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Islamic World News ( 11 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Iran Executes Four Political Prisoners from Iran’s Ahvazi Arab Minority, Iran Human Rights Monitor Strongly Condemns the Executions

New Age Islam News Bureau

11 March 2021


Ahvazi Arab political prisoners Naser Khafajian, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Jasem Heidar were executed on Februaru 28, 2021, at Sepidar prison of Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan Province.


• A Report Has Held China Responsible For Committing Genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang

• Iraq’s Prominent Shia Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Wise Remarks in Meeting with Pope Showed Dignity of Islam

• US Blacklists Islamic Extremist Groups in Congo, Mozambique as Terrorist Units

• Indonesia Ramps up Diplomacy to Solve Myanmar Crisis

• Pakistan Set To Get 45 Million India-Made Doses

• Police Officer Sachin Vaze is Not Osama Bin Laden, Wait Till Probe is Over: CM Uddhav Thackeray

• Ethiopia’s Government Faces Mounting Pressure to End Tigray War

• Putin, Erdogan to Step up Cooperation, Launch Expansion of Turkish Nuclear Plant



• Iran Executes Four Political Prisoners from Iran’s Ahvazi Arab Minority, Iran Human Rights Monitor Strongly Condemns the Executions

• Iran: Unlawful killings of destitute fuel porters must be independently investigated

• FM: Iran to Reverse Remedial Steps If US Lifts Sanctions

• Commander: Israelis’ Rhetoric against Iran out of Fear

• Yahya Sinwar re-elected as Hamas chief in Gaza

• Ansarullah leader warns of US-Israeli plots to exploit Yemeni people, resources

• Yemeni minister urges UN to prevent humanitarian catastrophe


Southeast Asia

• A Report Has Held China Responsible For Committing Genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang

• Malaysia Uses Mosque Sermons to Overcome Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

• Islamic finance players should take charge of digital economy, says Bank Islam CEO


Arab World

• Iraq’s Prominent Shia Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Wise Remarks in Meeting with Pope Showed Dignity of Islam

• Mohammed bin Salman Orders House Arrest of Father-in-Law over Meeting with US Security Official

• Detained children beaten, threatened with rape by Bahrain police: Rights groups

• Saudi Drone Attacks Highlight A New Era Of ‘War-By-Remote’ In The Middle East: Expert

• UAE, Israel Discuss Establishing Quarantine-Free Travel Corridor

• Israel’s Netanyahu cancels planned UAE visit: Reports

• Arab Coalition destroys Houthi missile launcher in Yemen’s Marib: SPA

• Lebanese Actors Hold Play In Theater Razed By Beirut Blast To Help Heal Divided City

• Iran, Turkey slam controversial Kurdish stamp marking Pope’s visit to Iraq


North America

• US Blacklists Islamic Extremist Groups in Congo, Mozambique As Terrorist Units

• US, Israel to hold first strategic consultative group meeting: White House

• US Secretary Blinken says ‘ball is in Iran’s court,’ denies releasing frozen funds

• US Capitol reminds me of Kabul, Senate Minority Leader says amid heightened security

• Iran-Cuba vaccine cooperation sends signal of independence to White House

• Biden reviewing Trump's listing of Cuba as terrorism sponsor -White House


South Asia

• Indonesia Ramps up Diplomacy To Solve Myanmar Crisis

• Security will remain crucial with or without peace: SIGAR

• KSA promises to vaccinate Bangladeshi migrants



• Pakistan Set To Get 45 Million India-Made Doses

• Mosque built by Turkish Red Crescent in Pakistan opens

• US-Based MQM-L Activist Planning Killings to Trigger Sectarian Rift In Karachi: Officials

• Bajwa, ISI chief participate in Bahrain talks on Afghan issue

• Uzbekistan offered access to Pakistani ports

• PML-N leader booked for thrashing woman constable in Lahore

• Capt Safdar gets pre-arrest bail in sedition case

• PML-N starts preparations for PDM’s anti-government long-march



• Police Officer Sachin Vaze is Not Osama Bin Laden, Wait Till Probe is Over: CM Uddhav Thackeray

• Right-Wingers Tweet Morphed Video of AIUDF Chief Saying 'India Will Become Islamic Nation'

• Telangana Muslim Advocates Forum backs TRS candidate

• Two terrorists killed in encounter with security forces in Anantnag

• J&K Police averted Pulwama-like suicide attacks in south Kashmir: IGP Kashmir

• Sopore encounter: Al-Badr chief’s killing a big success, says J&K Police

• In Assam, Ban on State-Run Madrassas May Force Girls To Drop Out



• Ethiopia’s Government Faces Mounting Pressure to End Tigray War

• Libya’s lawmakers approve interim unity government

• 25 Killed As Soldiers, Boko Haram Clash In Borno



• Putin, Erdogan to Step up Cooperation, Launch Expansion of Turkish Nuclear Plant

• Allow British-Iranian aid worker to return home, UK PM Johnson tells Rouhani

• French schoolgirl lied about teacher who was beheaded in terror attack

• Manchester Arena attack: 'Chaotic' response after bomb blast

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Iran Executes Four Political Prisoners from Iran’s Ahvazi Arab Minority, Iran Human Rights Monitor Strongly Condemns the Executions


Ahvazi Arab political prisoners Naser Khafajian, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Jasem Heidar were executed on Februaru 28, 2021, at Sepidar prison of Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan Province.


March 1, 2021

Iranian authorities on Sunday executed four political prisoners from Iran’s Ahvazi Arab minority.

The political prisoners, Naser Khafajian, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Jasem Heidary were executed at Sepidar prison of Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan Province.

Ahvaz Intelligence Ministry agents contacted the families, instructing them to the Ahvaz’s Chaharshir Square. Intelligence agents blindfolded the families and transferred them to Sepidar Prison, where they visited their loved ones for half an hour.

The families of the four Ahvazi Arab political prisoners said that they brought their children to visit with handcuffs and shackles. The political prisoners told their families that they were going to be executed.

However, the authorities told them that they were not going to be executed and that they would be transferred to Sheiban Prison.

Their families were waiting outside the prison for half an hour, when they saw the executed bodies of the prisoners being carried out. Prison authorities then confirmed the execution had taken place.

The Ahvazi Arab political prisoners, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Jasem Heidary, sewed their lips together and went on hunger strike in January 2021 in Sheiban prison in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, in protest at their prison conditions, denial of family visits, and the ongoing threat of execution. The fourth Ahvazi Arab prisoner, Naser Khafajian, had been forcibly disappeared since April 2020.

Another Ahvazi Arab prisoner Ali Motairi was on hunger strike when he was executed on January 28, 2021. He was also sentenced to death despite serious due process violations, including allegations of torture and forced “confessions”. Ali Motairi’s family were not notified or granted the right to visit him for the last time.

Naser Khafajian, Ali Khasraji and Hossein Silawi were sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz in connection with an armed attack on a police station in Ahvaz on 14 May 2017 that resulted in the death of two law enforcement officials.

They were held for months in solitary confinement in a ministry of intelligence detention centre in Ahvaz without access to their families and lawyers. According to informed sources, they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, resulting in their ribs or hands being broken.

Security and intelligence officials tortured them to make confessions, which were broadcast shortly after their arrests in May 2017 and then used by the court to convict them.

The men were not allowed to appoint a lawyer of their choosing. In April 2020, they were forcibly disappeared after being transferred to an undisclosed location. Hossein Silawi and Ali Khasraji were returned to Sheiban prison around November 2020.

An eyewitness who saw Ali Khasraji and and Hossein Silawi in quarantine at the Sheiban prison at the time of their arrest said, “Hossein and Ali were severely injured at the time of their arrest. Each of them was shot several times. Hossein was taken to prison directly from his hospital bed and was tortured. He had no elbow in one hand due to the severity of the bullet wounds he has sustained, so his arm was attached to his wrist with a metal rod and he was in a very painful condition… For nearly two or three months, the two political prisoners were held in a small cell with their wounds infected and were not cared for, so that the stench of blood and their infection bothered others.”

Jasem Heidary was arrested in December 2017, after returning to Iran from Austria, where he had refugee status. He was detained in Tehran and transferred to Evin Prison.

Jasem, 31, was tortured and beaten by prison authorities and was forced into making “confessions” against himself. Due to the severity of the tortures, he was confined to a wheelchair for some time. In March 2018, Jasem was transferred to Ahvaz. His mother, Marzieh Heidary was also detained in March to increase pressure on Jasem.

The Ahvaz Revolutionary Court sentenced Jasem to death for “cooperation with opposition groups” in November 2020, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Jasem was arrested for the first time when he was 17 years old and had served a seven-year prison term.

Iran Human Rights Monitor strongly condemns the executions of the four Ahvazi Arab political prisoners and once again urges the United Nations Security Council, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for human rights as well as the UN Human Rights Council, and the European Union, to take urgent actions to save the lives of death row prisoners, especially political prisoners. It also reiterates the need for an international fact-finding mission to visit Iranian prisons and visits prisoners. The case of human rights violations in Iran must be referred to the UN Security Council, and the regime’s leaders must be brought to justice for four decades of crimes against humanity..


A Report Has Held China Responsible For Committing Genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang


Representational Photo


Mar 10, 2021

NEW DELHI: A report has held China responsible for committing genocide against the Uyghurs community in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The report is the first independent expert application of the 1948 Genocide Convention to the ongoing treatment of the Uyghurs in China.

While violating just part of the convention can qualify as genocide, the report alleges Chinese authorities are in "breach of every act prohibited" by the definitions.

Here is a look at what the report said


'Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins'

In 2014, President Xi Jinping launched the “People’s War on Terror” in XUAR, where Uyghurs are 90 per cent of the population. High-level officials followed up with orders to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” “wipe them out completely … destroy them root and branch,” and “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins." Officials described Uyghurs with dehumanizing terms and repeatedly likened the mass internment of Uyghurs to "eradicating tumours."


Rape, torture and humiliation

The community has been subjected to serious mental and physical torture, including rape, sexual abuse, exploitation, and public humiliation.

Internment camps contain designated “interrogation rooms,” where Uyghur detainees are subjected to consistent and brutal torture methods, including beatings with metal prods, electric shocks, and whips.


Rupturing of family bonds

Since 2014, the report says, Beijing has "deployed" Han cadres to "reside" in Uyghur homes as "monitors". The government coerce, incentivise, and actively promote Han-Uyghur marriages to rupture Uyghur family bonds.


Mass internment camps

In 2017, under the "De-Extremification" regulations, mass internment of Uyghurs was legalised. A manual was issued with orders to "police" Uyghurs, speed up the construction and expansion of internment camps, increase discipline and punishment within the camps and maintain utmost secrecy.


Mass birth-prevention strategy

The Chinese government has also employed a well-documented, state-funded mass birth-prevention strategy to biologically destroy the Uyghur community. The Uyghur women are sterilised, subjected to abortions and Uyghyur men of child-bearing age are sent to internment camps.

China explicitly admits the purpose of these campaigns is to ensure that Uyghur women are “no longer baby-making machines.”


Children separated from parents

Children, including infants, who have lost both their parents to internment or forced labour, have been confined to a vast network of massive State-run, highly securitized boarding schools.


Destruction of cultural symbols

The Chinese government has eliminated Uyghur education, destroyed Uyghur architecture and household features, and damaged, altered, or completely demolished the vast majority of mosques and sacred sites in the region while closing off other sites or converting them into commercial spaces, the report said.


Detention of community leaders

Intellectuals and community leaders have been selectively targeted via detention or death sentences.

There are reports of mass death and deaths of prominent Uyghur leaders selectively sentenced to death by execution or, for elders in particular, by long-term imprisonment, the report added.


International community slams China's actions in Xinjiang

Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of the United Kingdom Iain Duncan Smith has called for "much tougher action" to combat human rights abuses in China as Beijing continues to impose severe crackdowns on Uyghurs and the citizens of Hong Kong.

The United States has not seen any developments that would change its determination that China committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

"We have seen nothing that would change our assessment," Price said. The Biden administration has endorsed a last-minute determination by the Trump administration that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.


Iraq’s Prominent Shia Cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Wise Remarks in Meeting with Pope Showed Dignity of Islam


Pope Francis, right, meets with Shia Muslim leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, on Saturday. (The Associated Press)


10 March 2021

A senior official at the office of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says "wise" remarks by Iraq’s prominent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during his recent meeting with the Pope showed "the dignity of Islam."

Hojjatoleslam Mohsen Qomi, the vice president for international relations at the office of Ayatollah Khamenei, praised Ayatollah Sistani’s vigilance in his meeting with the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Iraq last week.

The official said on Wednesday that Ayatollah Sistani’s emphasis on major global issues, including the occupation of Palestine, was actually his “rejection of the plot of normalization” with the Israeli regime.

He added that the Ayatollah’s dissatisfaction with poverty, deprivation, discrimination, and sanctions and his emphasis on the fact that religious leaders should fulfill their duties to counter such challenges can be a clear example of the Quranic teaching of common understanding between the leaders and followers of the Abrahamic religions.

He also expressed hope that the meeting would help boost cooperation between Islam and Christianity.

A statement released by Ayatollah Sistani’s office said that during the meeting with the Pope, the top cleric talked about “the injustice, oppression, poverty, … suppression of basic freedoms and the absence of social justice, especially the wars, acts of violence, economic blockade, displacement and so on, especially the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”

Ayatollah Sistani also “indicated the role that the great religious and spiritual leaders should play in curbing these tragedies, and what is hoped for by urging the concerned parties - especially those with great powers - to prioritize reason and wisdom and to reject the language of war” while stressing the importance of “concerted efforts to consolidate the values of harmony, peaceful coexistence and human solidarity in all societies, based on fostering rights and mutual respect among followers of different religions and intellectual trends.”

Pope Francis held closed-door talks with Ayatollah Sistani on Saturday on the second day of his visit to the Arab country.

The meeting took place at Ayatollah Sistani’s residence in the holy city of Najaf on Saturday morning.

The Pope concluded his four-day trip to Iraq on Monday.


US blacklists Islamic extremist groups in Congo, Mozambique as terrorist units

MAR 11, 2021

The United States on Wednesday blacklisted two Islamist extremist groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique as foreign terrorist organizations over accusations of links to Islamic State (ISIS).

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Congo and its leader Seka Musa Baluku and Mozambique's Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama and its leader Abu Yasir Hassan were also named "specially designated global terrorists."

The designations prevent travel by members to the United States, freeze any US-related assets, ban Americans from doing business with them and make it a crime to provide support or resources to the movements.

The United States dubbed the groups ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique.

"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced the launch of the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in April 2019 to promote the presence of ISIS associated elements within Central, East, and Southern Africa," the State Department said in a statement.

"Although ISIS-associated media portray ISCAP as a unified structure, ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique are distinct groups with distinct origins," it said. "These groups have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism."

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan insurgent faction active in eastern Congo since the 1990s, has committed a spate of brutal reprisal attacks on civilians since the army began operations against it in late 2019.

The ADF has been blamed for the killing of over 140 people since the start of the year, in almost weekly attacks in Congo’s restive east. The group killed around 850 people last year, according to UN figures.

Islamic State funding and recognition has driven the ADF into a new phase of deadly expansion, said Laren Poole from the Bridgeway Foundation, a US based thinktank.

"We believe that targeting the group's financial and recruitment networks will provide the most effective way to reduce the Islamic State in DRC's capacity for violence," Poole told Reuters.

Some analysts, though, have questioned links between the ADF and Islamic State.

"These new sanctions probably won't have much effect on the ground, just as the sanctions on ADF in 2014 changed nothing," said Dan Fahey, a former member of an independent group of experts charged with monitoring UN sanctions on DRC.

"It is a symbolic act, and a bit surprising because the group of experts has consistently downplayed the nature and strength of the ISIS influence in Congo," he added.

Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, known in Mozambique as Al-Shabaab, staged its first attack in 2017. First known mainly for beheadings, the fighters declared allegiance to Islamic State in 2019 and have since increased attacks in scale and frequency.


Indonesia Ramps up Diplomacy to Solve Myanmar Crisis

March 11, 2021

BANGKOK -- Myanmar's military attended an international conference for the first time since the February coup d'etat.

Military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin attended an online ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on March 2. Some participants urged Myanmar to exercise restraint in cracking down on anti-coup protestors and immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of the country until the coup.

During the conference, Wunna Maung Lwin reportedly expressed his irritation and said he would not attend another such meeting.

"We expressed our concern on the situation in Myanmar ... and ASEAN's readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner," said host country Brunei in a statement.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called for adherence to non-interference in internal affairs but stressed the importance of respecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The ASEAN charter, adopted by the 10 member states in 2008, stipulates that nations should respect the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of others as well as adhere to "the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government."

The non-interference policy occasionally conflicts with the other principles, because when constitutional governance is ignored, non-interference prevents corrective action from member states.

ASEAN has historically leaned toward non-interference. Founded by five countries in 1967, the bloc took more than 30 years to become the current union of 10 countries, with widely different political systems, levels of economic development, ethnic groups and religions.

The rule of non-interference is wise if the group is to move forward by finding common ground rather than squabble over differences.

When regional customs crystallized into a formal ASEAN charter, there were moves to review the noninterference policy. A group of elder statesmen from member states even advocated for the punishment of those who violated the charter.

The charter, however, has retained the noninterference policy because of late ASEAN entrants such as Vietnam and Laos, who have had issues with human rights and democracy, in addition to Myanmar under military rule.

The coup in Myanmar -- which has rolled back a decade of progress toward democracy -- has exposed a weakness in ASEAN, which some mockingly refer to as NATO, short for no action, talk only.

ASEAN should be praised for "managing to hold a meeting that Myanmar joined," a diplomat said. "It's unrealistic for ASEAN as a whole to continually convene meetings on Myanmar. A focal point will be how individual countries act in cooperation with the United Nations and countries outside the region."

Indonesia looks to play a key role. President Joko Widodo proposed the ASEAN ministerial conference during his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Feb. 5 following the coup.

Instructed by Joko, Retno flew to Brunei, Singapore and Thailand to arrange the conference. She canceled a visit to the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw, as a media report of her trip beforehand provoked a strong backlash from anti-coup protestors thinking that the trip was de facto approval to new elections demanded by the military.

On Feb. 24, however, Retno met Wunna Maung Lwin for 20 minutes at Thailand's Don Mueang International Airport. He agreed to attend the online ministerial meeting.

With a population of 260 million, Indonesia considers itself a de facto ASEAN leader and has played coordinating roles to address regional problems.

Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 just after the U.S. imposed economic sanctions. Its membership was due in large part to the support of then Indonesian President Suharto, who stressed that Myanmar should not be isolated. When a Thailand-Cambodia border dispute erupted in 2011, Indonesia mediated the ceasefire.

In 2017, Retno visited Bangladesh, where Rohingya Muslim refugees had fled from Myanmar.

Indonesia's interventions have been partly attributable to itself. In 1996, before Myanmar's ASEAN entry, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to East Timorese politician Jose Ramos-Horta and Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a Roman Catholic bishop, for their work towards independence for East Timor. Ramos-Horta subsequently served as the president and prime minister of East Timor.

Suharto feared that if the U.S. and Europe were allowed to intervene in Myanmar, they would turn their criticism toward Indonesia for repression in East Timor.

Indonesia was the ASEAN chair during the Thailand-Cambodia border conflict. Being an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, it is now closely watching the Rohingya situation.

But Retno's frequent media updates to domestic news outlets following the Myanmar coup appear to be staged. Joko "should be motivated enough to get actively involved in the Myanmar problem in a bid to eliminate an image that his administration is growing authoritarian," said Ken Miichi, professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies of Waseda University.

His administration has taken a hardline against opposition forces such as radical Muslims. The coup in Myanmar is a good opportunity for the president to fend off criticism that Indonesia is "backing down from democracy ... and returning to the Suharto era," according to Miichi.

But public reaction to the administration's stance is a different matter.

"For the Indonesian public, there is very little sympathy with Suu Kyi... Many in Indonesia believe that in order to stay in power, Suu Kyi allowed the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] to persecute the Rohingya," said Rizal Sukma, senior research fellow of the Indonesian Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Joko has been forced into a corner in coping with the pandemic, said Bachitar Alam, representative of Indonesian think tank Asiaconsult Associates, adding that the biggest task for the president is to halt the spread of Covid-19 infections and revive the economy. Myanmar is not a high-priority issue for Joko, Alam said.

While Joko may want to use the Myanmar crisis to score political points, one misstep and he could face a major backlash.

The U.S., Europe, and Japan are trying to formulate strategies to protect their economic interests in Myanmar while keeping China at bay. Indonesian is in the same situation.

Joko, a furniture maker-turned politician, became president after serving in local governments. He once admitted that he is not good at diplomacy -- since assuming office in 2014, he has absented himself from the U.N. General Assembly held every September. He delivered his first speech to the body last year through a prerecorded video streamed online.

But the crisis in Myanmar is an ASEAN crisis. As a major power in the region, Joko needs to step up and assume the main role to promote cooperation and achieve a diplomatic breakthrough.


Pakistan set to get 45 million India-made doses

Mar 10, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The international vaccine alliance, GAVI, will provide 45 million doses of India-manufactured Covishield vaccine to Pakistan. These vaccine doses are among those bought by GAVI, which works to increase access to immunization in poor countries, from India.

Pakistan is the only Saarc country to not seek Covid-19 vaccine from India, choosing to rely instead on Chinese vaccines.

As has been reported, Pakistan aims to tackle the Covid-19 challenge through herd immunity and donated vaccines.

China pharmaceutical company Sinopharm has committed to providing one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan.

Reports from Islamabad had said last week that Pakistan will also get 16 million free doses of India-made Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine through GAVI and that would give cover to 20 per cent of the population of Pakistan.


Police Officer Sachin Vaze is Not Osama Bin Laden, Wait Till Probe is Over: CM Uddhav Thackeray

MARCH 10, 2021

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday said the guilty in the Mansukh Hiran death case will be punished, but police officer Sachin Vaze should not be targeted until his alleged involvement is established. Facing heat over Assistant Police Inspector Vaze’s alleged link to Hiran’s mysterious death, the government earlier in the day announced his transfer from the Mumbai crime branch.

Hiran, who was in possession of the vehicle which was later found with explosives outside residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, was found dead in a creek in Thane last week. His wife has made allegations against Vaze in her statement.

”Sachin Vaze is not Osama Bin Laden. It is not right to target a person and hang him and then investigate,” Thackeray said here. ”Let the probe be over. The guilty, whoever they are, will not be spared,” he said, speaking to reporters after the end of the Budget session of the Maharashtra legislature.

On Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis’ claim that Vaze was a member of Thackeray’s party, the Shiv Sena, the chief minister said the officer had become a party member in 2008 and he had not renewed the membership. ”Now he has nothing to do with the Shiv Sena,” he said.

”Dadra Nagar Haveli administrator Praful Kheda Patel , who has been named in the suicide note of (Lok Sabha member) Mohan Delkar, too was with the BJP earlier,” Thackeray said. The state government has sought the Call Detail Record (CDR) in the Hiran case which Fadnavis possesses, he said.

Thackeray denied the BJP’s allegation that Mumbai police were probing Mohan Delkar’s alleged suicide in the city last month for deflecting attention from Vaze’s complicity in the Hiran case. ”The FIR in the Delkar case was filed after a complaint was received from his family members. We are not indulging in politics,” he said.


Ethiopia’s government faces mounting pressure to end Tigray war

11 March ,2021

Ethiopia’s government on Thursday faced mounting pressure to withdraw troops from the northern region of Tigray amid growing reports of war crimes in an embattled area that now faces a humanitarian crisis.

Criticism of the conduct of government troops and their allies from neighboring Eritrea grew after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted Wednesday that “ethnic cleansing” has happened in parts of Tigray.

“The challenge in Ethiopia is very significant, and it’s one that we are very focused on, particularly the situation in Tigray, where we are seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing,” Blinken told the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives.

Although Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed concerns about the actions of the fugitive leaders of Tigray, Blinken said, “the situation in Tigray today is unacceptable and has to change, and that means a few things. It means making sure that we are getting into the region, into Tigray. Aid workers and others ... to make sure that the people are cared for, provided for and protected.”

Eritrean troops as well as fighters from Amhara, an Ethiopian region bordering Tigray, “need to come out,” he said, adding that the region needs “a force that will not abuse the human rights of the people of Tigray or commit acts of ethnic cleansing, which we’ve seen in western Tigray. That has to stop.”

There was no immediate comment from Ethiopian authorities.

But the fugitive leaders of Tigray seized on Blinken’s comments, issuing a statement on Thursday condemning what they called “the genocidal campaign” targeting their people.

“Thousands of civilians have been massacred, hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced from their homes, civilian installations and Infrastructures systemically destroyed,” said the statement posted on Twitter by Getachew Reda, one of the fugitive leaders of Tigray. “Despite shamelessly protesting its innocence and profusely promising to allow access to humanitarian agencies and international investigation into allegations, Abiy Ahmed’s regime and its partners in crime have only stepped up their war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent weeks and days.”

A senior Ethiopian diplomat on Wednesday quit his post in Washington over concerns about the reported atrocities in Tigray. Berhane Kidanemariam, who served as the deputy chief of mission at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, slammed Abiy as a reckless leader who is dividing his country.

Accounts of atrocities by Ethiopian and allied forces against residents of Tigray have been detailed in reports by The Associated Press and by Amnesty International.

Ethiopia’s federal government and regional officials in Tigray both maintain that each other’s governments are illegitimate after the pandemic disrupted elections.

The conflict began in November, when Abiy sent government troops into Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities. No one knows how many thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict.

Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray. The fighting erupted on the brink of harvest in the largely agricultural region and sent an untold number of people fleeing their homes. Witnesses have described widespread looting by Eritrean soldiers as well as the burning of crops.


Putin, Erdogan to step up cooperation, launch expansion of Turkish nuclear plant

10 March ,2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Wednesday to improve cooperation as they launched the construction of a new reactor at Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

The two leaders each pressed a button on their office desks in Moscow and Ankara in a video link ceremony unveiling the third phase of Akkuyu station’s construction project.

Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear energy firm began building the first of four planned reactors on Turkey’s south coast in 2018.

Erdogan hopes to put the plant online by the time Turkey celebrates its centenary as a post-Ottoman republic in 2023.

Putin said he expected the project to “improve the Russian-Turkish partnership in all its facets, helping strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between our countries’ peoples.” Erdogan echoed similar thoughts.

“The close dialogue that we established with my esteemed friend (Putin) is playing a key role not only in bilateral relations but also in preserving regional peace and stability,” Erdogan said.

Putin and Erdogan have enjoyed a complex relationship while leading their countries for most of the past 20 years.

They found themselves on opposite sides of the war in Syria but are now working closely together on a peace plan that could bring an end to a decade of strife.

Their ties plunged to a nadir when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015.

But they recovered quickly and Putin attended the launch of the Akkuyu plant’s construction in April 2018.

Russian news reports estimate the cost of the entire project at around $20 billion (17 billion euros).

Turkey is heavily reliant on oil and natural gas imports – including from Russia.

Erdogan said he expected the plant to supply 10 percent of Turkey’s electricity needs when completed.





Iran: Unlawful killings of destitute fuel porters must be independently investigated

2 March 2021

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards unlawfully used lethal force against unarmed fuel porters near the city of Saravan, in Sistan and Baluchestan province, on 22 February, flagrantly violating the absolute prohibition on the arbitrary deprivation of the right to life under international law, said Amnesty International today.

Testimony from eyewitnesses and victims’ families, coupled with video footage geolocated and verified by the organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab, confirms that on that day, Revolutionary Guards, stationed at Shamsar military base, used live ammunition against a group of unarmed fuel porters from Iran’s impoverished Baluchi minority causing several deaths and injuries.

“By opening fire on a group of unarmed people, Iranian security forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life. There must be urgent, independent criminal investigations into these unlawful killings, in line with international law and standards. Anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence must be prosecuted in a fair trial, without resorting to the death penalty,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

By opening fire on a group of unarmed people, Iranian security forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International

At least 10 people, including a 17-year-old boy, were killed on 22 February, according to Baluchi human rights activists who interviewed primary sources.

In a media interview on 23 February, the deputy governor of Sistan and Baluchestan province, Mohamad Hadi Marashi, said that the security forces stationed at Shamsar base “were forced to resort to shooting” because their “honour” was at risk due to fuel porters’ “attempts to enter the base”, stone-throwing and other “destructive action,” inadvertently confirming that there was no imminent threat to life.  

 “The official justification the Iranian authorities have given for their deadly use of live ammunition reflects their complete disregard for international standards on the use of firearms. It also shows a shameless contempt for their obligations to respect and preserve human life and to ensure that public officials do not carry out extrajudicial executions by illegal use of firearms,” said Diana Eltahawy.

Under international law, firearms should only be used to defend against the imminent threat of death or serious injury and intentional lethal use of firearms is only justified when strictly unavoidable to protect life. It is unlawful to use lethal force to defend property, prevent entry into a military base, or in response to stone-throwing when there is no threat to life or serious injury.

On 26 February, following a public outcry, the Military Prosecutor of Sistan and Baluchestan province announced that a criminal case had been opened into the “accidents that occurred” on 22 February. Under international human rights law and standards, the jurisdiction of military courts must be restricted to breaches of military discipline by military personnel, to the exclusion of human rights violations.

Furthermore, due to the lack of an independent judiciary in the country, which has resulted in an appalling track record of impunity, Amnesty International has serious concerns about the compliance of this investigation with international law and standards.

A relative of one victim who was killed and another who was injured told Amnesty International that intelligence and security officials had not allowed his family to examine the body of their loved one or secure an independent autopsy and pressured them to have the body buried immediately. He also said that at the hospital his injured relative, other members of his family and other victims’ families were asked by intelligence and security officials to sign statements saying the Revolutionary Guards were not responsible for the deaths and injuries.

Evidence of unlawful use of lethal force

Verified video footage, testimony from eyewitnesses and victims’ relatives, as well as credible information gathered from human rights defenders, and official statements, confirm that the fuel porters were unarmed and posed no serious threat. It is, therefore, clear that the Revolutionary Guards’ use of lethal force against them on 22 February was unlawful.

Days earlier, on 20 February, Revolutionary Guards stationed at Shamsar base blocked a road leading to the city of Saravan with metal chains, without explanation. This left scores of fuel porters, who regularly travel between Iran and Pakistan to sell fuel for meagre sums, stranded near the border on the Iranian side, with little food and water.

Amnesty International reviewed and cross-checked the accounts of six individuals relating to the events. They included three eyewitnesses, a relative of two victims (one was killed and the other injured); and two local human rights defenders who had interviewed three further eyewitnesses. According to these accounts, after 48 hours of failed negotiations, on 22 February, a group of fuel porters unblocked the road by breaking the metal chains and attempted to drive their vehicles through the barrier. In response, the Revolutionary Guards first fired warning shots into the air. Witnesses said that when the drivers did not retreat, and moved towards the barrier, the Revolutionary Guards fired live ammunition at them, killing and injuring multiple drivers.

An eyewitness in an audio-recorded testimony obtained by Amnesty International said: “We begged the Revolutionary Guards to open the road, but they made false promises and kept us waiting. People felt pushed to break the metal barrier themselves, and when doing so, the Revolutionary Guards began shooting at them. The drivers of five or six cars who were passing through were shot dead. After seeing this scene, other fuel porters began screaming and yelling and the Revolutionary Guards fired towards them as well, leaving many dead or injured.”

People felt pushed to break the metal barrier themselves, and when doing so, the Revolutionary Guards began shooting at them. The drivers of five or six cars who were passing through were shot dead.


On 24 February, Balochistan News Channel (BNC) aired a video clip in which an injured fuel porter, being treated at a medical facility in Pakistan, described how the Revolutionary Guards opened fire at the drivers who attempted to drive through: “The driver of a car in front of me was hit by a bullet. There were about 35 to 40 people who were hit by bullets… We were only there trying to make a living.”

Amnesty International was able to speak to a relative of two victims who were shot while in their cars. One was killed at the scene after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds in his legs; another was shot in his abdomen and is currently in a critical condition. The relative said that eight of his cousins, who were also present at the scene, all reported that the Revolutionary Guards had deliberately aimed their fire at the drivers who attempted to pass through the barrier.

The accounts are supported by video footage showing the inside of a car covered in bloodstains. In the clip, the person filming is heard saying that five drivers were shot dead. Amnesty International also obtained verified video footage showing two victims lying on the ground, bleeding from wounds in their legs. One of the victims is seen lying on the ground motionless with his eyes wide open.

“When security forces wilfully and unlawfully use firearms against unarmed people, they either intend to kill or do not care whether their actions are likely to cause death. In either case, under international law, the killings resulting from their unlawful actions are considered not accidental, but deliberate, and should, therefore, be investigated as extrajudicial executions,” said Diana Eltahawy.

When security forces wilfully and unlawfully use firearms against unarmed people, they either intend to kill or do not care whether their actions are likely to cause death.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International

Eyewitness accounts, as well as verified video footage, indicate that following the deadly shootings described above, many fuel porters raised their voice in anger, with some chanting “Down with the Revolutionary Guards”. Human rights defenders interviewed by Amnesty International said that a number of fuel porters also moved towards Shamsar base, throwing stones. This time, the Revolutionary Guards responded with reckless fire.

These accounts are consistent with verified video footage reviewed by an Amnesty International weapons expert, which shows multiple guards on the hills inside Shamsar base recklessly firing semi-automatic rifles near a crowd of unarmed people, who are seen running away and seeking shelter in trenches.

Iranian authorities have refused to disclose the real number of deaths. Top provincial officials have only acknowledged three deaths, and attempted to attribute responsibility to Pakistan’s border guards, which both Pakistani officials and fuel porters present at the scene have denied.

Given the systematic impunity prevailing in Iran for serious human rights violations and other crimes under international law, Amnesty International urges members of the international community to push for truth and justice for the grave violations of the right to life committed by Iran’s security forces on 22 February.


Iranian security forces also used unlawful and excessive force, including live ammunition, pointed metal pellets, and tear gas, against men, women and children protesting the deaths of their loved ones and bystanders during protests which erupted across Sistan and Baluchestan province between 23 and 25 February in response to the 22 February killings. According to Baluchi human rights defenders, at least two, including a child, were shot dead on 24 February during the protests. The authorities also announced the death of one law enforcement official during the protests.

Fuel porters, called “Soukhtbar” in Persian, generally live in extreme poverty in Sistan and Baluchestan province. They try to earn a living by selling fuel in border villages in Pakistan. While some have an official license to transport fuel, the vast majority do so irregularly through peripheral border routes and report that they are asked to pay regular bribes to Revolutionary Guards officials who control the border crossings.

Every year, Iranian security forces fatally shoot or injure dozens of fuel porters in the name of confronting “fuel smuggling”.

Iran’s Baluch minority face entrenched discrimination that curtails their access to education, health care, employment, adequate housing and political office.


FM: Iran to Reverse Remedial Steps If US Lifts Sanctions


“If the US lifts its illegal sanctions [against Iran] and implements its obligations as per the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), Iran will also reverse all its remedial steps,” Zarif said in a phone conversation with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto on Wednesday.

He added that despite the US’s breach of the JCPOA, its imposition of “cruel and illegal” sanctions on Iran and inaction of the European parties to the deal, Tehran remained fully committed with the nuclear agreement for one year.

The Islamic Republic’s countermeasures in response to Washington’s pullout were in conformity with the JCPOA and meant to restore its balance, the top Iranian diplomat said.

Zarif said on Wednesday that his country distrusts the western states, specially the US, as they have not complied with their nuclear deal undertakings.

“Iran has always fulfilled its undertakings and it is the US that has withdrawn from the nuclear deal,” Zarif told reporters in Tehran.

He noted that Iran’s situation is quite clear and for a year after Trump left the nuclear deal, the US administration, itself, confirmed that Iran was implementing its nuclear deal undertakings, adding that five reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also confirmed the same.

"If the problem is distrust, it is Iran that is distrustful of the Western countries that have never implemented the nuclear deal properly and correctly,” Zarif said.

He said that Iran has always wanted full implementation of the nuclear deal, adding that if the West resolves this problem and fulfills its undertakings, Tehran will also implement the agreement immediately.

Iranian Government Spokesman Ali Rabiyee said on Tuesday that the US is not in a position to set conditions for implementing its nuclear deal undertakings, saying that lifting sanctions is the only solution to revive the agreement.

“The US is not in a position to set conditions for implementation of its international undertakings. Unlike the US, which is avoiding returning to the nuclear deal, Iran is ready to fulfill all its undertakings as soon as possible and in companionship with other members of the nuclear deal and the US. Based on the policy announced by the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei), the only way to revive the nuclear deal is lifting sanctions and return of all parties to the full implementation of their undertakings,” Rabiyee told reporters in a press conference in Tehran.

“Once again, we recommend the White House to return to the nuclear deal unconditionally, just as the previous US president suddenly left the nuclear deal, and not to further complicate and harden diplomacy. I should remind you that in the last 4 years we, and not them (the US), have kept the way of diplomacy open, and today it is them who should take the first step in the way of diplomacy, not us,” he added.

Rabiyee noted that today, many countries are trying in good will to revive the nuclear deal, and added, “We are confident that this goal will be achieved in the near future because it is the only way to ensure world peace and guarantee the interests of all countries; the nuclear deal is international law and the US has no choice but to abide by the law.”

Asked about Iran’s position on exchanging prisoners with the US, he said, “There is nothing new about the exchange of prisoners; Iran's position has already been stated by the Foreign Minister, and we are ready to exchange all prisoners between Iran and the US. If this has not happened yet, it is because of the unpreparedness of the US government."

Elsewhere, Rabiyee referred to reports about releasing Iran’s US-blocked assets in a number of countries, and said, “These measures are insufficient. The Iranian government will no doubt strive to release what belongs to the Iranian people to the last cent, and it should be able to trade freely and gain access to its financial resources like all countries.”

Tehran had on Monday dismissed media reports about direct or indirect contacts between Iran and Washington, saying that close talks are being held, but with other parties to the nuclear deal.

“We have not and do not have any direct or indirect contact with the US about issues related to the nuclear deal or other subjects,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in a press conference in Tehran.

“We have had very close talks with the (other) parties to the nuclear deal and we have not had any talks with the US. Inside Iran, some points are being reviewed and completed,” he added.

Asked if Iran will accept the US proposal to implement undertakings in a step-by-step plan, Khatibzadeh said, “Iran has neither received any step-by-step plan nor is such a plan in line with Iran’s declared policy.”

“No direct or indirect talks are being held between Iran and the US because the nuclear deal has clarified the path,” he said.

Zarif said on Sunday that the US should lift all sanctions against Tehran before rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The US must remove the sanctions that it has imposed against Iran if it wants to return to the nuclear deal, Zarif said during his meeting with the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in Tehran.


Commander: Israelis’ Rhetoric against Iran out of Fear


“The Zionists’ prates are out of fear because they are aware of our capabilities and know that any threat and act by them will be followed by such a reaction that they will not be able to stand on their feet after it,” General Dadras said on Wednesday.

He also underlined Iran’s military power in different fields, and said all these capabilities, including production of fighter jets, vessels, radars and missiles, with high standards have been achieved while the country was under the harshest-ever sanctions.

Iranian Government Spokesman Ali Rabiyee had also on Tuesday played down Israeli officials’ recent threats against Iran as “ridiculous”.

“The Zionist regime benefits from psychological insecurity in the region and it might take some moves in the region in this regard,” Rabiyee told reporters in a press conference.

“Of course, we do not take serious the Zionist regime’s ridiculous threats,” he added.

Rabiyee said that the leaders of the Israeli regime are well aware of the catastrophic consequences of such a mistake, and added, “Our response is the response given earlier by our Minister of Defense. This (Israeli) rhetoric is aimed at threatening and extortion (of financial aid) from the US and dissuading the US from returning to the nuclear deal.”

His remarks came after Israeli officials warned to attack the Iranian nuclear sites in case of the country’s further development of its peaceful program.

Also, reports said earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached out certain Persian Gulf Arab states’ leaders, calling on them for formation of a coalition against Iran.

In response, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami said Israel is too weak to speak of attacking Iran, but meantime, warned that any wrong move by Tel Aviv would meet Tehran's response which would raze down Tel Aviv and Haifa.

“Although sometimes their dogs speak bigger than their mouths out of desperation and raise threats that are clearly out of desperation, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution has responded well to the Zionists many years ago by saying that the Zionist regime is not an arch foe of our size and is too small to show hostility to the Islamic Republic. The Zionist regime knows, and if it does not know, it should know, that if it makes a mistake, the Islamic Republic will raze down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” General Hatami said on Sunday.

“This order of the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces (the Leader) has been precisely implemented by the Armed Forces, and it has turned into a plan and will be implemented with a single command of the Commander-in-Chief. I advise them (the Israelis) not to make this mistake, even in words,” he added.

General Hatami also referred to Iran and the resistance groups’ power in the region, saying that the Islamic Revolution has blocked Israel's schemes and made the regime build a wall around itself.

Meantime, Iran's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Vienna-based International Organizations Kazzem Qaribabadi criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for inaction towards the nuclear threat posed by Israel, stressing that Tel Aviv enjoys the advantages of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while it is has never signed the pact.

Israel enjoys more preferential advantages compared to the nuclear-armed states because the latter are NPT members and have special commitments, while Israel is out of it, is free of any commitments, and enjoys all the advantages of the Agency which are relevant to the NPT, Qaribabadi said on Friday. 

He said that all regional countries are members of the NPT and have committed themselves to accept the IAEA’s safeguards, adding, “Developing a secret nuclear weapon program by the Zionist regime is a serious persisting threat not only to the security and stability of the region and the world, but also for the effectiveness of NPT and the Agency’s safeguards.”

“Needless to mention, the Zionist regime is not a member of any of the other disarmament and WMD non-proliferation treaties,” the envoy noted, adding, “the nuclear capabilities of the Zionist regime and its threats have been put on the agenda of the UN General Assembly while the IAEA has issued several resolutions in this regard.”

“But the Zionist regime has neglected the international community by ignoring the NPT, avoiding to join it, and refusing to put its facilities and nuclear activities under IAEA’s safeguards inspections,” Qaribabadi stated.

He warned that such conditions have emboldened Israel to ridicule the IAEA authority and the mission for preventing deviation of materials and nuclear activities. 

“Most importantly, it has been so emboldened that it distorts realities and criticizes some of the NPT members, while they are committed but it is not,” the diplomat added.

He termed it ironic that the IAEA, its secretariat, Board of Governors, and general conferences all focus on NPT members, while ignoring the materials and the activities of the Zionist regime in the volatile West Asian region is a chronic strategic mistake.

“In such a condition, what is the advantage of being a NPT member and implementing the safeguards? How can the global community see the IAEA as a serious, professional, impartial partner while the comprehensive safeguards regime is not applied to its members identically and justly and it doesn’t even seriously discuss the necessity of verification and inspections of Israel’s nuclear activities? Does the silence about the Israeli nuclear deal not send a message to the NPT members that membership means accepting the strongest verification and monitoring systems and staying out of it means freedom of any commitments and even receiving bonuses?” he asked the IAEA.


Yahya Sinwar re-elected as Hamas chief in Gaza

10 March ,2021

Hamas firebrand Yehiyeh Sinwar was re-elected on Wednesday as the Palestinian militant group’s leader in the Gaza Strip, leaving a figure closely aligned with the hard-line military wing in charge of the group’s strategy in its main stronghold.

Sinwar, 58, fended off a challenge from Nizar Awadallah, one of Hamas’ founders. Sinwar will serve another four-year term.

His victory could have deep implications for Hamas’ relations with Israel and other regional players. It also could impact upcoming Palestinian elections, the first in 15 years.

Hamas’ supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, congratulated Sinwar on his victory and praised both candidates for the “high confidence” they had gained.

Haniyeh, a former Gaza leader who now lives in exile in Qatar, said the vote was “real, not phony,” and that tens of thousands of Hamas members had participated. He said the results “demonstrate the seriousness of the movement in the upcoming Palestinian national and presidential elections.”

Sinwar is a former member of the group’s militant wing who spent over two decades in an Israeli prison after being convicted of abducting and killing two Israeli soldiers. He was released in a 2011 prisoner swap. Sinwar maintains close ties to the militant wing and has often promoted a confrontational approach toward Israel.

The Gaza Strip is Hamas’ most important area of activity. The Islamist group, which opposes Israel’s existence, violently seized control of the territory from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Since then, it has fought three wars and numerous skirmishes against Israel, holding on to power despite a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has devastated the economy.

Awadallah was one of Hamas’ founders in the late 1980s and has closer ties to the group’s political leaders.

The political wing has closer ties to Qatar and Turkey and tends to be more pragmatic in its dealings with Israel. The militant wing has closer ties with Iran and favors a more confrontational approach toward Israel.

Sinwar, however, has also shown himself to be pragmatic on some issues by preventing tensions with Israel from boiling over into war.

After taking up his position in 2017, he encouraged mass protests along the Gaza-Israel frontier as an alternative to its traditional tool of firing rockets into Israel.

The protests were aimed at drawing attention to Gaza’s poor living conditions and easing Israel’s blockade. But the protests often turned violent, with protesters setting tires on fire and storming a separation fence. Scores of Palestinians were killed and wounded by Israeli fire.

The protests fizzled out in 2019 under an unofficial truce in which Qatar provided tens of millions of dollars to Hamas for employee salaries, aid projects and cash payments to poor families in exchange for calm.

Sinwar has not been afraid to push for tougher confrontation. Last year, he threatened to go to battle if Israel didn’t allow respirators and other medical aid to the impoverished territory to fight the spread of the virus.

“If we found that corona patients in Gaza (are) unable to breathe, we will prevent 6 million Zionists from breathing and we will get what we want from you by force,” he said at the time. Israel has allowed humanitarian supplies into Gaza throughout the pandemic.

Sinwar also has helped improve tense relations with neighboring Egypt. He tightened security along Gaza’s border with restive north Sinai to help the Egyptian military there, where it faced an insurgency by the Islamic State group’s local allies.

The measures helped to quiet the situation in Sinai and as a result, Egypt opened a passageway for goods such as fuel and tobacco to enter Gaza. It also has increasingly opened more regularly the Rafah border crossing, Gaza’s main gate to the outside world.

People close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who administers autonomous areas of the West Bank, said the Palestinian leader had been hoping for an Awadallah victory.

The officials said Abbas believes the political wing is more pragmatic as the Palestinians prepare to hold elections in May aimed at bringing reconciliation between the rival governments.


Ansarullah leader warns of US-Israeli plots to exploit Yemeni people, resources

10 March 2021

Leader of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement Abdul-Malik al-Houthi has warned about US-Israeli plots against Yemen, saying Washington wants to exploit Yemeni people and resources, as well as take control of its strategic position.

Houthi, who was speaking on the martyrdom anniversary of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a former Ansarullah leader, said the United States was hatching a plot to target his country, just like what it did with Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Yemen is one of the countries targeted by the US conspiracy and as admitted by US leaders, they put Yemen on the list of target countries after Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

He added that the strategic position of Yemen and its resources prompted the US to target the country, noting “US invasion of our country is …. full-fledged and if our nation abdicates its responsibility to counter this conspiracy, it means that it has surrendered.”

Houthi said the US came to Yemen under the pretext of training the Yemeni Army troops and then it started building bases to increase its dominance over the country.  

The Yemeni leader also slammed Israel and the West for propagating Takfiri terrorism with the aim of gaining control in the region.

He said “Takfiri groups are operating in parallel with a US-led Western scheme to deceive nations under the guise of fighting terrorism.” 

“Takfiris are created to help achieve the US hegemonic goals and they operate according to American goals,” he added.

Pointing to the crimes committed by the al-Qaeda Takfiri terrorist group in different countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, the Ansarullah leader said only the Israeli regime has been immune to their attacks, arguing that the Takfiris have been operating according to the wishes of the Zionist regime.

Houthi also criticized some regional countries for pursuing Washington’s policies, expressing regret that they are willfully accepting US hegemony.,-resources--


Yemeni minister urges UN to prevent humanitarian catastrophe

10 March 2021

Yemen’s Minister of Oil and Minerals Ahmad Abdullah Dares has urged the United Nations to pressure the Saudi-led coalition into releasing ships with petroleum products vital for services.

Dares met with UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen William David Gressly, Lebanon's al-Mayadeen news network reported Tuesday.

The minister hoped that the UN would shoulder its responsibility and work to ensure that the oil products are available for the Yemeni people in order to “avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

He said the current situation had “become dangerous” and that the release of the fuel ships “has become an urgent necessity that requires an immediate intervention to prevent the suspension of the service sectors.”

The UN, he said, had a duty “to find a mechanism to ensure the cessation of acts of maritime piracy” by the coalition countries and “to prevent the detention of ships carrying oil products.”

The Yemeni minister also stated that the coalition had been “detaining 14 oil tankers, including a vessel loaded with Mazut and a ship carrying natural gas for varying periods of time, up to a maximum of 11 months.”

The amount of fine the Yemeni people incurred due to the continued seizure of the vessels “reached more than $ 33 million in 2021.”

At the beginning of this year, the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) said the economic losses caused by the seizure of the oil tankers “exceeded $ 10 billion.”

The YPC organized a protest in front of the UN office in the capital Sana’a in January to denounce the continued seizure of the ships.

The executive director of the YPC, Ammar al-Adraei, has said the seizure of the ships led to the suspension of “more than 50 percent of the operational capabilities of the service, industrial and commercial sectors.”

More than 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger. That is according to UN data.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war on Yemen has claimed more than 100,000 lives since March 2015.



Southeast Asia


Malaysia uses mosque sermons to overcome Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy

Nadirah H. Rodzi

March 11, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR - As a committee member at his local mosque in Malaysia's Selangor state, Mr Rasdi Zin is more than familiar with the imam's sermons during Friday prayers advising Muslims on how to go about their daily lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent weeks however, he has noticed an emphasis on vaccination, with the imam encouraging the congregation to register for and receive inoculations.

"For the past two weeks, we received insightful knowledge on how to respond to a deadly pandemic. We were told... to take preventive measures like stay at home, wear a mask and take the Covid-19 vaccine," the 64-year-old retiree told The Straits Times.

"We were reminded not to be selfish or reckless, and to always protect each other, as we live in a society," he added.

These sermons are part of a ground-level effort by many mosques and suraus across the country to overcome vaccine concerns among the majority Muslim Malay population.

Mr Hairol Azmi Khairuddin, Selangor Islamic affairs department's assistant director of the khutbah (sermon) unit, confirmed that sermons were targeted at vaccination.

"Sermons on the Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered twice (in Selangor) - the first was read to the congregation when the country received its first batch of vaccine (on Feb 20). We pay attention to issues that require further clarification," he told ST.

Mr Rasdi said his hesitancy was partly driven by doubts about the vaccines' efficacy rate, as well as some Muslims' belief that vaccines are haram, or not permissible in the religion.

"I'm not anti-vaccine but I was hesitant partly because I do not know whether it is okay to take it. I was confused. So having someone like the imam, who is a respected figure and well-versed in the Islamic law, advising on it helps to address my concerns and also restores my confidence," he said.

The Malaysian government began efforts to allay these concerns months ago, with Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri announcing on Dec 23 that the Covid-19 vaccine is permissible for Muslims.

The religious authorities also issued a national fatwa ruling that the vaccine is "harus" (a must) and "wajib" (compulsory) for those people designated by the government.

The country hopes to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 by February 2022, its target date for inoculating 80 per cent of its 32 million population.

But while Malaysia is ramping up its vaccine portfolio, vaccine registrations have moved at a slower pace than expected. Only 3.8 million people have registered for vaccination so far, just 14 per cent of the total target.

Religious officials in Perak state have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses and combat misinformation by anti-vaccine groups.

Last Sunday (March 7), state executive councillor Mohd Akmal Kamaruddin said the Perak government would cooperate with the state's Islamic religious department to deliver sermons on the importance of vaccination.

"We will continue to ensure the topic is emphasised to create awareness of taking the vaccines to protect ourselves and others around us," he told reporters. "This is among the efforts taken by the state government to provide accurate information on vaccines, against false news spread by anti-vaccine groups," he added.

Perlis, the country's northernmost state, has followed suit.

"The state has several times included the topic and Covid-19 in our (Friday prayer) sermons. This is a command from the state ruler, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail, who wants the matter to be raised," Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin told ST.


Islamic finance players should take charge of digital economy, says Bank Islam CEO

10 Mar 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — The Islamic finance industry can play a more significant role in the global digital economy by experimenting and employing new technology solutions, said Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief executive officer (CEO) Mohd Muazzam Mohamed.

Noting that the current Covid-19 pandemic had accelerated digital shifts, he urged industry players to play a significant role in and take charge of the digital economy. 

“We need to be agile in responding to the digital shifts. All of us should always keep in mind that we should not get caught failing to recognise new disruptive trends and technology, unwilling to pivot due to complacency or even not trying to spot the emerging opportunities,” he said during a session on “Global Update on Islamic Digital Banking and Islamic Fintech” at the 16th Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum (KLIFF) held virtually today.

Mohd Muazzam said Bank Islam, being the first Islamic bank in the country, had taken charge to establish the Centre of Digital Experience (CDX) and was now working to lay a foundation to set up a sub-brand digital banking window to help harness the growing digital economy.

He said the CDX would be able to innovate and push new boundaries.

“Our digital bank window will then feed, not replicate, what Bank Islam is doing. it will provide a platform-based solutions so that more people can have Shariah-compliant products,” he added.

Mohd Muazzam said the bank would provide an ecosystem to empower the underserved such as the gig workers, independent contractors, and solopreneurs.

Shariah-compliant mobile application HelloGold’s CEO and co-founder Robin Lee said the move to digitalise the Islamic finance industry would benefit the end-users and financial technology players like the company.

“We want to look for a segment in the landscape that we believe that we can fundamentally change and compete in successfully, where we see inefficiency or an ability to create access and therefore get customers to generate profits,” he added.

Lee said the company’s motivation in Islamic finance or traditional sectors was to exploit the opportunities it saw and create products and services, which in turn provided a challenge to traditional providers to react to.

“They should react because they also see the opportunity to get (into) the space, which would lower their cost and improve their margins,” he added. — Bernama



Arab World


Mohammed bin Salman Orders House Arrest of Father-in-Law over Meeting with US Security Official


MbS issued the house arrest order after Mashour bin Abdulaziz had met with an "important US security official" without the "knowledge of Saudi security officials", the Saudi source told the Saudi Wikileaks website.

Mashour is the half-brother of the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Five children of Ibn Saud, the founder and first king of Saudi Arabia, the "third Saudi state", are still alive and all younger than King Salman and could pose a threat to the MbS ascending to the throne after his father.

The United States government recently confirmed reports that the public had long identified as true. MbS personally ordered the execution of Khashoggi. The Washington Post columnist was kidnapped in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey in October 2018 and strangled to death before being chopped to pieces.

While Washington released the report, President Joe Biden failed to reprimand the crown prince, apparently to maintain relations between the two countries. Biden was adamant that he would treat Saudi Arabia very differently to ex-President Donald Trump. But his response to the findings of the report into Khashoggi’s death shows that righteousness often disappears when in office.

Yet, Khashoggi's case has not been the only gaffe unveiling the primitive and savage traits of the MbS as an autocrat. There have also been other cases that have troubled Washington in area of human rights and legitimacy. In November 2017, dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and former ministers were detained and placed in a luxury hotel under tight security guard over allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials, and misappropriation of public funds for personal benefits.

The detentions had been ordered by Saudi Arabia’s so-called Anti-Corruption Committee headed by MbS, in a crackdown widely believed to be aimed at consolidating his power.

The majority of those high-profile figures later agreed to monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom and paid colossal sums of money.

Another case of disreupte is the war on Yemen which has implicated the Saudi regime, specially the MbS, in war crimes, genocide and crime against humanity.

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 Ansarullah movement. The war has taken a heavy toll on Yemen's infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories.

The United Nations estimated in late 2020 that the war had caused as many as 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food and deadly disease.

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

The Houthi Ansarullah Movement, backed by the Yemeni Armed Forces and allied popular groups, has gone from strength to strength against the Saudi-led invaders, and successfully defended Yemen against the aggression, leaving Riyadh and its allies bogged down in the county.

Several human right groups and charities have accused the Western governments of prolonging the war in Yemen by permitting the sale of weapons and military equipments to the kingdom and its allies.


Detained children beaten, threatened with rape by Bahrain police: Rights groups

11 March 2021

Bahrain’s police forces have beaten children they arrested on the anniversary of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising, threatening them with rape and electric shocks, according to two human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said in a joint statement on Wednesday that Bahraini prosecutors and judges enabled the abuses, urging the Manama regime to drop abusive charges against children.

Governments that support Bahrain and its police and security forces, including the United States and the United Kingdom, should ensure their aid is not funding abuses and publicly demand accountability, the statement said.

“A police officer who threatens a 13-year-old with rape or electric shocks from a car battery is an abominable stain on Bahrain’s reputation,” said Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, advocacy director at BIRD. “Bahraini police officers treated children as enemies who must be terrorized into confessing, while prosecutors and judges shut parents and lawyers out of proceedings.”

Bahraini police arrested and detained 13 children in early to mid-February, some of whom could face sentences of up to 20 years in prison, the statement said.

February 14 marked the 10th anniversary of the popular uprising in Bahrain, with thousands of people staging nationwide demonstrations across the country, demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama, however, has so far brutally clamped down on any sign of dissent.

According to the report, five children, who were arrested on February 14 and 15, said that police from the station beat, insulted, and threatened them with electric shocks from a car battery.

An officer hit a 13-year-old on the head and threatened to rape him, gave him electric shocks, and beat his genitals, his father said. The officer repeated the rape threat even after his father was allowed to join him.

“These abuses by Bahrain’s criminal justice system are the latest entry in a long record of harming children to send a repressive message,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The UK, US, and other governments should ensure that their security support to Bahrain is not being used to torture and humiliate kids.”

The report comes two months after Human Rights Watch said the human rights record of the Bahraini regime has not improved, because authorities failed to prosecute officials and police officers who allegedly committed serious human rights violations, including torture.

“Bahraini authorities use the many repressive tools available to them to silence and punish anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain has escalated its use of the death penalty, targeted people for their social media activity, and denied medical treatment to prominent opposition figures in detention.”

Last month, the February 14 Youth Coalition, a movement named after the date of the beginning of the Bahraini uprising, called for unity among all political groups and people of the Arab country to topple the country’s ruling family.

The movement also called for bringing about “fundamental changes” in the country’s political system, saying such reforms are the most important demand of the Bahraini people.


Saudi drone attacks highlight a new era of ‘war-by-remote’ in the Middle East: Expert

Jennifer Bell

10 March ,2021

A recent barrage of drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia highlights a growing era of “war by remote” in the Middle East as terrorists utilize unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to commit acts of violence across the region, experts say.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia regularly launches unmanned missiles into Saudi Arabia, many of which Riyadh says it intercepts, and in recent weeks more than a dozen attacks using drones have been reported across the Kingdom. The attacks have drawn worldwide condemnation.

Yossi Mekelberg, a former professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, and a fellow at Chatham House, has been following warfare in the Middle East for decades.

He told Al Arabiya English the Middle East is “seeing more and more unmanned vehicles” being deployed by terrorists in the region.

“If you think about it, it is a cheap way to construct warfare if you have the technology,” he said.

They also have another huge advantage; deniability.

“It is effective, terrorists do not have to risk their own military personnel and it provides the ability for plausible deniability for those behind the attacks,” said Mekelberg.

Drones are not as “obvious” as tanks or traditional air force, meaning terrorists can hide behind a cloak of anonymity until they – if they choose – take credit for such attacks, according to Mekelberg.

“It is a time of war by remote – drones, unfortunately, is the way forward (for terrorists),” he added. “We will see home incidents of it across the region, be in Saudi, be it Syria, Israel, Lebanon, in Afghanistan.”

On Monday night, the Arab Coalition announced it had intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi militia targeting Khamis Mushait. Another explosive drone was also intercepted and destroyed.

The attacks on Monday came one day after the Arab Coalition confirmed that Iran supplied the weapons that were used in the attack on Aramco’s oil port and facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Some attacks have previously hit Abha International Airport which is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the border with Yemen.

Last week the Arab Coalition intercepted two explosive-laden drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis towards Saudi Arabia’s Jazan and Khamis Mushait, raising the number of such drone attacks to eight over a 24-hour period; attacks which left at least seven civilians injured, according the Saudi authorities.

In February, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Abha airport which caused a civilian plane to catch fire. The militia said the airport was a military target, according to AFP.

The Houthi’s explosive-laden unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were the latest in a series of escalated cross-border aerial attacks on the Kingdom by the Iran-backed militia in Yemen.

Mekelberg said while drones were traditionally viewed of as “something small and innocent” this is no longer the case.

“They are definitely not small anymore and they are definitely not innocent.”

Mekelberg said drones or UAVs are now known as a “loitering munition,” autonomous and unmanned technology that can loiter around a target before striking. UAV refers to all types of small and mid-sized autonomous devices with no pilot in them. They can be controlled remotely by a ground-based pilot or can fly following a pre-defined flight plan.

Some drone models, using the latest technology, can use GPS signals from satellites to connect as well as communicate their location to the pilot. Terrorists can use such drone technology for surveillance, reconnaissance or for crashing into targets.

Drones, depending on their type, can travel between tens and hundreds of thousands of miles.

Technology in warfare

“It is the closest thing to artificial intelligence (AI) in warfare – and it is scary,” said Mekelberg, adding that the threat has been growing for years.

“These drones are commanded and guided by human beings – pilots in essence – but those who sit outside than inside a vehicle.”

“Just imagine, in a hypothetical situation, that Iran is targeting a country. It can use a drone without risking one of their own human lives.”

Not risking their own army, can mean terror groups ramp up such attacks, said Mekelberg.

“If you are only risking equipment – not human lives - it can push (terrorists) to escalate the frequency of attacks as losing equipment does not have the same impact as losing one of their own.”

Mekelberg pointed out that it only takes one drone attack to cause significant impact.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia shut down half its oil production after a series of drone strikes hit Saudi Aramco - the world’s largest oil processing facility - in an attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“This is a clear example of how heavy the price of drone attacks can be,” he said.

To combat the threat, many countries in the region are now investing heavily in drone technology.

Every piece of drone technology sends some sort of signal and can be intercepted if the right technology is there, said Mekelberg. Once detected, drones can be destroyed instantaneously.

“More emphasis now on developing drones and developing technology to protect borders,” he said, adding: “At the end of the day, electronic warfare is all about who is one step ahead.


UAE, Israel discuss establishing quarantine-free travel corridor

Tuqa Khalid

10 March ,2021

The UAE and Israel are discussing establishing a quarantine-free travel corridor, the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

“The travel corridor, which would apply to passengers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, will facilitate travel for commercial, tourism, and official purposes,” the UAE’s statement read.

The two countries aim to finalize and implement the agreement in April 2021.

“As the two countries leading the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns, the UAE and Israel expressed their shared commitment to demonstrating that ending the pandemic requires widespread, effective vaccination and coordination between countries,” the statement added.

The UAE signed the US-brokered Abraham Accord, agreeing to normalize relations with Israel last September. In December, the Gulf country activated tourist entry visas through airlines and travel and tourism offices for Israeli passport holders until the ratification of mutual visa waivers.

The Head of Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, Eitan Naeh, said recently Israel was looking into potential road traffic with the UAE to further develop the bilateral trade corridor.

Naeh told UAE’s state news agency WAM in February around 130,000 Israeli tourists visited the UAE since air traffic was launched between the two countries, with air and sea links enabling goods traffic on flights within a few hours and ships within 16 days.


Israel’s Netanyahu cancels planned UAE visit: Reports

11 March ,2021

A planned visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday was cancelled, Israel’s public radio Kan said, citing a source involved in the planning.

Neither Israel nor the UAE have formally confirmed that such a visit - the first by the prime minister to the Gulf power - was to have taken place, nor that it was being reviewed.

Israeli media reported the planned visit on Wednesday, saying Netanyahu would meet Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Commentators deemed it as a chance for Netanyahu to flourish his diplomatic credentials ahead of Israel’s March 23 election.

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli media said the planned visit could be held up or cancelled by questions over an illness suffered by Netanyahu’s wife.


Arab Coalition destroys Houthi missile launcher in Yemen’s Marib: SPA

11 March ,2021

The Arab Coalition destroyed on Wednesday a “hostile aerial target,” belonging to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen's Marib, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

The Coalition released video footage showing what it said was an airstrike targeting a Houthi SAM-6 missile-launcher at a warehouse in Marib.

The Coalition’s strike comes after a series of escalated cross-border aerial assaults on Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in Yemen.

The Saudi authorities said on Sunday Iran-backed Houthis fired an explosive-laden drone at the Ras Tanura Port, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility.

And shrapnel from a ballistic missile launched towards the Kingdom fell near a residential area in the city of Dhahran, used by the world’s biggest oil company, Saudi Aramco.

Saudi Arabia has also recently reported intercepting dozens of Houthi drones launched towards civilian areas in the Kingdom.


Lebanese actors hold play in theater razed by Beirut blast to help heal divided city

11 March ,2021

Rawaa Talass

An ensemble of stage actors from Lebanon have come together to express solidarity with Beirut’s theater community after it was rocked, along with the rest of the city, in the deadly explosion on August 4.

The explosion at the port last year caused significant damage to the city, with over 200 people confirmed dead. Survivors from the explosion continue to endure a psychological toll, while protests continue against a government-led investigation into the cause of the blast.

Last November, the stage group held an online and charitable theater play called “Whispers” (or ‘Hamasat’ in Arabic), telling the narrative of actors rehearsing for a play on the day of the explosion.

In the play, the actors finished rehearsing at 6:00 pm, making their way to the Mar Mikhael neighborhood, where they hear the sound of a fire erupting at the port. A suspenseful blackout occurs and the audience quietly knows what happens next.

The idea started with the Lebanese actor and producer Agatha Ezzedine, who, although is based in London, was devastated and felt the need to do something when Beirut was torn apart in a matter of seconds. The city’s artistic landscape endured a massive blow that day, with museums, galleries, and theater venues in close proximity to the port gutted.

“All the theaters got destroyed in some shape or form. It’s so sad because originally they never get help as it is from the government,” she said.

While some might view the arts as non-essential, Ezzedine, as a cultural worker, nevertheless emphasizes its importance in the long run.

“When you’re in a crisis of that scale, naturally the first things you want to maintain are keeping a roof above people’s head, keeping the hospitals and small businesses going. The first thing that gets cut out is culture because it’s not a necessity for life. But it was important to still think that we need to maintain our culture because I believe culture is a big part of a country’s identity,” she states.

As director of the fundraising NGO ‘Impact Lebanon’, Ezzedine decided to also contact theater producer Josyane Boulos and theater director, Professor Lina Abiad shortly after the explosion. In a time when the country is on its knees due to the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented financial crisis, and a negligent government, the trio’s aim was to raise funds to restore the impacted venues and support fellow theater professionals.

Among those damaged, most are located in the areas of Achrafieh, Mar Mikhael, and Gemmayze, including the well-known Black Box Beirut, Al Madina Theatre, Theatre Gemmayze, Melkonian Theater and Theatre Monnot, which opened in 1997.

The presence of these intimate and underground spaces affirms Beirut’s long held status of a vibrant theater life in the region.

“Lebanon had such a strong theater because from all the Arab countries, this is one of the [few] countries that had freedom of speech, where all the Arabs would come to Beirut to write, paint, speak and publish. It’s still there. I really admire the audience in Beirut – they’re open-minded and ready to be challenged,” Abiad said, who teaches performing arts at Lebanese American University.

Making it a transnational project, Ezzedine consulted with six British playwrights such as Angela Harvey and John Jesper, to donate different monologs (later translated into Arabic), free of rights and charge to the cast.

“Since I heard about the Beirut explosion, I really wanted to do something to help and especially help my fellow theater artists,” contributing actor and writer Geraldine Brennan wrote in a post on Instagram.

Filmed in one of the destroyed venues, Whispers is composed of a cast of twelve reputable performers of the Lebanese scene: Badih Abou Chakra, Bernadette Houdeib, Sany Abdul Baki, Nada Abou Farhat, including Nadine Labaki and Georges Khabbaz.

This group stands as a rare collaboration of actors in the country, none of them received payment, and were committed to the producers’ vision of granting 100 percent of the funds to those affected by the blast. On a simple set, they delve into a multitude of topical themes, such as feminism, relationships, mental health, loneliness caused by COVID-19, and other socio-political issues.

Abiad admits that directing Whispers was an emotionally difficult endeavor, as the pain hasn’t subsided from all that has been lost on August 4.

“It’s as if you’re learning how to speak and think again,” she explained. “That’s why we called it ‘Whispers’ – we are just whispering these texts and we are learning again how to be creative, to write, to laugh.”

In a single pre-recorded online showing the Whispers team raised over 70 million Lebanese pounds, which was then distributed to the destroyed venues. Screened on YouTube, it attracted more than 3,500 viewers from all around the world. According to the theater’s organizers, the first screening deemed successful, which is why a second one will be launched by late March/early April 2021. They hope to gain more viewers by including English and French subtitles, and eventually support young local production professionals.

Whispers started as a project to bring artists together, and raise funds for repair, but organizers later realized that the project could also bring people together in camaraderie and heal.

“We thought we were saving the theater, but it ended up that the theater saved us,” Abiad said.


Iran, Turkey slam controversial Kurdish stamp marking Pope’s visit to Iraq

11 March 2021

Iran and Turkey have strongly censured the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for its reported plans to print a contentious postage stamp commemorating Pope Francis’ recent trip to the Iraqi semi-autonomous region.

On March 5-8, the head of the Roman Catholic Church made a historic visit to Iraq and its northern Kurdistan region, where he met with senior officials and held prayers and masses.

The KRG’s Ministry of Transportation and Communication issued six stamps to mark the visit. One of the stamps depicts a map of the so-called “Greater Kurdistan,” which includes the Kurdish-majority parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, behind a likeness of the pontiff.

“It is crystal-clear that what is published is against international principles and rules,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Wednesday.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has issued a protest to the Iraqi government over the matter and demanded that the stamps be recalled and this unfriendly act be immediately corrected.”

Additionally on Wednesday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said that one of the KRG’s commemorative stamps shows a map that “includes some provinces in our country,” calling on Kurdish authorities to “correct the grave error.”

“Certain presumptuous authorities in the KRG dared to abuse the mentioned visit, to express their unrealistic aspirations against the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighboring countries,” it said in a statement.

“KRG authorities are in the best position to remember the disappointing outcomes of such deceitful aims,” it added.

Similarly, the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front released a statement, condemning the KRG’s move as “threatening to the territorial integrity of Iraq, including the governorates of Kirkuk and Mosul. This step is considered a direct threat to Iraqi, regional and international security.”

“We advise the regional government and the Kurdish political parties to preserve the security and unity of Iraq and the region and not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said, in a vague reference to the region’s abortive push for secession in 2017. 

Reacting to criticisms about the stamp, KRG spokesperson Jutyar Adil tried to distance the local government from the designs and claimed they “were submitted by artists” and that “none of them have been officially approved.”

“The regional government, in the spirit of protecting Iraqi sovereignty and its neighboring countries, will study and decide on issuing any postage stamp candidates and all that has come so far are mere proposals,” he told a press conference.

The KRG’s Minister of Transportation and Communication Ano Abdoka also stressed that the designs “are not final” and that the ministry’s work is “always within the framework of respecting the constitution and the national sovereignty of Iraq, land and people.”

On September 25, 2017, the KRG held a non-binding referendum on secession from Iraq despite strong opposition from Iraqi authorities, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries.

The Iraqi parliament had ruled the vote unconstitutional beforehand.

The region then refused to hand over its airports and border crossings to Baghdad as it was ordered, triggering a military escalation. It eventually accepted Baghdad's conditions, and took its paramilitary forces out of much of the territory it controlled.

Former KRG president Masoud Barzani resigned from his post after seeing his campaign for the secession going awry.



North America


US, Israel to hold first strategic consultative group meeting: White House

Joseph Haboush

10 March ,2021

Washington and Tel Aviv will hold the first US-Israeli Strategic Consultative Group meeting on March 11, the White House announced Wednesday.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat will head the delegations of both sides, according to a statement from the White House.

“The discussion will focus on regional issues, building on the close consultations between the two sides over the past several months,” the White House said. “This meeting is part of the broader ongoing dialogue between the United States and Israel on the full range of issues of importance to the bilateral relationship, building on longstanding dialogues between our two nations under previous administrations.”

Thursday’s meeting will be some of the most high-level talks between the US and Israel since President Joe Biden took office.

Biden called tens of world leaders before speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House denied that Biden was “snubbing” the Israeli PM, who is up for reelection later this year.

Israel has also reportedly been frustrated with the pace at which the Biden administration is moving to facilitate direct talks with Iran, arguably Israel’s greatest national security concern.

During the Obama administration, Israel and Washington’s Gulf allies were not included in negotiations that led to the Iran nuclear deal.


US Secretary Blinken says ‘ball is in Iran’s court,’ denies releasing frozen funds

10 March ,2021

The “ball is in Iran’s court,” and it is on Tehran to prove that it’s serious about re-engaging with the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

Washington has repeatedly expressed an interest and willingness to sit down with Iran for direct talks on the nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.

But since the European Union extended the invite to Iran, weeks ago, the Biden administration has been given the cold shoulder.

“We said we would attend and Iran, so far, said no. I think the ball is in their court to see if they’re serious about re-engaging or not,” Blinken said during a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Blinken reiterated previous stances that the US believes a deal with Iran is in its best interest. “We have an interest in getting Iran back into that nuclear box,” he said, in reference to the 2015 deal, which he claims prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The top US diplomat said the best, “most sustainable way” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon was through “tough-minded diplomacy.”

Blinken later denied reports that the US had agreed to release $3 billion in frozen Iranian funds in different countries. “We're not. The report is incorrect,” he said when asked about the move.

On Sunday, Iran’s trade official said that the US would release $3 billion in Iranian funds frozen in Iraq, Oman and South Korea due to Washington’s sanctions.

Asked if there was any intention to release any money to Iran, Blinken said: “If Iran comes back into compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement ... we would pursue sanctions relief. But unless and if Iran comes back into compliance, they won’t be getting that relief. And the report that you’re referring to is simply incorrect.”

Earlier Wednesday, Biden’s special envoy for Iran said the US would not make any concessions to Iran before it came back into full compliance with the JCPOA, an acronym from the nuclear deal.

Blinken echoed those comments during his hearing.


US Capitol reminds me of Kabul, Senate Minority Leader says amid heightened security

11 March 2021

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has objected to the continued stepped-up security in Washington, likening the US capital to Kabul, the capital of war-torn Afghanistan.

“With all this razor wire around the complex, it reminds me of my last visit to Kabul,” McConnell told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, criticizing the security at the Capitol as overreaction.

“I'm extremely uncomfortable with the fact that my constituents can't come to the Capitol,” sid the Kentucky Republican, adding that, “I just checked earlier this morning. There are no serious threats against the Capitol.”

"I think we continue to overreact based on current threat levels and what is needed here at the Capitol. It looks terrible to have the beacon of our democracy surrounded by razor wire and National Guard troops."

Following the deadly Jan. 6 attack by far-right supporters of former US president Donald Trump, the Capitol was placed under tight security that includes a perimeter fence covered with razor wire.

The Pentagon last week approved a US Capitol Police request to extend the deployment of military forces and National Guard troops through May 23 due to potential threats of US domestic terror groups attacking lawmakers at the Capitol.

US security agencies remove Democratic lawmakers from the Capitol last week amid fears of attack by militia groups.

Post-seige review calls for increased security

Capitol Police warned that there was a clear and present threat of a militia-style attack on the Capitol complex.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced that 2,300 or so troops have been approved to remain through May 23, saying that the Pentagon will work to “incrementally reduce” the National Guard “footprint as conditions allow.”

More than 5,000 forces were still in Washington as of this week following security reports of “online chatter” about another “QAnon uprising”, similar to the Jan. 6 attack, which had been scheduled for March 4 but failed to materialize.

Earlier this week, a security task force that had been appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) recommended several measures for improvements to Capitol Police. The recommendations included an increase in staffing, better training and planning as well as an upgrade in security equipment.

The US security review said the Capitol’s policing and surveillance measures are "woefully inadequate" amid fears of violence by supporters of former president Donald Trump.


Iran-Cuba vaccine cooperation sends signal of independence to White House

10 March 2021

Iran’s cooperation with Cuba on manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine is indicative of a strong and clear signal to Washington that its sanctions will not cripple an independent country, says an Iranian expert on geopolitics.

“By cooperating with Cuba on its ‘Soberana,’ which means ‘sovereign’ in Spanish, Iran is sending the message that it will not be crippled or coerced and that it will continue to pursue independence – the beating heart of Iran's national narrative,” TRT World cited Ghoncheh Tazmini, Iranian geopolitics expert and London School of Economics Research Fellow, as saying.

Iran and Cuba signed an agreement in January to cooperate in the coronavirus vaccine project with the use of a technology that will be transferred to Iran by the Cuban government.

The US sanctions have hampered Iran’s access to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, complicating the process of importing vaccines from overseas.

“The possibility of a fourth wave, the problem with emerging variants, require that Iran responds quickly. However, Tehran faces impediments in importing foreign vaccines, leading the country to look beyond the ‘West,’” Tazmini said.

“‘Vaccine diplomacy’ must be seen within the larger rubric of Iran's foreign policy imperatives: fostering non-European and non-Western alliance patterns, and alignments in order mitigate external (American and European) political pressure – which in the context of a humanitarian crisis, borders on coercion.”

The vaccine is now undergoing the human phase trials by the Cuban Finlay Institute and the Pasteur Institute of Iran.

According to TRT, the Turkish state-owned news channel, the vaccine, which does not require refrigeration, is due for release in May.

Helen Yaffe, a lecturer in Economic and Social History at University of Glasgow and author of We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People have Survived in a Post-Soviet World, told TRT World, “The US increased sanctions against Cuba in the hopes that it would, combined with the pandemic and economic crisis, really tip Cuba over the edge.”

“The Cuban economy has been, yes, hard hit by the pandemic as most other economies in the world. The difference is Cuba doesn’t have access to international finance, so it can’t get through an economic crisis with a loan from the IMF, the World Bank, the inter-American Development Bank – it has no lender of last resort,” Yaffe said.

The report referred to Cuba’s success in biotechnology and its experience with vaccinations, noting that Soberana 02 would also cost less than other candidates, presenting a viable solution to other Global South countries.

Iran officially began the nationwide vaccination campaign against the COVID-19 with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in February, delivering jabs to frontline health workers in the first phase.

Iranian scientists have been working on developing domestic vaccines against the coronavirus, two of which are in the human trial phase.

The first vaccine, named 'Coviran Barekat,' was produced by experts at the Headquarters for Executing the Order of Imam Khomeini.

The second COVID-19 vaccine is a product of the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute. Razi COV-Pars — an mRNA recombinant vaccine — is administered via injection and inhalation.


Biden reviewing Trump's listing of Cuba as terrorism sponsor -White House

MARCH 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing former President Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism but a broader Cuba policy shift is not currently among Biden’s top priorities, the White House said on Tuesday.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration is in no rush for major gestures toward Communist-ruled Cuba, despite hopes for a softer approach after Trump rolled back historic Obama-era détente with Havana.

Her remarks provided public confirmation of comments made last week by a senior White House official who told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Cuba policy was not among the top issues that Biden was focused on for now.

“A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities,” Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing. “But we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy and we are committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism,” she said.

Nine days before Trump left office, his administration announced on Jan. 11 it was returning Cuba to that particular U.S. list, citing its harboring of American fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders and security support for socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Trump’s move was a further reversal of rapprochement that former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, orchestrated between the old Cold War foes.

Critics said Trump’s decision was highly politicized and not supported by evidence. Trump’s hardline policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in south Florida, helping him win the state in November though he lost the election.

Eighty U.S. House of Representatives Democrats urged Biden in a March 3 letter to repeal Trump’s “cruel” sanctions on Cuba and renew engagement.

Psaki said one of the guiding principles for Cuba policy would be support for democracy and human rights. She also said “Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”

Biden’s advisers previously suggested he could start by loosening up remittances from Cuban Americans and easing restrictions on family travel. But the White House has indicated that such steps may not be coming anytime soon.



South Asia


Security will remain crucial with or without peace: SIGAR

11 Mar 2021

In the SIGAR’s 2021 High-Risk report, John F. Sopko Special inspector general said “with or without a sustainable peace agreement and nationwide ceasefire, Afghanistan will likely continue to be threatened by multiple violent-extremist organizations”.

The report added that the security situation remains crucial and at high risk in the country because the Taliban have not changed their battle tactics, and extreme violence, political objectives, terrorist groups like Islamic State Khorasan (Daesh) and Al Qaeda still remains in the country.

According to the report “Any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

“These issues could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country to provide counterterrorism support and to train, advise, and assist Afghanistan’s security institutions”.

Sopko indicated, that any political agreement risks subordinate groups going roque possibly

Presenting SIGAR’s 2021 High-Risk List to US Congress, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

Following the withdrawal of troops if the US will not facilitate Afghanistan in counterterrorism, support train, assist and advise the Afghan security, such issues will become even more pronounced, the report added.

Inspector General Sopko iterated that keeping with SIGAR’s statutory mandate to promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency, the High-Risk List identifies serious risks to the United States’ $143 billion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

According to Sopko, stalled negotiations and continuing high levels of violence are putting the reconstruction efforts in the country at great risk than ever before.

Sopko said, “As we note in this report, whether or not the United States continues to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan pursuant to last year’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, the new Administration and Congress will have to decide whether and to what extent reconstruction will continue.

“Although Afghanistan’s leadership have often stated that their goal is self-reliance, Afghanistan today is nowhere near to being self-reliant – especially in funding its government operations, including military and police – from its own resources.

“And, as highlighted in our report, reconstruction aid helps keep Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist safe haven,”.

 “Today the gains from our nation’s investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction face multiple threats: continued insecurity, uncertain post-peace settlement funding, the challenge of reintegrating fighters, endemic corruption, lagging economic growth and social development, threats to women’s rights, the illicit narcotics trade, and inadequate oversight by donors” Sopko stated.

He also pointed that level of the violence has intensified, including not only the attacks on Afghan security forces but also bomb attacks and targeted assassinations on civilians, mid-level officials, prominent women, and journalists.

Adding to his statement he said that the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming Afghanistan’s health sector and has severely impacted its economy and people.

This report is “intended to provide an independent and sober assessment of the various risks now facing the Administration and Congress as they seek to make decisions about the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.” Sopko said.

By focusing on elements of US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan that are essential to success; at risk of failure due to waste, fraud, or abuse; and subject to the control or influence of the US government, the High-Risk List was prepared.

The key factors using these criteria, SIGAR findings show eight areas at high risks, which are increasing insecurity, uncertain funding for a post-peace settlement, the need to reintegrate ex-combatants, endemic corruption, lagging economic growth and social development, illicit narcotics trade, threats to women’s right, inadequate oversight.

The report indicated that the failure of Afghan peace negotiations will be plunging the country into worse long-term danger and violence against women, “Women and girls suffer not only loss of life, injury, disability, and mental trauma, but also the loss of male breadwinners, increasingly desperate poverty, the social stigma and discrimination that accompany widowhood and permanent disability, and reduced access to basic services.”

SIGAR report hinted that there are between 55,000 and 85,000 Taliban fighters in the country some of who will be integrated into Afghan National Defense and Security Forces depending on terms of the peace agreement and some will need to change to productive noncombatants status in the civil society.

It is reported that Afghanistan still remains reliant on foreign aid with donors granting at least $8.6 billion annually which covers 80% of the country’s $11 billion public expenditures.

“Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events there as foreign troops depart and risks to a potential peace if they reduce assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict,” according to the report

SIGAR warned that Afghanistan’s limited fiscal capacity is inadequate to sustain infrastructures such as roads, power generation, and economic supply chains.

“The Afghan government’s lack of financial sustainability is an issue affecting all high-risk areas identified by SIGAR,” the report indicated.

SIGAR also noted that the detrimental effects of the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan do not only affect the health system but also help fund insurgents, foster corruption, and provoke criminal violence.

SIGAR denoted that illegal drugs do not only affect the health system but also fund insurgents, terrorists, foster corruption and provokes criminal violence.

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghanistan’s opium economy has remained resilient. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghanistan’s 2020 opium-poppy harvest was largely uninterrupted by COVID-19,” read the report.

Another key risk factor was the government’s failure to effectively address the systemic corruption in Afghanistan.

The report also found that the Afghan government has failed to effectively address systemic corruption, and has taken limited steps to restrict and curb systemic corruption and that more practical action is required in this regard.

“The Afghan government often makes “paper” reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than taking concrete actions that would reduce corruption, like arresting or enforcing penalties on powerful Afghans”, the report added.

Sopko also reminded the U.S congress that SIGAR is the only authority that remains the best US defense against waste, fraud, and abuse of US taxpayer funds in Afghanistan.


KSA promises to vaccinate Bangladeshi migrants

March 11, 2021

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has assured that all Bangladeshi migrants -- regular or irregular -- would be vaccinated and that they won't be forcibly sent back to Bangladesh.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said this to journalists at the foreign ministry yesterday, following a 10-day visit to the KSA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Referring to his meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in Riyadh, he said he expressed gratitude to Saudi authorities for providing treatment to the Bangladeshi migrants in the Kingdom during the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been an issue that those who became irregular were not eligible for the vaccination against Covid-19, Shahriar Alam said, adding that in response to his request, the Saudi minister assured of ensuring that the irregular workers also come under vaccination programme.

Al-Jubeir also assured that the Saudi authorities will not force any irregular migrants to return to Bangladesh.

The KSA is home to some 23 lakh Bangladeshis.

In the last several years, there were thousands of cases that undocumented Bangladeshis were detained and deported.

In some cases, they even had valid iqamas, but were deported because they were found by the police in places where they were not meant to work.

Shahriar Alam also said that the Bangladeshi migrant workers, whose passports have already expired and are yet to secure MRP passports from the missions concerned, will get a one-year extension of their hand-written passports and that the government will not charge the extension fees of Saudi Riyal 25.

"We are extending the passports of the migrants so that they have no problems in finding jobs," he said.

On reports that the KSA wants to send back 55,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh as they traveled to the Kingdom with Bangladeshi passports, Alam said Dhaka has proposed a joint commission comprised of officials from Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia for addressing the issues.

"There might be some irregularities [in the issuance of passports], but we need to conduct strict scrutiny. So, we have proposed the joint commission," he said.

Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia relations have widened over the last decade.

Saudi investors are interested in investing in the capacity building of Chittagong port and renewable energy.

This can happen under an agreement between Bangladesh's Public-Private-Partnership Authority and the Saudi authorities concerned.

Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have also expressed consensus to work together in the global arena against militancy and terrorism, as well as the anti-Muslim sentiment that has developed due to some extremist groups.

Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh will help Saudi Arabia, if required, by sending troops in the areas of minesweeping in the Saudi border, but not to join the Saudi coalition against Yemen.

"We are with Saudi Arabia against Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia."

He proposed offers of contract farming both to the Saudi minister as well as the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

OIC has responded positively, asking Dhaka to prepare a policy on contract farming in all the OIC countries.

"We have achieved food autarky and developed skilled workforce and expertise. So, we should use it in other parts of the world to achieve food security," he said.





Mosque built by Turkish Red Crescent in Pakistan opens

Islamuddin Sajid 



A mosque built by the Turkish Red Crescent on the site in northeastern Pakistan where a 120-year-old mosque that was destroyed by an earthquake once stood was opened for worship Wednesday.

Mosque built by Turkish Red Crescent in Pakistan opens

The mosque, built in the village of Hokran Chak in Jhang district of Punjab province, was inaugurated by Turkish Red Crescent Secretary General Huseyin Can.

The organization's International Programs and Operations Director Alper Uluca, Turkish Red Crescent Delegation President in Pakistan Ibrahim Carlos Camilo and Zafar Iqbal, president of the NGO World Foundation, also attended the ceremony.

Upon their arrival, the Turkish delegation was warmly welcomed by the local villagers and thanked for the construction of the mosque in their village.

Addressing the opening ceremony, Huseyin Can said it was a great honor to build a mosque in a brotherly Muslim country.

"Hazrat Ibrahim Mosque was built in 1901 and it was demolished in 2017 during the earthquakes in the region," Can later told Anadolu Agency.

Construction began in October 2019, but its completion was delayed for six months due to the coronavirus outbreak and restrictions in the country.

Can also prayed along with his delegation in the newly built mosque.

The mosque was built on 400 square meters and has a capacity of over 750 worshipers.

A religious seminary was also built on the premises of the mosque for the local children.

"The Turkish nation has not forgotten the friendship of Muslims of the sub-continent," Can said, referring to their assistance in the Turkish War of Independence.

Turkey has always stood behind their Pakistani brothers and sisters in difficult times of floods and earthquakes, he added.

The Turkish Red Crescent has been carrying out humanitarian aid operations in Pakistan since 2005 and supporting the people of the region with many projects.


US-based MQM-L activist planning killings to trigger sectarian rift in Karachi: officials

Imtiaz Ali

March 11, 2021

A United States-based female activist of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London (MQM-L) is allegedly planning assassinations to trigger sectarian violence and chaos in Karachi, officials said on Thursday.

Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Omar Shahid Hamid and Colonel Shabbir from Rangers held a press conference in Karachi during which they showed journalists a video in which a woman is seen giving instructions to an unidentified target killer and promising payment upon successful completion of the assassination.

She told the individual to "send his love" to the target and demanded confirmation of the assassination attempt, adding that "our life depends on it."

In the video, she provides details of the payments to be made to the hitman and arrangements for his security and transport while adding that he would be flown abroad after the successful kill.

DIG Hamid and Col Shabbir then identified the woman as a US-based MQM-L activist, Kehkashan Haider. According to DIG Hamid, she has been based in Texas since the 1990s and has remained a close aide of MQM founder Altaf Hussain.

“The MQM-L’s Coordination Committee member, Kehkashan Haider, has established target killer groups in collaboration with India’s RAW and anti-Pakistan Sindhi and Baloch groups to target law enforcement agencies, police and political and religious leaders in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi,” Hamid said.

Colonel Shabbir said their targets had been individuals whose deaths held potential for creating sectarian strife in the city while DIG Hamid added that other targets were politicians of the city. He refused to share any further details about the targets, citing "concerns about their safety".

DIG Hamid said details of the alleged plot to target these personalities were uncovered by the CTD and the Pakistan Rangers after interrogation of recently arrested alleged hitmen affiliated with the MQM-L from Karachi and other parts of Sindh. The interrogations revealed that targeted killing teams had been re-established under directions of the MQM-L chief.

“These new targeted killing teams were being patronised by Kehkashan Haider,” he said.

The CTD has registered a case against Haider under Sections 11-H and 11-N of Anti-Terrorism Act of Pakistan pertaining to terror financing, DIG Hamid said.

"This has always been a purpose of the MQM-L that terrorism is spread in Karachi [...] so there is no doubt that it is a constant effort of theirs to once again plant feet in Karachi."

He said it was "alarming" that a woman based in the US was coordinating such illicit activities in Karachi "like a mafia don".

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be approached to "take up this matter with the relevant law enforcement institutions of the US government", according to the police officer.

"A clear line of financial transactions is appearing when we traced bank accounts and transactions," he said, adding that the evidence of financial transactions for terror financing made Pakistan's case stronger.

"If there is any aspect of money laundering in this, [then] it will be investigated according to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and looked at by the FIA [Federal Investigation Agency]."

He gave assurances that investigations into the case would be impartial and would not target any political party, referring to the MQM-Pakistan and Pak Sarzameen Party.


Bajwa, ISI chief participate in Bahrain talks on Afghan issue

March 11, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and Director General of Inter-Services Intelli­gence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed attended a session on Afghan peace process in Bahrain, it emerged on Wednesday.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement said: “Current developments in Afghan peace process, border security and necessary steps to be undertaken to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process were discussed” during the meeting which was held on Tuesday.

It was reportedly part of the international efforts to accelerate the Afghan peace process that is virtually stalled at the moment and included key players in the process.

The meeting has taken place at a time when the United States is planning to request the United Nations to convene a meeting of the foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the US so that the regional countries could develop a unified approach for supporting the peace process.

The Biden administration has also proposed a ‘power sharing agreement’ between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Diplomatic efforts have recently intensified to bring peace to war-torn nation

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani, underscored the urgency for a political settlement of the Afghan dispute, while warning that “Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” in the eventuality of a US withdrawal. The US, under an agreement signed with the Taliban in February 2020, has to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1.

US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalil-zad, who visited Pakistan on Monday, in his meeting with Gen Bajwa stressed the need to accelerate progress towards “a just and durable peace” in Afghanistan.

Russia is, meanwhile, hosting a meeting of the ‘extended troika’ on March 18. The US, China, Pakistan, Afghan government and the Taliban have been invited to the meeting by Moscow.

Gen Bajwa, meanwhile, held meetings with Commander Bahrain Nation Guard Field Marshal Mohammed Bin Isa Al Khalifa and Bahraini National Security Adviser Maj Gen Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

“During the meetings, issues of mutual interest and regional security situation came under discussion. COAS offered Pakistan’s complete support in achieving shared interests in bilateral security cooperation including training and capacity building,” the ISPR said.


Uzbekistan offered access to Pakistani ports

Baqir Sajjad Syed

March 11, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Min­­ister Imran Khan on Wednesday assured Uzbe­kis­tan of complete facilitation in access to Pakistani ports.

Mr Khan held out the assurance during a meeting with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Dr Abdulaziz Kamilov, who was on a two-day visit to Pakistan.

Mr Khan, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office after the meeting, said that Pakis­tan’s Karachi and Gwadar ports could become “the gateway to the landlocked Central Asia as Pakistan provided the Central Asian Republics the shortest route to international seas”.

Pakistan, he said, would facilitate Uzbekistan’s access to its ports.

Uzbekistan, which currently relies on Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas for external trade, is exploring other options and is prioritising Pakistani ports because of short distance, being more economical and due to some political considerations.

Uzbekistan is working with Pakistan on the development of two options — the first is the Trans-Afghan railway project while the second is the road route via China.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan had in Tash­kent in February signed a roadmap for the construction of almost 600km of Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Pesh­a­war railway line. The project, which is expected to take five years for completion at an estimated cost of $4.8 billion, enjoys the backing of international lending agencies including the World Bank.

Mr Khan welcomed the proposed Trans-Afghan railway project and underscored Pakistan’s commitment to support all efforts for the earliest realisation of this important connectivity project.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has been desirous of acceding to the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA), an agreement between China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to facilitate transit traffic and trade. Pakistan has been supporting Uzbekistan in this regard also.

The road project under this agreement would provide an alternative link between Pakistan and Central Asia while bypassing Afghanistan through the Karakoram Highway which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region and further on to Central Asia.

Dr Kamilov’s visit was also focused on regional connectivity and he extended invitations to Mr Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for participation in Central Asia-South Asia Connectivity Conference in Tashkent in July.

Mr Khan told Dr Kamilov that he looked forward to visiting Uzbekistan and that his government wanted enhanced trade and regional connectivity.


During the delegation-level talks, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Uzbek counterpart Dr Kamilov exchanged views on enhancement of economic cooperation, mutual support in international fora, regional connectivity and tourism promotion.

The two foreign ministers, the Foreign Office said, expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved in advancing the rail connectivity between the two countries and agreed on early completion of the Trans-Afghan railway project.

Mr Qureshi called for establishing direct air connectivity between the two countries to boost up trade and tourism. He also stressed the need for quick facilitation of visas for businessmen and tourists.

Visit to GHQ

Dr Kamilov later visited the General Headquarters for a meeting with Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. Director General of ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed also attended the meeting.

“Matters of mutual interest, overall regional situation including the Afghan Peace Process and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed. Both reiterated the desire to further enhance bilateral relations including efforts for peace and security in the region,” the ISPR said in a statement.


PML-N leader booked for thrashing woman constable in Lahore

March 11, 2021

LAHORE: The Islampura police on Wednesday registered a case against a senior leader of the PML-N for allegedly torturing and thrashing a lady police constable on the premises of an accountability court.

The police nominated PML-N leader Tanvir Chaudhry in the first information report on the complaint of anti-riot force constable Anam Fatima.

She alleged the suspect tried to enter the premises of the accountability court along with five unknown women without seeking permission. As she and her colleague Sonia Ashraf tried to stop them, Tanvir Chaudhry got furious and slapped her.

He and the unidentified women then thrashed her publicly, Anam alleged adding the attackers also hurled threats at her.

A police official said the matter had been referred to the investigation police for further action against the suspects.


Capt Safdar gets pre-arrest bail in sedition case

March 11, 2021

PESHAWAR: A single-member Peshawar High Court bench on Wednesday granted an interim pre-arrest bail to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader retired Captain Mohammad Safdar until March 22 in a case registered against him here last month on the charges of committing sedition and inciting the personnel of the armed forces to mutiny.

Justice Lal Jan Khattak ordered Mr Safdar, who is the son-in-law of former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, to produce two surety bonds of Rs100,000 each.

He issued a notice to the police for response on the bail plea during the March 22 hearing.

Station house officer of the East Cantonment police station Imran Nawaz Alam had registered an FIR against the PML-N leader over the alleged sedition and incitement of the personnel of the armed forces to mutiny during a media talk on Feb 9 after attending the court proceedings on the high court premises.

The SHO claimed in the FIR that he had registered the case after getting the government’s written permission.

The PML-N leader was booked under Pakistan Penal Code Section 121 (waging war against Pakistan), Section 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against Pakistan), Section 124-A (sedition), 131 (Mutiny or seducing soldier for mutiny), Section 153 (provocation to cause riot) and Section 505 (statement to cause public mischief).

Mudassir Amir, lawyer for Mr Safdar, said his client’s media talk didn’t amount to sedition or other offences mentioned in the FIR.

The SHO claimed that Mr Safdar through his news conference had tried to defame Pakistan and its institutions and spread anarchy in institutions.

He added that the PML-N leader also tried to incite people against the government and institutions and create rifts among the personnel of the armed forces and their leadership.

BAIL EXTENDED: The high court extended the interim pre-arrest bail granted to PML-N leader retired Captain Mohammad Safdar until Mar 18 over an ongoing National Accountability Bureau inquiry about his assets.

A bench consisting of Justice Lal Jan Khattak and Justice Syed M Attique Shah directed the NAB, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials to inform it on the next hearing about whether a private counsel could be hired by the bureau against an accused and if the lawyer could be hired whether the legal requirements were fulfilled in this regard.

It also asked the NAB officials to explain how separate inquiries could be conducted into the accused’s assets in Peshawar and Lahore, simultaneously.

Lawyers Abdul Lateef Afridi and Mudassir Amir appeared for the petitioner, whereas deputy prosecutor general Azeem Dad, senior special prosecutor Mohammad Ali and private counsel Abdul Sattar Khan appeared on behalf of the NAB.

The petitioner’s lawyers said their client’s petition was disposed of by the high court in 2019 stopping the NAB from arresting suspects without warrants.

They said when his client’s arrest warrants were issued and the high court granted him an interim bail, the NAB began an identical inquiry in Lahore to frustrate the court’s order.

NAB DPG Azeem Dad claimed that the Peshawar NAB inquiry was against Mr Safdar only, while the Lahore one was against his family members, including Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

The bench asked NAB lawyer Sattar Khan if the hiring of a private counsel by the bureau didn’t violate the 2016 Supreme Court ruling against the hiring of private counsel in presence of government prosecutors.

The counsel said under Section 8 of the National Accountability Ordinance, the bureau could hire the services of a private lawyer.

The NAB’s prosecutor also submitted the copy of a letter of the NAB Peshawar regional office requesting the bureau’s chairman to hire a counsel in the case.

The bench directed him to produce that letter by Mar 18 and adjourned hearing.


PML-N starts preparations for PDM’s anti-government long-march

March 11, 2021


The Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) has started preparations for Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) anti-government long march, scheduled to commence on March 26.

According to reports, the party leadership has sought suggestions from central and local leaders within a week to formulate a strategy for the march.

Party sources said that the final strategy would be decided in the light of suggestions received from the party's leadership whereas the final nod would be given by former premier Nawaz Sharif after consultations with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif.

On the other hand, Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz and PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz have been given responsibilities regarding the anti-government long march in Punjab.

According to reports, the deposed premier has given the task to organise and mobilise the party in Punjab to Hamza.

In this regard, Hamza would make visits across Punjab before the anti-government protest.

He would also preside over the Workers Convention and various meetings with the provincial leadership of other PDM parties.

On March 8, it was reported that the PDM warned the establishment against any attempt to interfere in the polls for the Senate chair position, scheduled for March 12.

Addressing a news conference after a meeting of the PDM leaders on Monday, PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said there is evidence that intelligence agencies violated the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) code of conduct and tried to influence the March 3 Senate polls by threatening and luring the voters.

“The PDM condemns the move and warns that if the same tactics are repeated during the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman then the PDM would be compelled to present all the evidence before the public,” said Fazl.

The PDM president was flanked by a number of PDM leaders including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz, respectively, the top leaders of the PPP and the PML-N.





Right-Wingers Tweet Morphed Video of AIUDF Chief Saying 'India Will Become Islamic Nation'

Mar 11, 2021

New Delhi: The Hindu right-wing ecosystem – purportedly to help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam to influence the majority of Assamese voters on communal lines in the coming assembly polls – has been circulating on social media a morphed video of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), to claim that he was prodding the Muslims of Assam to vote for him because he would then set up “an Islamic nation” with the help of the Congress and not leave “a single Hindu” without converting them to Islam.

The original speech of Ajmal – uploaded in 2019 on YouTube from a public speech – spoke exactly opposite of what the right-wing twitter handles had tried to establish in poll-bound Assam since March 9 evening.

Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi in that speech in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary polls, Ajmal had said, “The Mughals had ruled this Bharat Varsha for 800 years. It never dreamt of making it an Islamic nation. If that would have been their dream, perhaps not a single person in this country would have remained a Hindu. Everyone would have become a Muslim. Did they? No. It never tried, never dared to. Then came the British for 200 years. They too didn’t dare to make Bharat Varsha a Christian nation. Did they? No. In independent India, the Congress has run this country for 55 of the 70 years. From Nehru to Shastri, to Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, Narasimha Rao, no Congress leader had dreamt of making Bharat Varsha a Hindu Rashtra. Modi ji, please don’t dream such a dream. Your dream will not be fulfilled….”

The doctored video was circulated on March 9 by Legal Rights Observatory (LRO), a wing of the sangh parivar, which claims to do “legal activism to safeguard Indian interest, human rights of armed forces and Hindu cause”. Its tweet had said, “Shocking, Badaruddin Ajmal threatens converting entire Assam into an Islam with the help of INCAssam (Congress a party it is in alliance with for the assembly polls) and INCIndia. Is Congress in SECRET understanding with Ajmal for Partition 2?” It also tagged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to “look into the issue and initiate action” against the AIUDF.

#Shocking Badruddin Ajmal @BadruddinAjmal threatens converting entire #Assam into an Islam with d help of @INCAssam @INCIndia. Is Congress in SECRET understanding with Ajmal for Partition 2?

Sought immediate arrest of Badroo with @AmitShah @himantabiswa @assampolice @AssamCid

— Legal Rights Observatory- LRO (@LegalLro) March 9, 2021

The fake video was thereafter not only circulated by the right-wing ecosystem from across the country on twitter but was also run on March 10 without any verification by the Assamese news channels, including NewsLive, owned by the wife of BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The Assamese news channel Dy365 later deleted the story from its site without an apology to its readers and ran both the original and the doctored versions on its channel.

Interestingly, the fake news was tweeted on March 10 morning by Deepak Chaurasia too, consulting editor of NewsNation TV. His tweet was thereafter quoted for nearly 350 times by the right-wing trolls to circulate the fake news. It was liked over 13,000 times and retweeted over 3,000 times, before he deleted it in the evening.

Reacting to the fake news on March 10, AIUDF MLA Hafiz Rafiqul Islam tweeted the original video and called out Assamese news channels – NewsLive and DY365 – and the “right-wing groups” for “clearly (circulating it) with a vested interest”.

Speaking to The Wire, an AIUDF senior member said, “We have already tagged the ECI about the circulating of the fake video aimed at influencing the elections. Our legal team is looking at taking further action.”

In a hurriedly called press meet at Hojai on March 10, Ajmal said LRO has been circulating fake information about him and his party for some time now. “A fake NGO which doesn’t have an address and no name as to who runs it is circulating this doctored video to upset the chances of the ‘Mahajut’ in the coming Assam elections. They don’t know that neither the Congress nor the AIUDF has at any time said anything communal. It is a completely adulterated video pushed into the market clearly to foment trouble.”

The Assam Police, which has been running a campaign against fake news on twitter, #thinkbeforeyoushare, has however, not reacted to it. Several twitter handles have tagged the state police handle that it is a fake video being widely circulated.

Meanwhile, the LRO handle, on March 10 afternoon, said it had lodged a complaint with the ECI “seeking immediate investigation to check the veracity of speech and action against AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal for allegedly provocative seditious comments during a recent election rally and issue gag order”.

Complaint lodged at @ECISVEEP seeking immediate investigation to check veracity of speech and action against AIUDF Chief @BadruddinAjmal for allegedly provocative seditious comments during a recent election rally n issue gag order #AssamAssemblyPolls @himantabiswa @CMOfficeAssam

— Legal Rights Observatory- LRO (@LegalLro) March 10, 2021

The ‘Ajmal’ factor has been used by the state’s BJP national and state leaders, including Sarma, in successive elections to polarise the majority Assamese votes. In the last assembly elections too, a line plucked out of Ajmal’s speech was adequately utilised to split the votes on communal lines.

In this election though, the narrative in upper Assam, the Assamese heartland where the majority of the state’s assembly constituencies are, has shifted from the ‘Ajmal factor’ to anger against the BJP for supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), thus putting the ruling party in not a very safe spot for the three-phased elections commencing on March 27.


Telangana Muslim Advocates Forum backs TRS candidate

Mar 11, 2021

Hyderabad: Telangana Muslim Advocates Forum on Wednesday announced its support to the TRS for the ensuing graduate MLC elections. In a meeting held on Wednesday, nearly 300 advocates expressed their solidarity with TRS and reposed their faith in the party’s ‘successful governance’.

Nearly 200 Muslim lawyers declared their support for TRS.

Addressing the forum, former minister and MLC Mohammed Fareeduddin extended support to the TRS. He said, “Telangana is a state of peace and development. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is a minority friend and an Urdu speaker. His consciousness of issues faced by the Muslim community has helped the government take constructive steps for the welfare of minorities on a large scale.”

Convenor of the meeting, state president of Telangana Muslim Advocates Forum and Waqf board member Waheed Ahmed stressed that the government believes in giving equal rights to Muslim lawyers in judiciary, an assurance, brought forward from their previous representations submitted to KCR. He urged the government to provide Muslims at least 4% reservation in courts. He urged the government to provide reservation to Muslim lawyers so that they can be appointed as additional advocate general, public prosecutor, government pleaders and additional public prosecutor and other positions while observing that the representation of Muslim lawyers is zero. He added that “in all legislative commissions at least those with a legal education should be given the presidency and membership in the interest of the society and the state.


Two terrorists killed in encounter with security forces in Anantnag

Mar 11, 2021

SRINAGAR: Two terrorists were killed in an overnight encounter with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district, police said on Thursday.

The terrorists opened fire on security forces when they were conducting a search and cordon operation on Wednesday in Kandipora in the district's Bijbehara area, a police official said.

Two terrorists have been killed so far and they are yet to be identified.


J&K Police averted Pulwama-like suicide attacks in south Kashmir: IGP Kashmir

Mar 11, 2021

SRINAGAR: J&K Police on Wednesday claimed to have averted a series of potential Pulwama-type terror attacks planned by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad after arresting seven newly recruited terrorists tasked with planning and executing fidayeen strikes across south Kashmir.

Announcing the operational breakthrough, IGP (Kashmir Range) Vijay Kumar said security forces were on high alert in Srinagar too, based on intelligence inputs about the presence of the Pakistan-backed terror outfit TRF’s J&K chief Abbas in the city’s Chanapora area.

“Awantipora Police foiled a terror bid wherein a Jaish module was planning to carry out a vehicle-based IED attack. We arrested a first-year BA student, Sahil Nazir of Pampore, who was lured through social media. After interrogating him, we arrested four more youths besides seizing a vehicle meant to be used in the attack,” the IGP said.

Sahil told cops that they were planning to carry out a suicide attack with help of an overground worker in north Kashmir.

In another anti-terror operation, the IGP said a Lashkar module headed by terrorist Umar Khanday — involved in killing two unarmed cops in Srinagar’s Barzulla on February 19 — was busted. Khanday had persuaded one Musaib Ahmed from Pampore. “We arrested Musaib who revealed that there was a container at his home with 25kg ammonium powder meant to be used as an IED,” said IGP Kumar.

Upon further questioning, Musaib said the remaining explosive material was supposed to reach from north Kashmir. Based on information obtained from him, another youth, Shahid Sofi, was also arrested. They were planning an explosion at MC building in Pampore.

“All seven youths had been lured through social media networks operated by Pakistan-based terror handlers,” IGP Kumar said, adding that terrorists were adopting new strategies to attack security forces. “We are alert and plugging the loopholes after conducting regular security reviews,” he said.

The IGP said Al-Badr chief Gani Khwaja’s encounter killing on Tuesday evening had dealt a major blow to terrorism in north Kashmir as the slain terrorist commander was instrumental in recruiting youth. “He would also receive new terrorist groups in north Kashmir from across the border and help them reach south Kashmir districts, besides providing logistics support to ultras,” he said, adding that two of Khwaja’s aides managed to flee during the anti-terror operation Tuesday evening.

Khwaja was a senior terrorist and had crossed over to Pakistan in 2000. He returned to the Valley in 2002 and was active for five years before getting arrested in 2007 under the Public Safety Act. He was released a year later. Till December 2015, Khwaja was working as an overground worker. In January 2018, he became active with Hizbul Mujahideen. In 2020, he joined Al-Badr as its chief, IGP Kumar said. Police recovered an AK-47 rifle, five magazines, two grenades and other incriminating material on the slain terrorist.

Clarifying that stone-pelting and other law and order disturbances would not be tolerated at any cost, the IGP revealed that 39 youths engaged in stone-pelting have been arrested so far, and 15 of them will be charged under PSA.


Sopore encounter: Al-Badr chief’s killing a big success, says J&K Police

MAR 10, 2021

Terrorist outfit Al-Badr’s commander Ganie Khwaja was neutralised during an encounter in Sopore late on Tuesday night, informed Kashmir inspector general of police (IGP) Vijay Kumar, terming the militant chief’s elimination a big success.

The IGP said the Khwaja was gunned down during an operation launched at Tujjer Sharief on Tuesday night after receiving a specific input. This was achieved without any collateral damage, Kumar said.

“During the search operation, as the presence of militants was ascertained, they were given the opportunity to surrender, however, they fired indiscriminately upon the joint search party, which was retaliated, leading to an encounter,” a police spokesperson said, adding that one terrorist (Khwaja) was killed in the encounter and his body was retrieved from the site.

Police said Khwaja was involved in several terror cases including attacks on security forces and civilians, besides being the main recruiter.

“Dozens of cases have been registered against him in north Kashmir, which include grenade blast at Sopore bus stand in which 19 civilians sustained injuries on October 2019; rifle-grenade attack at Warpora police post which injured two cops in March 2019; attack on joint police/ CRPF party at Bismillah Colony, Sopore, in which four CRPF personnel got seriously injured and one among them, while being evacuated to hospital, succumbed to injuries; among several others.”

Police said he was also involved in providing arms and ammunition to overground workers of the terrorist outfit for carrying out subversive activities in the area.

“He was operating in the areas of north Kashmir, including Langate, upper/lower Qaziabad, Handwara, Sopore, Zainageer, Tujjar, Barahampora etc,” the spokesperson said.

Incriminating materials, including arms and ammunition, were recovered from the site of the encounter. “All the recovered materials have been taken into case records for further investigation and to probe his complicity in other terror crimes.”

IGP Vijay Kumar said, “He was a resident of Kralgund, Langate, and one of the old militants who went to Pakistan in 2002 and returned the same year. A few years ago, he became an active terrorist again.”


In Assam, Ban on State-Run Madrassas May Force Girls To Drop Out

By Makepeace Sitlhou

11 Mar 2021

Barpeta, India – It has been nearly a year since 12-year-old Ayesha Siddiqa has been confined to her house in India’s northeastern state of Assam due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Her school in Gomafulbaru in the Barpeta district offered online classes, but the grade 6 student could not attend, as her parents cannot afford a smartphone.

Siddiqa lives with her parents and younger brother in a char – a remote riverine island formed by siltation of the Brahmaputra river that cuts through the state of nearly 30 million. Her father Abed Ali, 45, and mother Gulbahar Nesa grow rice on rented farmland, but struggle to make ends meet.

Come April, however, Siddiqa will no longer be able to continue her studies, as the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa – a government-funded school that also offered Islamic education – will cease to exist.

In December, the state government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced it will convert all government-funded madrassas into regular schools and drop theological components from their syllabi.

More than 700 state-run madrasas will be shut down, affecting 98,000 students, of whom nearly half are girls, according to figures from the State Madrassa Education Board (SMEB). Like elsewhere in India, the literacy rate (61.92 percent) and percentage of students who complete matriculation or 10th board (2.8 percent) is lowest among Muslims in Assam, as per 2011 Census data.

Affect girl students

Members of the Muslim community and activists say the decision will particularly affect the education of Muslim girls as many parents, who prefer girls to get Islamic education along with regular subjects, will pull their daughters out of the schools.

The female literacy rate is particularly low among Assam’s Muslims, most of whom are poor and sit at the bottom of development indices.

“If the madrassa is closed down, we’ll have to pull her out of school. I cannot afford to send her to a private madrassa on my meagre earnings,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

Although there is a high school in the village, he sent his daughter to the state-run madrassa, which offered both Islamic and general education.

In the state-run madrassas, apart from Islamic studies and languages such as Arabic and Urdu, general subjects including maths, sciences, social studies and other modern Indian languages were also taught.

“We are poor people so it’s important for her to get a religious education to improve her marital prospects,” he added. “It saves us the expenses for her dowry. In fact, the groom will offer something in exchange for her hand.”

Naznima Akhtar and Fatima Afreen are back in school after almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic hit last March. Until January, their classes were online and home assignments would be delivered on WhatsApp.

The girls, both 17, are in their first year of Fadilul Ma’rif (FM), a three-year theological degree course equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in general education at Gomafulbari Senior Madrasa in Barpeta district. Fiqh (Islamic Law) and the Quran are their favourite subjects.

‘Imbibe the values Islam’

As per the new law, only second year FM and Mumtazul Muhatditthin (MM) students would be allowed to complete their course up to 2022, forcing students like Akhtar and Afreen to either continue in general education or drop out. MM is equivalent to a postgraduate degree in theological studies of the Hadith and Quran.

Akhtar, who wants to study up to MM course, said she will have to move to another school if the Quran is no longer in the curriculum.

“My parents want me to work hard and make something of myself in life. At the same time, they want me to imbibe the values and tenets of Islam,” she said.

Established in 1972, the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa was originally started as an institution for girls by Ahmed Ali Khan, an educationalist based in Barpeta district, which has a majority Muslim population.

Unlike other madrassas nearby in the village, girls heavily outnumber boys in Gomafulbari Title Madrassa.

It was merged with the Gomafulbari Senior Madrassa, which was founded in 1942 before India’s independence from British colonial rulers. It is sought-after as it offers FM and MM courses.

Rustam Ali Dewan, headmaster of the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa, said that the parents and local guardians are unhappy with the government’s decision.

“They see it as an attack on their religion and are asking us to do everything to reverse this move,” he told Al Jazeera.

Akhtar’s father, Naseeruddin Khan, who works as a government employee, said that the conversion would lead to a lot of difficulties for his daughter’s education.

“We like that she is exposed to both religious and general subjects. That way she has an equal chance to pursue a higher degree in Islamic studies or go into a general stream like BA (Bachelor of Arts), LLB (Bachelor of Laws) etc,” he said.

Mahmud Hassan, a class nine student at Gomafulbari Title Madrassa, said that he may continue studying in the same school but will have to travel further to a private madrassa for Islamic studies.

“However,” he added, “not everyone has that privilege in terms of time and money. A lot of girls studying here will not be allowed to do the same.”

Private madrassas

Private madrassas typically offer food and boarding to lower socio-economic status students. However, Dewan from the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa said, these are hardly an alternative to the state-run madrassas.

“In the private-run madrassas, they simply memorise the holy book in Arabic with no understanding of it,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Moreover, these aren’t regulated by any state board. So education here will ultimately be useless for students to pursue higher studies or get a job,” he added.

Parvin Sultana, an assistant professor in Pramathesh Barua college in Assam, said the privately-run madrassas required reform.

“If girls are shifted to private madrassas where modern education is not a part of curriculum, it will foreclose any possibility of socio-economic empowerment of Muslim girls,” she said.

The Assam State Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind – a religious organisation based in Nagaon district, runs 987 madrassas in mainly Muslim-majority regions of the state.

Masood Zaman, a spokesperson of the legal cell of the Jamiat Ulama, defended the quality of education in madrassas saying they are run under the Assam Tanzim Board – a private body that monitors the quality of education in private madrassas.

The Tanzim Board is supervised by the Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic university based in northern Uttar Pradesh state – India’s largest madrassa.

Zaman said that nearly 100 out of 987 madrassas run by his organisation are exclusively for girls, and that his organisation is working to improve the quality of education in private madrassas.

“At least 150 madrassas are waiting to be included under the Tanjim board, pending fulfilment of requirements like classroom, teacher-student ratio, playground etc,” Zaman told Al Jazeera.

Anti-Muslim agenda

Some activists and opposition parties said the move was part of the right-wing government’s anti-Muslim agenda and was aimed at appealing to Hindu voters ahead of the upcoming state elections.

But the government said the move was aimed at “secularising” school education in the state. The state’s influential education minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, defended the move, citing the ban on Sanskrit schools, known as tols.

But critics said the government has projected madrassas as “obscurantist and outdated” institutions while Sanskrit tols would be converted into academic institutes researching on “Indian civilisation”.

Dewan, headmaster of the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa, said that the conversion of madrassas and Sanskrit tols, which Assam’s Education Minister touted as “secular”, were not the same.

“Unlike the madrassas, the Sanskrit tols will be upgraded to university level education,” he told Al Jazeera.

But Imran Hussain, chairman of the SMEB Assam, supported the government’s move. “General education will help uplift the (Muslim) community in mainstream jobs. Whereas in madrassas, there’s a likelihood of ghettoisation,” he told Al Jazeera.

One-third of the state’s population comprises Muslims, most of them of Bengali origin.

Hussain, the SMEB chairman, said the Sachar Committee report released in 2006 should be consulted in planning education policy for Muslims. “One must consult the Sachar Committee report to see what needs to be done for the Muslims,” Hussain told Al Jazeera.

The Rajinder Sachar committee instituted by the central government had found that the literacy rate among Muslims was far below the national average and the minority community is at the bottom of most development indicators.

The ruling BJP party defends the move

Activists like Sultana foresee a possibility where the closure of government madrassas could put young girls at risk of early marriage, a problem that continues to afflict the community.

A 2020 study on education of female Muslims in Nagaon district of Assam found that the mother’s education had a significant effect on fertility and the overall development of a family.

India’s largest minority has faced increased attacks by Hindu far-right groups linked to the BJP since Narendra Modi took over as prime minister in 2014.

But Pabitra Margherita, a spokesperson of the BJP in Assam, defended the government move, saying a “limited section” of parents wanted to send their daughters to Islamic studies.

“This year we have budgeted for special schools covering normal curriculum in minority dominated districts, especially for girl students,” he said, adding that the proposal was moved before the assembly passed the law in December.

Dewan from the Gomafulbari Title Madrassa, said the new law was another nail in the coffin for the Bengali-speaking Muslim minority community in Assam, already targeted by the movement to identify undocumented immigrants through the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In 2019, nearly two million people of Bengali origin, both Hindus and Muslims, were excluded from a citizenship list published in 2019, effectively rendering them stateless.

Moreover, a number of Muslim poets of the Miya language have faced police cases for their poetry.

“This government has been critical of our mother tongue (Bengali) or the poetry we write,” Dewan said. “But it is in state-run madrassas where students first learn the Quran in Assamese.”

Sultana, the activist, said that while some parents might discontinue their girls’ education, others could shift them to private madrassas “where modern education is not a part of curriculum”.

“It forecloses any possibility of socio-economic empowerment of Muslim girls,” she told Al Jazeera.





Libya’s lawmakers approve interim unity government

10 March 2021

Libya’s divided parliament has voted in support of a unity government which would lead the war-ravaged country into December elections.

The parliamentary approval of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s cabinet took place after a two-day session in the war-battered frontline city of Sirte on Wednesday.

Dbeibah’s proposed government includes two deputy prime ministers, 26 ministers and six ministers of state.

“This will be the government of all Libyans,” the interim premier said in a brief speech after the vote.

“Thank you for putting the nation's interest above all else.”

The interim administration emerged through a UN peace process as part of a plan to resolve a decade of conflict, with elections set for December.

Dbeibah, along with three members of a presidency council also selected in the Swiss city of Geneva, has promised not to seek further office in the elections.

However, the manner of Dbeibah's own appointment has drawn criticism in Libya with accusations of corruption and influence peddling.

The United Nations mission has praised leaders for the “patriotic efforts that led to this landmark moment in the history of Libya.”

“Libya has now a genuine opportunity to move forward towards unity, stability, prosperity, reconciliation and to restore fully its sovereignty.”

The interim prime minister now faces challenges.

Holding free parliamentary and presidential elections under such circumstances in 2021 will be an immense task.

Since 2015, Libya has been divided between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and lawmakers in Tobruk, allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

The front lines in Sirte stabilized last summer after the GNA pushed Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) back from Tripoli.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Dbeibah called for the departure of some 20,000 foreign fighters present in the country, adding that he would coordinate with the fighters’ countries of origin to arrange for their withdrawal.

“The mercenaries are a stab in our back – they must leave,” Dbeibah said. “Our sovereignty is violated by their presence.”


25 Killed As Soldiers, Boko Haram Clash In Borno

MAR 09, 2021

No fewer than 25 suspected terrorists and two soldiers died on Monday when troops of the Special Forces Brigade in Borno State engaged Boko Haram members in a gun battle at Chikingudu, a community in the Marte Local Government Area of the state.

According to a military signal seen by SaharaReporters on Tuesday, seven soldiers also sustained injuries while fighting the insurgents.

About 25 AK-47 rifles, three anti-aircraft guns, three general purpose machine guns, two automatic grenade launchers (AGL), and two gun trucks, among other arms and ammunition were also recovered by troops.

The signal read, “Sequel to elements of 402SF Bde encounter with BHTs on 8 Mar 21, additional details indicated that SF troops cleared Missene (an abandoned village where BHTs {Boko Haram terrorists} assemble to attack Marte and Dikwa, etc.), Hausari and Chukun Gudu villages in Marte LGA.

“Troops made contact with the enemy 3km from Chukun Gudu as apparently a top Amir had his family and assets in Chukun Gudu. The SF troops engaged them stoutly. Casualties on troops are 2KIA and 7WIA.

“Enemy casualties are over 25 elements killed. Items recovered are over 25 x AK47 rifles, 5 x FN rifles, 3 x AA guns, 3 x GPMG, 2 Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGL), 2 x enemy gun trucks (originally NA vehicles) and one x CJTF Hilux vehicle, among others. Troops’ morale and fighting efficiency remain high.”

Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, have killed thousands and displaced millions in northeastern Nigeria.

The Nigerian military has repeatedly claimed that the insurgency has been largely defeated and frequently underplays any losses.

In the past months, soldiers have been targeted by the insurgents, waiting in ambush for them.

Hundreds of soldiers and officers have been reportedly killed since January 2021.





Allow British-Iranian aid worker to return home, UK PM Johnson tells Rouhani

10 March ,2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to be with her family.

“The prime minister raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals detained in Iran and demanded their immediate release,” a statement from Johnson’s office said after a call with Rouhani on Wednesday.

“He (Johnson) said that while the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle monitor was welcome, her continued confinement remains completely unacceptable and she must be allowed to return to her family in the UK.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation charity, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denied the charges.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe served a five-year sentence which ended on Sunday. An ankle bracelet was removed, allowing her freedom to travel in Iran, but she still cannot leave the country, as she has been ordered to appear for a new court case on March 14 on charges of propaganda against the Iranian state.

Johnson also restated Britain’s commitment to making a success of a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and urged Rouhani to end Iranian breaches of the terms of that deal that began after the US withdrew from it in 2018.

“He stressed the importance of Iran seizing the opportunity presented by the US’ willingness to return to the deal if Iran comes back into compliance,” the statement said.

Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the US on reviving the deal.


French schoolgirl lied about teacher who was beheaded in terror attack



A French schoolgirl admitted to lying about her teacher almost five months after a social media campaign spread the lies around the world and the teacher died in a terror attack, Sky News reported.

The girl, who has not been named, said she lied about her teacher asking Muslim students to leave the classroom before showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that were in a satirical magazine, French paper Le Parisien first reported.

"She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson," the girl’s lawyer Mbeko Tabula told AFP news agency.

She reportedly lied to her father and said she was suspended for disagreeing with her teacher, Samuel Paty, for showing the images in the free speech class. However, she was never at class that day and was actually suspended the day before for missing too much school.

The girl’s father believed her daughter’s lies and started a social media campaign against Paty.

After the campaign became popular, Paty was murdered and beheaded by Abdullah Anzorov.

Paty’s family lawyer responded to the new information saying the family already knew the girl wasn’t in class that day so they would have known she was lying, BBC reported.

"So to come and say now, sorry, I believed my daughter's lies, that's really weak," Virginie Le Roy, the family lawyer, told RTL radio.

After Paty’s death, the French government closed a mosque for six months and threatened to jail anyone for six months who disobeyed.

France takes a vigorously secular stance and the government introduced an anti-religion extremism bill after the attack took place.


Manchester Arena attack: 'Chaotic' response after bomb blast

March 09, 2021

A "chaotic" response to the Manchester Arena bombing was the result of fire crews being "starved of information", a public inquiry has heard.

Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said his members were ready to "muck in".

But he said Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service failed to respond properly to the terror attack due to a breakdown in communications.

Crews were left feeling "humiliated", he said.

Mr Dark told the inquiry in Manchester: "The key problem I think for the fire and rescue service on the night was being starved of information and, to an extent, not accessing information by other means."

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 and injured hundreds more when he detonated a device in the City Room foyer at the Arena on 22 May 2017.

Earlier, the inquiry, which is examining the emergency response to the attack, was told the fire service had crews ready to go in that were trained in operating in terror incidents and treating casualties, which could have saved lives.

Despite some firefighters being close enough to hear the bomb go off, fire crews did not attend until their bosses eventually gave the green light to go in two hours later.

Some injured had to be carried down stairs on makeshift stretchers made of advertising hoardings, while firefighters, who had the required equipment were directed to wait three miles away from the arena.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) had declared Operation Plato, a pre-planned response to what they believed was a marauding terrorist firearms attack, as erroneous reports of gunfire had come in.

But GMP failed to inform fire and ambulance teams and they were kept away from the scene.

Mr Dark said: "Firefighters knew something serious was happening. They could not understand why they were not being deployed."

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders asked if firefighters could have not waited for orders to go in but "self-deploy".

Mr Dark said while the fire service in the station is "democratic, collegiate, consensual" while on an operation, "it's a dictatorship" with staff having to follow orders.

He said if a firefighter had been in the City Room they would have reported back that there was no "active shooter" and fire chiefs would then have told crews: "Roll up your sleeves, get in there."

But, he added "they didn't have that" and on the night what happened was "chaotic" and left firefighters feeling "humiliated".

Mr Dark added: "If they had had the information, their decision making, their actions, their deployment would have been far quicker, far better, and you would have firefighters' boots on the ground in that City Room far, far earlier."




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