignored.

“We call on all external parties, to include Russia, Turkey and the UAE, to respect Libyan sovereignty and immediately cease all military intervention in Libya,” the acting US ambassador Richard Mills said during a UN Security Council meeting on Libya, which has seen a decade of fighting since the overthrow of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

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Under a UN-backed ceasefire signed October 23, foreign troops and mercenaries were to pull out of Libya within three months. That deadline passed on Saturday with no movement announced or observed on the ground.

“Per the October ceasefire agreement we call on Turkey and Russia to immediately initiate the withdrawal of their forces from the country and the removal of the foreign mercenaries and military proxies that they have recruited, financed, deployed and supported in Libya,” said Mills.

The UN estimates there are some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions: the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar.

The GNA has received military support from Turkey. Haftar has the backing of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as Russia.





UK bans direct flights from UAE, shutting world's busiest international route

January 29, 2021

Britain is banning direct passenger flights from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Friday (today), shutting down the world's busiest international airline route from Dubai to London.

Britain said it was adding the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda to its coronavirus travel ban list because of worries over the spread of a more contagious and potentially vaccine-resistant Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa.

“This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at home,” UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter on Thursday.

On its website, Emirates said it would suspend all UK passenger flights from 1300 GMT, when the ban takes effect. Etihad Airways said it would only suspend flights to Britain, with those from the UK remaining unaffected.

In a statement, Dubai airport advised those booked on flights due to arrive in Britain after the ban not to go to the airport and instead contact their airline.

Britain's transport department advised nationals now in the UAE to use indirect commercial routes to fly back to Britain.

Border closures caused by Covid-19 made Dubai to London the world's busiest international route in January, with 190,365 scheduled seats over the month, airline data provider OAG said.

Emirates and Etihad normally carry large numbers of passengers connecting from Britain to destinations like Australia through their airport hubs, meaning the decision to cancel those flights will have far-reaching implications.

The Australian government said it will add more charter flights from Britain if needed as a result of the Emirates and Etihad cancellations.

Eran Ben-Avraham, an Australian stranded in Britain due to strict limits on the number of arrivals in Australia, said his options for getting home were continually shrinking.

“At the moment it is only giving us three options of flying; Qatar, ANA or Singapore Airlines,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Every day it is making it more difficult to get home. The flights back are anywhere from like 4,000 pounds ($5,487).”


US charges Iraqi-born UK national with bribery scheme to obtain Iraq contracts

28 January 2021

An Iraqi-born British national has been criminally charged in New Jersey with involvement in a bribery scheme to obtain millions of dollars of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reconstruction contracts in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The defendant, Shwan Al-Mulla, and his co-conspirators allegedly received confidential information to get an edge in the bidding process for the contracts, in exchange for more than $1 million in bribes paid from 2007 to 2009 to a USACE employee deployed in Tikrit, Iraq.

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

Al-Mulla, 60, the former owner of Baghdad-based Iraqi Consultants & Construction Bureau (ICCB), was charged with seven counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Each fraud count carries a maximum 20-year prison term.

The charges were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig in New Jersey. Her office said Al-Mulla is at large.

A lawyer for Al-Mulla could not immediately be located.

The USACE employee, John Salama Markus of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and tax offenses in 2012 and is serving a 13-year prison term.

Another co-conspirator, Ahmed Nouri, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in 2018 and has yet to be sentenced, Honig's office said.

ICCB paid $2.7 million in 2013 to resolve Justice Department allegations it violated the federal False Claims Act by paying bribes to Salama Markus.


Europe complicit in Yemen humanitarian disaster by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE: Lawmaker

28 January 2021

A member of the European Parliament has denounced Europe’s support for the ongoing Saudi-led military onslaught on Yemen, arguing that EU nations have done little to condemn the attacks and deal with the humanitarian catastrophe there.

“We are complicit in this humanitarian disaster,” independent Irish politician Mick Wallace wrote in a post published on his official Twitter page on Wednesday.

He also railed against European countries for their arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, stating that the Saudi-led coalition has put millions of people in Yemen at risk of starvation.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE deliberately starve millions in Yemen - and the EU can't even stop its Member States from arming them,” Wallace said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE deliberately starves millions in #Yemen - and the #EU can't even stop its Member States from arming them.

Over 100,000 children have died there and the @UN takes Saudi Arabia off the Child-Killer Blacklist

We are complicit in this humanitarian disaster

— Mick Wallace (@wallacemick) January 27, 2021

The MEP also censured the United Nations over last June’s decision to remove the Saudi-led military alliance from a blacklist for killing and injuring children in Yemen, saying more than 100,000 children have lost their lives in the conflict-plagued Arab country.

Earlier last month, Yemeni officials raised the alarm about a deteriorating humanitarian catastrophe because of the Saudi-led military campaign and tight blockade against the crisis-hit country, saying that “a child dies every 10 minutes” in Yemen.

The Yemeni Health Ministry issued the warning on December 1, noting that shortfalls in aid funding were aggravating the humanitarian situation there.

According to the United Nations, acute malnutrition rates among Yemeni children under five are the highest ever recorded.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, back to power and crushing the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Ansarullah movement, backed by the Yemeni armed forces and allied popular groups, has been successfully defending Yemen against the Saudi aggression, leaving Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the county.

Former US president Donald Trump had long overlooked and defended the Saudi-led coalition’s acts of aggression in Yemen in favor of lucrative arms sales to the regime in Riyadh.

His successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to “end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.”


German Woman Charged With Plotting Attack on Muslims, Others

Jan. 27, 2021

BERLIN (AP) — A GERMAN woman has been charged with preparing a far-right attack and other crimes on allegations she was in the process of building a bomb to target Muslims and local politicians in Bavaria, Munich prosecutors said Wednesday.

Susanne G., whose last name wasn't given in line with privacy laws, also faces charges of making threats and violations of weapons laws, among other things. She has been in custody since her arrest.

Prosecutors allege that the woman started planning a firebombing attack no later than May 2020, motivated by her xenophobic and extreme-right views.

She is alleged to have downloaded information on bomb building online and have gathered materials for the construction, including gasoline, fireworks and fuses, by the time of her arrest in September.

Between December 2019 and March 2020 the suspect is alleged to have sent six anonymous letters, five including a live bullet, with death threats to a local politician in the Nuremberg area, a Muslim community association, and an asylum seeker aid organization.

During the summer of 2020, she started focusing on local police officers and a different local politician than the one threatened by letter as other possible targets, and began scouting their homes and cars.



Arab World


Pope Francis to meet Shia cleric Sistani during visit to Iraq: Cardinal     

28 January 2021

Pope Francis is to meet top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq in March, a senior Catholic cleric told AFP on Thursday.

Louis Sako, patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, said it would be a “private visit” between the two religious figures “without formalities.”

Sako said he hoped the two figures would sign the document on “human fraternity for world peace,” an inter-religious text condemning extremism that Pope Francis signed with the leading Sunni cleric, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, in 2019.

Pope Francis is set to be in Iraq from March 5 to 8, with visits planned to the capital Baghdad, the northern city of Mosul and Ur, where Abraham is said to have been born.

Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians, but the community has been ravaged by successive conflicts.

Following the US-led invasion of 2003, sectarian warfare prompted followers of Iraq’s multiple Christian denominations to flee and attacks by the ISIS in 2014 further hit all minority communities.

Now, an estimated 400,000 Christians remain in Iraq.

Many have expressed hope that the Pope’s visit will highlight the challenges facing the community, including prolonged displacement and little representation in government.


Lebanon’s caretaker PM condemns overnight violence in Tripoli

29 January 2021

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Friday condemned overnight violence in the city of Tripoli, where protesters angry over a strict lockdown clashed with security forces and set the municipality building on fire.

Thursday was the fourth straight night of unrest in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, after the government imposed a 24-hour curfew to curb a COVID-19 surge that has killed more than 2,500 people.

“The criminals who set the municipality on fire and attempted to burn the court ... represent a black hatred for Tripoli,” Hassan Diab said in a statement.

“The challenge now is in defeating these criminals by arresting them one by one and referring them to the judicial system.”

Flames engulfed the government building after it caught fire just before midnight on Thursday. Police had been firing tear gas at protesters hurling Molotov cocktails.

A funeral for a man who died after being shot by a bullet on Wednesday night had given fuel to the further protests.

Security forces said they had fired live rounds to disperse rioters trying to storm the government building.

Diab’s statement on Friday did not mention the killing; Human Rights Watch has called for it to be investigated.

“We promise to work quickly to restore the municipality building of Tripoli so that it remains an expression of its dignity and pure heritage,” Diab said.

The lockdown, in effect since Jan. 11, is piling extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the population, with little government aid.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Lebanon has been in the throes of its worst financial crisis since 2019 and anger has erupted into protests over the economy, state corruption and political mismanagement.

A currency crash has triggered fears of rising hunger, but Lebanese leaders have yet to launch a rescue plan or enact reforms to unlock aid, prompting rebukes, including from foreign donors.

Diab is steering the government in a caretaker role as fractious politicians remain unable to agree on a new administration since his quit in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion leaving Lebanon rudderless as poverty soars.


Iraq announces killing of senior ISIS commander one week after deadly Baghdad bombing

Joseph Haboush

28 January 2021

Iraqi security forces killed a top ISIS commander, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced Thursday, exactly one week after a deadly suicide bombing rocked Baghdad.

“Our heroic armed forces have eliminated Daesh (ISIS) commander Abu Yaser Al-Issawi as part of an intelligence-led operation,” Kadhimi said in a tweet.

The Iraqi premier said he gave his word to pursue ISIS terrorists and “we gave them a thundering response.”

The bombing killed more than 30 people and wounded over 100 more.


Lebanese man dies of wounds after lockdown protests

28 January 2021

A man died of his wounds Thursday in Lebanon after clashes between security forces and protesters angered by the combined impact of a severe economic crisis and a coronavirus lockdown.

Omar Tayba sustained a bullet wound late Wednesday when protests in the northern city of Tripoli turned violent for the third night running, his brother Ahmad told AFP.

“My brother was in Tripoli watching the protests when he was hit,” he said. “He was transferred to hospital and died this morning.

The 29-year-old man, who was employed in a bakery, became the first fatality -- reported also by local media -- of the protests that erupted earlier this week in Tripoli.

According to the National News Agency, a total of 226 people received treatment Wednesday night.

Tripoli was already one of Lebanon’s poorest areas before the coronavirus pandemic piled new misery onto a chronic economic crisis.

Many of its residents have been left without an income since Lebanon imposed a full lockdown earlier this month in a bid to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases and prevent its hospitals from being overwhelmed.

A round-the-clock curfew is in force nationwide and grocery shopping is restricted to home deliveries -- a service that is often unavailable in poorer areas.

Authorities have extended the lockdown by two weeks to February 8.


Security forces kill Daesh self-proclaimed leader in Iraq: PM Kadhimi

28 January 2021

Iraqi Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Mustafa al-Kadhimi says the country’s security forces have managed to eliminate a high-profile member of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group during a counter-terrorism operation.

Kadhimi wrote in a post published on his official Twitter page that Abu Yaser al-Issawi, the self-proclaimed leader of the terror group in Iraq and its “deputy caliph,” had been killed. He, however, did not provide any information about when and where the top-brass terrorist had been eliminated.

“We promised and fulfilled. I gave my word to pursue Daesh terrorists, we gave them a thundering response,” the Iraqi prime minister tweeted.

He added, “Our heroic armed forces have eliminated Daesh commander Abu Yaser al-Issawi as part of an intelligence-led operation. Long live Iraq and its patriotic armed forces.”

We promised and fulfilled. I gave my word to pursue Daesh terrorists, we gave them a thundering response. Our heroic armed forces have eliminated Daesh commander Abu Yaser Al-Issawi as part of an intelligence-led operation.

Long live Iraq and its patriotic armed forces.

— Mustafa Al-Kadhimi مصطفى الكاظمي (@MAKadhimi) January 28, 2021

Iraq declared victory over Daesh in December 2017 after a three-year counter-terrorism military campaign.

نعرض على شعبنا العراقي الأبي صورة الإرهابي الهالك جبار سلمان علي الملقب " أبوياسر " والذي يشغل منصب والي #العراق ونائب الخليفة المزعوم لتنظيم داعش التكفيري، والذي قُتل برشقةبالرأس من بنادق رجال جهاز مُكافحةالإرهاب

بعملية نوعية نُفذت بالتنسيق مع جهاز المخابرات الوطني في وادي الشاي

جهاز مكافحة الإرهاب (@iraqicts) January 28, 2021

The terror outfit’s remnants, though, keep staging sporadic attacks across Iraq, attempting to regroup and unleash a new era of violence.

Daesh has intensified its terrorist attacks in Iraq since January 2020, when the United States assassinated top Iranian anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), along with their companions in a drone strike authorized by former US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport.

In its latest attack, Daesh claimed responsibility for a rare twin explosion that tore through a busy area of central Baghdad on January 21, killing at least 32 people and wounding 110 others.

The first attacker drew a crowd at the bustling market in the capital’s Tayaran Square by claiming to feel sick, then detonated his explosives belt, the Interior Ministry said.

As more people then flocked to the scene to help the victims, a second suicide bomber set off his explosives.



South Asia


Taliban Violence Raises Questions About US Troop Withdrawal

JANUARY 29, 2021

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Thursday said the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the peace agreement.

Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. stands by its commitment for a full troop withdrawal, but the agreement also calls for the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaida and reduce violence. Echoing what senior military and defense leaders have asserted in recent months, Kirby said the Taliban has not yet met the requirements set in the peace agreement.

Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces, it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement,” Kirby said. “But were still committed to that.

White House and State Department officials have made it clear that President Joe Biden’s administration plans to take a new look at the peace agreement, which was signed last February with the Trump White House.

The White House said Bidens national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told his Afghan counterpart in a phone call last Friday that the new administration will review the deal. And newly installed Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the administration wanted to take a detailed look to “understand exactly what is in the agreement before deciding how to proceed.

The Taliban are not meeting their commitments to reduce violence and reduce their ties to al-Qaida, Kirby told a Pentagon press conference on Thursday. As long as they’re not meeting their commitments, it’s going to be difficult for anybody at that negotiating table to meet their commitments. In fact it wouldnt be the wise course. We obviously are still committed to ending this war, but we want to do it in a responsible way.

The peace agreement called for the U.S. to reduce troop levels to 2,500, and then to remove all forces by May. Former President Donald Trump ordered U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan cut to 2,500 just days before he left office, presenting Biden with difficult decisions about how to retain leverage against the Taliban in support of peace talks.

A key concern in the Pentagon is the continued high levels of Taliban violence against the Afghans. And some U.S. officials have questioned the wisdom of fully withdrawing if violence remains high.

Military officials have said there are now 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, mainly conducting counterterror operations.

Taliban representatives and the Afghan government earlier this month resumed peace talks in Qatar, the Gulf Arab state where the insurgents maintain an office. The stop-and-go talks are aimed at ending decades of conflict. But frustration and fear have grown over a recent spike in violence, and both sides blame the other.


No decision yet on future force posture in Afghanistan: Pentagon

Jan 29, 2021

WASHINGTON: No decision has been made about the future presence of the US troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said, asserting that the Biden administration is committed to responsibly end the war in the strife-torn country with the diplomatic process.

The previous Trump administration had signed the peace deal with Taliban in February last in Doha. The accord drew up plans for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgent group.

As part of the deal, the US committed to withdraw its 12,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months. There are currently only 2,500 American troops left in the war-torn country.

“We obviously are still committed to ending this war, but we want to do it in a responsible way, and I don't think it's helpful to be drawn now into specific hypothetical questions about the troop numbers on a specific calendar basis,” John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday.

"We are still committed to ending this war, and we obviously, the president has made it clear he wants to bring American troops home from Afghanistan, but we are going to do it in lockstep with the diplomatic process to try to find a negotiated settlement,” he said.

“If any decision of force levels in Afghanistan is going to be driven by our security requirements there, our security commitments there and driven by conditions, and I think we have been very clear about that. They will be conditions-based. We obviously want to see a responsible end to this war. We obviously want to see successful negotiated settlements to end it,” he said.

Responding to a question, Kirby said the Taliban are not meeting their commitments to reduce violence and to renounce their ties to al-Qaida, and they're not meeting their commitments.

“As long as they are not meeting their commitments, it's going to be difficult for anybody at that negotiating table to meet their commitments. In fact, it wouldn't be the wise course,” he said.

The United States, Kirby said, is still involved in trying to get a negotiated settlement.

“The Taliban have not met their commitments. As you know, there is a looming deadline of early May that is before everybody in terms of wanting to have a solution here,” he said.

“But without them meeting their commitments to renounce the terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan national security forces and by dint of that the Afghan people, it's very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement. But we're still committed to that. There's no question about that,” he said.

Defence secretary Lloyd Austin has been clear in testimony that the US needs to find a reasonable rational end to this war, and that it's got to be done through a negotiated settlement. That includes the Afghan government having to be involved in this. And thus far, the Taliban has been, to put it politely, reticent to meet their requirements, Kirby said.

Both General Miller, the commander in Afghanistan, and of course the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley has made it clear that they believe that that is a sufficient number to accomplish the mission, which is largely a counterterrorism mission right now, he said, adding that there are many NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) partners in Afghanistan as well.

“There hasn't been any decisions made now about what that force presence is going to look like going forward. I would say this to leaders of the Taliban, that it is going to be--they make it that much more difficult for final decisions to be made about force presence by their reticence to commit to reasonable, sustainable, and credible negotiations at the table,” Kirby said.

The Taliban is committed to prevent other groups, including Al Qaeda, from using Afghan soil to recruit, train or fund raise toward activities that threaten the US or its allies.

Although the Taliban stopped attacks on international forces as part of the historic deal, it continued to fight the Afghan government. As a condition of starting talks with the Afghan government, the Taliban demanded that thousands of their members be released in a prisoner swap.

Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in Doha in September last year, but a breakthrough is yet to be reached.

Levels of violence in Afghanistan remain high with journalists, activists, politicians and women judges among those killed in targeted assassinations.


Bangladesh sends 3rd group of Rohingya refugees to remote island

JAN 29, 2021

More than 1,700 Rohingya refugees, members of a Muslim minority who have fled Myanmar, will be moved to a remote island with more readying to go on Saturday after Bangladesh earlier relocated around 3,500 people despite calls by rights groups not to carry out further moves, citing the risk of storms and floods lashing the site.

They are the newest addition to the roughly 3,500 Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar that Bangladesh has sent to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal since early December from border camps where a million live in ramshackle huts.

"Today we are expecting 1,700-plus people to arrive here," Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, the officer in charge of the island, told Reuters by telephone on Friday. More Rohingya who volunteered to shift to the island were being transferred to the nearest port city of Chittagong from the camps, he added.

"Tomorrow they will be moved to Bhasan Char. All together we are expecting 3,000-plus people," Chowdhury said. The island is several hours' journey away from the southern port.

The Rohingya, a minority group who fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are not allowed to move off the island without permission from the government. Bangladesh says the relocation is voluntary, but some of the first group, sent in December, spoke of being coerced.

The island surfaced only 20 years ago and was not previously inhabited. It was regularly submerged by monsoon rains but now has flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques built by the Bangladesh Navy at a cost of more than $112 million. The island's facilities are designed to accommodate just a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in crowded, squalid refugee camps in Cox's Bazar district, whereas many as a dozen people share a single shelter and there is scarce access to soap and water in some areas.

The government says overcrowding in the Cox's Bazar district camps is fuelling crime, as efforts to return them to Myanmar flounder.

"What options do we have? How long can we live in the crowded camps under tarpaulins?" asked Mohammed Ibrahim, 25, en route to the island where some of his relatives have already been moved. "This is going nowhere, the way the international community is handling our crisis," he told Reuters by mobile telephone.

Dhaka has dismissed flood concerns over the island, citing that the government built a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) embankment that is 2 meters (6.5 feet) high. In addition, housing for 100,000 people, hospitals and cyclone centers have been erected.

Bangladesh has drawn criticism for its reluctance to consult with aid bodies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over the transfers. The agency says it has not been allowed to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on the island.

"We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the government regarding its Bhasan Char project, including the proposed U.N. technical and protection assessments," it said in an email.

Bangladeshi authorities sent the first group of 1,642 Rohingya to the island on Dec. 4, despite calls for a halt by human rights groups. International aid agencies and the U.N. have opposed the relocation since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.

The United Nations wants the refugees to be allowed to make a "free and informed decision” about whether to relocate. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have urged the government to cancel the plan. An influential Cabinet minister and general secretary of the governing party, Obaidul Quader, said that the Rohingya are being moved to the island because their repatriation to Myanmar has been delayed. He said refugees who were earlier taken to Bhashan Char have expressed satisfaction.

Bangladesh has attempted to start sending refugees back to Myanmar under a bilateral agreement, but no one was willing to go. The Rohingya are not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, rendering them stateless and face other state-sanctioned discrimination.

Bangladesh and Myanmar resumed negotiations, mediated by China, on the repatriation of the Rohingya on Jan. 19 after a year of silence. Dhaka called on Naypyitaw to create conditions in which refugees would agree to return. Both sides tentatively discussed a new attempt to begin repatriation in the second quarter of the new year, although it was not immediately clear what guarantees the Rohingya would receive regarding their safety and livelihoods as planned.

“Myanmar has made all necessary arrangements for the repatriation and reaffirmed Myanmar’s readiness to receive the verified displaced persons in line with the bilateral agreements,” Naypyidaw’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement earlier in January.

About 750,000 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after August 2017, when Naypyitaw's military began a harsh crackdown on the minority group following an attack by insurgents. Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires, over 114,000 were beaten and 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by the Myanmar army and police, according to OIDA's "Forced Rohingya Migration: An Ineffable Experience." The report also states that more than 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and another 113,000 were destroyed.


Pentagon: Taliban are not honouring commitments to US

29 Jan 2021

US department of defense on Thursday said, that the Taliban have not stayed to the promise they made during the Taliban-US peace deal, the group has not reduced their violence and did not sever ties with Al-Qaeda.

As per the agreement, US troops are required to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021, but the Pentagon announced that the Biden administration would not commit to full troops’ drawdown in May, as The Taliban have not Honored their deal with the US, CNN reported.

“We are still involved in trying to get a negotiated settlement. The Taliban have not met their commitments,” said John Kirby, spokesman for Pentagon, ” adding that “Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan national security forces, and by dint of that the Afghan people, it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement.”

Kirby indicated that the Biden administration will remain committed to the US Taliban deal, but the requirements are that the Taliban halt attacks on US troops, decrease violence in the region, cut ties with other groups like Al-Qaeda, and advance with Afghan peace negotiations.

Based on full troops withdrawal, “What I’m saying is that any decision of force levels in Afghanistan is going to be driven by our security requirements, there are security commitments there, and driven by conditions,” Kirby added.

 “no decision has been made on future force posture”, Kirby said.

There has been no change in US commitments in the peace deal, But the Taliban were not committed to a reduction in violence and renounced ties with Al-Qaeda, according to Kirby.

“it’s going to be difficult for anybody at that negotiating table” to meet their commitments, Kirby said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has reportedly denied the Pentagon’s claim that the Taliban had not fulfilled its obligations under the Doha agreement, and said that the group was committed to all the requirements of the agreement.

He also called on the United States to practically implement their commitments agreed in Doha and urged the US to fully adhere to the deal.

This comes as Secretary of state Antony Blinken talked to President Ghani about the Afghan peace process and US commitment to enduring US-Afghanistan partnership, the US department said in a statement.

“The Secretary highlighted robust diplomatic support for the peace process focused on helping the parties to the conflict achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire that benefits all Afghans,” the statement read.

According to the statement, Blinken “shared that the United States is reviewing the February  2020 US-Taliban agreement and whether the Taliban are living up to their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.”

“The Secretary reiterated his desire for all Afghan leaders to support this historic opportunity for peace while preserving the progress made over the last 20 years with regard to human rights, civil liberties, and the role of women in Afghan society”, the statement said.

 “The Secretary committed to consultations with the Government of Afghanistan, NATO allies, and international partners regarding a collective strategy to support a stable, sovereign, democratic, and secure future for Afghanistan.”, the statement concluded


Biden admin ditches May obligation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

29 January 2021

The Pentagon says the Biden administration will not commit to a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by May after it accused the Taliban of not honoring the commitments they made in their deal with the United States.

The US reached an agreement with the Taliban in February last year on the withdrawal of 12,000 US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban’s halting of their attacks on American forces.

Under the deal, the former President Donald Trump’s administration promised to bring the number of US forces in Afghanistan to zero by May 2021.

"The Taliban have not met their commitments. They are not meeting their commitments and as long as they are not meeting their commitments, it is going to be difficult for anybody at that negotiating table to meet their commitments,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a news briefing.

"... it's very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement. I don't think it is helpful to be drawn now into specific hypothetical discussions about troop numbers on a specific calendar basis,” he added.

Kirby also said no decision had been made by the Biden administration about future troop levels in Afghanistan.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had hinted at a review of the withdrawal plan.

He told reporters on Wednesday that he was working to understand "exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made as well as any commitments that we've made."

Blinken called Afghanistan "a real challenge" during his confirmation hearing last week.

Last Friday, Biden's newly appointed national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, informed his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib about the “United States' intention to review” the February deal.

He said Washington wanted to check that the Taliban side was "living up to its commitments to… reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders."

On Wednesday, a senior Taliban official said the US was provoking the continuation of war in Afghanistan.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, agreed with Taliban’s top political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tehran that the United States is not seeking peace and security in Afghanistan, and that Washington’s policy is to prolong militancy and bloodshed among various Afghan factions.

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called war on terror, overthrowing the Taliban regime.

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



Southeast Asia


Perlis allows obligatory prayers in mosques held at maximum capacity

28 Jan 2021

KANGAR, Jan 28 — Obligatory prayers in mosques in Perlis will be allowed to be held at maximum capacity according to the size of the mosque beginning tomorrow.

The Raja Muda of Perlis Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail in a statement issued by the Islamic Religious Council and Malay Custom Perlis (MAIPs) today said the matter had been consented to by the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail.

Tuanku Syed Faizuddin, who is also MAIPs president said the permission was given as the pandemic was currently under control in the state.

“Beginning from dawn (prayers) tomorrow (January 29) until Isyak time on February 4, 2021, or until a later date which may be determined, mosques will be allowed to hold congregational prayers with maximum attendance according to the size of the mosque,” he said.

He said, however, the permission only applied to mosques and hostel suraus, while activities in other suraus in the state were still put on hold.

“Members of the congregation should be from the kariah (vicinity) of the mosque, aged between 15 and 59,” he said, while reminding the public to always adhere to the health and safety standard operating procedures that have been set. — Bernama





Pakistan: Lashkar-e-Islam terrorist group head Mangal Bagh killed in Afghanistan

29 January 2021

Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Islam terrorist group head Mangal Bagh was killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday.

Bagh was killed in blast in the Bandari locality of Achin district, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.

"Mangal Bagh, the leader of Lashkar-e-Islam terrorist group, was killed along with two of his comrades in a roadside bomb blast in the Bandar Dara area of Achin district of Nangarhar this morning," provincial governor Ziaulhaq Amarkhil tweeted.

Bagh was reported dead several times, however, he continued to reappear, The Express Tribune reported. According to US State Department, Mangal Bagh carried up to USD 3 million of bounty on his head.

"Mangal Bagh is the leader of Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant faction affiliated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). His group earns revenue from drug trafficking, smuggling, kidnapping, raids on NATO convoys, and taxes on transit trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan," State Department's Reward for Peace data said.

According to the State Department, Bagh has led Lashkar-e-Islam since 2006 and has routinely shifted alliances to protect illicit revenue streams while enforcing an extreme version of Deobandi Islam in the areas of eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan that he controls, particularly Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.

Born in Khyber Agency, Pakistan, he is believed to be in his mid-forties. Bagh is a member of the Afridi tribe. He studied at a madrasa for several years and later fought alongside militant groups in Afghanistan.


Pak defence ministry opposes request for removal of ex-ISI chief’s name from no-fly list

Jan 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s defence ministry has opposed a request seeking removal of the name of former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen (retired) Asad Durrani from the Exit Control List (ECL), or no-fly list, stating that he had been “interacting with hostile elements”, including Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), since 2008 and was likely to be involved in future activities against the interest of the country.

Durrani had put himself in a difficult situation after co-authoring a book — The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace — with ex-RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat in 2018.

Following the book’s publication, the interior ministry had placed Durrani’s name on ECL after being asked by the Military Intelligence (MI) to prevent him from leaving Pakistan. It had prompted Durrani to challenge the move in the Islamabad high court in 2019. The federation of Pakistan, defence and interior ministers were made respondents in the case.

In a written reply submitted in the HC on Wednesday in response to Durrani’s petition, the defence ministry said the former ISI chief’s name was placed on the no-fly list for “his involvement in anti-state activities”.

The Spy Chronicles, according to the ministry’s statement, contained “certain contents concerning the national security of Pakistan, being in contravention of the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, 1923”.

“It is further highlighted that there are a number of such publications on the way, supported by hostile elements, which contain content to create misperceptions, confusions, question marks against the top leadership circles at country level and to target the common people (sic),” read the ministry’s reply.

According to the document, Durrani had been “affiliated/interacting with hostile elements, especially Indian RAW, since 2008”. It further stated that although he had submitted an affidavit committing to the government to refrain from such activities but the same had still not been seen “in tangible terms”.

It said Durrani’s name could not be removed from ECL “at this stage”. “The former ISI chief wanted to travel abroad with the intention of participating in international conferences, forums and talks, which will have serious national security implications as evident from the recently published book ‘Honour Among Spies’, which was also authored by Durrani and published through Indian publishers/RAW supported elements,” the defence ministry said.

Moreover, the ministry stated, the petitioner also appeared on social media on October 12 and 13, 2020, and expressed his views which cannot be well received by any patriotic citizen.

While noting that Durrani had remained part of the army for 32 years and served on important and sensitive positions, the ministry said: “It was inappropriate of his stature to co-author a book, that too with an ex-Indian RAW chief and Indian journalist, on matters concerning the national security of the country… Hence, a sufficient cause for placing the petitioner’s name on ECL exists.”

The ministry said after Durrani’s book was evaluated from a “security perspective”, it was confirmed by the Court of Inquiry that it contained contents “which were against the interests of Pakistan”.

It asserted that no fundamental right of the petitioner had been infringed upon by the placement of his name on the no-fly list, saying: “If a citizen, which includes a person performing function[s] in connection with the affairs of the state, does not obey the constitutional commands, then he is not performing his obligation imposed by the Constitution.”

Durrani’s petition will be taken up again by the HC on February 12.

In February 2019, the Pakistan Army had announced that Durrani had been found guilty of violating the military’s code of conduct and a Court of Inquiry was ordered against him for writing the book. A military court subsequently stripped him of his pension and other post-retirement benefits.

Durrani then challenged that order before the Lahore HC. In October 2020, Durrani informed the HC that the government had restored his pension.


Turkey-Pakistan nexus on proxy warfare working on to create disturbances in Afghanistan and Kashmir

By: Manish Shukla

Jan 27, 2021

New Delhi: In the series of back to back visits by the top brass of Pakistani armed forces to Turkey, Chief of Pakistani Air Force, General Mujahid Anwar Khan travelled to the country and met Adnan Tanriverdi — a close confidante of President Erdogan and his former military advisor on 15th January 2021. The Pakistani General discussed the strategies on ‘supporting’ the Turkish organisation Justice Defenders Strategic Research Centre Association (ASSAM) and firm Tanriverdi-led SADAT for their operations in Pakistan.

Zee News has learnt that a major objective behind the trip was to plan and coordinate a common strategy between Turkey and Pakistan to build capabilities on two fronts — proxy warfare and exploiting terrorists by deploying them as mercenaries in different parts of the world. On the Pakistani side, ISI is believed to be heading the strategy, whereas Adnan Tanriverdi is coordinating from the Turkish side.

According to Turkish media reports, General Mujahid Anwar reiterated his commitment to security and ‘training’ by capitalising on the respective strengths of each side. Digging deeper into the past developments and exposures, highlight the actual objective between meetings of the military leadership of both the countries.

Pakistani Army officers and ISI operatives have accelerated their meetings with Tanriverdi to strengthen Turkey-Pakistan cooperation in proxy warfare. Experts argue that Pakistan has an experience spanning many years in proxy warfare in Afghanistan and Kashmir and is helping Turkey out to build its capacity in this specific genre of warfare.

Tanriverdi is the founder of the pro-Erdogan paramilitary force SADAT International Defence Consultancy — an outfit operating as a firm that provides security services and training. Geopolitical experts and Turkish dissidents have, at multiple times, highlighted that Erdogan deploys mercenaries across the world through SADAT.


Alvi for Pakistan, Jordan to boost defence and economic ties

January 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi said on Thursday Pakistan attached great importance to its ties with Jordan and wanted to maintain mutually beneficial cooperation in all fields of mutual interest, particularly strengthening defence and economic cooperation.

He said both countries enjoyed excellent relations which were based on common faith, cultural affinities and shared perceptions of regional and international issues.

Dr Alvi said this during a meeting with the visiting Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff of Jordan Armed Forces, Major General Yousef Ahmed Al-Hnaity, at the President House here. He expressed satisfaction over the cordial relations and emphasised the need for further strengthening the defence and economic cooperation between the two brotherly countries.

He also highlighted the sufferings of Muslims in India, particularly the atrocities being committed by Indian security forces against the Muslim population of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

The President said the continued restrictions against the Muslim population of held Kashmir by India were hampering dissemination of information, supply of medicines and other essentials.

He emphasised the need for a united call by the international community to force India to lift the restrictions against Muslim population in the held territory. He commended Jordan’s efforts to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East region.

Earlier, the President conferred Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Military) on Major General Al-Hnaity—in recognition of his illustrious services for promoting defence cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries—at a special investiture ceremony. The event was attended by senior military and civil officials.


Pakistan wants closer engagement with US for regional stability

January 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday emphasised the need for a closer engagement with the United States for regional stability.

Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, at the weekly media briefing, said that Islamabad valued its ties with Washington, which had helped maintain regional peace and stability.

“We have achieved a lot by working together in the past. The logic for continued engagement and coordination is even more compelling in the context of shared geopolitical and security challenges,” he said while replying to a question about the strategy to engage the new US administration.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had soon after President Joe Biden’s inauguration last week congratulated him.

Mr Khan had in his tweet said that Pakistan was looking forward to working with President Biden for building a stronger bilateral partnership through trade and economic engagement; countering climate change; improving public health; combating corruption; and promoting peace in the region and beyond.

Urges world to take forceful action on India’s human rights violations in held Kashmir

“We look forward to working with the new administration to further strengthen our bilateral ties to make it multifaceted, sustainable and mutually beneficial and continue our partnership to achieve peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” the FO spokesman said.

He recalled that Pakistan and the US had cooperated for peace in Afghanistan.

Mr Chaudhri noted the progress made in the peace process during last one year, including signing of the US-Taliban Agreement, start of the intra-Afghan negotiations and agreement on the rules and procedures for the talks.

“We believe that the intra-Afghan negotiations have now advanced into an important phase where all the negotiating sides are required to show continued commitment and responsibility for moving forward towards reaching a comprehensive political settlement. It is important for Afghans to seize this historic opportunity,” he said.

The spokesman said Pakistan has been calling on all sides for taking measures for reduction in violence leading to ceasefire. He, however, pointed out that the progress in this regard was linked to forward movement in the intra-Afghan negotiations.

Regarding Kashmir, he said Pakistan would continue to sensitise the international community, including the US, about India’s continued defiance of the international law and consistent UN Security Council resolutions.

He urged the international community to take forceful action on India’s egregious human rights violations in the occupied territory and denial of right to self-determination of the people of Kashmir.

The spokesman refused to comment on the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Daniel Pearl case.

“We have seen the media reports. The detailed judgement of the court is still awaited. I am not in a position to offer any further comments,” he maintained.


Police claim to have nabbed two ‘TTP militants’

January 29, 2021

KARACHI: Police claimed on Thursday to have arrested two suspected militants associated with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Qayyumabad.

The arrests were made in a combing operation conducted following intelligence-based reports, said an official of the Counter Terrorism Department of Sindh police.

“The suspects were arrested during a combing operation conducted in Qayyumabad,” he said. “The police have also recovered two hand grenades, an Awan bomb and three pistols from their possession. Initial findings suggest that the suspects are associated with the TTP.”

The arrested suspects originally hailed from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, he said and added that the investigators found key evidence about their involvement in terror financing.

“The police have reasons to believe that the arrested suspects have more aides in the city and efforts are being made for their arrests as well,” he said. “They have a history of militancy and more facts are [being] gathered about cases lodged against them in the city and other parts of the country.”

The authorities identified them as Hazrat Bilal and Siddiqullah who, they said, were also involved in smuggling of chemicals which were used in making bombs and other explosive materials.

“Acetic anhydride is a chemical which they used to smuggle from Afghanistan and other countries,” he said. “Law-enforcement agencies were looking for these suspects for a long time. Technical support and cooperation were also sought from police in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which finally led to the success.”

The suspects were also wanted by Pakistan Customs for smuggling and Anti Narcotics Force (ANF), he said.

“The two federal agencies have found that the arrested accused were involved in smuggling of a banned chemical from Dubai and Tanzania to finance terrorists,” he added. “They have been running an active network for smuggling. For their high-profile crimes both the accused are also wanted by international agencies.”





UNRWA: US aid too little after Biden resumes funding Palestinians

28 January 2021

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) welcomes the new US administration's decision to resume aid to Palestinian refugees, but says the contribution is too little to cover all their needs.

The administration of former US president Donald Trump decided to cancel all the US funding to UNRWA in 2018 under its extremely pro-Israeli policies.

US interim ambassador to the UN, Richard Mills, said Thursday Biden intends to “restore US assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people”, without mentioning UNRWA by name.

UNRWA’s spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai warmly hailed the move.

“We welcome the Biden administration's decision to restore assistance to Palestinians and look forward to continuing conversation with them about the resumption of aid to” the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, she said.

Nevertheless, Alrifai said, the 2021 financial year for UNRWA "looks very difficult.”

UNRWA, whose headquarters are in Jordan and the besieged Gaza Strip, was originally founded in 1949 to protect hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war mainly through providing them with humanitarian aid. It was initially set up as a temporary agency but has continued to support the Palestinian refugees for the better part of six decades.

It currently supports an estimated 5.7 million Palestinians with refugee status across the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, providing them with healthcare, education, and social services. Most are descendants of the roughly 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled the 1948 war, which led to the creation of Israel.

Before Trump's cuts, the US had been providing UNRWA $365 million a year, roughly a third of its core annual budget.

Alrifai said, "While the overall budget will remain at US$806 million, same as 2020, the income forecast in the best estimates will lead to an expected shortfall equivalent to three months of operations.” 

Therefore, she added, the agency expects a cash flow crisis as of March of the current year, warning that the expected deficit would be untenable and could lead to a financial collapse of UNRWA.

“Our financial forecast takes into consideration the expected re-engagement of the US administration, so we predict a bit more income than 2020 but this slightly improved income will not cover the huge liabilities that UNRWA already has,” Alrifai added.

According to the official, the agency began 2021 with liabilities of $75 million from the last financial year, and its annual deficit is expected to reach $200 million in the current year.

Back in November, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini warned that the “worst financial crisis” the UN agency has ever experienced could spell “disaster” in the besieged Gaza Strip and cause insecurity in Lebanon.

“It is in the interest of no one to see schools suddenly suspended... health services being suspended (in Gaza), at a time when people are hit by the (coronavirus) pandemic,” he said at the time, adding, “It would be a total disaster.”

Lazzarini said the agency had to raise $70 million by the end of November to be able to pay full salaries to its staff for the months of November and December.

Some 28,000 staffers of the agency across the West Bank, East Jerusalem al-Quds, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan will be affected by the shortfall. Most of the staffers are refugees themselves.


Iran dismisses US call to be the first to return to nuclear deal

28 January 2021

Iran dismissed Thursday a call by the US for it to return to full compliance of a nuclear deal first, insisting it had only taken “remedial measures” since America’s withdrawal.

The administration of new US President Joe Biden on Wednesday confirmed its willingness to return to the deal, which has been hanging by a thread since his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it in 2018.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who made the announcement, said the US would only return to the deal agreed with major powers in 2015 once Iran resumes its commitments.

Iran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Thursday dismissed the demand.

“Reality check for @SecBlinken: The US violated (the) JCPOA,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the accord by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Zarif said that as well as its unilateral withdrawal, the US had also imposed sanctions that “blocked food/medicine to Iranians” and “punished adherence” to a UN resolution.

“Now, who should take 1st step? Never forget Trump’s maximum failure,” the foreign minister added, stressing Iran had “abided by the JCPOA” and had only taken “foreseen remedial measures”.

Trump withdrew the US from JCPOA and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018, maintaining a policy of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic.

Iran a year later responded by suspending its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in the deal, under which it was promised economic relief for limits on its nuclear program.

On January 4, Iran announced it had stepped up its uranium enrichment process to 20 percent purity, far above the 3.67 percent level permitted by the deal, but far below the amount required for an atomic bomb.

Tehran has called on Washington to “unconditionally” lift sanctions imposed by Trump to salvage the nuclear deal.

It has said it will return to full compliance once all parties to the accord fulfil their commitments to the agreement.


Iranian FM Advises US Counterpart Not to Forget Trump's Failure


"Reality check for Secretary Blinken; The US violated JCPOA, blocked food/medicine to Iranians, punished adherence to UNSCR 2231. Throughout that sordid mess, Iran abided by JCPOA, only took foreseen remedial measures," Zarif wrote on his twitter page on Thursday.

He asked Blinken that given the aforementioned cases of disloyalty by the US towards the nuclear deal and the Resolution 2231 "now, who should take 1st step?"

"Never forget Trump's maximum failure," Zarif stressed.

His tweet came as Blinken in his recent remarks said, "With regard to Iran, President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back to compliance with obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing."

"And then we would use that as a platform to build with our allies and partners what we call a longer and stronger agreement and to deal with others issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran," he added.

In relevant remarks last Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani voiced pleasure with the end of Trump’s tenure, saying that the new administration in the White House should take the opportunity to implement all Washington’s nuclear deal undertakings.

“Today, thanks God, Trump's black page will be closed forever, and we say thanks God when any oppressor is overthrown,” Rouhani said, addressing a cabinet meeting in Tehran.

He added that during his 4-year tenure, Trump left no legacy but making the US society bipolar, adding that Washington DC has become a military garrison for the swearing-in ceremony of the new president and all these Armed Forces have come to establish security in this city, and this is one of the fruits of Trump's naive or authoritarian actions.

“We have never seen a president in the US who explicitly admits assassination of a major military commander (General Soleimani) in another guest country (Iraq) to make the official announcement that he had ordered the assassination. I mean, we really saw a stupid terrorist in history, and state terrorism was recorded in the forehead of the White House, and he did it,” Rouhani said.

He called on the new US administration to return to the international laws, undertakings and the UNSC resolutions, specially Resolution 2231, and said, “Of course, if they return to the law, our answer will be positive, and if they show their sincerity in action based on the law, the resolution that they voted for and the undertakings that they have signed, we will naturally fulfill all our undertakings too.”

Rouhani referred to Trump’s economic terrorism against Iran which even blocked the country’s purchase of medicine and vaccine, and said, “Thanks God, they have failed. Today, we see that despite all these pressures, our non-oil exports path is normalizing, and our oil exports are much better than the previous months, and our oil products export are moving in the right direction and this means complete failure of this policy.”

He said that Trump was not a politician but was a businessman and a tower builder, adding that the new US administration includes people who are familiar with political affairs.

“If they give a signature on their undertakings under the Resolution 2231, they will see a signature in Iran, and if they issue a decree, they will see a decree for it in Iran too, nothing more; if they fulfill their undertakings effectively, they will witness effective implementation of all undertakings by this side too. Today the ball is in the US and Washington’s court,” President Rouhani stressed.

He noted that Trump’s political life has ended and the nuclear deal is still alive, adding, “He made every attempt to destroy the nuclear deal but he failed, and the extremists in Israel and Saudi Arabia all sought this but failed, and the nuclear deal is alive and well today better than yesterday.”

Rouhani stressed that the maximum pressure policy has failed completely.

Also, last week, Iranian Envoy and Permanent Representative to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi underlined that if Biden decides to return to the nuclear deal, Washington should comply with all its undertakings in exact accordance with the internationally-endorsed agreement.

“We make decision and take reciprocal action considering Biden's moves vis a vis the nuclear deal. We have repeatedly demanded the US to return to the nuclear deal and this return should be complete and without preconditions, that is to say, no issue related or unrelated to the nuclear deal should be put forward for discussion,” Takht Ravanchi said.

“It should only be clear that the US international undertakings cannot be half-fulfilled. If they claim to return to the nuclear deal, this return should be accompanied by the full implementation of their undertakings with no hesitation or controversy,” he added.

Takht Ravanchi stressed Iran’s clear position towards the nuclear deal, and said, “We live up to our undertakings.”

He referred to the parliament’s bill to take strategic measures to counter the US sanctions against Iran, and said, “There is a timetable in the parliament’s bill and we are moving in the same direction, so we (at the foreign ministry) are not entitled to specify the period for how long we will wait. In the first place, we make decisions based on national interests, and secondly, we should act on the basis of and within the framework of the parliamentary bill.”

His remarks came after Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the country is at present producing nearly half a kilo of uranium enriched to the 20% purity level, meantime, saying that Tehran’s steps to reduce nuclear deal undertakings after the West’s disloyalties can all be backtracked.

“Based on the latest news I have, they (the Iranian scientists at nuclear installations) are producing 20 grams (of 20% enriched uranium) every hour; meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day,” Salehi said in an interview with the Persian-language website released last week.

“We produce and store this 20% (enriched uranium) and if they return to the nuclear deal, we will return to our undertakings too,” he added.

Asked about the recent bill approved by the parliament to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against Iran, Salehi said that the AEOI is required to implement it.

“It is a reality and both the government and the AEOI have declared that they do not have any technical problems with implementation of the parliament’s bill and we launched 20% enrichment within 24 hours,” he said.

Salehi also underlined the need for Washington to remove all sanctions against Iran, specially those which prevent the country’s oil sales and banking transactions.

Iranian legislators earlier this month praised the AEOI for restarting enrichment of uranium at 20-percent purity level, and called for the full implementation of the recent parliamentarian law to counter the illegal US sanctions against the country.

In a statement, 190 legislators expressed their support for the AEOI’s resumption of 20% uranium enrichment and urged the body to fully and precisely implement the law ratified as a counteractive move to the sanctions illegally imposed on the country, especially those by the United States.

The lawmakers said the parliament approved the ‘Strategic Counteractive Plan for Lifting Sanctions and Safeguarding Rights of Iranian People’ to highlight Iran’s legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear technology and the importance of lifting all cruel sanctions against the country.

The Iranian parliamentarians in a meeting on December 1, 2020 ratified the generalities of a bill to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against the country and defend the nation’s interests.

The lawmakers, in November, had given the green light to the single-urgency of the strategic motion, but the plan turned into a double-urgency on Sunday after the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's car was targeted by an explosion and machinegun fire in Damavand's Absard 40 kilometers to the East of Tehran on Friday November 27, 2020.

Under the bill, the AEOI is required to start in two months after the approval of the present bill to produce at least 120 kg of 20%-enriched uranium annually at Fordow nuclear site and store it inside the country, increase the enrichment capacity and production of enriched uranium to at least 500 kg per month, start the installation of centrifuges, gas injection, enrichment, and storage of materials up to proper purity levels within 3 months, via at least 1000 IR-2m centrifuges in the underground part of Shahid Ahmadi Roshan facility in Natanz, transfer any enrichment, research, and development operations of IR-6 centrifuges to the nuclear site of Shahid Ali Mohammadi in Fordow, and start enrichment operation via at least 164 centrifuges and expand it to 1000 by the end of 20 March 2021 (end of the Iranian calendar year) and return the 40 megawatts Arak heavy water reactor to its pre-JCPOA condition by reviving the heart (calandria) of the reactor within 4 months from the date of the adoption of this law.

Also, the government is required to suspend the nuclear deal-based regulatory access beyond the Additional Protocol within 2 months after the adoption of the law based on the articles 36 and 37 of the nuclear deal.

Also, after 3 months from the adoption of this law, if Iran's banking relations in Europe and the amount of oil purchases by them from Iran is not back to normal and to satisfactory conditions, the government is required to stop the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

Meantime, if after 3 months from the adoption of the law, the nuclear deal parties return to fulfill their undertakings, the government is required to submit a proposal to the parliament for Iran's reciprocal action to return to the nuclear deal undertakings, the bill said.

Iran signed the JCPOA with six world states — namely the US, Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China — in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In relevant remarks earlier this month, Spokesman for the AEOI Behrouz Kamalvandi said his country enjoys the capability to produce 120 kg of uranium with 20% purity in 8 months, that's 4 months faster than the one-year period required by a recent parliament approval.'s-Failre


Iran's Top Diplomat Meets Georgian President, PM on Bilateral Ties, Regional Issues


During the meeting with Zourabichvili in Tbilisi, Zarif expressed hope for the expansion of mutual cooperation in various fields of mutual interest, specially in trade and economic sectors.

Zarif also called on the Georgian government to help resolve the problems caused for the Iranians residing in Georgia as well as truck drivers.

He further explained the Islamic Republic's position on using the recent post-conflict situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as an opportunity to expand regional cooperation based on the interests of all parties.

The top Iranian diplomat also invited the Georgian president to pay a visit to Tehran.

Zourabichvili, for her part, referred to the Iran-Georgia historical ties and the issues related to the transportation routes between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea.

She further emphasized the importance of economic relations between the two countries and joint investments, as well as cooperation to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally on Thursday, the Iranian foreign minister discussed regional issues with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Zarif also held a telephone conversation with his Georgian counterpart, David Zalkaliani, who is in self-isolation after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Zarif is in Georgia on the fourth leg of his five-nation tour, which has already taken him to Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia with Turkey as his next stop.'s-Tp-Diplma-Mees-Gergian-Presiden-PM-n-Bilaeral-Ties-Reginal


President Rouhani: US Defeated by Iranian People's Unity, Resistance


Despite all tough sanctions by the US, Iran exported some $28 billion non-oil commodities over the past 10 months of the current Iranian year (started on March 20), Rouhani said, addressing a ceremony to inaugurate a number of agricultural projects on Thursday.

He also said that Iranian imports stood at $30 billion during the past 10-month period.

He said that Iran’s trade could be even more than the current figure but the COVID-19 outbreak has caused a decline in the country’s foreign trade over the past one year.

Rouhani hailed the resistance of the Iranian people to the US maximum pressure, saying that the people joined hands and maintained unity to reach their lofty goals.

Also, on Wednesday, Iran's First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri said that the Iranian nation's resistance made the US surrender in economic war against the country.

Failure of the US economic war against the Islamic Republic of Iran indicated that the resistance of the Iranian nation has made the US surrender, Jahangiri said.

The future of Iran is bright and no one is allowed to disappoint the young generation, he added.

Victory of the Islamic revolution is also indebted to the martyrdom and dedication of the Iranian nation, Jahangiri said.'s-Uniy-Resisance


Speaker's Aide Underlines Positive Prospect of Cooperation between Iran, India


Amir Abdollahian made the remarks in a meeting with Indian Ambassador to Tehran Gaddam Dharmendra on Wednesday.

Relations between Tehran and New Delhi have always been in a friendly and growing manner, he added, expressing hope to see further development of relations, regardless of the unconstructive behavior of others.

Reviewing the parliamentary, political, and economic cooperation between the two countries, he described the prospect of the cooperation as positive.

Amir Abdollahian referred to the central and constructive role of the Republic of Iran in the region, saying that Iran has always extended its hand of friendship and cooperation to friendly countries and all neighbors.

Dharmendra, for his part, described Iran as a country with socio-political stability, saying that Iran emphasizes sustainable security in the region and plays an important role in this regard.

Cooperation between Iran and India at the regional and international levels reflects the commonality of the two countries in regional and global spheres, he added.

Talks between the two countries especially at the level of parliamentary speakers are influential and important in relations between the two countries, the Indian envoy said.

Iran and India have tried to expand their economic and trade relations and cooperation.

Iran’s Southeastern Port of Chabahar has attracted neighboring countries for transit of their commodities due to lowering of costs and discount on tariffs, according to a senior official at the Ports and Maritime Organization.

“A 70% discount on tariffs and lowering the cost of transit of goods through Chabahar Port have increased the loading and unloading figure to two million tons while it was merely 200,000 tons before,” Deputy Head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization Farhad Montasser Kouhsari said, adding, “Customers choose Chabahar to ship their imports and exports, as well as raw material.”

India proposed to hold a "Chabahar Day" on the sidelines of the upcoming Indian-hosted International Maritime Summit and the other participants welcomed it, the Indian foreign ministry said in a press release.

The Chabahar Port is strategically located on Iran's energy-rich Southeastern coast in the Gulf of Oman and is connected to Afghanistan by a railroad. For India, it is a convenient route to trade with landlocked Central Asian countries bypassing Pakistan.'s-Aide-Underlines-Psiive-Prspec-f-Cperain-beween-Iran-India


Israel downplays US review of UAE arms sales, Netanyahu believes deal will move ahead

28 January 2021

Israeli leaders played down on Thursday a possible Biden administration review of US arms sales to the United Arab Emirates that girded the Gulf power’s rapprochement with Israel.

Washington said on Wednesday it had temporarily paused some pending arms sales to US allies. The Trump administration, having brokered formal Israel-UAE ties in September, approved a first sale of F-35 warplanes and other weaponry for Abu Dhabi.

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Reviews of this sort are typical after a US presidential handover.

The UAE said it had anticipated the move and would work closely with the Biden administration.

Israel is the only country in the region to have the F-35.

After initially voicing misgivings at its sale to the UAE, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz relented amid Trump administration assurances that Israeli military superiority would be preserved.

Asked by reporters if the review might set back Israel’s efforts to build up relations with the UAE and other Arab countries, Netanyahu said: “I don’t think so. I think we have passed the point of no-return.”

“Everyone understands that there are huge advantages here.

It’s peace in exchange for peace ... I think it’ll move ahead.”

Gantz described the review as “routine.”


Iran exceeds its uranium enrichment goals despite Western criticism

28 January 2021

Iran has exceeded 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium within a month’s time, state TV reported Thursday, moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels amid heightened tensions with the US.

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, during a visit to the country’s Fordo nuclear facility, said in a televised speech that in less than a month, scientists passed 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium.

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Uranium enriched to 20 percent is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90 percent enrichment. Western nations have criticized Iran’s enrichment activity and called on Tehran to adhere to a 2015 nuclear accord.

Iran has said it would produce 120 kilograms (44 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium per year, or 12 kilograms per month on average, so 17 kilograms would exceed that timetable.

Roughly 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium are needed to convert it into 25 kilograms of the 90 percent enriched needed for a nuclear weapon.

The development brings Iran closer to crossing the line between nuclear operations with a potential civilian use, such as enriching nuclear fuel for power-generating reactors, and nuclear-weapons work, something Tehran has long denied ever carrying out.

Former US President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal.


Yemeni families seek justice for 34 deaths in US drone strikes

28 January 2021

Two Yemeni families have filed a petition against the US government over the “unlawful” killing of 34 relatives, including 17 children, in American attacks.

The Yemeni families lost their relatives and property between 2013 and 2018 in six drone airstrikes and a special operations raid conducted by American forces, said human rights group Reprieve, which submitted the petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the affected families.

“It is averred that the seven attacks at issue have resulted in the unlawful killing of at least 48 people, including 17 children, and in the serious injury of at least seven others, as well as the destruction of their personal property and livelihoods,” said the petition cited by AFP on Thursday.

The petition showed that of those killed 34 were members of the al-Ameri and al-Taisy families, who are requesting the commission to pressure the US government on taking immediate measures to stop further harm.

Reviewing such files is often a long process that can take years.

According to the petition, the first deadly strike occurred in December 2013 during the administration of former president Barack Obama, when a wedding procession convoy was targeted, claiming the lives of at least 12 people, including seven al-Ameri family members and five people from the al-Taisy family.

The remaining six operations were all carried out during the tenure of former US president Donald Trump.

“What the families are hoping for from the commission is first and foremost recognition of the harm that's been done to them,” said Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer with Reprieve, adding that they had tried several times to engage Washington to halt the strikes, “and yet they've continued.”

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, back to power and crushing the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.

More than 110,000 Yemenis have been killed since the onset of war, which has destroyed much of the impoverished country’s infrastructure.

At least 80 percent of the 28-million-strong population of Yemen is reliant on aid to survive in what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The brutal war has destroyed or closed half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics, leaving Yemenis helpless particularly at a time when they are in desperate need of medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.





Tunisia presidential staffer suffers symptoms after opening suspect envelope

28 January 2021

The office manager for Tunisia's president suffered a headache and short-term vision loss after opening a suspect envelope on Monday, the presidency said on Thursday.

The office manager was transferred to a military hospital. Another presidential employee also suffered a headache after the envelope was opened, it said in a statement.

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Reports emerged on social media on Wednesday saying President Kais Saied had been sent a letter that may have contained poison.

The statement said Saied was in good health and that the presidency had not commented earlier in order to prevent public alarm.

A source at the presidency told Reuters on Wednesday that a suspicious letter had arrived at Saied's office and that an investigation was underway.


Amnesty: Nigeria trying to cover up Lagos massacre

28 January 2021

Amnesty International says the Nigerian government is desperately attempting to cover up the killing of a dozen citizens during peaceful protests in Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos last October.

In a statement on Thursday, the leading rights group held Nigeria's much-loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) accountable for the brutality that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries in Lagos on October 20 last year.

"Nigerian authorities have failed to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos in October 2020 and have brazenly attempted to cover up the violence," Amnesty said in the statement, released to mark 100 days since the shootings.

Amnesty's country director Osai Ojigho also accused the Nigerian authorities of  persecuting and targeting members of the peaceful protest movement.

"Since the assault by security forces, which killed at least 12 people, Nigerian authorities have targeted supporters of the protests against police brutality by the disbanded SARS," she said.

Some of the movement's supporters have had their bank accounts frozen, she added.

The Britain-based right group also challenged the Nigerian government to suspend accused officials and to ensure the victims' access to justice.

Youth-led demonstrations in Nigeria began against police abuse, quickly spiraling in broader calls for reform. But they ended weeks later when security forces shot at demonstrators in Lagos, killing at least 12 people.

Amnesty said nearly five dozen people had lost their lives across Nigeria since the protests began on October 8.

Nigeria is a tinderbox of deep economic and social grievances, and demonstrations have snowballed from anger over police violence to broader demands.

Heavy-handed crackdown on Shia Muslims 

The Nigerian police also maintain a heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protests by the country’s Shia Muslims.

The demonstrators have been calling for the release of top cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since December 2015 when his residence in the city of Zaria was brutally raided by Nigerian forces.

In the most recent incident this week, police in Abuja shot dead at least two protesters demonstrating against the continued detention of Zakzaky and his wife, Mallimah Zeenat, who have been held for several years on trumped-up charges.

The latest demonstrations erupted in response to the revelation that Zakzaky’s wife has contracted COVID-19 while in police custody.

Those attending the protests called for the immediate and unconditional release of Zakzaky, who is the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and his wife.

London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) made a recent plea with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, reminding the illegal grounds on which the duo is being kept.

“Mallimah tested positive for COVID-19 this week in Kaduna state prison,” the IHRC said, referring to the facility in the northwestern city of Kaduna where they are being kept.

Their release, it added, is necessary “to protect them from the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s jails.”

IHRC chief Massoud Shadjareh also said, “It is nothing short of scandalous that justice continues to be denied to both Mallimah and Sheikh Ibrahim al-Zakzaky even after six years in custody during which the authorities have failed to bring any conviction and in which scores have been murdered in cold blood for protesting the injustice.”

“How long is the international community going to allow the Nigerian government to continue murdering its own citizens?” he said.

In 2015, at least 348 people were killed and 347 bodies secretly buried in the Nigerian city of Zaria in police attacks on Shia mourners, according to the official account. The real death toll is said to have been much higher.

The massacre took place when the Nigerian army stormed a religious ceremony, organized by the IMN, which represents the Shia Muslim minority in the country.

Not only has the Nigerian government refrained from paying compensation for the lives it took, it has also incarcerated followers of the movement and their leader, Sheikh Zakzaky, whose health is deteriorating in prison.


Israel might be behind Tunisian president’s failed assassination: Party leader

28 January 2021

A Tunisian party leader says Israel might have been behind the failed assassination of Tunisian President Kais Saied, who has been highly critical of the agreements of normalization between a number of Arab states and the Tel Aviv regime.

On Wednesday evening, Tunisian media reported that the 62-year-old Saied had survived an assassination attempt with ricin, a very toxic substance sent to him in a mail parcel at the Carthage Palace.

According to experts, if inhaled, the substance is much more toxic than when it is injected or ingested, and a few milligrams of it are sufficient to cause immediate death.

Following the reports, the president’s office issued a statement, confirming the accounts.

“All private mail messages are currently being tested and sorted at the Carthage Palace, and examined at an off-site facility before reaching the presidential palace,” it added.

Furthermore, the president’s brother, Nofal, confirmed that his brother was fine and well and that the assassination attempt against the president had failed.

The incident is currently under investigation to determine who has sent the toxic package and who or what entity was behind the assassination attempt.

On Thursday, Zaheer al-Magzawi, the leader of the People’s Movement, said in an interview with the Lebanese al-Mayadeen television channel that Israel might have been behind the attempt as Saied has time and again denounced the idea of normalization of ties with the regime in Tel Aviv.

“We are waiting for the Tunisian presidency and security services to explain the assassination attempt against President Kais Saied,” he said.

“Every possible perpetrator could be behind this assassination attempt against the Tunisian president, particularly Israel, because of the Tunisian president’s stance on normalizing relations with the regime,” Magzawi added.

Back in October 2019 and during a pre-election debate, Saied slammed the idea of normalizing ties with Israel, stressing that Tunisia was in a state of war with the occupying regime and that anybody who normalized relations with Tel Aviv had to be tried for treason.

In a number of much-condemned US-brokered agreements, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have recently normalized their relations with Israel.


Somalia: Army Kills Militants in Operation Against Al-Shabaab

26 JANUARY 2021

Somali security forces on Tuesday killed seven Al-Shabaab militants and wounded several others in the country's southwestern Bay region, officials said.

The forces targeted al-Shabaab positions in the town of Seydhelow and its surrounding areas and liberated the town, according to Amiin Mohamed Daruur, Bay region police commissioner.

"The operation was carried out by our forces in Seydhelow where at least seven al-Shabaab terrorists were killed. The area is now under the control of the government forces," Daruur told Somali National News Agency (SONNA).

Ali Isack Hassan, a military official in Baidoa, the administrative capital of the Bay region, told Anadolu Agency by phone that no soldier was killed or wounded during the military operation.

He said the operation against al-Shabaab will continue until the group is kicked out of the region.

Seydhelow is a strategic town located 205 kilometers (127 miles) southwest of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

The Horn of Africa country is battling al-Shabaab militants who have intensified attacks on security forces


Militant killings more than doubled in Congo in 2020, UN says

JANUARY 27, 2021

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Killings by armed groups in the Democratic Repubic of Congo more than doubled last year, the United Nations said on Wednesday, underlining spiralling violence in the country’s east two years after Felix Tshisekedi became president.

The U.N. Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) said militias executed at least 2,487 civilians in 2020, up from 1,029 the previous year.

Fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist armed group, were responsible for a third of the deaths, which included the killing of more than 200 women and 26 children in the restive provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, it said.

“These attacks are part of the ADF’s strategy of sowing terror in these areas in retaliation against the operations by the (army) and to control territory in order to carry out various trafficking activities,” UNJHRO said in a statement.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for many suspected ADF attacks in the past, although U.N. experts have been unable to confirm any direct link between the two groups.

Tshisekedi emerged as the victor of a disputed election in January 2019, pledging to address decades of armed conflict in the mineral-rich east.




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